The U.S. embassy in Germany has a nice page on film. On it, they say, “Moving pictures were not an American invention; however, they have nonetheless been the preeminent American contribution to world entertainment.” Do you think that movies are what Americans do best? They are also good at drone warfare, but let’s stay thankful.
I am thankful for the stimulation the movies gave me over the holiday. Gwen and I often see one of the big movies when the distributors begin their winter releases. This time we decided to do it big and we saw four! Each one had some inspiration to offer in one way or another. If you can go to the movies as “play” they can be good for you. When a very young child is first playing with their parents, he or she is learning to discern between imagination and actuality, what is in my mind and what is in an other’s. When we go to the movies, an author, director and crew are telling an artful story. Experiencing the story, imagining what is behind it, and discerning what it all means is a rich experience of mental activity. Of course, if one just experiences the violence, language, sex, and noise in the film, it might be better to skip the sensory oppression. If one just consumes movies and does not relate to them, I’d avoid them.
The movies I saw each had something to say that is very relevant to where I live and to what is happening around me in the quickly-changing social landscape of the United States! It was like going on retreat! Let me tell you about them in the order experienced.
The Life of Pi
I went to see The Life of Pi when Wreck it Ralph was not an option. I was glad I did. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, as Ang Lee no doubt hoped I would. It is a stunningly beautiful film I would watch again without the sound on. I wish I had a more extravagant word than stunning to describe how beautiful. It also has a lot to say — layers and layers to say. But the main thing I took away was about the power of story in the face of the facts. It is a nice piece of rebellion against the rationalists who dominate so much of what is proper and legal in the United States. We all want to love, feel, and forgive, but we are forced to fight over facts, policies and definitions. One’s identity is more than the definition, one’s life is more than what happens.
Lincoln was a revelation in so many ways. I am not a big critic of movies, generally, since I want to relate to them, not critique them. But I know a better one from a worse one, I think. I have to say that I don’t think there is anything wrong with Spielberg’s loving portrayal of St. Abraham. And Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens! One of my friends ran to Amazon immediately to find out about this unknown abolitionist from PA. Some critic said Sally Field was miscast as Lincoln’s troubled wife – poppycock. What I took away was all about leadership. Lincoln had his eye on “true north” and got there in whatever way he could. He seems to have been a master of doing the best with what was available. He learned while others were just defending themselves. And the 13th Amendment is a good thing. Democracy won’t save us, but let’s celebrate when the righteous last long enough in it to get something good accomplished.
I like costume dramas and set direction, so I was looking forward to Anna Karenina. I was not disappointed by the art (although sometimes the artifice was distactingly artificial). “All the world’s a stage” and much of the movie is set on the literal set of an old theater. And Kiera Knightly wears some amazing stuff, when she is clothed. But they just told the story of Anna’s affair without much of the backstory Tolstoy was really talking about! It put me to sleep, literally (but then, so did the book, I admit). It reminded me of some experiences I have had when I am listening to someone and I am quite bored with what they are saying. Most of the time I need to pinch myself and get engaged because they aren’t really doing any inner work. I might need to pinch whatever they are doing so they can wake up. Lord knows that many people I know are totally led around by their lust and unprocessed obsessions, miserable and making other feel the same.
Silver Linings Playbook
I did not really want to go see Silver Linings Playbook. I’d only heard about it from Gwen. Once again, I find out how trustworthy Gwen is! If you love Philly and the people of Philly, this is worth the price of admission. I did not realize it was a great reflection of our fair city. A main scene happens in the Wanamaker building ballroom where I attended a Habitat fundraiser earlier in the year! But what I loved even more, with all my psychotherapy studies this year, was seeing troubled people doing good work and feeling better, plus troubled families managing not to be messed up by the system too much and finding their way home. Even the police are not too bad in this movie! What I took away was some encouragement to go with my best inspiration and let my positive attempts bear fruit. Good things can happen.
My sojourn in the movies turned out to be a good pre-Advent retreat. The incarnation is a great story. Teaching about it and leading through it requires being inventive in the face of an era of change in which people seem to be light on meaning and not so happy with that. I want to hold on to the surprising hope that does not disappoint. We are built for joy and Jesus is the continual spark that allows it to flame.