Posts Tagged ‘Matt Damon’

81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit ImagesMost of us are familiar with the story of Aaron creating a golden calf for the people of Israel to worship. Aaron apparently made the calf by mistake – “I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf'” [Ex. 32:24]. Hollywood, however, has taken Arron’s lead and forged a golden statue of their own and given it the name ‘Oscar’. This little golden statue represents joy, sorrow, jealousy, anger, covetousness, and just about any emotion imaginable for Hollywood stars and starlets.

Even though I can’t remember the article or publication, I can remember reading Matt Damon’s reflections on his Oscar aspirations. He took a role in Courage Under Fire, which required him to lose a great deal of weight. Without the assistance of a personal trainer (he didn’t have extra cash because he wasn’t the powerhouse he is now), the pounds began to come off. He successfully lost a significant amount of weight, but the film and his acting didn’t get the recognition he hoped for. Plus, he saw a doctor after all the weight loss and he was informed that this rapid decrease in weight almost cost him his life.

It wasn’t until many years later that Damon won an Oscar for Screenplay in his 1997 Best Picture nominated film, Good Will Hunting. Even though I cannot recall his exact words, Damon states that his name was called out, he went onstage, received his little golden man and thought, Is this it? Is this what I’ve been longing for? Is this little golden statue what I almost gave my life for?

I don’t think Matt Damon is a Christian, but I honestly don’t know enough about his personal life to say one way or the other. However, he is illustrating the idolatry that we know is present in each of our hearts. Even though we may not be longing for an Oscar, we have our lists of little golden men. Maybe they come in the form of a new car, a bigger salary, a slimmer waistline, more vacations, or [fill-in-the-blank]. I’m not picking on Damon, because I really enjoy his films and he is like the rest of humanity. Plus, I’m glad that he saw the emptiness of his idol and I pray that he follows after the only One who is able to fill the void in his heart.

In just a few more days, many more golden statues will be passed out to Hollywood hopefuls. Maybe you’ll be cheering alongside these actors, actresses, and filmmakers with a similar desire for them to win. Maybe you won’t even tune in to see who takes home the prize.

Whether or not you care I think it is an important event for Christians to take note of, because it is a window into the heart of our culture. Whether we like to admit it or not, Hollywood wields a great deal of power. Actors and actresses have influence. And, on Oscar night, we get to see which films they think are noteworthy. They let us in on what they consider to be worthy art. We so often want to know what messages are being communicated through film and what truths resonate with this culture. Well, Oscar night takes much of what Hollywood holds dear to their heart and displays if for all to survey.

So go ahead and tune into the Oscars with a watchful eye. Learn a little bit about the culture we live in. And, see if it grants you greater opportunities to bring the Truth to bear in this, often, dark sphere of our culture.

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[Warning: This post contains spoilers]

Promised Land tells the story of a multi-billion dollar organization named, Global, and their attempts to tap into natural resources in a local small town. Steve Butler [Matt Damon] and Sue Thomason [Frances McDormand] are the two Global execs sent in to lovingly sucker the people into signing off their land. Things are going smooth for Global until Dustin Nobel [John Krasinksi], an environmentalist working for Athena, steps in and begins to sway the townspeople. Dustin is also a small-town guy with a personal story of Global’s destruction to his farmland.

Promised Land reunited Matt Damon with Director Gus Van Sant, who directed Good Will Hunting. It also gave Damon and Krasinski the opportunity to co-write the screenplay together. PL wasn’t as straight-forward as I thought it would be. Yes, it may be fairly predictable at points, but there was a bit of a twist. As Dustin and Steve continue to fight-it-out among the townspeople, it becomes clear that Dustin has falsified his story – losing credibility among the townspeople.

In Steve’s final confrontation with Dustin, he’s puzzled as to why Dustin would create this false story. Steve in essence says, “We’re a $9 billion dollar company. You know we would have found that information out.” Through their interaction, however, Dustin slips up and discloses some information he didn’t intend. This reveals the fact that Dustin is actually working for Global, but was posing as an environmentalist with a false company. This is not only a shocking discovery to Steve, but a humbling one as Dustin basically tells Steve, “You think we’d let you do this on your own? We let you do exactly what we wanted you to do. You were in control of nothing. You’re at the big boys table now. You did a good job, though.”

