Tag Archives: movies

Friday Night Ramblings

2 Mar

A few random thoughts on a Friday evening . . .

  • Good fiction and good biography share the common trait of compelling narrative. We seem to be wired for story. Interesting that so much of the Bible is story (and the whole book has an overarching storyline).
  • Reading poetry is a wake-up call for those enmeshed in the information age.
  • I believe most of us would lose weight and feel better if we gave up sugar and simple carbs.
  • I believe giving up sugar and simple carbs is for many of us as difficult as a two pack a day guy quitting smoking.
  • Doing the hard things early in the day is often wise.
  • I would prefer to listen to a “secular” song that grapples with life and reality over a “spiritual” song that is empty or lacking in biblical content.
  • For modern day “spiritual” music that is not lacking in biblical content, I don’t think you can do much better than Andrew Peterson.
  • I admired Billy Graham. Never met him and only heard him once in person. I like the fact that the good news about Jesus went out in his death as it had in his life.
  • Why can’t we look at school shootings in a holistic way instead of running to our ideological corners to defend what we care about or destroy what we detest? Why not instead come together and work together, leaving nothing off the table, using an evidence-based approach to develop policies that will save lives.? We can’t prevent evil behavior but is there a way to protect people while also upholding personal freedom?
  • My favorite movies of the last few years (in no particular order) . . . Lion, Fences, Les Miserables, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Rogue One, LaLa Land, Hidden Figures, Doubt
  • My favorite movies of all time . . . To Kill a Mockingbird, Jaws, On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, A Few Good Men, Shawshank Redemption (TV version), In the Heat of the Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Natural, Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • With all that said, I am not a huge movie person. I may go to two movies a year and don’t watch many on TV.
  • Fiction I enjoyed (but didn’t read until after the age of 40) . . . Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, P.G. Wodehouse books (hilarious).
  • If I could only have one style of music to listen to for the rest of my life I think I would choose the singer-songwriters of the 70’s (James Taylor, Carole King, Bread, Cat Stevens, etc.).
  • Why do some people think being against abortion is only a religious issue? I’d be against it based on the science alone.
  • How many of the decisions we make are rooted in our idolatries? (scary thought)
  • You’re always going to let people down, and they are always going to let you down. When it happens, gratitude is better than bitterness.
  • Jesus is great and He is good. He is full of grace and truth. In His cross we find a firm place to stand and a soft place to fall. We find in His perfect life not only a model but His very righteousness accounted to us through faith. We find in His death on the cross the only way to be delivered from the righteous wrath of God against sin. We find in His empty tomb the proof that He is who He says He is and that as He lives, so will we. This is my hope. I pray you will find life and hope in Him too, the way, the truth and the life.

Dead Poets Society: 25 Years Later

22 Dec

** Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen this movie, major plot lines are discussed below.

In 1989, I saw Dead Poets Society in the theater with a good friend from college. It was the first movie I’d ever seen in the theater which so moved me that I could not speak for minutes after the movie concluded. The movie spoke to so many realities in my life at that time. The phrase carpe diem resonated with me as a young man on the cusp of all life had to offer. “Seize the day, make something extraordinary of you lives.” The character of Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) inspired me with his creative teaching style and his focused efforts to get his students to think and to open themselves up to new possibilities. The interaction of the boys with each other opened up to me the possibilities of true community and friendship. The character of Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) particularly affected me. I saw so much of myself in him. Fearful, shy, lacking confidence. I identified with his character completely.  The triumphant moment when he stands on his desk in allegiance to Mr. Keating is still one of my favorite movie moments. Mr. Keating brings Todd out of his shell over the course of the movie and in the end Todd stands up in courage to defend Keating. Todd, who had been the very definition of a follower, becomes a leader. But the most emotional part of the movie for me 25 years ago was the story of Neil (Robert Sean Leonard). The son of a domineering father who insisted he become a doctor, Neil’s imagination was captured by Keating and he followed the mantra of carpe diem, convincing his friends to re-form the Dead Poets’ Society, a secret club founded by Keating many years earlier. In addition, Neil finds his passion: acting. He gets cast in the lead role of a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Knowing his father would disapprove and prohibit his participation in the play, Neil hides his performance from his father. The father finds out and, though seeing Neil’s dynamic performance and the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, the father chastises Neil and decides to pull him out of school at Welton and put him into military school. Neil reaches his breaking point and late that night goes into his father’s office and kills himself. His father and mother discover his body. Keating is made the scapegoat through his influence on the boys and this ultimately sets the stage for Keating’s dismissal and the movie’s final scene.

