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zero dark thirty misleads about torture

zero dark thirty misleads about torture

From the National Religous Campaign Against Torture:

Zero Dark Thirty is a work of fiction that depicts graphic acts of torture. The movie’s implication that the use of torture produced critical intelligence is false. In particular, the clues that were essential to the hunt for Osama bin Laden were obtained through humane methods. Torture, in fact, produced false leads that wasted valuable time and staffing.

Read the rest of the article: Zero Dark Thirty: The Facts and the Fiction

straight story

straight story

Movie poster: the straight storyWhat a great movie!

I previewed David Lynch’s film the straight story last evening. It tells the real-life story of Alvin Straight, an elderly Iowan who rode a lawn mower two hundred and sixty miles from Laurens, Iowa to visit his ailing brother in Mount Zion, Wisconsin.

I will be showing the film as part of our monthly Movie Night at the Ensworths’ series for people from our church. It is a beautifully made film, beautiful in its simplicity and its emotional power and its celebration of human goodness, not a goodness that is artificial or overtly demonstrative, but a goodness that is interwoven into the fabric of stubborness and pride and regret and loss with which we can all identify.

It is a tender and hopeful film, and a funny and playful film. But what makes it special is its refusal to go “over the top” or to indulge in easy sentimentalism or to tie up all the loose ends. It celebrates love and forgiveness and joy and endurance, sterling Christian virtues all, without being preachy. You simply see the virtues in action … and end up believing that you yourself might be capable of such feelings and such kindnesses.

love and war

love and war

We were visited by a major winter storm in Iowa this weekend, and our Saturday and Sunday plans (which were many!) were cancelled. We enjoyed some good down time, a fire in the fireplace, and we watched two movies, two among the list of movies we have been wanting to preview. The two movies could not have been more different!

The one was about beauty: the beauty of love, of loyalty, of humility, of service, of human creativity, of the smallest details of the natural world. The other was about ugliness: the ugliness of war, the ugliness it does to people, the ugliness it makes people do. The one was lyrical in its storytelling; the other disturbing.

The Scent of Green Papaya cover imageThe first movie we watched was The Scent of Green Papaya. It was made in 1993 in France and is set in mid-twentieth-century Viet Nam. The film won the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

It tells the story of Miu, a girl perhaps ten years old when we first meet her. She comes to Saigon to live as a household servant with a family of six: a father and mother, three sons, and the father’s mother. Through Miu’s eyes we see the pain and grief and anger and longing of the members of the family, but we also see the beauties of the world they inhabit, beauties celebrated and appreciated in intimate detail: thin strips of fruit shaved from a papaya, an ant carrying off a kernel of rice, the milk dripping from the stem from which the papaya was cut, the crickets Miu keeps as her “pets,” fried meats and vegetables tenderly arranged on a bed of rice, frogs hopping through a rain-soaked garden. The photography — colors, textures, perspectives — is exquisite.

The last part of the film is set ten years later when Miu moves to a new household, to serve there a young musician from a wealthy family, a friend of the oldest son of the family she had been serving. Slowly, quietly, tenderly, there unfolds a new story, the story of one who comes to recognize the beauties in her …

The Ground Truth cover imageThe second film we saw was The Ground Truth. It is a documentary made in 2006, chronicling the psychological wounds of returning veterans of the war in Iraq. It provides them a stage to tell of the horrors they have witnessed and the horrors they have done and the horrors of what the war has done to them, in their own words. It is disturbing to see the war through their eyes, to understand what it takes to make a man or a woman into an effective soldier, an effective killing machine, and to feel their shame and their loss and their struggle to live anything like a normal life on their return home.

so what do i think of the da vinci code?

so what do i think of the da vinci code?

Not much.

Which means both that I don’t think much of it, and that I don’t think much about it. I have neither seen the movie nor read the book, though I’ve read reviews and talked with folks who have. I do not feel the same sense of threat that some Christians and Christian organizations seem to. I feel no need to make a reply to the assertions of The Da Vinci Code. I believe without reservation that truth will outlast any passing fancy or cultural buzz.

