Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Lawrence’

passengersPassengers accomplishes something reminiscent of Cast Away and I Am Legend – the need for fellowship.  While audiences felt sympathy for Tom Hanks and Will Smith being secluded on islands – one a tropical island, the other Manhattan island – Passengers increases this feeling on the final frontier.

When we first meet Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) he’s just waking up from hyper-sleep…90 years too soon.  Not only is that just a tad too early, but he’s the only passenger, out of five thousand, who woke up too soon.

As he slowly gets acclimated to life on the spacecraft, Avalon, he quickly realizes he’s all alone.  His terrified reaction to this realization reminds us of the importance for community and fellowship.  Not only is this feeling enhanced when it’s set against the backdrop of the vastness of space, but it’s increased by the understanding that other humans are aboard the Avalon.  This presence of humanity only seems to taunt Jim’s solitude.

Jim gets a glimpse of humanity as he encounters a bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen), only to discover he’s a robot.  To Arthur’s credit, he does a superb job of acting human.  Just one example, Arthur constantly polishes glasses at the bar, even though Jim is the only customer aboard the ship.  When confronted with this truth, Arthur explains that it’s designed to comfort those he’s talking to.  Instead of staring into the eyes of Jim as he shares deep struggles, the distraction offered by polishing the glass comforts the patron.

Arthur even offers some advice to momentarily alleviate Jim’s predicament, “Quit trying to control everything.”  While this could be interpreted as a biblical truth – pointing to rest in God’s sovereignty – it becomes license to indulge.  Jim is all alone, but he has carte blanche access to every restaurant and drink available to Avalon guests.  Arthur’s advice grants reprieve to Jim’s loneliness, but it is short lived.  The emptiness of self-indulgence is on full display as Jim’s party comes crashing down.

The Moral Dilemma

As Jim reaches the end of himself – and the partying he enjoyed – he discovers a passenger that catches his eye.  He learns her name and tracks her down through the ship’s video log.  What begins as curiosity, becomes infatuation.  Jim watches the videos Aurora has left and begins to fall in love with her.  Sitting beside her sleep chamber, watching videos of her – simulating something of a date – Jim realizes his curiosity has only left him in greater misery.  He’s so close to human contact, and yet, so far away.

As he seeks advice from Arthur, he realizes the dilemma he’s created for himself: Wake a woman up too early and ruin the life she desired on another planet or continue to live and eventually die in isolation. One thing is for certain, neither is an appealing conclusion.

Movie-goers with a heartbeat understand this to be a true challenge for Jim.  Perhaps there are many who would claim, I’d never be that selfish.  The filmmakers, however, present such a clear picture of isolation and loneliness, one can’t help but feel Jim’s dilemma. 

One of the most poignant scenes in the film occurs from Jim’s discovery of a spacesuit.  As he sees the headless suit, he beings to embrace it and try to hold the hands of the suit.  For a fleeting second, he’s reminded of what it’s like to embrace another.  It is a powerful illustration of our need for community and displays the inner-wrestlings of Jim’s heart.

The Unintended Truth

This film does such a good job of communicating mankind’s innate desire for community.  Being created in God’s image necessitates community.  As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in perfect community with themselves, humanity is created with this desire for community – it’s hard-wired into us (Gen. 1:26-27).

An equally deep truth, and stronger theme in the film, was seen in Jim’s choosing of Aurora.  On the one hand, we understand that perhaps he was drawn to her beauty and then her personality through the video log, therefore, his choice of passenger is easy to grasp.  On the other hand, why didn’t he choose another man?  A buddy to hang out with?  A guy he could have played basketball or lifted weights with (he does both of those things on the Avalon)?

I was fascinated by the fact that Passengers unintentionally, most likely, illustrated one of the earliest truths of Scripture – It is not good that man should be alone (Gen. 2:18).  Just as Adam spent some time in the Garden of Eden and discovered he did not have a helper fit for him, Jim discovered that he needed – not just another image bearer – but a female.

Jim’s portrayed as a capable man in the film.  He’s a mechanic so he can fix things, he seems to be in good physical shape, he’s athletic, but he’s still incomplete.  He needs a woman.  Yes, another man would offer him community and fellowship he longs for, but there’s something about a female that’s unique.  There’s something she offers that man doesn’t.  The female is an image-bearer that bears the image of God in a manner man doesn’t.

