Archive for May, 2014

NEIGHBORS-Poster-1For those of you who have been watching the news over the past week, you’re familiar with the killing spree that has taken place in Santa Barbara.  Elliot Rodger (22) stabbed or shot six people before killing himself.  It’s a tragedy for all those family members involved, this includes the family of Rodger.

As I mentioned previously, my wife and I just had our fourth child, so I was actually unaware of this tragic incident until recently.  While my wife and I were enjoying a new life entering our world, others were mourning the loss of life taken from their world.

As I’ve listened to some of the commentary from various news organizations, I’ve heard conclusions asserted about a specific cause for something like this.  Whenever a horror like this occurs, it’s common to find some avenue to vent our frustrations.  One of those avenues that is not unfamiliar to being viewed as the source of evil…movies.  Movies made Rodger stab and shoot those individuals.  Movies fed Rodger’s appetite for death and destruction.  This has been the assertion of some in the wake of this tragedy.

Whenever one denies God and His Word, one has to create a solution to evils like this.  One columnist in particular has called out – Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan, “Rich white men ruling the cinemas”, etc.  Of course there are outside factors that play a part in a horrible tragedy such as this.  But, the reality of the matter is the fact that Elliot Rodger killed those innocent people because Rodger is broken.  I would agree with psychiatrists who claim Elliot Rodger is sick, but I would disagree with the source of his sickness.  It is not his brain that is sick, but his heart.

A movie like Neighbors does seem to relish debauchery.  I would agree with some who have made the assertion that films like these have degraded women and have fed men with an unhealthy view of manhood, to say the least.  I would also encourage many out there not to see the above film.  However, we need to be reminded that evil is something that comes from within.  Jesus Christ is clear on this in Mark 7, “Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within.” [vs. 21-23]

A few years ago, The Dark Knight Rises was to blame for the senseless killing spree of the midnight showing and now it is a film like Neighbors.  While these films have depictions of evil, no movie is evil enough to move someone to act out the sinfulness that is already present in their heart.  I will agree that movies can play a factor.  They can feed sinful passions, and we need to be sensitive to that.  But, so can bad parenting, peer relations, substance abuse, lack of sleep, and a whole host of other things.  These, however, do not excuse the sole responsibility of the individual carrying out those actions.  The source of the sin is not the cinema.  The source is Elliot Rodger’s sinful heart.

Let’s stop with the assertions that stricter gun control will solve the problems (be reminded that Rodger also used a knife).  Let’s stop with the assertion that movies are the problem.  The problem comes from within.  Horrible tragedies like this have been in existence since Genesis 3.  Attempting to find a source of evil other than the human heart is futile.  So is attempting to find a solution other than Jesus Christ.

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[Spoiler Alert: I am going to discuss this movie as if you have seen it.]

We all know that Godzilla is the King of the Monsters, and Gareth Edwards’s film does an excellent job of presenting him as such. However, as Ian Olson points out in his excellent review over at Mockingbird, the titular kaiju, insofar as he saves humankind, is also portrayed as a sort of Savior/Christ figure[1]. One concrete example of this imagery occurs toward the end of the film, where Godzilla, having defeated his enemies, returns to the sea. A jumbotron linked to a live news feed reads, “king of the Monsters—savior of our city?”Instead of focusing on how Godzilla is presented as the savior figure in this film, however, I am going to highlight why this depiction is so powerful and awe-inspiring. In other words, there is something beyond theme and plot that makes Godzilla a uniquely effective picture of Christ: the film’s deliberate pacing.