Last night, for the first time in 25 years, I watched Dead Poets Society again. I was still moved, though nowhere near the way I was moved the first time I saw the movie. I know part of the reason is that this was a second viewing but I also believe that Dead Poets Society was a movie made explicitly to appeal to the young. I am no longer young. The teaching of Keating still inspires me, though I am not given so much to ripping out the introduction of a textbook when I don’t agree with it. I am not eager to offhandedly dismiss those with whom I disagree but would rather interact and understand different viewpoints. I also found that the phrase carpe diem holds very little charm to me anymore, especially when coupled with the phrase, “make something extraordinary of your lives.” I love the idea of having passion for life and particular passions we pursue. This is much of what makes life a joy. Yet the idea of following your passion as your life’s goal, when said passion is a career or a hobby or an expression of one’s talent, has largely lost all charm to me. I have come to see that most of what is thought to be extraordinary in our culture is largely empty, while the things thought ordinary are most profound. A long pattern of faithfulness to God, to one’s spouse, to children, to integrity and hard work is much more valuable to me than the ability to act or sing or create. When we think of extraordinary, we think of someone who creates an app that entertains millions, but we should think instead of the middle-aged woman who cares lovingly for aging parents. Doing something extraordinary with your life may mean changing diapers for several years without resentment. It may mean working a job you don’t love so you can provide for those you do love. One of the most twisted parts of my early Christian life was the issue of “doing something great for God.” Many young men and women are filled with delusions of grandeur by well-meaning adults and put on a track where onward and upward is the only way to go. So they go off to the mission field hailed as heroes or pastor a church or lead in some other ministry. Most do not set the world on fire. When the inevitable bumps in the road come, when inward expectations are not met, disappointment and even depression follow. I have been learning over these last twenty five years that simple, daily faithfulness is the real way to seize the day and that pain and suffering and hardship and waiting are essential tools in the hand of God for shaping our souls in a good way.

But most of all in regards to the movie, I now look at Neil so much differently. When I first saw the movie, I thought his suicide almost heroic. He was not willing to compromise his ideals, even if it meant death. In the end, Neil was unyielding. Since he couldn’t live the life he wanted to live, he wouldn’t live at all. But now, twenty five years later, I see Neil’s suicide, while an effective (some would say manipulative) plot device, as ultimately and only a great tragedy in the story. Looking into the faces of my four children makes me realize that Neil ultimately threw away so much. He missed out on so much of the joy of life because of the one thing he thought he couldn’t live without. He was ruled by his passion for acting and need to be free from his father’s domination. He lacked the ability to see into the future, much as I did when I first saw the movie. He lacked the ability to see that over the course of time, new vistas open to us, we are never really confined to one and only one destiny. The one constant in life, apart from God, is change. Neil could have pursued his interests and had a great measure of independence had he only waited. Of course, this would have taken away from the dramatic impact of the movie. Nevertheless, Neil’s life is not a good template for us to follow. Patience over impulsiveness, passion tempered with wisdom, this is a better way. Throwing one’s life away in suicide seems to me never a good option.

Twenty five years have made a difference. Maybe I’ve just become a “get off my lawn” old man, I don’t know. What I do see is how much one’s views can change over time and how maybe we ought to cut younger people some slack when their attitudes are strident or their passions seem misplaced. And at the same time we give them grace, though, maybe we should also lovingly share with them things we have come to recognize through life experience. The last twenty five years have allowed me, like Keating’s students, to stand on the desk and see from a different perspective. Maybe I’ll watch this movie again in 2039 if I’m still around. That would be an interesting blog article, if blogs still exist (the way things change, probably not).

Good Bible Movies

24 Apr

Every year at Easter we see a spate of Bible movies on TV.  There are a few through the years that I have come to really appreciate and a few others that are not among my favorites.  I want to share with you a few of the movies I have really enjoyed through the years that you might consider watching this holiday weekend or in the near future.