In light of the differences between genders, I must tell viewers that there is some sexual content in the film.  While nothing is explicit, the film illustrates the sexual desires males and females have ingrained into their being.  I want to be sensitive and warn others of this content, and, while nothing is too explicit in this film, I wish they would have toned it down a bit.  At the same time, we are talking about one man and one woman secluded in space for a long time.  While Christian viewers may quickly look upon those scenes with understandable disdain, we also – I would suggest – should recognize the biblical truth of sexuality that’s being communicated onscreen.  I’m not condoning the content, but the truth.

As the film approaches its ultimate climax, Jim looks at Aurora and says, “I need your help.”  Jim, a very capable man, needs the woman and, as the film illustrates, Aurora needs Jim.  The man and the woman need one another to accomplish the task before them.  Ultimately, it is one man and one woman that keep civilization aboard the Aurora continuing.  Without the two of them coming together, the entire crew would not survive.

God’s Passengers

While so much of our culture wants to distort Scripture’s view of biblical manhood and womanhood, I feel that Passengers gives viewers a pretty accurate portrayal of what we find in God’s Word.  God created humans to be in fellowship.  God created male and female after his image.  God taught Adam he needed Eve.  Adam recited poetry as he first lays eyes on the beautiful creature he calls ‘woman’.

This side of heaven, our community and fellowship is imperfect.  Sin brings division among males and females, it brings division among races, and sin brings death which ushers in the most painful form of isolation to those left in its wake.

Truth be told, we are all passengers.  In this grand narrative called life, we are reminded that we aren’t the main characters.  The life we’re now living is not ours, but Gods.  He owns all things, even our stories.  While we are significance because we bear his image, we are merely passengers along for the ride.

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SLPlaybookIf you’ve read some of my other posts, you know how much I love “mental illness” movies.  As a Biblical counselor, I often weirdly wish that I could have the opportunity to offer help to the fictional characters in these films.  And, when an entire dysfunctional family is on display on the big screen, it really gets my attention!  So it was inevitable that I find the time on our recent family vacation to watch Silver Linings Playbook.  Even though there was way too much foul language and one sadly explicit sex scene, it was worth seeing.  The acting was outstanding.  Bradley Cooper impressed from beginning to end as the lead mentally ill character, Pat Solitano.  Pat’s parents, played by Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver were superb.  Although I’m not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence, she did play her part extremely well.  The only thing lacking was I wish that the very funny Chris Tucker would have had a bigger role!

Silver Linings Playbook centers on Pat’s life after a stint in a mental institution.  He moves back home with the dual goals of getting his teaching job back as well as his wife (mainly his wife).  This is Pat’s “silver lining playbook”–his master plan to find a way to better himself and find the little bit of sunshine amidst the clouds of his life.  Instead, his silver lining turns out to be Tiffany, another person with significant mental problems.  And, in the middle of all of this, the drama unfolds with Pat’s OCD father and co-dependent mother, as well as sundry other characters with issues.  The bottom line is that there really isn’t a “normal” person in Silver Linings Playbook, including Pat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Patel.

And I really think that’s one of the main messages of the movie–that we all have mental problems.  Or to be more specific: We all have mental problems and there are very good reasons for them, thank you very much.  For starters, Pat became labeled as having Bipolar Disorder after he caught his wife having a steamy affair, beat the man senseless, and lost his teaching job.  Tiffany developed all of her problems after her husband was killed (she blamed herself for it).  We are also led to deduce that Pat developed issues from growing up in a family with an OCD father and enabling mother.  His friend Ronnie, one of my favorite characters, was immensely stressed out from his job and marriage.  And, the list goes on.  Silver Linings Playbook really captures the Biblical reality that all human beings are fallen, weak, and broken.  What is most refreshing about Pat and Tiffany is that they don’t try to hide it, but attempt to deal with it instead.

A second major message in the movie (although some may disagree) is the futility of the various methods of dealing with mental problems.  Pat Sr. and Dolores (Pat’s parents) represent the approach typified by denial and avoidance of the problems (wonderfully connected to professional football, I might add).  The mental institution seemed pretty ineffective, as well as psychological medication (the side effects outweighed the help).  At one level, Dr. Patel was a very “normalizing” influence on Pat, but his counseling was fairly useless.  Pat’s “positive mental attitude” efforts to get his health back,  job back, wife back also fall short.  This futility motif really made much of the movie very depressing!