Godzilla-Teaser-Poster-2 Compared to the majority of summer blockbusters, Godzilla is a relatively slow movie[2]. Viewers expecting non-stop Godzilla mayhem—those wanting to watch the giant lizard destroy city after city—will likely leave the theater disappointed. Sure, there’s enough MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) mayhem to get us through the first and second act, but Gareth Edwards’s genius is that he makes us wait breathlessly, as the tension steadily increases, leading up to the big reveal—the appearance of Godzilla. Edwards gives us glimpses of our kaiju hero throughout the first and second acts, to be sure; but he does so in a veiled and strategic manner—enough to whet our appetite but not overwhelm. We get fleeting glimpses of Godzilla in the opening credits. One hour into the film, we get our first good look, as the camera pans up in a Hawaii airport to reveal the towering beast. Still, this shot is brief—only a few seconds—and only heightens our anticipation as audience members. Edwards allows the enemy MUTOs to roam the earth for the bulk of the film, bringing destruction and disaster, while giving the audience a few precious glimpses of Godzilla. The effect of this gradual reveal is that we, as a collective audience, feel the desperation of the film’s characters; we long for the suffering and destruction to cease; we long for the arrival of Godzilla, for he is the only one who can save us from the MUTOs. Military efforts to stop the monsters fail miserably; and because Edwards deftly uses low angles—grounding the audience in human perspective—we feel helpless and hopeless apart from Godzilla. When the King of the Monsters finally shows up for the showdown, you want to cheer—to clap. Godzilla is finally here. Edwards’s slow and deliberate pacing may frustrate some viewers, but those who wait patiently are rewarded. Godzilla’s arrival is marked with power precisely because he has come at the right moment.

The Christian parallels should be obvious by now. We see in Godzilla a pacing that mirrors, in a small way, the storyline of redemptive history. The story of the Bible is a slow build to the coming of Christ. We see Christ, not in full, but in shadows and types in the Old Testament. When Christ comes, there is great rejoicing; Mary exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior”(Luke 1:46b-47); the stones threaten to cry out (19:40). The picture of Godzilla coming to the rescue when there is no other hope is dwarfed by the reality that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly”(Romans 5:6).

These correspondences between Godzilla and the biblical narrative shine through because Gareth Edwards makes his audience wait patiently for the arrival of the film’s eponymous protagonist. The slow and deliberate pacing makes Godzilla a uniquely effective Christ figure. In addition, seeing and savoring (borrowing from John Piper there) the fact that the narrative structure of Godzilla mirrors that of the biblical storyline should affect the way we think about watching movies as Christians. It is easy to get caught up in a movie’s plot and dialogue; and all too often, those are the only aspects of a film in which we look for interaction with a Christian worldview. Godzilla, then, is a timely reminder that how a story is told can glorify God. Think about form and content the next time you watch a movie. In Godzilla, for instance, the pacing is as important as the plot.

I would be remiss if I failed to add an important caveat about Godzilla. There are many ways in which Godzilla is not a picture of Christ. He an insufficient savior. Far from being benevolent, the film’s ancient hero is largely (pardon the pun) indifferent to humanity’s plight. He battles the kaiju not because he cares about the fate of human existence but because they are evolutionary rivals, threatening his position at the top of the food chain. We can easily affirm with the author of Hebrews that Christ is better than the angels, the prophets, and Moses (See Hebrews 1). And Christ is much better than Godzilla. The point is that Christ-like figures in films (especially when done by unbelievers) will always be flawed, imperfect, and insufficient; they are but shadows. Nevertheless, the type, the picture—no matter how dim or flawed—is present in Godzilla. Let the picture point you to the reality.

 

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[1] To read Olson’s review visit http://www.mbird.com/2014/05/the-right-hand-of-godzilla/

[2] I do mean relatively. Godzilla is by no means a character study.

Reel Thinking: We’re Baaack…Maybe?

Posted: May 27, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized

photo 3Reel Thinking is a site designed to illuminate film through the lens of Scripture.  If you’ve been to this site before, you know that we used to post with some regularity.  However, the busyness of life got the best of us (and I even read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy) and we posted less frequently and then…never.

That being said, I do hope to pick up the torch and post a bit more frequently.  I say this with a certain amount of – are you serious? – running through my mind because my wife and I just had our forth child and I am working on a DMin at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  With all of these plates spinning, I am watching less movies and have less brain-power I can devote to film (not that there was much to begin with).  However, there are a few convictions that are driving me to post and I am listing them below in a particular order.