Global had been watching Steve the entire time. Steve thought he was a big-shot, he thought he was in control, and he thought he was moving up the Global ladder. But, Dustin just revealed to Steve that there’s an entire level of Global he wasn’t aware of. In essence, Steve was just a little child – a puppet – in the hands of Global.

Well, Global did control a lot, but they couldn’t control Steve from speaking the truth to the townspeople. He confessed to all the lies and did the nobel thing Dustin “Nobel’s” character was pretending to do.

This did get me thinking about control. How much of our lives do we really control? We can make plans, come up with a schedule, but how often do things go the way we plan them? Steve thought he was in control, but it was someone else controlling him. Global, however, thought they were in control, but couldn’t control the convictions of Steve.

Dustin’s line did make me think of our sovereign God and how he controls all things. While we are not puppets, or robots, walking around the earth, we can ultimately only do what He allows us to do. He is, in fact, ordaining all things that come to pass. He is working through all of the evil we commit. Just as Dustin and Steve were spreading lies and cheating people, God works through the every day lies of individuals and ultimately brings truth in the end. He is the one who’s in control. He is the one exercising His common grace in the lives of wicked people. And, He is the one who will bring the light of the Truth to bear in the end – the consummation of the true Promised Land.

What a great way to reboot a movie dynasty when you lose the lead actor.  Hire another studly, action hero and run the tagline: There was never just one.  This sums up the premise behind The Bourne Legacy: Jason Bourne was not the only Jason Bourne.  He was not the only super secret black-ops government-trained assassin.  There are others–and Jeremy Renner is one of them.  And, there is actually an entire army of assassins enginereed by scientists and psychologists to do battle against our enemies.  So getting rid of Jason Bourne is now old news.  The CIA powers-that-be need to deal with all the other ones–and destroy them!

I’ll leave you to debate who makes a better “Bourne”–Matt Damon or Jeremy Renner.  Many of the early reviewers say that we will forget Damon when we see Renner’s performance.  But, will we get past seeing him as the  arrow-shooting Avenger, Hawkeye?  Again, that’s for you to discuss after you watch the movie.

What I want you to focus on in this preview post centers on the idea of LEGACY.  According to Webster’s dictionary, a legacy is “something received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”  How’s that for a vague definition!  Well, as far as The Bourne Legacy goes, Renner received the training, the brainwashing, the technology, the science that Bourne (his predecessor) received–and more.  He and others were transformed just like Bourne and carry the same mission.  There was never just one–there were many.

So, what about our legacies?  All human beings are legacies of Adam, our representative head.  When Adam fell into original sin, we all sinned.  When he died spiritually, we all died.  As he rebelled, we are all born rebels.  That’s our not-so-pretty, extremely destructive legacy.  That’s the bad news!  There was not just one sinner out there–ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

But, what about the Christian’s legacy?  We too received a terrible legacy from our ancestor and predecessor, Adam.  But Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, has given us a much better legacy.  In Him, we are redeemed.  In Him, we have moved from death to life.  In Him, we have been transformed.  The Christian’s legacy is one of being spiritually “re-engineered” in order to be like Christ and live for Christ.  We have been given purpose and a mission.  Now, for the Christian, it’s all about living it out by the grace of God.

And, another part of this good news parallels The Bourne Legacy: There was never meant to be just one.  Just as there was not just one Jason Bourne, there was not just one Christian.  Christ didn’t come to this earth, live, die, and rise again just to transform just one sinner into a Christian.  Thankfully, Christians are a part of the universal CHURCH.  We are part of the army of God.  We are members of a great herd of sheep living under the Great Shepherd.  The super-secret special governmental operation raised up an army of Jason Bournes that ended up to be a failed experiment.  In Christ, God the Father continues to raise up Christians to populate His Kingdom and to do His bidding–an “experiment” that will never fail, even though we are all sinners!

