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Murder on the Orient Express

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama, mystery, suspense
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and thematic elements)
Length: 1 hour 54 minutes
Starring Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad.
Director: Kenneth Branagh

Based on the book of the same name by Agatha Christie (1934)



Brief synopsis 

Hercule Poirot cleverly solves a crime in Jerusalem in front of a huge crowd, which involved “a rabbi, a priest, and an imam” (surely there’s a joke there?). Poirot plans some time off in Istanbul, but is unexpectedly called to solve another mystery. A cabin is located at the last-minute on the Orient Express from Istanbul to Calais. The 3 day journey should offer a time of rest but this changes when a passenger is murdered in the compartment next to Poirot. The very same passenger who had attempted to recruit Poirot to protect him as he feared for his safety, but he had been turned down. An avalanche stops the train in an isolated place, and Poirot rises to the occasion to solve the murder mystery. 
Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this movie, and filmed it in 65mm, and it is best viewed in a cinema screening it in 70mm. The strength of this movie is the ensemble cast of wonderful actors.
Official trailer here

Plot summary here

General questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following is less about the film plot specifically which unfolds as one would expect from the novel or previous films. It is not a review but offers questions as a catalyst for discussion. 


A black and white world
Early in the film, Poirot pronounces authoritatively that “There is right and there is wrong.” No room for grey in his black and white world. He likes to have things ‘lined up’, symmetrical and in order. As the film unfolds and the conclusion reached, that worldview is challenged for him and for the viewer. What is justice? What is truth? Is retribution appropriate to bring a just outcome? 
It is interesting to explore Fowler’s ‘Stages of Faith’. It is said that most Christians remain within Stage 3, arising in adolescence and characterized by conformity to authority and the religious development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.
Stages 4-6 involve recognition of complexities and paradox, and take on board that there is more ‘work’ to do to make sense of life’s difficult questions. But many Christians balk at dealing with this and prefer the ‘black and white’ answers to moral and ethical questions (a simple ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ approach to avoid complexities).
Stage 4 – (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) is a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.
Stage 5 – acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
Stage 6 – the individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.
=> Discuss your own journey and where you are these ‘stages’. What may have been a catalyst for change or an invitation to think differently? How have you dealt with the times of confusion and troubling questions. Have you found times that have been liberating, and enlightening?
=> Identify also some of the issues in our contemporary world that may require a different world view than ‘right and wrong’/‘black and white’ and invite approaches to life characterised in Fowler’s Stage 4/5/6
eg:
* In some USA states, abortion is illegal for a victim of rape and that the victim may be forced to face her attacker over custody rights for a child conceived during an assault (often referred to as “parental rights for rapists”)? Without legislation stopping a sexual assailant from claiming parental rights of a child, rapists are free to pursue custody or visitation rights of their biological offspring. What ‘tools’ may be helpful to engage with these ethical issues?
* One of the issues in the ‘same sex marriage’ discussion in Australia relates to legal rights for same sex couples, including issues about what happens to property and other assets when a partner dies. Superannuation is also a contentious area. It poses unique problems for same-sex couples, especially older couples. Heather McKinnon, an accredited family law specialist at Slater and Gordon, says, “They are less likely to make their relationship public because of homophobia and family opposition so family members might say ‘they are just housemates, they’re not spouses’ and shouldn’t get (proceeds from) the estate or superannuation. If a will leaves everything to a partner, siblings or other family members may refuse to accept it was a defacto-like relationship. Gay or lesbian partners may be less likely to be invited to family events like weddings and graduations, and the lack of public recognition of relationships makes it harder for them to prove defacto status”. Superannuation funds are problematic because a trustee determines who gets the money and they don’t have to follow wishes expressed in a will. “In some cases people in relationships for 30 or 40 years have been denied de-facto status by superannuation trustees. Unlike heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian partners don’t have the option to clarify their relationship status via marriage. The marriage equality debate seeks to enable people to have the same legal status. The law is not keeping up with what’s happening within the broader culture.” When it comes to emergency medical situations, it’s even harder. Without recognition of same-sex marriage, partners can be excluded from hospital visiting rights, exercising automatic medical power of attorney for one another, making decisions on organ donation and signing the death certificate.
=> Discuss these and other examples that come to mind.

Turning to religion
One of the characters on the train has turned to religion, unable to forgive herself for something she sees as her fault. Religion has become her surety. She says things like, ‘sin doesn’t agree with me’. She sits in judgement on others, including their drinking habits (classic ‘Stage 3’ in Fowler’s framework).
=> Within the various Christian traditions, and within particular churches, what is your experience of being in fellowship with others who have approaches to faith that include Stages 3-6 of Fowler’s framework (‘black and white’ at one end and ‘enlightened’ as polar opposites). How does unity in diversity/being ‘one in Christ’ work in this context? What does it ask of each of us?

Race matters

There is a ‘staged’ encounter between two passengers – a white professor and the African-American doctor, centering around attitudes on race. White privilege and particular ways of reading the biblical narrative may convince people that ‘black people’ are second best. Hence the campaign in the USA that #blacklivesmatter, adopted in Australia in cases like Elijah Doughty’s death in Kalgoorlie when he was deliberately chased and run over by a white driver, or black deaths in custody.
=> ‘Casual’ as well as overt racism remains endemic in contemporary society. Discuss.

Biblical narrative
While ‘chapter and verse’ may be quoted to ‘prove’ a point of view, there may be counter chapters and verses in the biblical narrative. There is ‘black and white’ and plenty of ‘grey’ in the biblical narrative. Rather than the ‘grey’ proving a stumbling block, it invites us to a different way to do our theological reflection and exploration of the biblical narrative. It can be liberating!
Example:
The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 had just been to Jerusalem, to worship God. Eunuchs had been excluded from temple worship by the Torah (Deut 23:1-3; Lev 21:18-20), because they were understood to be “blemished,” excluded by the purity laws. Leviticus said they could not serve as priests; Deuteronomy said they could not be admitted to the assembly of God’s people at all. Isaiah 56.4 specifically includes them. They are welcomed like everyone else who keeps the sabbath and holds fast the covenant.
=> ‘Cherry picking’ verses and ‘proof texts’ may mask the complex questions the biblical narrative invites us to explore. Discuss.


© Rev Sandy Boyce 10th November 2017 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au

This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Movie discussion resource.MurderontheOrientExpress.PDFversion

Blade Runner 2049

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: SciFiBlade Runner 2049 poster
Rating: MA15+ (adult themes, extreme violence, sexual content, nudity, language)
Length: 163 mins
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Barkhad Abdi, Lennie James, Mackenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks
Director: Denis Villineuve
Executive Producer: Ridley Scott, et al
Screenplay: Hampton Francher, Michael Green

Brief synopsis
It is 2049. Bio-engineered human replicants have been developed to be slaves and servants for humans. This new model of replicant was created to obey. Many of the older models had escaped from human control. They were to be hunted down and ‘retired’. Those that hunted them were called ‘Blade Runners’. K (Ryan Gosling), is a replicant and a Blade Runner in the LAPD. He retires a replicant hiding on one of the large synthetic farms that have averted large scale famine. Before leaving he notices a date carved into the base of a dead tree and scans to find a box buried beneath. His Commander, Lt Joshi (Robin Wright), orders him to return. The box is found to contain bones of a deceased replicant who had evidently died in childbirth. This information was incredible as replicants were not supposed to be able to get pregnant. Lt Joshi believes if this information gets out it could lead to war between humans and replicants. K is ordered to destroy all evidence and then search for the missing child and eliminate him or her. Following up leads K comes to believe he must find Deckard (Harrison Ford), a blade runner who has been missing for 30 years. However, Wallace Corporation CEO, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) discovers the possibility of reproduction in replicants and believes that ability will enhance his production of replicants to expand his ‘off world’ operations. He orders Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) his replicant enforcer and PA to follow K and find the child.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

What has happened to the planet?
Perhaps the first views of the countryside through a thick smog and later views of Los Angeles form the impression that all is not well with the world. Planetary degradation in all forms appears little changed from the first film which depicted Earth thirty years earlier. In the hype about global warming have we forgotten about pollution? What message do you think the film is trying to convey? How worried should we be? Do we just give in? What has happened to society? Is this the direction we are travelling? Discuss.

The power of corporations
The original manufacturer of replicants, the Tyrell Corporation, set their lifespan to only 4 years and replicants were shipped off world to provide cheap labour. However replicants made their way back to earth so the Blade Runners were tasked to hunt them down and ‘retire’ them. Eventually the demand for cheap labour led Tyrell to produce models that had no limits on their lifespan but due to rebellions of replicants the Tyrell Corporation was forced to cease production and went bankrupt. The rise of Wallace Corporation based on synthetic farming enabled a buyout to secure the technology and replicant production was renewed with safeguards built in to prevent revolt and these new replicants were integrated into society.
It is said that Corporations are taking over from governments. If Corporations were compared to countries on the basis of raised revenue, they figure 69 of the combined top 100 in 2016. Walmart ranked 10th in the world just above Spain, Australia and the Netherlands. Apple was about the same as India and Belgium.
https://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/world-s-top-100-economies-31-countries-69-corporations
Do we have a problem? Where lies accountability? Who makes the decisions?

Society & Economy
Replicants become the new slaves to progress the economy. What sort of society is the movie depicting? Holographic girlfriends? Pleasure models? Are there any benefits seen or depicted?

Slavery
K investigates an orphanage. It shows the children being used as cheap labour. Seeking cheap labour is part of our current problems whether businesses go offshore or close down altogether. Whole industries disappear and jobs are lost. Below award wages are paid to sweatshop labour overseas and even in Australia. It is also true that slavery and child labour is still very much alive across the world. Thirty Million is a conservative figure.
https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/
Why do you think slavery still exists? What can be done to combat it?
Robots are seen to be taking over jobs at an alarming rate. Are they the same as replicants or is this a different issue? Discuss.