  1. Humans are created in the image of God – Genesis 1:26-27 explicitly states that we are created in God’s image and because of this, we are to be thinkers.  God made everything by merely speaking and he’s pretty much the most intelligent Being in existence.  Since this is true (and since we are created in His image) we are to be thinkers.  There’s no choice.  Applying this to film, we cannot sit back let film “happen” to us.  That doesn’t mean we cannot simply sit back and enjoy a film, but we need to steward the brain God has given us…our brains aren’t ours to waste.
  2. People like movies – People flock to movies!  Whether it’s at their local cineplex or streaming through Netflix, people consume movies.  Not only are they consuming movies, but they are doing so with little, to no, thought to the above point.  They are using (and in some cases, abusing) the brain God has given them by indulging film with minimal engagement.  And, in some cases, indulging films that shouldn’t be indulged at all.  It is our hope that this site may assist, in some small way, with Christians better engaging in film.
  3. I need to do some good – This might sound like somewhat of a self-serving point, but it is true.  I am created by God to do good works that point others to Him [Eph. 2:10].  I am early into Matthew Perman’s What’s Best Next, but this is a solid point he makes in his book.  The truth is, my life isn’t mine…it’s Gods.  God bought me with a price and I need to live my life in a way that points others to him.  There are others who are better writers and thinkers, but that doesn’t alleviate my responsibility to use my life in the service of Another.

So here’s my conclusion, I need to use the little time I have left on this earth to point people to God through modern day cinema.  Again, I know others who do this more eloquently than I do (Brian Godawa, James Harleman, Mike Cosper, Jerram Barrs & Ted Turnau, just to name a few), but I can still do it in a way that differs from their gifts.  Therefore, I hope to make some posts whenever I can watch a film.

Here is something to keep in mind, however.  At Reel Thinking we have never posted movie “reviews”.  That is something we have been pretty clear on and I will explain what I mean in a follow-up post.  For now, enjoy this post and look forward to some posts with a little more regularity….maybe.

On Watching Movies by: Blaine Grimes

Posted: May 23, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized

photo 3We never talk about watching movies in my film classes because we don’t watch movies; we read them. That the words ‘reading’ and ‘movies’ could fit together in the same sentence may, at first glance, seem like a preposterous–even contradictory–claim. However, the reading of films is, fundamentally, a special kind of watching. It is a reflective, thoughtful, and contemplative viewing. Far from being a passive act, watching movies is a deliberately analytical endeavor; and cinematic analysis, as film scholar David Bordwell notes, “is a matter of breaking up whole phenomena into relevant parts and showing how they work together.”[1]

The problem is that the majority of people do not watch (or read) films in any sort of active or analytical manner. Bordwell puts it like this:

typical talk about movies isn’t very analytical. It doesn’t explore how the parts of the film relate to one another in systematic ways; it doesn’t dissect strategies of plotting or aspects of style; it doesn’t examine the ideological maneuvers the film might execute.[2]

 

Indeed, the majority of movie talk consists of comments and opinions about a film’s spectacle, action scenes, and special effects. If you’re skeptical about this claim, go see a movie at your local theater and listen to conversations when you leave.

This is where you’re expecting me to sneer at the thought of being entertained by a movie, urge you to become an academic film nerd, and never to watch a movie in anything but its original aspect ratio. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you should enjoy a movie’s spectacle. Allow yourself to get caught up in the story; sit on the edge of your seat in an action scene; be amazed by the special effects; sing along to the music (if you’re watching in the comfort of your own home). A snobby and stoic attitude toward art does not please God. Consider David’s response to God’s artistry: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”(Psalm 19:1). God didn’t make the Grand Canyon or the platypus just so that we could stroke our chins and write dissertations about them. In other words, respond emotionally to your movies—but please don’t stop there. Make it a point to respond intellectually as well. God gave us the ability to emote, but he also gave us the ability to think. The next time you watch a movie, get emotionally and intellectually involved. Think about a film’s worldview as well as its special effects. This is the best way to bring glory to God while watching a movie.

[Blaine Grimes has been a friend and supporter or Reel Thinking from the beginning.  He has also been ridiculously patient with us getting this post up.  While we have been inconsistent in posting lately, we do hope to get back at it one of these days.  Until then, please enjoy this guest post from our friend.]

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[1] Bordwell, David. “Studying Cinema.” David Bordwell’s Website on Cinema. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/studying.php>.

[2] ibid.