The last message of Silver Linings Playbook is a worldly form of redemption and restoration.  Due to one last complicated gamble, Pat Sr. gets his money back so he can finally start his own restaurant.  The family as a whole appears to open up and be  a bit more functional. Even Pat’s friends seem to solve their problems.  At the center of this redemption is the new-found love relationship between Pat and Tiffany.  Sure, Pat doesn’t get his wife back, but at least he gets to move on and find love again.  And, to be honest, Tiffany really manipulates and deceives Pat in order to help him fall in love with her.  Even his family helps her out with this strange “intervention.”  But, hey, these are people with mental problems living in a fallen world, so what do you expect?  A little silver lining is better than constant cloudiness!

All this pseudo-redemption (falling in love seems to be the primary form of the world’s redemption) should lead Christians to be deeply thankful for the better redemption in Jesus.  We are all broken and fallen, with no hope in this world.  Jesus is more than just a silver lining in our altogether cloudy lives.  He is the Light of the World!  He is the Bright Morning Star!  His life, death, and resurrection dispels all of the clouds and darkness and hopelessness.  Our “playbook” reveals our eternal victory in Christ!

Well, the Oscars are over.  The little golden statues have been handed out.  Some people are happy.  Others are sad.  Some, however, are just plain shocked proving that the experts were off in a few categories.  Just curious, what do you think was the biggest shock at the Oscars?  And no, Jennifer Lawrence falling onstage doesn’t count.  We’re talking about shocked in terms of statues awarded.

The people have spoken–especially the pre-teens and teens!  The Hunger Games set the box office opening weekend record for a non-sequel film, making a whopping $155 million dollars.  And, according to rottentomatoes.com, 95% of the moviegoers recommend the movie.  This sort of response demands just one more post, so once more into the fray we go.  If you haven’t read the two other reviews yet, please look at post one and post two first, since this one will build on those thoughts.

A couple of opening comments.  First, these posts on The Hunger Games are about the first movie/book only, not the entire trilogy.  Second, the goal here is to do our best to illuminate movies with the light of Scripture in order to encourage Biblical thinking–not to either recommend or not recommend.  And finally, since this movie/book is written for and marketed to pre-teens, the reviews have been primarily written with their minds “in mind.”

So, for all of you who have, or will watch The Hunger Games, here are ten discussion questions–especially for parents who are training your teens and pre-teens to think as Christians:

1.  Suzanne Collins has commented that she wrote this book as a critique of war (especially the Iraq War).  In that light, what does she want us to think about war?  Do you agree with her?

2.  If you came out of this movie saying that it was “great” or “awesome,” why was it great?  Because the story was so sad/distressing/painful?  Because the heroes “won?”  Because of the characters?  Because of the action?  Because it showed you how horrible life is without God?  Why?

3.  There are reviewers of this movie that believe our children need to see even more violent movies because we shelter them too much from violence.  Do you agree or disagree?  And, how does that square with the research that estimates children see approximately 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on TV shows/movies by the age of eighteen?

4.  Some have suggested that the extreme violence of The Hunger Games is okay for children because the Bible is filled with violence.  So, what’s the difference between a story of a violent world without God and one with God?

5.  Some also believe that the film teaches children how miserable a world without God really is.  Is this what you took away from the film?  Before you answer, consider this: When will our children actually experience a world without God?  Even in the most evil of times in Scripture (think the days of Noah or the Judges), God was still in control, and God still intervened and delivered His people.  So how does a totally naturalistic story teach us anything about our own reality?

6.  My apologies if this offends all of you friends-of-Katniss: But what makes her the heroine of the story?  I know, it’s written from her perspective, and the author wants us to view her as the hero.  And she is certainly very heroic.  But, aren’t all twenty-four children “innocent?”  Don’t they have parents and loved ones too?  Shouldn’t we be rooting for all of them?  Are there really any “good” guys or “bad” guys in the Games?

7.  The storyteller wants us to believe that Katniss does absolutely all that she can do in this miserable situation.  Maybe so.  She doesn’t really want to kill anyone.  She actually wants to figure out a way to destroy the Games.  But could she have done something else?  For example, what about just refusing to play?  In other words, what about martyrdom?  Think of it this way, if someone told you to kill an innocent 15 year old girl or you will be killed, what would you do?  Or how about this way…how do we compare Katniss’ choices to the choices of Joseph, Daniel, or especially Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

8.  We are also led to believe that the adults in the districts are absolutely unable to resist the Hunger Games.  Since they lost the rebellion, this is the only way to survive.  But is this realistic (I know, it’s fiction)?  Consider that, even in the most repressive regimes in history, there have always been people who refuse to go along with the program.  Shouldn’t there have been adults who gave their lives for these children (you’ll have to kill me before you take my kid sort of thing)?