Sexism
This movie has been criticised by its depiction of women and more.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYRsDi4fGOA
Discuss.

Parental Love
Deckard has hidden himself away from Rachel and his child as he believed that his presence would put them in danger and he erased all the records that might lead people to him and his child. He says, “Sometimes to love someone, you gotta be a stranger.” How do you view Deckard’s ‘sacrifice’? Discuss.

Racism
K is referred to by his human colleagues in the LAPD as a ‘skin job’. The film explores his experiences as an ‘other’. Is racism an issue in this film? Discuss.

Memories are real?
K has memories. On Morton’s farm K finds a date that connects to a memory he has of the date carved on a wooden horse he had as a child. When he finds the actual horse it suggests his memory is real. His holographic girlfriend, Joi, insists that he must be a real person. K seeks out Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a memory designer, who tells him that it is illegal to program replicants with real memories.
Some people claim to have memories of other lives and places? Can our memories play tricks on us? Are memories something that makes us human?

Do you have a soul?
When Lt Joshi and K become aware of a replicant child, he opines, “To be born is to have a soul”, something that hitherto distinquished humans from replicants. Wallace refers to the new model of replicants he has created as ‘angels’.
What makes humans different?  Do you have a soul? What do you understand by this? What defines an individual person?

AI
Artificial Intelligence is implanted in the replicants.  On learning of the replicant baby some replicants form an underground movement, believing they were more than just slaves and realising Lt Joshi’s fears of an uprising. One says, “dying for the right cause is the most human thing we can do.” As they come to awareness do they become more than just machines? When they seek to become human in all respects what is the difference? K as a replicant has desires and emotions. How do you see K’s actions towards the end of the movie? He refuses to follow through with his order to retire the baby, now grown up, but defends instead . If he no longer obeys is he a broken replicant or has he become something else?
Are the replicants in this movie becoming more human than the humans? Discuss.

 

© Peter Russell, 19th October, 2017 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

A United Kingdom

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama/romance
Rating: PG-13 (for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality)
Length: 1 hour 51 minutes
Starring: David Oyelowo (Selma, The Butler), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Director: Amma Asante

Brief synopsis
A United Kingdom is based on extraordinary true events (see the book Colour Bar, by Susan Williams). In 1947, Seretse Khama, the Prince of Beuchuanaland and later the first democratically elected president of Botswana, met Ruth Williams, a London office worker, while he was studying law at Oxford. They were ‘a perfect match’, yet their relationship was challenged not only by their friends and families but by the British and South African governments.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Resistance – for the sake of love
Actor David Oyelowa reflects: “One of the things that I took away from it is that in society we are cautioned to choose your battles. And sometimes we just give up the fight too easily. But this man was determined and he was fighting for love. For me, the question is what is it that is so sacred to you that you were not going to reason it out and give up?” – even when it means standing up to governments, empires, and opposition from family and friends.
“The key players, it turns out, are those who refuse to be curbed by traditional modes of power, who understand that the transformative power of truth is not a credible companion for consolidating modes of established power, but that truth characteristically runs beyond the confines of such power.” (Walter Brueggemann, Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture).
Seretse held royal power in his homeland, and was also subject to the power of colonial rulers and the will of a neighbouring country. Power is complicated. We all have it, but may also fail to see the potential for the greater good against the power and constraints of ‘empire’.
Discuss historical and contemporary examples of ‘subversion of power’ by truth.

Family honour, and the honour of a country
The romance is deemed scandalous, an affront to family honour, and the honour of a country. It angered Ruth’s close minded father who rejects her when he learns they are engaged. Seretse, poised to become ruler in his home country, angered his uncle with his determination to continue the relationship. His uncle had been like a father to him, and had been acting as Bechuanaland’s regent until Seretse was ready to assume power. Rather than allow a white British woman to become queen, the uncle demands Seretse divorce his new wife or abdicate. Seretse did end up renouncing his royal title and was exiled for long periods of time, leaving his wife behind (and later went on to become the first president of the independent state of Botswana). In the 20th century, migration and mobility and a greater emphasis on the rights of the individual rather than the community has meant that people marry outside their ‘tribes’ – be it religious, ethnic, racial, or socio-economic. What do you think are the positives as well as the challenges in this crossing of boundaries?

Political will
The political machinations and economic considerations at play at the time were also ‘actors’ in the unfolding drama. In the 1940’s, Bechuanaland was a British protectorate with plentiful diamond mines. On its border was South Africa, the apartheid-dominated country that, for commercial and strategic reasons, Britain wished to appease. The notion of an inter-racial couple ruling a neighbouring country to South Africa was intolerable, but what really terrified the British Government was the fear of losing power, money and access to gold, uranium, diamonds and minerals in its colonies in southern Africa. Seretse is a fierce advocate for a democratically elected self-rule in his country that would exclude the colonial powers and prevent access to the country’s wealth. South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. Discuss, with reference also to contemporary examples of political interference in a country’s governance.

Romance
Who doesn’t love a romantic story, especially one with such drama, complicated emotions and situations? One where good trumps the forces of evil, where the will of two people triumphs over obstacles, where their deep convictions enable them to endure hardship? Seretse and Ruth’s characters, apart from minor episodes, are depicted as virtuous, inspiring, and a force to be reckoned with as a couple, exuding great wisdom, resolve and courage in difficult circumstances. In what way might the story be enhanced (or undermined) by a deep understanding of the reality of the impact of separation, of the weariness of ongoing battle with the forces of power, of how tiring it is to speak truth to power and empire, of the ‘dark night of the soul’ where doubt and disappointment serve to disrupt and disturb and disorient, of the motivations and convictions that give them strength to continue? Does a ‘hero’ having ‘feet of clay’ encourage or detract from their legacy? Are there examples you might offer? (eg Mother Teresa lived with ongoing depression, Martin Luther King Jr had extramarital affairs including on the night he was shot etc).

Biblical narrative
Sacrificial love

Actor David Oyelowa, speaking about the film and the connection with his Christian faith says, “when you look at A United Kingdom, the overlap for me with my faith is seeing sacrificial love in action. Jesus is, to my mind, the best example of sacrificial love in relation to what he did on the cross for humanity. What you see between this man and woman is a love that isn’t built on lust. It isn’t built on self-service. These two people really, really care about each other and want to be with each other and are highly invested in the other person’s well-being and happiness. In my mind that is a very lovely version of love and one that goes on to triumph in the context of this particular story”. Discuss this reflection. Do you have any other connections with the Biblical narrative, or other examples of Christians who have been motivated by sacrificial love?

Joining forces

The love of Ruth and Sereste, people from entirely different countries and entirely different racial backgrounds, enabled them to sustain their battle against massive political establishments, two different continents, three different cultures. This went on for several years, with many obstacles, but it was the combination of their love for each other that enabled them to overcome. So it wasn’t about one person triumphing it was about two people triumphing through their unity.
Deuteronomy 32:30, How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight…..
One commentator says, you can do ten times as much with someone as you can by yourself. Seretse was prepared to fight for what he believed in and for whom he loved, but he would never have been able to do it without Ruth’s strength and her love for him. What is the importance of having others join you in prayer and practical action on issues of importance? What examples are there from your own experience or in the global community where ‘joining forces’ has resulted in change for the ‘common good’. And, how has technology enhanced that capacity?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 12th February 2017 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright
Thanks to Palace Nova for support for these discussion resources.

Movie discussion resource.A United Kingdom

Lion

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating:
PG-13 (for thematic material and some sensuality)
Length: 120 minutes

Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawa
Director: Garth Davis

Brief synopsis
‘A true story that will elicit your empathy through the miracles in the life of a man who goes on a quest to locate his birth family’. Four year old Saroo (Sunny Pawa) lives in a small rural village in India with his mother (Priyanka Bose) who works as a labourer collecting rocks, and his siblings including big brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). One night, Guddu leaves the sleepy boy in a train station, telling him to stay put until he comes back from working. But when Saroo wakes up, he panics in the empty station. He climbs into a decommissioned train looking for his brother and falls asleep again. When he wakes up, he can’t get off the train and ends up 1600 kms away in Calcutta, far from home and family. Alone, unable to speak the local language and with no knowledge of his mother’s name or where he lives, Saroo must learn to survive on the streets. The police take him to an orphanage, from where he is adopted by a loving couple in Tasmania (John and Sue Brierley, played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). Twenty five years later, when a handful of memories return to him, he painstakingly tries to track his birth family using Google Earth technology.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

What’s in a name?
The audience learns the meaning of Saroo’s name at the end – Lion. The 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi used many metaphors to describe aspects of the spiritual journey, and the lion is one of them. “The lion is the point of necessity that comes at a certain moment, the fierce intensity that destroys ego-imprisonment, and opens one out into light and another field of being.” Discuss why you think the name ‘lion’ may have been chosen for the title.

Empathy
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” (writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau). Many will have already heard that this is a ‘tissue box’ movie that evokes strong feelings of empathy and compassion for the little boy whose daily life is so desperately difficult in rural India, who finds himself in even more desperate circumstances when he becomes lost far from home, who is taken from his birth country to an adoptive country, and who awakens as an adult to a deep yearning to find home. What were the connecting points for you that evoked emotion, empathy, and compassion?

Hidden dangers
In his rural village, Saroo is protected from harsh realities, including poverty. He experiences wonder and delight with butterflies, he helps his mother (a day laborer) move rocks in what seems more like a game to him, and cradles hope for the day he can enjoy special food treats. When he is lost as a four year old, he is suddenly immersed in a world where danger and abuse is imminent – child snatchers, prostitution rings, child trafficking, paedophiles, and physical and emotional abuse, where the apparent kindness of strangers belies their suspect motives. If Saroo’s story was a single story, or a work of fiction, then this would simply be a heart-warming story. But elements of his story as a four year old are true for millions of innocent children around the world. The film credits notes that over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. 
How has the film conveyed a deeper understanding for you about the perils vulnerable children face around the world? Are there other situations that come to mind?