I did not see The Passion of the Christ for the same reasons. In that instance, too, I felt that the fanciful (and largely self-serving) fabrications of one man’s imagination did not merit serious debate. The story itself — the story of the God who came among us and shared our common lot — holds far more wonder, far more mystery, far more beauty, than any “revised version.” The story does not re-telling. It needs re-hearing!

Both the recently discovered Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code appeal to human pride, our fondness for being among the “insiders,” for being numbered among those “in the know.” We like to think the truth is so complex, so impenetrable, that only the elite few (including ourselves, of course) can discover its secrets. A story so simple as a God who loves us completely and desires nothing more and nothing less than our complete love in return may not excite the book publishers or movie producers, but to me, it is far more compelling and simply rings true.

For another well-written take on the gnostic tendencies of The Da Vinci Code, see Novel faiths, an editorial column in the May 16, 2006 issue of The Christian Century.

why i won’t see the chronicles of narnia

why i won’t see the chronicles of narnia

I will not be seeing the new movie, The Chronicles of Narnia. I love the books too much …

Film is a wonderfully creative medium, capable of conveying meaning and conjuring beauty in ways unmatched by any other art form. I do love a good movie! But film by its nature limits imagination, while literature by its nature (if it is good writing!) stimulates imagination. The powerful images that have inhabited my mind and soul from childhood, Aslan and Lucy and Caspian and Shasta and Puddleglum and Reepicheep — I will not permit these beloved and edifying images to be reshaped by someone else’s imagination!

I have been told that the movie is faithful to Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That may well be true. But I am certain that too much will be made of “action scenes,” which play a very small role in the book, and not enough of the subtleties of character, of character being forged in the face of doubt and temptation and fear. It would be difficult indeed for any movie to capture the keen and simple beauty of Narnia, a place that is as much spiritual landscape, as it is an imagined world.

And I know they will not get the lion right. Aslan is not a tame lion. He is terrible and tender, aweful and awesome. He is a lion, but not a lion, something larger, something Other. Only imagination can perceive him as he is, just as only faith can perceive Jesus as he is.

Go see the movie if you will. But do read the book. Read the books! May Narnia be a place where you encounter and learn to love better the One who in our world is called by a different name …

“million dollar baby”

“million dollar baby”

My daughter’s boyfriend had us all watch “Million Dollar Baby” the other night. It was a good movie — well-made, engrossing, creative, understated. It conveyed powerful emotions with spare action and spare dialogue. I enjoyed watching the movie — and I am no fan of boxing — but I didn’t like the ending.


What does give a life value?
When is suffering no longer redemptive or no longer redeemable?
When is a life no longer worth living?

I grant that I know nothing of what it is like to be in a body like Maggie’s … a body useless and wasting away. And I know nothing of being in Frankie’s position … seeing the one I dearly love in that powerless and humiliating state. But suicide for the one, assisting suicide for the other, seem too easy and even selfish. The movie creates a great deal of sympathy for that choice, paints it as a redemptive choice — letting Maggie “go out” while she has it all, instead of letting her linger and lose everything.

But what is the “everything” she risks losing? Her success, the achievement of her life’s dream? But it seems to me that the most valuable thing she gains in the course of the film is Frankie’s love. She gains a father. He gains a daughter. He grieves because she asks him to let her go. But is it not this love itself that gives her life value? That love continues, loving her always and still as she is … forever. Loving her because she is.

And that is what God’s love is like, too. Loving us as we are, just because we are. At her best, Maggie showed the strength and beauty of her spirit, her loyalty, her faith … turning down a contract with a rival manager to stay with Frank, turning away her heartless and greed-crazed family members, not letting herself be consumed with self-pity.

Would it not be fitting if Maggie’s final act of strength and beauty and loyalty and faith were to entrust herself to God — as long as she has breath, to allow Frankie to love her and be loved by her — to live in joy even in the presence of suffering for both of them, to live with courage and will and hope in the face of her greatest challenger?

As I watched the movie, I too was filled with grief at her loss, at our loss of her grace and fire and passionate physicality. But I wanted her to live, to win this last fight, not concede, to reveal to us the real depth and strength of her character. And I wanted Frankie to say “No” and stand by it, to tell her that her life was still valuable, that he loved her and that love made her life valuable, that she has not lost and will not lose anything that matters!