So Christian, if you know your identity is IN Christ (as we talked about in yesterday’s post), do you also know that “there is never just one?”  Do you know that you are not the only follower of Christ out there?  So why do you act so alone?  Why are you not in deep fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  If you actually live a life of conscious connection to the body of Christ, that’s awesome.  Keep reminding yourself of your LEGACY.  You have been given the great gift of salvation, you are being sanctified, and you have been given the community of Saints.

I’ll take the Christian’s legacy over the Bourne Legacy any day of the week!

I was given my first Robert Ludlum novel back in high school.  It just so happened to be The Bourne Identity (first published in 1980, for all of you youngsters out there).  My most vivid memory of that novel was that it was the first book that I couldn’t put down.  I think I finished it in just a few days.  The story was so compelling, the action so blindingly fast for a novel at that time–it was the best story I had ever read!  I became a Robert Ludlum junkie after that, reading many of his books…and definitely each Bourne book as it hit the shelf.

So, you can imagine my excitement when the first of the Bourne Trilogy was released in 2002 (Trivia: A Made-for-TV version of The Bourne Identity actually hit the airwaves in 1988, starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith.  It actually stuck much closer to the novel!)  Anyway, I really enjoyed the first Bourne film, and thought Matt Damon was tailor made for the role.  The Bourne Identity veered from the storyline in the novel way too much for my taste (no ending battle with Carlos, etc.), but that’s Hollywood!  As the other two movies were released, I was quick to see them in the theater, and it was well worth it.  The trilogy, in the end, is a good representation of Ludlum’s original works.

So now we have the release of a Damon-less Bourne film this weekend: The Bourne Legacy.  I like what I see in the trailers, and the reviews seem promising.  I will be previewing that movie for you tomorrow.  Jeremy Renner has some big shoes to fill!

For this post, let’s reminisce about The Bourne Trilogy.  If you have never seen the movies, here’s a VERY brief summary courtesy of IMDB: “A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and without memory, then races to elude assassins and recover from amnesia.  He is later forced to take up his former life as a trained assassin to survive.  Finally, Bourne searches for and discovers the origins of his life as a government-trained killer.”  Essentially, the three movies revolve around a question of IDENTITY.  Who is Jason Bourne?  Why is he such a skillful killer?  What is his future?  Will he continue to be who he is, or someone else?

Now what has always struck me about this story (and others like it) is that when Jason begins to get his memory back and discovers he’s an assassin, he’s totally distressed about it.  Why?  Why wouldn’t he recover from amnesia and be proud that his life is about killing people–especially bad guys?  It’s like waking up from a coma and realizing that you are really James Bond.  Shouldn’t that be exciting rather than depressing?  I think I’d be excited (yes, I’ve always fantasized about being a CIA agent with Children’s Ministry Director just being my cover).  Okay, so I know the answer to my incredulity here: No one really wants to wake up and discover he is a bad guy!  We all want to think of ourselves as good people.  So, in our politically correct times, assassin=bad…and all people are supposed to be good.  So I guess I understand why Jason wants to get to the bottom of how he became a killer–and then escape from that reality.

Let’s try to tie this into the world in which you and I live (unless you really are an amnesiac assassin).  As Christians, our identities are IN CHRIST.  We are His.  We are redeemed by Him, loved by Him, and then TRAINED by Him to live as His disciples in this world.  Just like Jason Bourne we are EQUIPPED for our mission and sent into the world to do it.  Yet also like Mr. Bourne, many Christians suffer from amnesia–spiritual amnesia.  We can forget who we are.  We can lose our sense of identity.  Especially with regular, besetting sin, our spiritual amnesia can cause us to question if we really are Christians.  And, when Christians live just like their pagan neighbors, they are telling themselves and the world they have forgotten who they really are.

Our propensity towards recurring spiritual amnesia is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.  It’s why we need our minds renewed.  It’s why we need to regularly gather as the people of God in worship, fellowship, and service.  It is just too easy to forget that we are Christians!  And it doesn’t even take a bullet wound to give us amnesia–it is the attacks of the Devil that can produce our amnesiac slumber.