One loving family for another
How fortunate is Saroo to have been raised in India by a loving mother, and a watchful brother, despite the grinding poverty in which they were trapped. How fortunate Saroo was placed with a loving family who chose to adopt this little ‘brown skinned child’ not as a second best to having their own children but as a particular choice. How fortunate Saroo was able to find his birth family and gain a fulsome sense of identity, while both his birth and adoptive mothers gave their grateful thanks to the role each had played in Saroo’s life. How fortunate the adoptive couple chose a more difficult life inspired by a bigger vision than their immediate circumstances suggest with their wealth and a life of ease.
Perhaps adoption may be something you have a particular connection with, or you may know others who have adopted or been adopted. Was Nicole an inspired choice for the role of the adoptive mother, given her adoption of two children (with Tom Cruise). What particular insights do you bring to the characters portrayed in the film? In a less formal sense can ‘adoption’ be understood as an attitude or lifestyle as we ‘adopt’ and care for people longing for a sense of ‘home’, ‘community and connection’ , particularly offering welcome and hospitality to people from other countries. What does this sense of ‘adoption’ require of us that transcends cultural and religious divides, and requires a bigger vision of humanity?

Compassion fatigue

Saroo’s story evokes an emotional response. And yet, the saturation of media with decontextualised images and stories of tragedy and suffering has been blamed to widespread compassion fatigue in society, causing people to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering. The producers of “Lion” are committed to a social impact campaign designed to help the over 11 million children living on the streets of India. The non-profit organizations that #LionHeart will support include Magic Bus, which educates at risk children and provides them with life-skills necessary to move out of poverty, as well as Railway Children, a charity that works with kids living on the streets and railways stations in order to prevent them from being exploited or abused.
Do you identify with the description of compassion fatigue? Perhaps you feel disquiet about the administrative costs for organisations that support children, and no longer have confidence to make financial commitments. What might give you confidence to support projects aimed to address the circumstances for vulnerable and at risk children?

Biblical narrative – are there stories that come to mind?
1. ’I’m lost – save me’, cries Saroo desperately. Explore the ‘lost’ parables in Ch 15 of Luke’s Gospel (lost coin, lost sheep, lost son). In what way may being found and finding one’s place in the world (as compared to alienation and separation) the one true story of our humanity – a seeking of wholeness and healing (salvation)?
2. Prodigal son (Luke 15) – discuss the relationship with the Saroo and his birth brother, and Saroo and his adoptive brother and adoptive parents.
3. Paul’s writing to the early church created a new type of theological grammar, using the metaphor “adoption” which was a common practice in the Roman empire. Paul used the term five times (Gal 4:5; Rom 8:14, 23; Rom 9:4; Eph 1:5) to refer to God’s adoption of God’s covenant people. Discuss the metaphor ‘adoption’ as it relates to a relationship with God.

Are there other stories and metaphors that suggested by the biblical narrative?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 7th February 2017 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright
Thanks to Palace Nova for continued support for these discussion resources.

Movie discussion resource.LION 2

Allied

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

allied_200x312Genre: Action, adventure, drama, romance
Rating: M (for mature themes, violence, sex, coarse language, nudity and brief drug use)
Length: 124 minutes
Starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard
Director: Robert Zemeckis (‘Forrest Gump)

Brief synopsis
It’s ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ meets ‘Casablanca’ in World War 2. A Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into French Morocco in 1942 to work on an assignment behind enemy lines with former French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), in which they must pose as husband and wife. Their mission in Casablanca is to infiltrate a party and assassinate the German ambassador. The fake romance becomes real and they marry and settle in London and have a baby girl, Anna. It is later that Max is told by military intelligence that his wife may not be who she says she is.

Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

AlLIED
‘The first casualty, when war comes, is truth’ (Hiram Johnson). Lies and pretence are intrinsic to war. Max and Marion need to convince others about what is false in order to achieve their mission. Will they be found out, and what other lies will be discovered after their mission?The drama plays out like a ticking time bomb. Are deception and pretence and lies part of our human relationships, and just exaggerated in war? Has modern warfare and politics escalated the manufacture of lies? What role does media have in creating and perpetuating lies? Writing in 2003 about the Iraq war, journalist Mark Steel said, ‘You expect lies, but usually they’re found out once a war is over. But in this war the lying is so inept that it gets rumbled the next day’. What is the role of Wikileaks, Snowden etc, in exposing ‘truth’ at a cost of jeopardising national security and ‘aiding the enemy’?

Out and proud
Although a minor part of the film, Max’s sister Bridget (Lizzy Caplan) is portrayed as an out-and-proud lesbian. Homosexuality had remained illegal under the hated “Labouchère” amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885 (repealed 82 years later), which outlawed “gross indecency” between men. But the law didn’t apply to women, as Queen Victoria insisted that ladies did not do such things – or, in her opinion, it would be a physical impossibility between women. Although not illegal, lesbians still suffered at the hands of the public. Jo Monk writes about her own experience: ”The social scene was furtive. There were people that were ready to whack you if you looked the wrong way at anybody or if they saw you holding hands. In those days, you were likely to get rotten eggs and tomatoes chucked at your back. They’d trip you up or upset drinks over you if you went into a bar”.  In a world of truth and lies, why do you think Lizzy’s sexuality was included in the storyline?

On screen chemistry (or lack of), or something else?
(Kelly Vance) ‘The lead roles call for a spy’s wariness. Max and Marianne love each other, but they’re also old enough, and well trained enough, to remain slightly on guard with each other, even after they’ve set up house and have welcomed a baby daughter. Audience members who happen to be in long-term relationships may well recognize the way Max and Marianne look twice at each other in routine household banter, as if trying to suss out the real meaning of last-minute, late-night business appointments and surreptitious conversations. They mistrust each other not only in the manner of secret agents, but in the same way as longtime partners who are getting a bit bored with their mates’.
Discuss the suggestion that marital relationships end up in a domesticity characterised by mutual distrust. Is that what is happening in the story?

Being on the side of ‘right’
The Nazi swastika emblazoned on uniforms and buildings in the opening scenes in Casablanca evokes fear and a sense of lurking evil. Might Max and Marianne then be seen as champions of justice and liberty, or as Richard Brody says, ’human-scale superheroes whose unfailing good intentions cast their false words and violent deeds in the beatific light of divine justice’? The cross that Marianne gives Max to wear as part of his Casablanca costume is more than costume jewellery. It conveys who is on the ‘right side’, and who is enemy, and justifies the inevitable collateral damage. Religion has long been co-opted as the premise for war: George W Bush claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq ‘to end the tyranny’. Tony Blair believed God wanted him to go to war to fight evil. Religion is co-opted by Muslim extremists for terrorist attacks, and by Buddhist fundamentalists in Myanmar, where violence in Rakhine in 2012 forced tens of thousands – mostly Rohingya Muslims – to flee their homes.  Discuss the nature of war in terms of religious alignment, and the use of violence and the casual acceptance of ‘collateral damage’ when it involves people deemed to be ‘other’ and ‘enemy’.

Can love between ‘enemies’ triumph in times of war?
Marianne says to Max when they first meet, “I keep the emotions real. That’s how it works”. In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” Ingrid Bergman plays the daughter of a Nazi spy who is tasked with getting information from the other side; she lets love (with Cary Grant) get in the way of her mission. In Britain, there really was an ‘Intimate Betrayal Rule’, such that if one spy turned out to be a double agent, the other would be expected to prove his or her loyalty by killing the traitor – or be executed him or herself for high treason.
Many British women fell in love with German POWs in Britain in WWII. They were spat at, punched and shunned by their families. June, aged 79 and celebrating her diamond wedding anniversary with former German POW Heinz Fellbrich (he was 25 and she was 18 when they met), recalled the insults and fury and hostility. Heinz had to wear the PoW’s brown uniform with orange felt patches at all times, so it was obvious he was the ‘enemy’.  June was punched and others spat in her face. ”Aren’t our boys good enough for you?” How could she, they asked, fraternise with the enemy when their own fathers, husbands and sons had been killed by the Germans? How might meeting and forming relationships with people considered ‘the enemy’ change how we see ‘others’? Does war change the protocols regarding with whom it is acceptable to form relationships?

Fraternising with the enemy
The Bible has many examples of people who transcend religious, social, cultural and political lines. In the book of Joshua, Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho in the ‘promised land’ and assisted the Israelites to capture the city. In the New Testament, she was lauded as an example of living by faith, while being considered righteous by her works. There’s Esther, Samson and Delilah, Joseph and the Pharaoh who negotiated with the Egyptians for the Israelites to find refuge, and even Jesus and the Samaritan woman (the Samaritans being despises by the Jewish people). And many more. What might this say about the fluidity, and perhaps the expediency, of relationships that transcend dividing lines?


© Rev Sandy Boyce 4th January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Hacksaw + Ridge

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Biography, War
Rating: MA 15+
Length: 133 minutes
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths
Director: Mel Gibson
Screenplay: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Brief Synopsis
This is a true story and unembellished. Unlike movies like The Revenant it is recent, well documented and there are still many living witnesses who experienced these events first hand. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a Seventh-Day Adventist conscientious objector who refused to bear arms on enlisting in the US Army during World War 2. The US Army could not work out why he would enlist in the first place if he wouldn’t carry a rifle. Doss wanted to be a medic but army rules said he had to qualify basic training with a rifle before doing his medic training. He refused on principle citing the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. He was determined to accompany his buddies but to save lives on the battlefield not to take them. However, Doss is imprisoned before being court martialled. On intervention from higher up in the chain of command the court martial charges are dismissed. Doss does his medic training and is sent to Okinawa where the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific takes place. The rest of the film is graphic and gruesome with bodies on all sides being blown apart. The carnage is enormous. Doss, unarmed, saves 75 men single handed. After being severely wounded he returns to the US where he receives from the President, the Medal of Honour, the United States’ highest military honour, awarded for personal acts of valour beyond the call of duty. Doss was the first conscientious objector ever to receive the medal.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Contradictions
Any Army is all about discipline and procedures and uniformity. You all obey orders, you all do the same thing. Armies have trouble coming to terms with diversity and difference. Only after many years has the Australian military started to change its attitude to gender differences; it now admits women to train as fighter pilots and enter combat units and has changed its attitudes to LGBTQI people. However, it seems the Australian military has a problem with harassment and bullying and much worse surfacing in recent years. Doss endures the same violence from his comrades. Why is diversity such a problem in our society? How does Doss endure it?