9.  Many have said this story, at its core, is really just about surviving.  That’s certainly true.  But is life for the Christian in this world ever just about surviving?  Do we embrace a Darwinian worldview and believe deep-down in the “survival of the fittest?”  Think about first century Christians and their Roman oppressors.  Were they exhorted by God’s Word just to survive a hopeless situation, or to strive for something more (See I Peter)?

10.  Effie introduces the Games this way: “And may the odds be ever in your favor!”  Is this your view of life?  Is it all just random?  Or, to put it another way, do the rich and powerful always have the best odds in this life?  Is life just a game of chance?

That should be plenty to think about.  May The Hunger Games make us all the more thankful that we have a loving, gracious, and all-powerful God in control of our world!

As the participants of The Hunger Games battle for their lives, we too find ourselves in a war for our culture.  The weapons of our warfare aren’t bows, arrows, knives, or spears, “but [our weapons] have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).  Our young people who read the trilogy and await the big movie opening today are deeply involved in the battle of ideas and beliefs.  So, to help them (and even us adults), let’s consider just a few of the cultural lies that are launched at us throughout this novel-based film.

Cultural Lie #1: The Supremacy of Feminism.  Katniss Everdeen is the heroine of the story.  She is strong, determined, courageous, and sacrificial.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with a girl having these character qualities.  Yet Katniss is also extremely feministic in her attitudes and mindset, as well as deeply hardened emotionally.  This is the feminist ideal.  Modern feminism idolizes strengh, power, independence, intelligence, and success in women (not to mention the distrust of authority and bitterness against men)–all embodied by Katniss.  And, most of the girls that are portrayed as somewhat “feminine” in the story are too soft, weak, or ditzy.

Cultural Lie #2: The Feminization of Men.  The male hero in the book is Peeta Mellark.  Of course, he is greatly overshadowed by Katniss (see point #1).  Even though Peeta is physically strong, he’s also soft, sensitive, and lacks true skills or even intelligence.  This is the typical role reversal that is encouraged in American culture.  Peeta is “carried” most of the game by the gifted and courageous Katniss.  He wouldn’t be alive without her!  And finally, he longs to pursue Katniss as a girlfriend, but lacks the courage.  He is the embodiment of the feminized male.

Cultural Lie #3: The Superiority of Children over Adults.  Continuing a trend that we have seen in TV and movies for most of my lifetime, the children of The Hunger Games are far superior to adults.  This may be seen as acceptable story telling, since the intended audience is adolescents.  But this lack of adults with any real character is yet another piece of cultural propaganda.  Kids always win.  The adult establishment is always corrupt.  This is the formula of The Hunger Games.  We meet the much overdone alcoholic male.  There is also the requisite gay (or at least gay-acting) man.  And loads of controlling adults.  Granted, there are plenty of bad kids in the story too–but they were clearly made that way by adults.

Cultural Lie #4: The Purity of Teenage Romance.  What’s a story without a good romance?  Even in a nearly hopeless battle for your life, there’s time to fall in love!  But what is quickly forgotten is that these are just teenagers–Katniss is only 16 years old.  Yes, I know that’s the mandated age for teenage romance to begin–or at least it was when I was a teen.  But that’s the problem, in my humble opinion.  Our cultural lie is that teenagers should be falling deeply in love and maintaining emotional relationship–even as middle schoolers.  And, in The Hunger Games, we even have an adolescent love triangle to boot!  Teenagers already believe that they are fully equipped to date and invest themselves into physical and emotional relationships.  This story just continues the cultural lie of the innocent purity of teenage romance.

Cultural Lie #5: A World without God.  Finally, what is most striking when you read The Hunger Games is the total lack of reference to God.  There’s not even some sort of “higher power!”  Collins has created a world that is totally naturalistic, making the story even more hopeless and meaningless.  The only entity with godlike power is the Capitol.  It acts in total control of the people.  During the games itself, it is the Capitol that swoops in and helicopters the dead children away like a mystical hand from heaven.  Now Collins may be trying to communicate the horrors of making the State a god with total sovereign power.  Yet there are many who will watch this movie and continue to believe the cultural lie that God really doesn’t exist.  In other words, the Panem of the future is really no different than the world of today.  And we already have too many of our young people living their lives without reference to God.  How sad it is to see stories that only confirm this sort of life–even if it is portrayed as pure misery!

