Though The Beguiled feels initially like something new for Coppola (and in many ways it is), the film has definite resonances, both thematically and stylistically, with the director’s prior work. One of the ideas Coppola often explores is the intersection of innocence and danger, the ways that bourgeois “play” often flirts with transgression and rebellion.
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the few places where Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is playing, do yourself a favor and go see it. Take your kids, your church small group, your fellow lovers of cinema and nature and awe-inspiring beauty. The 45-minute film (a 90-minute, non-IMAX version is set to release in 2017) is a perfect example of the sort of liturgical cinema Malick has mastered
How are we humans actually different than animals? In The Lobster humans are mostly Darwinian creatures fighting simply to survive natural selection. The film is full of Hunger Games-style hunts. When characters die there are no tears. Sex is very urge-driven and emotionless. Even the characters who do find “matches” do it merely for their own survival. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, in more ways than one.
In the Christianity of my childhood, Easter Sunday was Cadbury eggs, brunch and celebratory church services full of rollicking hymns like “Up from the grave He arose.” In my adolescence and twenty-something years I became fond of celebrating Good Friday, a part of Easter weekend largely bypassed in my childhood. With its mournful tone and quieter focus on the cross, Good Friday was almost more compelling to my melancholy self than the joy of Easter.
A year ago at this time, discussion of Hollywood’s “religious renaissance” began in earnest. Movies like Son of God, Noah, Heaven is for Real and God’s Not Dead were preparing to release, with more faith-oriented films set to come out later in the year (Mom’s Night Out, The Identical, Left Behind, Exodus). A year later, after mixed box office results and plenty of heated blogosphere chatter, what have we learned about what works and what doesn’t when faith and film collide?
I was asked by Biola's Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts to pen a Christmas day reflection for the "Advent Project," reflecting in part on Rembrandt's painting, "The Adoration of the Shepherds." Here is part of what I wrote, followed by a prayer:
Perhaps it is fitting that it was in a London hotel room on July 11 that I first received the news of Chris's passing. I couldn't believe the e-mail I was reading. I couldn't believe that I would never see Chris again. Just a few weeks earlier I had passed Chris on the campus of Biola and we'd made plans to get dinner this summer with our wives, as we'd done once before since he and Julie moved out to California last year. I couldn't believe that, just like that, he was gone.
Yes, our individual stories matter, but mostly because they are subplots and microcosms of the BIG story God is telling. Each of our lives can be a reflection of the redemptive story God authors on a massive scale. Each is a compelling chapter in the epic of creation.A movie that I think illustrates this well is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
Advent is a season of light and dark. As much as the media and the prevailing spirit of the season tries to frame Christmastime as an endless array of cheer and merriment, there's no getting around the reality of our dark, treacherous, weary world. But it's better that way. The light shines brighter in the dark. Advent celebrates the moment when true light entered into our dark world. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Is. 9:2).
A professor I admire once said — while discussing the films of Yasujiro Ozu, or maybe it was semiotics (can’t remember) — that watching the sun set can be both a thing of incredible beauty and deep sadness, often simultaneously. I thought of this as I watched Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, which includes a scene of a couple sitting by the sea in Greece, watching the sun slowly dip below the horizon. It’s there, there, there — and then it’s not there. A fleeting flare of arresting orange. Present and then absent. Perhaps the beauty and sadness of a sunset has to do with the fact that it’s the process in nature we humans most identify with. Ours is a context of ephemerality.
A few weeks ago I read Zadie Smith’s essay, “Joy,” in the New York Review of Books. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a beautifully written, decidedly contemporary reflection on joy with a tone I suspect Millennial and Gen-X readers will particularly resonate with.
Christian moviegoers sometimes lament the dearth of good, positive, realistic portrayals of faith in film. If Christians are portrayed in film, it’s usually as right-wing zealots (Citizen Ruth), scary pentecostals (Jesus Camp), or psychotic killers (Night of the Hunter). Or faith is reduced to schmaltzy simplicity, as in most “Christian films” (Facing the Giants, Fire Proof). But many films throughout cinema history have actually provided rich, artful portraits of faith. The following is a list of 33 films that take faith seriously; films I believe every Christian should make a point to see.
I long for the day when we will have moved on from “Christian film" as a category. I long for the day when evangelicals will make excellent films that are beautiful, lasting, complex and true. I long for the day when Christian moviegoers will appreciate truly great films and encounter God through them, regardless of if they are made by Christians or pagans.
Higher Ground is a great companion piece to the searing must-see Korean drama, Secret Sunshine, which released this week on Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray. Both films center on a woman's journey of evangelical Christian faith through ups, downs, doubts, renewal and tragedy. Both films are made by outsiders to evangelical Christianity but with a sympathetic eye toward truly understanding the complexity of the life of faith. Subsequently, both are brutally honest, messy, sometimes difficult portrayals that get one thing very right about the journey of religious faith: It's not always easy.
The Tree of Life, like Terrence Malick's other 4 films, is rich with layers of beauty and meaning, but its also stubbornly ambiguous at times and potentially maddening. It's not a film you can fully "get" on a first or second viewing, if at all, but that's not to say that it doesn't have intense and immediate pleasures and gifts to offer, if one is willing to receive.
Throughout World, Malick's fourth film, trees are an essential image and metaphor. Early in the film, trees anchor the boats as the European colonists arrive. At the end, tree comprise the final shot. We look upward at a towering cathedral of trees, and then the film ends with the delicate drop of a leaf.
I just came from speaking about film criticism at the Biola Media Conference, on a panel with myself and Justin Chang of Variety. The topic of "Christian" or "redemptive" film was raised, and the moderator (Biola film professor Lisa Swain) asked Justin and I which filmmakers we thought were currently making the most "redemptive" films--were they Christians or non-Christians? Even in spite of the nebulous meaning of "redemptive film," Justin and I both immediately jumped to the films of the Dardenne Brothers as examples of some of the best "redemptive" cinema happening these days. But there are many others I could have mentioned. So, for those who were in the session this morning (or anyone else), here are some other recent films I would recommend that you immediately Netflix, if you haven't seen them yet.
I didn’t think the Coen brothers could top No Country For Old Men, their Oscar-winning masterpiece (which I wrote about here). But A Serious Man comes awfully close. This is a film unlike anything the Coens have ever done, and yet it fits perfectly into their oeuvre. It’s a film about God, man, and the peculiar way that the two relate. And it’s a film that will haunt and provoke you far after you leave the theater.