Family Values
Doss comes from a conservative SDA community. There is a real community spirit evident. How important is the community and family to those growing up today? Why are our churches so bereft of young people? Why don’t they catch the values we espouse or do they express them in another way? Is there still something missing?

Violence
Doss experiences violence in his family. His father (Hugo Weaving) is marred by his experiences in the Great War. All his mates are dead and he visits their graves. Alcohol deadens his pain but makes him violent towards his wife and children. Grown up, Doss confronts his father during a violent rage against his mother (Rachel Griffiths). The event is a turning point in Doss deciding that he will never touch a gun again. Does this response seem realistic? Would we have thought differently and say we need to stop someone who is threatening another even if violence is needed? Is the pacifist response the only real answer?

Religion does matter
Doss is very religious. He observes the Sabbath; Saturday is the day of rest for SDAs. He prays, he carries his Bible everywhere. After their first attempt to take Hacksaw Ridge his unit is repulsed and they are ordered back again to commence their assault on the Sabbath, which is a problem for Doss. When the commander discovers the unit hasn’t moved forward he is told that they are waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. They will not move without him. Doss is not afraid to hide his faith. But he does not preach to anyone; it is his behaviour that speaks. What does this say to us? Does our faith make a difference to the way we live? In what ways?

Just One More
Doss prays, “Help me get just one more, Lord.” Each time Doss goes out to save a comrade against the odds that he won’t survive, he works on the principle “one at a time”. We may have challenges that appear too hard to surmount or even deal with. Does this show a way forward? “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matt 6:34 (The Message) Discuss. Also does prayer help? Why?

Faith?
Doss finds himself in the underground tunnels dug by the Japanese. He avoids Japanese patrols but runs into a wounded Japanese soldier. Without hesitation he starts to treat the wounded man as if he was no different from any American. He binds his wound and administers morphine. Andrew Garfield the actor who plays Doss is quoted as saying, “He transcended any idea that there was a good side or a bad side. He was there to serve something greater than himself, something even greater than his army. He was there to serve humanity. This is a good example for us, who are being pitted against each other in this very violently separating culture we find ourselves in.” 1
Discuss.

  1. Sunday Mail, watch (TV guide insert) Oct 23 2016,  p15.

© Peter Russell, 10th November, 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople posterGenre: Adventure, Drama, Comedy
Rating: PG (Not recommended for children under 15; may contain material which some children find confusing or upsetting.)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House
Director and Screenplay: Taika Waititi
Adapted from the book: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump.

Synopsis
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a wild child, out of control. He has stolen, defaced, destroyed and graffitied property. He has been a serial foster child and almost run out of options. He has one chance left and if that fails it will be juvenile prison. In a police car and accompanied by his welfare officer, Paula (Rachel House), he arrives at a run down farm property in the wilderness. There he is introduced to Bella (Rima Te Wiata), who welcomes him with a hug. Ricky cases the joint and is startled by Bella’s husband, Hec, coming up the hill carrying a wild boar on his back, and promptly gets back in the police car. Threatened with juvenile detention he gets out and stays with Bella and Hec. Soon he finds that Hec doesn’t want anything to do with him. Bella, however. is all kindness, feeds him and has set up a special room for him with all sorts of comforts including warming his bed with a hot water bottle. He runs away the first night and Bella finds him in the morning, asleep, up the hill and scarcely 200m from the house. He sees Bella attack a wild pig and kill it with only her bare hands and a knife. He is invited by Bella but refuses to join her plucking the fur from dead rabbits. He is horrified but finds life is better with Bella and his birthday is celebrated with cake and singing and a present of his own pet dog which he calls Tupac. Hec endures Ricky in silence.

Suddenly, when it seems that Ricky has at last found a safe place, Bella dies. Hec and he are both devastated. Hec makes it clear that Ricky goes back to welfare. Hec indicates he is not going to stay on the farm. Ricky decides that he will not go back. He packs supplies, takes the rifle that Bella taught him to shoot with and goes bush. Lost, and having run out of food, Hec finds him but is injured. He and Ricky are forced to camp out. Meanwhile the authorities find that Hec and Ricky are no longer at the farm and a national manhunt is called with a $10,000 reward. Hec and Ricky are on the run together and through many adventures, avoiding the authorities, grow closer together. Ricky feels that Hec is family and Hec reluctantly feels more for Ricky. Ricky calls Hec and himself the Wilderpeople.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Who we are?
Ricky sees himself as a gangster and a rapper. He is a tough dude? How do you see Ricky? A lot of kids in trouble are not literate but Ricky is keen on books and reading and makes up Haiku poetry which, he explains, was taught to him to let him express his feelings in a helpful way. Ricky is astonished to discover that Hec can’t read. How does this change through the movie? How important is it to express our feelings in a positive manner? How do you do this?

Being Spiritual but not Religious
Bella talks about her Maori beliefs about what will happen when she dies. There is not much evidence of any religion until the funeral service. Only a few people are present including Hec and Ricky making up half. Why is there a Christian Service for Bella? The minister prattles on. Why do you think Hec walks out? Would you have done? Why? What issues does this raise?

The Misfits
After the funeral Hec reflects on Bella collecting misfits, referring to himself and Ricky. It was who she was. Bella tells Ricky “Have your breakfast … then you can run away.” On a walk in the bush with Bella, Ricky sees some wild horses and asks if he can ride them. Bella replies, “Why do they need to be ridden anyway? Why can’t they just eat grass and be happy?” What does this say about Bella? Do you know any people like Bella? It takes special people to foster wayward kids. At the moment our society has more kids than foster families. Why do you think this is? What dangers are there in Christian families fostering children? What do you think it takes to be foster parents?

Finding Family
Ricky finds a home and the warmth and love is reflected in a hot water bottle and a dog. Why do you think Ricky is drawn in to this family, despite Hec’s protests to leave him alone and not call him “Uncle”? Even when Hec takes to the bush and finds Ricky when he is lost and wants to take him back, Ricky persists in refusing and wanting to follow Hec. Why do you think this is? Why does he hold on despite obviously having been rejected by other foster parents? What might be different this time?

The Wilderness
Out in the wilderness, Hec and Ricky and the two dogs travel and survive, even in the cold of winter snow. What elements of being in the wilderness contribute to the developing relationship between Hec and Ricky? How does the spirituality of place appear in the film? Discuss.

When what we say is not what we mean
When Ricky and Hec meet some men on the hunt for them, Ricky and Hec’s explanation of their relationship together is misconstrued. Why does this happen? How easy and dangerous is it to jump to conclusions about people you don’t really know? Discuss.

Unconditional Love
Aunt Bella showers unconditional love on Ricky. Comment on how she does this? Ricky encounters another family on his journey that does the same. Who are they and why do you think they do this? What might be said about the Christian values that these people hold? Why aren’t all Christians like this? Counterpoint to this is Paula who sees Ricky as a problem to be solved. “No child left behind!” A tick in a box! How can the bureaucratic response from organisations or government ever be the answer? Can it be changed?

 

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Peter Russell, 8 August 2016, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

The Revenant

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Rating: MA15+ (for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)
Length: 156 minutes
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Arthur Redcloud
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Brief synopsis
Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) is part of a large hunting expedition into the wilds of the northern United States seeking furs. The movie opens with him and his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), moving through the wilderness with their flintlock muskets at the ready. It is 1823 and the wild and frozen vistas are the magnificent backdrop to the film. The main body of the hunters are busily skinning animals and bailing up the pelts, a raw bloody business, when attacked by a party of Arikara Native Americans seeking their chief’s daughter, Powaqa, who has been abducted by an unknown group of hunters. The battle scene is graphic and brutal. Glass, Hawk and a small group manage to escape the slaughter in their boat which they later abandon. Carrying as many pelts as they can they abandon the boat and strike out on land depending on Glass to guide them. Glass is separated from the party and attacked by a bear defending its cub. Glass is savaged by the bear but manages to kill it, but not before being seriously wounded and near death. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the leader of the group, does rudimentary first aid and sews up Glass’s many wounds. The group then attempts to carry Glass on a stretcher but find it seriously hampering their progress. There is an argument that Glass, being so far gone, be put out of his misery but the Henry can’t follow through. He promises money to those volunteering to stay and provide a Christian burial when Glass must inevitably die. Hawk and two others volunteer to care for Glass while the rest press on. One of those left is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who had initially wanted to kill Glass. When alone, he attempts to smother Glass. Hawk comes to the rescue and is killed by Fitzgerald who drags his body away. When the other member of the party, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), returns Fitzgerald convinces him that Hawk has wandered off and Glass is as good as dead. They put him in a shallow grave and half cover him. When Fitzgerald and Bridger return they report Glass’s death to Henry after Fitzgerald warns Bridger not to talk. Bridger refuses to take his part of the money for looking after Glass.