Movies About the Life of Jesus:

Jesus of Nazareth (1977):  Franco Zefirelli directed this movie, which originally aired as a 6 hour miniseries.  At 6 hours, it is a real commitment to watch, but there are enough good moments to warrant a viewing.  There are several well-known actors in the movie (Ernest Borgnine, Anne Bancroft, Laurence Olivier, Michael York), but it is the mystical Robert Powell as Jesus who takes center stage.  Some criticize Powell as a blue-eyed, frail Jesus, but I thought the movie stayed true to important gospel themes.  This is not a straight rendering of the biblical text, but I think it is a faithful rendering of the life of Christ.  The scene where Laurence Olivier, as Nicodemus, quotes Isaiah 53 as he views Jesus on the cross never ceases to move me.  Rod Steiger’s Pontius Pilate is amazing, and James Farentino, who was nominated for an Emmy for his role, is incredibly good as Simon Peter, especially in his speech in the Upper Room in the aftermath of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene.

The Miracle Maker (2000):  I believe this movie first aired on ABC and can sometimes still be seen on TV sometimes around Easter.  This movie is an incredible artistic achievement.  It is made almost entirely with the use of stop-motion puppets (think Claymation).  I remember seeing commercials when it first aired and being concerned that it was going to be a very irreverent movie because of this.  It is anything but irreverent.  The story is handled with sensitivity and power.   After a while, you forget that you are watching stop-motion puppets as you get immersed in the story.  Suitable for children, but it will speak powerfully to all ages.

This story does depart slightly from the Scriptures in that it uses the interactions between Jesus and a girl he heals as the narrative tie for the story.  I think this was done so that the viewer could see Jesus through the eyes of a child.  This movie has the most powerful resurrection scene of any Jesus movie I have seen.

Other Movies about Jesus:  I am not a big fan of the Jesus movies of the 50’s and 60’s like The Greatest Story Ever Told and King of Kings.   These films do not hold my interest like the two I have mentioned above.  I have never seen The Robe, though it is a movie that some like around this time of the year.  The Jesus movie (1979), which by some accounts is the most watched movie in history, having been shown around the world to hundreds of millions of people through Campus Crusade for Christ, is a faithful retelling of the gospel but lacks the acting and production values to merit repeated viewings.  The movie Godspell  (1973) fails on many levels as an attempt to place the story of Jesus in the modern world.  Notably, the film version contains no hint of the resurrection, but simply implies that the followers of Jesus carry on the teachings of the crucified Messiah.  The 2004 blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ, flourishes in many places but fails miserably in others, so much so that I can not recommend it.  Interestingly, it is the scenes unrelated to the crucifixion which are most moving to me.  I have heard from some that the movie The Gospel of John is quite good, but I have not seen it.

Movies About Other Bible Figures:

Abraham:  This is part of a series of movies called The Bible Collection.  Originally aired on TNT in 1994, Abraham is a faithful retelling of the classic Old Testament account of the great patriarch.  Richard Harris as Abraham is excellent.  Barbara Hershey is outstanding in the role of Sarah.  The acting is excellent throughout.  There are times when the low budget shows through, especially when special effects are involved (like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), nevertheless this is a great movie.  Abraham’s destruction of his brothers idols is a highlight for me, and of course the scene with Isaac at the end is amazing.  The movies in The Bible Collection are very uneven in thier quality.  Some, like Abraham are excellent, while others, like Jacob are very poor.

Joseph:  This is probably my favorite Bible-themed movie.  It is also a part of The Bible Collection.  Released in 1995, Joseph traces the story in a biblically-faithful way from beginning to end.  Special emphasis is put on Potiphar as a way of moving the story forward (and Ben Kingsley is awesome as Potiphar), but the bulk of the film deals directly with the accounts in Genesis 37-50.  Paul Mercurio portrays Joseph with dignity and strength.  The actors who portray the brothers of Joseph are uniformly excellent.  Particularly notable are the performances of the actors who played Judah, Reuben and Simeon.  Martin Landau as Jacob is quite good throughout, and there are many memorable scenes.  The scene of Joseph being thrown into the pit is brilliantly done.  The rise of Joseph in Egypt, with the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams is dramatic and moving and in keeping with the biblical account.  Most of all, the scene of Joseph’s revelation of himself to his brothers in the end of the movie is one of the most moving scenes I have seen in any film, whether biblically-related or not.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you seen any good Bible-related movies that I left out?  Did you like one I didn’t like?  I know some people have a conviction that we shouldn’t watch Bible-related movies, that it is irreverent to do so.  I can understand that perspective but I do not want to discuss it here.  But if you have any thoughts on the films I have shared or others, let me hear from you.

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