So we all need to remember the words of Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV), “Set your minds on thing that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  As believers, there’s our true identity.  Our lives are hidden, secure, and safe in Christ.  When we truly know this truth, then we can live out Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…”  

Christians who put away their spiritual amnesia, and know who they REALLY are, can do all things in the name of Christ! 

The Adjustment Bureau: Who’s in charge here?

Posted: October 18, 2011 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Drama
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not sure if I have ever heard God described as “The Chairman” before–the “Man Upstairs” or “The Big Boss,” yes, but the Chairman is a new one to me.  And, angels as hat (rather than halo) wearing “Adjustment” bureaucrats?  That’s unique too.  Such is the world of The Adjustment Bureau–the latest movie attempt to deal with the much-debated conflict between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty.  It is a movie that is tailor-made for discussions about this essential theological issue.

The Adjustment Bureau centers on David Norris (Matt Damon), a rising political star, who ends up falling deeply in love with a mystery woman named Elise (Emily Blunt).  Unfortunately for this love-struck couple, this relationship is against The Chairman’s “plan” for their  individual lives.  The Chairman wants David to be president of the United States (too bad for him) and Elise to be a famous dancer.  For a variety of reasons, David and Elise cannot stay together and achieve this soveriegn plan.  So “adjustors” are dispatched by the Chairman to alter their paths so they will never end up together “happily ever after.”

But, by a freak series of mishaps, the veil is pulled back and David learns of the behind-the-scenes manipulations of The Chairman and his minions.  This leads to a lengthy battle (chase scene style) between the “free will” of David and the “sovereign plan for his life” of the Chairman.  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out whose plan wins out.  Go, rent it now!

As I have already said, what makes this film a great discussion piece is its underlying theology.  Consider some of the following conversation starters taken directly from the movie.  God has a plan for people, and he uses angels to make “adjustments” in their paths to keep them on track.  Or, the notion that free will is really just an illusion.  Or maybe, God actually gives people free will to choose “little things” but He takes care of the “big things” of life.  Or, try this other variation proposed by the film: God used to stay out of things in this world, but then we had the “Dark Ages.”  He stepped back in to “adjust” humanity, and then we had the Enlightenment and Renaissance.  After that, he left humans to themselves again, but they screwed things up again, creating the World Wars and the Great Depression.  A fascinating view of history, wouldn’t you say?  Finally, by the end of the movie, we are treated to the theological view that God’s meddling in our lives is just a big series of tests to see if we will learn to live rational lives.  Then, in the future, maybe, just maybe, God won’t have to design the plans for humans anymore; he could again trust us to design the plans ourselves!

Yes, there are some (very) partial truths in there–that’s why The Adjustment Bureau is such a great movie to watch and think through.  Unfortunately, there’s one BIG truth missing in this Who’s in charge here? film: The goodness of God.  A God who is sovereign and not good is just a dictatorial “chairman.”  A God who makes plans that thwart the so-called “good” desires of the human heart makes human beings much more good than God!

Praise the Lord that we don’t have to fear a controlling Chairman who is only about making things go according to his plan.  One of the movie’s taglines quips: “Fight for your fate.”  Thankfully, we don’t have to!   We serve a loving God whose plan for His people is perfect.  His children can rest in the comfort and joy that a redeeming God holds their futures in His hands and can be fully trusted to bring His plans to pass.  So, when we find ourselves “fighting” for our own plans, the solution is always to submit to an all-knowing, all-loving Lord, Master, and Chairman of our souls!

Yesterday we determined that every human being is designed for community, but every human being has been infected by a ‘virus’ called sin.  Let us get back to the garden to look at this a bit more closely.

Adam was created by God and God educated us that the first thing in creation which was not good was for man to be alone [Gen. 2:18].  He created Eve to be with Adam and the three of them dwelt together in perfect communion. However, Adam and Eve gave into the temptation of the serpent and lost perfect communion with God.  Instead of having perfect, immediate communion with God, it now must be mediated communion with God (Note: Tim Challies’ book The Next Story has a great chapter on this).  Our contagion put us into a quarantined (if you will) relationship from God.  But God, in his grace and faithfulness, did not leave us without a Cure.