Revenant means a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead. The rest of the movie depicts Glass’s return; his raw survival efforts, crawling painfully along the ground, cleaning his wounds, scavenging for food, catching fish, evading the Arikara hunting party and removing the entrails of a dead horse so he can weather a storm inside its carcass. In passing, the vast vistas of the un-spoilt wilderness are portrayed in all their frigid glory.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Revenge or Justice
Revenge and survival are the themes running all through this film. The desire for revenge is what keeps Glass alive and spurs him on through incredible hardship. Blood vendettas and honour killings keep the cycle of violence alive in today’s world. The most graphic violence in the film was the bear mauling Glass. But human beings are different from bears. The bear will fight to protect its cubs but will not seek revenge if the cubs are killed. Human beings innately seek justice for wrongs done to them or their kin. When Glass and Hikuc, the Pawnee Native American (Arthur Redcloud), meet they swap stories. Glass is bent on revenge for the killing of his son. Hikuc recounts that he also has lost his family to marauding Sioux. He tells Glass, “Revenge is in the hands of the creator”.
‘Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, “I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord”.’ Romans 12:19 GNT What does this mean?
To what extent are the wars and conflicts around the world part of the revenge cycle?
Should governments take revenge? What conflicts might have been avoided if governments sought justice instead? What might this have looked like?

Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is made out to be the villain of the piece. He is certainly out for number one and antagonises Glass from the beginning. He volunteers to stay with the near dead Glass only because he has lost his pelts which he blames Glass for and takes the offer of money as some form of compensation for his troubles. He expects Glass to die quickly and digs a shallow grave. When Glass doesn’t succumb he construes a way to finish him off as he is supposedly worried about the Arikara chasing them. He abandons Glass, and lies to Henry that he gave Glass a proper burial. When Glass finally makes it back Henry finds that Fitzgerald has absconded with the contents of the safe. Henry and Glass pursue him.
Is Fitzgerald the only villain? Is he all bad?

In real life Fitzgerald did not kill Glass’s son. Glass pursued him mainly because he was left to die. And in real life he didn’t get his revenge and kill him.
See http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/revenant/
Comment?

Visions
There are flash backs to earlier times with Glass living in a Native American village with his Pawnee wife and young son. He sees soldiers killing his wife. His visions recur throughout the film. These visions appear to give him advice and strength to carry on. At the end of the film Glass, badly wounded, sees his wife again, who finally walks away from him.
What role did you see these visions taking? Have you had any similar experiences? Do you think visions contain spiritual messages?

Inside the ruined church
Glass happens upon a ruined church, unbelievably built with stone and containing still visible icons on the walls. Glass has a vision of his dead son and embraces him. He is left hugging a tree.
Why do you think this image was inserted into the film? What does this image imply about Christianity and its place in the landscape?

Meeting Hikuc
Near to starving, Glass comes upon Hikuc, a Pawnee Native American, feasting on raw buffalo meat. After an initial stand off they share the meat and camp together. Hikuc invites Glass to travel with him and shares his horse. The Pawnee observes Glass’s wounds and opines that Glass will die from them if not treated so then proceeds to apply Native American remedies. When hit by a sudden blizzard Hikuc builds a shelter for Glass and heats it with rocks from the fire.
What role do you see Hikuc playing in the movie? Are there any parallels to scripture?

Savagery
Glass survives only to discover a group of French trappers camped nearby. The body of Hikuc is hung from a tree with sign hung from his neck saying. “On est tous des sauvages” (“We are all savages”).
Are we all savages? Who are the real savages in this story? What makes the difference?
Savagery (violence) still abounds in our world today. Reflect on why this is so. What can be done?

Salvation?
Glass infiltrates the French trappers’ camp and sees a trapper raping Powaqa. He could easily have taken Hikuc’s horse and got away but he intervenes and saves Powaqa first. At the end Glass battles Fitzgerald and they are both severely wounded. Glass has his chance to kill Fitzgerald but remembers Hikuc’s words and refuses to finally despatch his enemy. Instead he slides Fitzgerald into the river, where he floats downstream to the Arikara hunting party who kill him. Too weak to move, Glass watches the Arikara come towards him. He watches them pass by and sees Powaqa with them.
You will know them by what they do. Matt 7:16 GNT Discuss.
How does this movie treat Native Americans?
What final messages are you left with?

Scripture Quotations Good News Translation Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society
© Peter Russell, 26 January, 2016, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Big Short (2015)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
The_Big_Short_teaser_poster

Genre: Biographical comedy-drama, history
Rating: M (coarse language and occasional nudity)
Length: 130 mins
Starring: Christian Bale (as Michael Burry), Steve Carell (as Mark Baum, based on Steve Eisman), Ryan Gosling (as Jared Vennett, based on Greg Lippmann), and Brad Pitt (as Ben Rickert, based on Ben Hockett)
Director (and co-writer): Adam McKay

 

Brief synopsis
Three parallel stories of a few high finance investors who foresee the credit and mortgage housing collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. They saw the crisis coming, in which massive numbers of American mortgage holders would default. They took the risk to bet against the market by buying up billions of dollars in credit default swaps and then just waited for things to turn their way. A true story, based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis.

This longer synopsis might help – it’s a complex film!
Michael Burry, an eccentric ex-physician turned one-eyed Scion Capital hedge fund manager, has traded traditional office attire for shorts, bare feet and a Supercuts haircut. He believes that the US housing market is built on a bubble that will burst within the next few years. Within the company, Burry largely does as he pleases, so he proceeds to bet against the housing market with the banks, who are more than happy to accept his proposal for something that has never happened in American history. The banks believe that Burry is a crackpot and therefore are confident in that they will win the deal. Jared Vennett with Deutschebank gets wind of what Burry is doing and, as an investor, believes he too can cash in on Burry’s beliefs. An errant telephone call to FrontPoint Partners gets this information into the hands of Mark Baum, an idealist who is fed up with the corruption in the financial industry. Baum and his associates, who work at an arms length under Morgan Stanley, decide to join forces with Vennett despite not totally trusting him. In addition to Burry’s information, they further believe that most of the mortgages are overrated by the bond agencies, with the banks collating all the sub-prime mortgages under AAA packages. Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, who are minor players in a $30 million start-up garage company called Brownfield, get a hold of Vennett’s prospectus on the matter. Wanting in on the action but not having the official clout to play, they decide to call an old “friend”, retired investment banker Ben Rickert, to help out. All three of these groups work on the premise that the banks are stupid and don’t know what’s going on, while for them to win, the general economy has to lose, which means the suffering of the general investor who trusts the financial institutions. (written by Huggo, on IMBD website)

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might be enough to reflect on/discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

Financial language as exclusionary
The film requires characters to talk to camera and explain some of the technical financial terms as it’s assumed it’s a bit beyond the average person to understand. There are also some ‘extras’ who appear in a single scene to talk to camera – Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and Selena Gomez at a Vegas blackjack table walking the audience through synthetic CDOs. In what ways is financial language exclusionary, such that ‘experts’ are needed who understand investments. In what ways may that financial knowledge be self-serving and a source of power, greed and corruption? Discuss.

The human cost
 in the face of human greed
Brad Pitt’s character scathingly points out to two young hedge fund investors, excited that the market is about to turn in their favour (ie about to crash) that thousands or even millions of people will as a consequence be plunged into homelessness and poverty, with the potential to take down the world’s economy. What is the human cost for vulnerable citizens who are the victims of those who are clever enough to read the market, invest and win big time? What about greedy investors and bankers, involved in widespread fraud and corruption? Financiers are often quite separated from the average person, sometimes located high above the streets insulated from the harm their greed inflicts on ordinary people. Who are the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ in the movie? And what makes them so? What instances do you know about in relation to the lack of supervision and regulation in the banking and trading systems? Discuss.

The Bechdel Test

Cartoonist and Fun Home graphic novelist Alison Bechdel developed the test that measures the number and depth of female characters in a work of fiction by asking three questions: Do at least two women appear in the movie, do they talk to each other, and do they have a conversation about something other than men? (Sometimes an additional question is tossed in: Are the female characters named?) Sure, The Big Short is a true story, and therefore can narrow its focus to the main characters, who happen to be white men. But still worth talking about the way women are depicted in the film.
In fact, the housing crisis wouldn’t have unfolded as it did without women – women like Meredith Whitney. Author Michael Lewis describes her in the prologue to The Big Short book: ‘Whitney was an obscure analyst of financial firms for an obscure financial firm who, on Oct 31, 2007, ceased to be obscure. On that day she predicted that Citigroup had so mismanaged its affairs that it would need to slash its dividend or go bust. It’s never entirely clear on any given day what causes what inside the stock market, but it was pretty clear that, on October 31, Meredith Whitney caused the market in financial stocks to crash. By the end of the trading day, this obscure woman who could have been dismissed as a nobody, had shaved 8% off the shares of Citigroup and $390 billion off the value of the U.S. stock market. Four days later, Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince resigned. Two weeks later, Citigroup slashed its dividend. From that moment, when Meredith Whitney spoke, people listened. Whitney’s mentor was Steve Eisman, the inspiration for Steve Carell’s character in the film. Discuss.

Money, the economy and the ‘common good’
American theologian John B. Cobb asserts that ‘Western society is organized in the service of wealth” and thus wealth has triumphed over God in the West’.
In the world of the New Testament, it was understood that ‘since all good exists in limited amounts which cannot be increased or expanded, it follows that an individual, alone or with his family, can improve his social position only at the expense of others’. (Bruce Malina, ’New Testament World’, pp71-93).
An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”
‘A commitment to the common good could bring us together and solve the deepest problems the world now faces: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?’ (Jim Wallis).
Discuss.

Rev Sandy Boyce 23rd January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
Download TheBigShort

Suffragette

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: British drama, biography, drama, history

Rating: PG13 (violence, brief strong language, partial nudity)
Length: 1 hour 46 minutes
Starring : Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter

Brief synopsis
In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women fighting for equality and the right to vote. In the face of police action, Maud and the suffragettes play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might be enough to reflect on/discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Please note this is a catalyst for discussion, not a review. There has been criticism that the script has filtered out the contextual complexities of politics, and the direction reduces difficult situations to simple sentiments (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). However, there is plenty to discuss from the movie!