These cultural lies are nothing new.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook them.  Other times they get just plain annoying.  But ALL the time they are strong mind-altering weapons used against our young people.  While many of our teens will enjoy the action and drama of The Hunger Games, use it as an opportunity to battle for a Christian worldview!

If you aren’t a middle schooler, you may not realize that The Hunger Games is one of the most anticipated movies of the year.  It is based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling book (first of a trilogy) of the same title.  Watch the trailer below for a preview…

When this “young adult” novel first gained popularity, I was asked to review it in order to evaluate its appropriateness for middle school students.  After reading it, my general conclusion was that The Hunger Games was much more “adult” than “young adult”– not just for the violence, but the intense brutality, deprivation, and tyranny mixed with adult romance.  Even though the book contains much to discuss from a worldview perspective, my concern was that few parents would ever have those conversations with their children.  Now, with the buzz of the opening of the movie, more children than ever will absorb the story.  So parents, If you allow your children or teens to see The Hunger Games, you won’t miss the opportunity to teach them through it!

The Hunger Games  is set in the future, in the nation of Panem (what was once North America), a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the state-like districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.  When Katniss Everdeen, our sixteen year old heroine, steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Without spoiling too much of it for you, the context of the story is really just an extreme reality TV show.  It’s like an episode of Survivor that is actually about surviving!  The Hunger Games are no “games” at all, even though they are treated as such from the “selection show” to the player interviews to its televising practices, etc.  It is truly a prophetic message of where our modern appetite for reality TV may take us someday.

So, why are we so hungry for reality TV?  If you add together sporting events, game shows, and all other self-described reality programming, they make up a clear majority of what’s on television every day.  Then, there are also all of the programs that talk about these reality shows.  Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, was recently asked a question concerning our obsession with this particular genre.  Here’s her answer:

Well, they’re often set up as games and, like sporting events, there’s an interest in seeing who wins. The contestants are usually unknown, which makes them relatable. Sometimes they have very talented people performing.  Then there’s the voyeuristic thrill—watching people being humiliated, or brought to tears, or suffering physically—which I find very disturbing. There’s also the potential for desensitizing the audience, so that when they see real tragedy playing out on, say, the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.

Collins makes some good observations.  Human beings have always loved being spectators of sports and games.  We love cultivating our rivalries (see my post on The Prestige).  We are intrigued by skills and abilities we do not possess.  We long to be entertained.

But while these may be general human characteristics and desires, they also may reflect our sin nature more than the image of God.  Our “interest in seeing who wins” may demonstrate a longing for ultimate victory in Christ; or it may also be a sign of our tendency towards prideful self-gratification.  Our desire to “relate” to contestants can point to our being created by God for relationships; or it can also be an indicator of our avoidance of true relationships.  Our penchant to watch talented people perform can reflect our longing for beauty and giftedness; or it can easily just be a jealous coveting of others’ skills.

Collins’ last two points are especially disconcerting, yet extremely accurate.  The voyeuristic thrill of Reality TV fuels much of our modern appetite.  We would rather watch other people suffer (especially our “enemies”) than deal with and rise above our own suffering.  With apologies to our NASCAR friends, how many people watch racing mainly for the crashes?  Or hockey for the fights?  Or football for the big hits?  Or Survivor-type shows for the smack-down and humiliation?  Our sinful natures long to see others suffer or even just embarrass themselves.  Yet God calls us to be people of mercy and compassion!  We should be distressed at human suffering, not energized and excited by it!

Finally, Collins speaks to the desensitization of the audience.  To paraphrase our good friend Emilio, it is amazing that we decry violence in the movies, yet say little about 350 pound men destroying each other for the “love of the game.”  That’s desensitization.  And, we all know that “reality shows” are more show than reality, getting the viewer involved in staged stories at the expense of true reality.  So while we lament all the “suffering” of our reality stars, we ignore the suffering going on with real people all over the world–especially other Christians!

Our appetite for the typical degradation of Reality TV can be an idolatrous substitute for what God calls us to: A true hunger and thirst for righteousness!