In the movie, Dr. Leonora Orantes’ (Marion Cotillard) character is the one who attempts to find the source or origin of the virus.  The obvious hope of finding a source of the virus is also finding the cure.  Throughout the movie, paranoia begins to spread, because there are rumors about this cure.  It is said that the French and Americans have a cure, but they are keeping it to themselves.

This points us to our sin all the more.  Sin causes paranoia, fear, and hatred.  It causes all these things, because sin is smart.  It possesses a power over us. When speaking of the virus in the film, someone remarks, “It’s figuring us out faster than we’re figuring it out.”  Is this not true of our sin?  Our sin has got us pegged and owns us, in a sense.

It possesses such a power that the apostle Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:15, 19)

Just like the infected subjects in the film, Paul found that he too was infected with a virus that had infected his entire being.

There is no doubt that Contagion is a frightening thriller that resonates with most audiences.  However, the reality of our sin is something more alarming than anything a Hollywood screenwriter could conjure up.  Our sin infects mankind to the core and renders them capable of horrors that are only limited to the fallen human mind.

Unlike the phrase uttered in the film, “The truth is being kept from the world”, we cannot say that.  We know both the origin and the Cure of our contagion. The origin is us, we rebelled against God and ushered in sin, but he did not leave us to ourselves.  Rather, he provided a cure through his one and only Son.

The truth is not being kept from the world, rather the world has rejected the Truth.  But in the Truth of Jesus Christ, we move from a broken fellowship of fear into a communion of peace and harmony that will never be broken.

A first glance at this premise and you might think this should be a made for TV movie. However, once you notice Academy Award winning director, Steven Soderbergh, and the Academy Award winning/nominated cast (Cotillard, Damon, Fishburne, Law, Paltrow, & Winslet), one may take more than a passing glance at Contagion. You can also throw in a screenwriter (Burns) who has played a part in The Bourne Ultimatum, The Informant, and the much-anticipated remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo, and you realize this might actually be a great picture. Maybe not Oscar material (even though there is some Oscar buzz about it…we just created some) but a well-made thriller.

Not only do the cast and filmmaker cause one to think that this film takes its craft very seriously, but the story is one that truly resonates with all audiences. The story follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. Just like several of the movies we’ve discussed on this blog, we have a story that employs the element of fear to get people into the seats.

Contagion uses a likely scenario to strike fear in our hearts but, it hits on a deeper level than that. It’s a disease that drives people into isolation, which ultimately goes against the way we are created.

As this airborne contagion is becoming more widespread, the characters of the film are attempting to remain immune, even though the origin of the virus is unknown. We hear one character remark, “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone, stay away from other people. We may not realize this because we’re surrounded by people each and everyday, but being completely alone is terrifying.

Some people think they want to be alone and when we get moments of solitude those can be nice, but to be completely cut-off and separated from mankind is terrifying. It’s terrifying because we weren’t designed to be alone; we were created for community.

As we have said on this blog before, every human is created in the image of God – whether they recognize that or not makes no difference. We are created in the image of God and God is three Persons in One; i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit [Gen. 1:26]. These three persons dwell with each other in perfect communion and fellowship. Therefore, we too desire to have perfect communion and fellowship with one another. That’s why going to the local theater is not an individual experience, but a shared experience. Movies are typically funnier when the whole audience is laughing and they’re scarier when the whole theater is screaming. This is true because these experiences are shared.

This is why Contagion is all the more thrilling and frightful. It’s terrifying because a widespread disease is something every human realizes could become a reality. But the design of this film adds another layer to the fear by creating a virus that divides and separates human beings from one another.

The reality is, sin is our contagion. Sin divides us and wars against community. It separates and drives us into isolation. It causes paranoia and fear in each of us. Although sin spreads faster than an airborne virus and its path causes great destruction, we do have a Cure for our contagion. We will look more intently at this tomorrow.