‘Dreams’
Maud is given a book, Dreams in a Desert, by Olive Schreiner. On the inside page, there are names of women involved in the suffragette movement, as the book is passed from one woman to another, to fuel their imagination and to sustain their commitment. She reads, “The woman wanderer goes forth on the path towards freedom.” She wonders, “I am alone, utterly alone. Why do I go to this far land?” And reason says to her, “Silence, what do you hear? Thousands, and they beat this way. . . Feet of those who follow you. Lead on.” Discuss this quote in the context of movements of social change, and particularly the notion that even an ordinary ‘foot soldier’ may be a leader with the potential to inspire others.

Domestic terrorism?
The women used their own bodies as weapons of resistance. They also blew up post boxes, smashed windows, destroyed communication networks, carried out arson – predicated on the confidence that ‘there’s another way of living this life’. Is violence justified because it is the language those in power understand? Could social change to address institutionalised gender discrimination have been achieved by peaceful means? How would this violence be viewed through the lens of ‘anti-terror’ laws? What are contemporary examples of civil disobedience e.g. action in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, war, the environment, and working for justice? ‘Good ends are sometimes reached by bad means, but that’s no reason to celebrate the means. Rather we should mourn that some had to resort to bad means to achieve the good ends that should have been theirs all along’. (The non-violence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr would come decades later in the 20th century. The courage of Malala in advocating for change through peaceful means would not come until a century later). Discuss.

Media
Media was used by the police and politicians to shame the suffragettes. The suffragettes too learned the power of media. This is demonstrated most starkly at the Epsom races, where two of the women plan to use the presence of the media to attract attention to their cause. Film technology was in its early days, but the incident on the racecourse was captured on 3 newsreel cameras and raised the profile of the women’s campaign for change. How is media used, and misused, by people on all sides of social change, protest and dissent? Discuss.

Time for change – or the long slow drift to change?
The specific focus of the suffragettes for the right to vote was only part of the story, with women still disadvantaged and diminished in many areas e.g. sexism, ‘honour killings’, rape, domestic violence against women, pay inequity, exclusion of women from leadership in some church traditions. There is still such a long way to go to improve their conditions and gain equity, and requires ongoing change to to address the complex issues involved. How do you see the dynamics of direct action for social change through the cycle of unrest, upheaval, change and stability? What role does media play in change, and social media with instant methods of alerting people to decisions on strategy for gatherings and actions?
Tessa Hadley: ‘Historians these days tend to attribute the eventual achievement of women’s suffrage to the significant role they played in the war economy, and to the longer, slower attrition of the constitutional suffragists, who didn’t engage in direct action. And then the slow tides of economic and social change, moving through the 20th century, brought by so many more women in the workforce’.
Is the long slow drift towards change something that is inevitable and ‘reasonable’, or is direct action needed in a world that increasingly thrives on the inequities of people. Discuss.

Foot soldiers
The film’s main focus is on ordinary people drawn into action for social change, changing history. They are denigrated as ‘foot soldiers’ (fodder for a cause). Yet social change requires a movement of people, not just charismatic individuals. Rosa Parks was a member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and only one of many who were arrested for not giving up their bus seats. Martin Luther King Jr was the hesitant champion of highly orchestrated NAACP civil disobedience campaigns. The Arab Spring that began in 2010 spread rapidly through the Middle East and north Africa region with millions involved. Discuss the role of ‘foot soldiers’ in a movement.

Ripe for the picking
Maud’s personal history (didn’t know father, mother died when she was 4, she worked in a laundry from 7 years old, workplace intimidation etc) made her more responsive to the suffragette movement. In a contemporary setting, there are social, economic and political conditions that make individuals, groups and communities ‘ripe for the picking’, and sometimes recruited into terror networks. Discuss.

Votes for women
The world has changed for the better in the past century, although ‘the project of feminist advancement is radically incomplete’ (Jacqueline Rose). The new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has a Cabinet of equal parts men and women. ‘It’s an incredible pleasure for me…to present a cabinet that looks like Canada’. When asked why he had a gender-equal cabinet he replied simply, ‘because it’s 2015’. The film’s credits list the dates when women were given the vote – starting with New Zealand and Australia (SA being the first State to do so). Some countries took much longer (eg Switzerland, 1971). Discuss how women are represented in leadership.

Prophetic imagination (Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001)
Brueggemann names lament and grief, and a deep awareness of the plight of the poor and oppressed, as the starting point for social change, that then requires an engagement of the prophetic imagination in anticipation of what God will do to generate newness. Discuss.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source. Download here . . .

Charlie’s Country

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 108 minutes
Starring: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford
Director: Rolf de Heer
Screen Writers: Rolf de Heer, David Gulpilil
Language: English, Yolngu with English sub-titles

Brief synopsis
Blackfella Charlie (Gulpilil) is getting older, and he’s out of sorts. The “Intervention” is making life more difficult on his remote community, what with the proper policing of whitefella laws that don’t generally make much sense. Also, Charlie’s kin and ken seeming more interested in going along with things than doing anything about it. So Charlie takes off, to live the old way out in the bush, but in doing so sets off a chain of events in his life that has him return to his community chastened, and somewhat the wiser.

“De Heer’s film is a slow indictment of the colonialist relationship between white law and Indigenous people. It is a film you need to settle back into and experience rather than try and get ahead of the story. Through a slow burn, de Heer asks his audience to experience and reflect on Charlie’s life and this complex clash of cultures.”  Jane Howard – The Guardian
http://www.theguardian.com/culture/australia-culture-blog/2013/oct/15/charlies-country-adelaide-review

Questions for discussion

  • Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:
  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there general theological themes that come to mind?

Living Under the Intervention
The Northern Territory National Emergency Response (also referred to as “the intervention”) was a package of changes to welfare provision, law enforcement, land tenure and other measures, introduced by the Australian Federal Government under John Howard in 2007 to address allegations of rampant child sexual abuse and neglect in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. In the five years since the initiation of the Emergency Response there has not been one prosecution for child abuse come from the exercise.
The package was the Federal government’s response to the Territory government’s publication of Little Children are Sacred, but it implemented only two out of ninety-seven of the report’s recommendations. The response has been criticised, but also received bipartisan parliamentary support, and it continued under Labor Governments in a modified form.  The Emergency Response has since been replaced by the very similar Stronger Futures Policy which has continued under the Liberal Government. The most contentious issues have been the suspension of the Racial Discrimination legislation, the provision of housing only through leasing Aboriginal Lands back to the Commonwealth and managing Centrelink payments.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Territory_National_Emergency_Response

 

Charlie’s Cheque/Money
After Charlie goes to the community office to receive his pension money he walks past several family members and gives them money. Aboriginal culture demands that kin are provided for as part of cultural obligations. It is often the case that a few moments after exiting the office an Aboriginal person finds that most if not all of their pay is gone. Humbug! When I worked in an Aboriginal Community some of the workers asked me to set up a bank account for them so they could hide part of their earnings. This was not for them, they explained, but so they would have money to buy presents for family at Christmas. Charlie also bums cigarettes off family. He doesn’t smoke but burns them in his campfire.
Managing money is one of many issues highlighted when the two cultures come into contact. Discuss. What other aspects of culture did you notice in the film?

The Sick Man
Charlie is asked to look after a sick man in a wheelchair. Old Lulu says he has kidney disease and is dying. Charlie relates how he will be taken from his community to Darwin and he will die alone away from his country. Later when Charlie is in hospital in Darwin he comforts the old man on his death bed.
These events indicate the strong attachment of many traditional people to their country. What cruelty is evidenced here?

Charlie’s House
Charlie has a house but he lives on the edge of the community because his allocated house is overcrowded with family. His home is a self made shelter using bits of scrap timber and corrugated iron over a mattress. He goes to the Community Manager to ask for a house for himself. The answer is no, you’ve already got a house. “But Errol, you’ve got a house and a job, on my land. Where is my house and my job?” asks Charlie.
Overcrowding in houses in Aboriginal communities is a common problem. It is also a cultural problem for people who have not been used to living in close proximity? What problems do you see as a result of overcrowding? What other issues are raised by this incident?

Charlie Helps Out
The Police are in need of help to track some white fellas that are trafficking dope on Aboriginal Lands. They ask Charlie for help. Unbeknownst to them Charlie has already helped the traffickers find a safe place to camp. He has his fun with fooling the police into thinking he is a clever tracker and then points them to the dope runners’ camp. He high-tails it back to the community on foot so the traffickers don’t know. The police “owe him one” but the debt is never paid.
How do the police behave towards Aboriginal people in this film? On the APY Lands in South Australia policing in communities is done by trained Aboriginal Police Aides and there are now Aboriginal people fully trained as police officers in South Australia. Do you think Aboriginal police would have made a difference?

Whitefella Law
Charlie and his mate, Bobby, go hunting in the bush. They shoot a large buffalo and are excited to be going back to the community with so much meat. However they are stopped at the community border by the white police who confiscate their guns – no licences – and their catch. Later Charlie goes to get a licence but needs $60 which he hasn’t got. His gun has been modified and is therefore an illegal firearm. He won’t get it back, licence or not. So Charlie decides he will make a spear to go hunting the old way. The police catch him walking down the road with it and confiscate it as a “dangerous weapon”.
Would this experience be repeated in a non-Aboriginal Country town. Do you think the police would act differently? Why?

Hungry
Charlie rails against the bad food in the shop. On the APY Lands we saw community stores selling poor quality food (e.g. very fat,cheap cuts of meat) at big prices because of transport costs and the overpriced fresh vegetables were no longer fresh at the end of the week. It was easier to afford and to eat the bad stuff. As for fizzy drinks and sugar heaped into tea! Match that with the high incidence of diabetes and kidney disease. Charlie is hungry and asks his friend for food. Bobby points out there is a whole supermarket out in the bush. So Charlie and Bobby take off to live in the old way.
Health is a crucial issue in traditional Aboriginal communities like Ramingining. Is Charlie right about the food? How could Charlie’s response have been supported?

I’m a hunter
Charlie loses his friend when the car he has borrowed from the police, borrowed not stolen because they haven’t paid him for his work, runs out of petrol at the edge of town. Charlie continues into the bush. He builds a shelter and fashions spears. He finds bush food and catches a barramundi which he cooks to perfection and eats with relish. He starts to paint with bush materials. Just as it seems things are going well the rain comes. Charlie get wet, cold and hungry. He develops a cough and makes for the cave shelter of his ancestors but then feels they have left. He returns to his camp and is found by his friend Bobby and taken to Darwin by Air Ambulance.
What options are there in the old ways? Discuss?

The system is broken
Charlie discharges himself from hospital and makes for the streets. He is found by an Aboriginal woman who uses him to get beer and wine from the liquor outlet as she is banned and Charlie’s ID works. Charlie goes on the grog with his new friends in the long grass on the edge of Darwin. Police raids just send them into hiding. Eventually two elders confront Charlie and accuse him of shaming their people because he is associating with a woman of the ‘wrong skin’, thus breaking cultural law.

During a raid Charlie takes a shovel to the window of a police car. He is beaten up by the young police officer who had previously worked in Charlie’s Community and then is arrested. The young policeman announces he won’t be soft on Charlie anymore? “Sorry I hit you” he says after the door of the paddy wagon is closed! Charlie ends up in prison.

Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, yet more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. In the NT it is far worse.
http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/law/aboriginal-prison-rates
Something is clearly wrong. Does this film suggest any reasons what this might be? Discuss.

Back to his roots
Charlie ends up back in the community. Bobby announces he has a gun licence and has his rifle back. He has also trained as a ranger and is uniformed and employed. He comes with one of the elders to ask again if Charlie will teach the young people to dance. Charlie, from time to time in the film remembers the time when he danced for the Queen when she opened the Opera House, and one of his prize possessions is a photo of the event. Again he suggests another person to do it but when told that person is sick and gone to Darwin he agrees. Charlie has his job.

For Aboriginal people culture and identity are paramount to understanding who they are. It provides meaning and purpose that is otherwise lost in a whitefella world. How is this shown in the film? How does the well meaning whitefella intervention miss the point? Do you see any answers?

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project. © Peter & Di Russell, 18 July 2014 Pilgrim Uniting Church. This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Healing

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (course language)
Length: 119 minutes
Starring:  Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Hayes, Jane Menelaus
Director, Producer and Screenplay: Craig Monahan, Alison Nisselle (co-writer)
Musical Score: David Hirschfelder
Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie

Brief synopsis
Healing is a powerful, moving story of redemption, the discovery of hope and the healing of the spirit – in the most unlikely place, for the most unique men, through the most unusual catalyst. Won Wron is a low-security prison farm, a completely non-threatening environment where it is felt some individuals can be reformed and prepared to face the real world on release through hard work, normal working hours and acquiring useful skills. Although not a true story, all the prison inmates are composite characters based on real individuals that Craig met during his research. Even Yasmine is a composite of three individual eagles. Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) was based on a real person. http://www.healingthemovie.com

The photography is magnificent and the birds are each characters in their own right.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Punishment or rehabilitation
Viktor Khadem (Don Hany), an Iranian, was convicted of murder and has spent 18 years in gaol. He has little idea of the world outside and has cut himself off from his religion and his family. He is close to being released but he has almost given up on life. Each of the Prison Officers is a Case Worker for a small group of prisoners. Matt Perry has contact with the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary because of his interest in raptors. He dreams up the idea of prisoners helping with the rehabilitation of injured birds as the sanctuary has too many to deal with. He gets the idea passed by the CEO (Robert Taylor) and, with support from the Social Worker (Justine Clarke), picks Viktor as supervisor. Viktor is introduced to Yasmine, the majestic wedge tailed eagle with a 2 metre wingspan and terrifying claws, and taught how to care for her. If these two can tame each other, anything is possible.
What do you think of this idea? Are the inmates still being punished? How important do you think it is for prisoners to be properly rehabilitated so that when they are released they don’t commit further crimes? Are our prisons doing enough rehabilitation? If not, who suffers as a result?

Can people change?
Matt asks Viktor to choose who will work with him. He chooses his room-mates: Paul (Xavier Samuel), a young shy, easily intimidated prisoner paired with Viktor on arrival, and Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), a rather mixed up kid with a pet rat. They set to and build the aviaries and cages for the birds. Matt’s fellow officer, Egan (Tony Martin), has seen it all before and bets Matt that ‘Viktor won’t come out of the door without being told.’ He continues this kind of negative banter throughout the film.
What brings people to have faith in others and faith that change can occur in people’s lives? How much of the cynic is in us? Has the Gospel message something to offer? If so, what? Would this work with an Iranian Muslim or is another approach needed? How do we get our good ideas accepted by other people?

Power
The bullying behaviour of Warren (Anthony Hayes) runs as a thread through the film. His behaviour is observed by the prison officers who seemingly do nothing. He has control over Shane and makes Shane do things like hide his drugs. Finally, fearing he is losing his control over Shane to Viktor and Paul, he kills Shane’s rat. Shane has finally had enough of being bullied and strikes back. A note appears in the complaints box. In the subsequent prison officers’ raid on Warren’s room drugs are found and Warren is promptly sent back to the main prison.
Pecking orders develop in most societies and many organisations, even gaols as is commonly depicted in the movies. Bullies are often very clever at concealing their activities. What are your experiences of bullying? What is an appropriate response to bullying?

People and Birds
This film was inspired by the real life partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Won Wron prison farm run by Corrections Victoria. Many institutions and support organisations have introduced animals as part of therapy.
What is the place of animals in your life? How important do you think it is to protect animals and their habitat. Why?
The writer in the book of Genesis says that mankind has dominion over all the fish, birds, and every living thing on the earth. Some people see this as a licence to use animals as they like. Is there another way of looking at this?

Time and Culture
Although the movie is long (119 minutes) we didn’t realise this. It moves at a steady pace as the different characters develop, much like country life and, like the healing which occurs gradually.
How dominated are we in our lives by time? Is there a way to pace our lives better? How easily do we judge others? If we try to heal too quickly are we really healed?

The Healing Process
After 18 years of having no visitors, a first ever prison visit by Viktor’s son, Yousef (Dimitri Baveas), who is now grown up and married with a daughter, fails. Viktor won’t look at him because of shame. Viktor shows his rage and the son leaves. However, Viktor is soon attached to Yasmine, a wedge tailed eagle that cannot fly due to damaged pinion feathers that will take 9 months to heal. Viktor has to feed and exercise the bird daily. As time goes by Victor accepts another vist by Yousef and begins to communicate with his son. He explains why he refused to attend his mother’s funeral – if he had, no one else would have attended. A day visit is arranged as part of the process of preparing prisoners for release. Viktor must take a gift so he wraps a framed picture of himself and Yasmine. He inadvertantly leaves the gift on the train, then fails to visit, is found intoxicated and is returned to the prison farm the next day by the police. He loses all his privileges, his position in the raptor program and his single room. He goes to work in the kitchen but the connection with Yasmine does not go away. Yasmine pines for him. Viktor is eventually able to return to the program and tries to release Yasmine, as is the aim for all rehabilitated birds. Yasmine does not cope in the wild and is taken to the sanctuary where Viktor is reunited with her and his family.
Matt is also carrying scars from the death of his daughter. He leaves the play equipment at his house but later is seen dismantling it when he has come to terms with her loss.
Paul is so ashamed of what he did that put him in gaol that he will not accept visitors. He gradually gains his self esteem through caring for the birds and is pleased when his father visits.
How easy is it to give up? How easy is it to recover from shame, loss or disappointment? What do you think helps Viktor, Matt and Paul continue?

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project. © Peter & Di Russell, 8 May, 2014  Pilgrim Uniting Church.

 

 

Canopy

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 84 minutes
Starring: Khan Chittenden, Mo Tzu-Yi, Yoshi Yamamoto, Robert Menzies, Edwina Wren.
Language: English, Cantonese (no subtitles)
Director and Screenplay: Aaron Wilson

Brief synopsis:
This is a wartime movie with a difference. It is 1942. Singapore. An Australian fighter pilot, Jim, is shot down in combat.
”A few atmospheric CGI shots establish the scope of the battle, with smoke rising in the distance and aircraft streaking across the sky. With little fanfare and no backstory, aviator Jim (Khan Chittenden) literally falls into the frame and, after cutting himself free of the cumbersome canvas harness, is mired ankle-deep in thick black mud, the sounds of war raging around him.
After frantically going through his survival kit to identify the items he might need, he begins a furtive trek that moves him out of the mud and into the verdant yet imposing jungle. In short order he literally runs into Seng (Taiwanese actor Mo Tzu-Yi), a Chinese resistance fighter on the run whose colleague has just been killed. Though they don’t share a common language, they manage to survive together until the inevitable run-in with Japanese forces.”
http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/canopy-review-toronto-1200605326/

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The Jungle
‘I wanted it to be experiential,” Wilson says. ”Once Jim is dropped into this forest, you’re in there with him. Time becomes fluid and it isn’t like a typical film experience.” Sound is the key. Wilson creates “a visual theater of the mind in which the majority of the action is heard and not seen. Thus the sounds of the forest intermingle with the chaos of war, as the sweat-stained faces of the protags register the fear and determination of the hunted.” Margaret Pomeranz, At the Movies, opined,”There are only so many leaves you can see in life . .” For some this can all become a bit tedious and give up on the movie. However for this writer who has trekked at length in New Guinea jungles, and at night, it was a true rendition of reality. The jungle is alive and speaks in many voices for anyone who stops and listens. It would also make sense to any servicemen who endured war in the jungles of New Guinea and SE Asia. Those wishing to get on with the story miss the point, that is the story.

‘When I spoke to veterans, they’d talk about the quiet moments, about not being able to talk for fear of alerting the other side,” says Wilson. ”They’d hear all the sounds of the jungle, and they’ve stayed with them to this day.” Karl Quinn SMH
In our current world of instant gratification are we able to hear the voices that speak to us? Do we stay still long enough to immerse ourselves in the experience?

Can we truly know anything without experiencing it?
In the recent movie, Noah, it was said that God never spoke, because there was no “voice”! Perhaps the commentator was mistaken. God speaks in a multiplicity of ways, through nature, other people’s actions and voices, and in our dreams. Maybe if we do not hear it is because we do not listen?
Has a life of faith become for many just tedious? Can real life only be alive when lived on the edge?

Who is the enemy?
Jim runs into Seng, a member of the Singaporean-Chinese militia, first believing him to be Japanese. Communication is difficult as neither shares the other’s language. Seng’s only weapon is a sharpened stick and Jim had lost his sidearm when he bailed out. However a comradeship develops as each supports the other in navigating the jungle and avoiding the Japanese patrols. Seng is unlucky to be hit by a stray bullet that was fired by Japanese searchers, probably as ill at home in the jungle and spooked by any sound or shadow? Jim drags Seng deeper into the bush and attends as best he can to the wound. Aaron Wilson the Writer / director attempts to show the human response to adversity and the mateship between the two men becomes apparent in their interactions. War seems to bring out the worst and best of humanity. Comment?

War Stories
Wilson says Canopy is simply a reflection of the stories he heard growing up in the Murray River town of Tocumwal.”You’d hear the war stories, you’d see the legacy. It was all around me growing up,” he says.
”My grandfather’s brother was in Borneo and Papua and when he came back he couldn’t handle it. After about three months he went back to Papua New Guinea. And he’s been there ever since.”
Many servicemen on returning would not speak of their experiences and many will not march at Anzac Day. Thoughts?

Can any war be justified? Is humankind predicated to violence? Early Christians were largely pacifists and refused to serve in the Roman Army. What has changed? What do you think should be the Christian response to war?

Deeper Problems?
Canopy is Wilson’s first feature but he has already shot the sequel. It picks up Jim’s story in the 1970s, ”once he’s returned home and the connection, or lack thereof, to his family. It’s about the legacy, how the war never leaves him.” KQ-SMH
The film ends with a figure of Jim standing alone in a wheat field. What do you understand or know of the issues confronting servicemen returning from war? Have you any similar experiences of situations that have become indelibly etched in your memory? You may care to share them or not. Where is God in all of this?

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project. © Peter Russell, 25th April, 2014 Pilgrim Uniting Church, This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Noah

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterThis reflection was prepared by Jon Humphries and first published on Uniting for Change Facebook page. The content is Jon’s, re-arranged with titles for easier access for discussion.
(Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/UnitingForChange)

Genre: Drama
Rating: PG13 (for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content)
Length: 138 minutes
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

Brief synopsis
A man is chosen by his world’s creator to undertake a momentous mission to rescue the innocent before an apocalyptic flood cleanses the wicked from the world (IMDB).
Longer synopsis here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1959490/synopsis?ref_=tt_stry_pl
A link to the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OSaJE2rqxU

 

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there general theological themes that come to mind?

Introduction:
Noah is a theological reflection. It clearly honours Christian doctrine (but possibly not its dogma) and deeply honours Scripture in profound and theological ways, even if it takes a fair bit of licence with the story. However, the deliberate parting from the Biblical narrative in the film, such as Noah misinterpreting the call of God, is clearly an intentional device to get us thinking about theological issues and to engage with the story in active and fresh ways. It is deliberately provocative, and rather being provoked to righteous anger, maybe we can be provoked to think about this movie and how it might help us to clarify our thinking on what it means to be human and what the nature of God is like.

Humanity, in the image of God
At the core of ‘Noah’ is the concept of humanity bearing the image of God. This is all the way through the movie in the dialogue and takes us into thinking about the meaning of the first line of the biblical text of the story of Noah – “When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created. (Genesis 5:1)” This film takes this notion, that many of us forget is a curious re-statement of a key aspect of the story of creation and explores this through an engaging audio/visual piece of storytelling.

Myth
The movie is a mythical depiction of a great story. The inclusion of the fantastical ‘Watchers’ clearly situates the film’s narrative as myth and thus allows the story to be a theological reflection rather than a literal retelling. However, in doing so the director and screenplay writer hasn’t drifted too far from the Biblical text after all, there are the Cherubim with flaming swords outside the Garden of Eden and, more importantly, and there is the reference to the enigmatic Nephilim – the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:4, which are a whole doctoral thesis worth of theology in themselves. These ‘Watchers” also serve a key plot device to help explain the logical problem of how Noah and his small family prevent all the desperate people in the world from overwhelming the ark. They also provide a nice sideline narrative of redemption.

Being human – the problem with violence
This movie takes a biblical story that has been caked in religious piety and tainted by the depiction it receives in children’s bible books (and who hasn’t owned or given their kids or grandkids a Noah’s ark toy set), and has packaged it in a clever in a Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings styling. The controversy and this edgy portrayal has probably been more successful and got more people reading the Bible than much of the church’s efforts recently. It is a very violent film, and we might wonder whether this is an honest attempt to wrestle with what may have been deeply violent times, or whether it is aimed at holding up the mirror of truth to us so that we may see the violent nature that lies within us as humans or whether it is just a blatant use of violence to attract a sort of viewer. Regardless of motivation, this raw depiction of the story shows the messiness of being human. For me it humanises the characters of this story as real people, rather than the childish image of an old man with a clean white beard and nice pretty little boat, or the unconceivable image of a man who is 500 years old and a simplistic view of good and people in long, long ago times.

Being human – the problem with sin
The film is focused on the sinfulness of humankind and how we might reconcile this in the face of the fact that we bear the image of God (pun intended). There is a clear polarity between the people of Noah and the sons of Cain. Yes, there is poetic licence taken with the story, but this can be seen as not being disrespectful to the Biblical narrative. It allows the connection between the ancient biblical text and our situation as a modern civilisation. It clearly, but not explicitly – with its almost post-apocalyptic setting – is designed to get us thinking about our sinfulness as modern humanity. This is both in terms of our exploitation of the planet and in relation to the dysfunctional greedy nature of our technological consumer society along with our violence and wars.

Corruption and destruction
The deep and troubling issue of humanicide is not shied away from or glossed over. The extent of depravity and corruption of humanity is strongly presented, but the questions of justice etc in relation to how God wipes the slate of creation clean in order to start again is very real. Against the need for God’s justice and redemption/restoration of a creation that has been all by destroyed by the corruption of humanity is played the suffering of the innocent – for not all humanity can be evil – especially the children. This juxtaposition allows the question of the theological ethics of the story to be live and need to be considered. How can Noah’s son, Ham, who considers temptation of evil, be any more worth saving than his innocent girlfriend who gets trapped and trampled as Noah leaves her behind? Noah, in the film helps us wrestle with this question and, in fact, takes it too far believing that all humanity, including his family must be removed from creation in order to allow it to have a new start.

Original sin vs cultural/social DNA
It is an interesting shifting of the focus of the sinfulness of humanity away from Adam to Cain. Adam and Eve’s sin is still clearly represented, but the focus on Cain allows us to get over an idea of original sin being about some kind theological genetic imperfection that is passes on through our DNA. This allows it to be more about what it means to live in the image of God and the choices we make with that power. Thus it is more about our spiritual and cultural/societal DNA than some mystical stain.

Good and evil vs grace and mercy
The choice of good and evil and the theme of being made in God’s image in the choice of Noah in killing his newborn granddaughters – is very clever theology. Micah 6:6-8 comes to mind as Noah chooses to walk justly, love mercy even though he struggles to walk humbly with God and the misconception of belied that his faith has led him down. The words of Ila as she tries to convince Noah about the error of his faith is a powerful crux of the film – “He has given you the choice”. Noah, against what he believes is the will of God acts with his heart, because he looks at his granddaughters and only feels love. Thus Noah truly becomes the redemption of the mistake of Adam. He is given the choice – he could enact the violence of Cain (which he believes is right – but which we all know is against the will of God, because we know the Bible story) or he can embody the grace of God. In the end Noah chooses to act justly, love mercy and (although he thinks otherwise) he walks away humbly with God.

Discerning the will of God
Noah’s religion is again another mirror for us who seek to follow God. He is faced – in the moment as the symbol of humanity – of how do we know and discern the will of God. Noah lays before us in his struggles the burden of call and the struggle to discern God’s will. He skates close to insanity with the burden of call and the silence of God in the wake of special revelation. Noah acts with the steel of determination as he enacts what he fervently believes is God’s call to him. He almost commits an atrocity in the fervour of his belief, and here he captures so many examples in history where people of faith have done awful things in the name of God. The wanting to end the family line and with it the whole of humanity is an unsubtle reference to Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Thus, the weaving of extra elements into the narrative, serve to link the story to theological themes that one might not otherwise consider if the narrative only stuck to the Noah plot. In the end Noah, as the one making the choice and bearing the image of God and all that it means, especially in contrast to Tubal-Cain, demonstrates God’s desire for grace and mercy.

Creation and evolution
Then there is the brilliant retelling of Creation with the parallel visual telling of evolution which is a work of genius. This is then contrasted by the leader of the sons of Cain, Tubal-Cain, giving and misgiving the second Genesis story a corrupted spin. This is worth a whole reflection in itself.

Blessing, and un-blessing
The weird end of the biblical story where Ham sees his drunk father naked, is given a more credible back story. This won’t please people because it changes a clearly stated part of the story – that the sons of Noah entered the ark with their wives. If we were being pedantic, this is still true in the movie – it is just that their future wives are in-utero. However, the struggle of Ham as a character and his trouble with his father works well within the film’s storyline and helps us see the human side of the characters and their struggles and the cost of bearing this story. It also gives a back story for why Ham gets un-blessed and his descendants end up the people of Canaan. The role of Methuselah in the story is also a little odd, but given the other changes to the plot this one is just one of the many and adds a bit of character and comedy to the story, he does become the hand of God’s providence, but his role does not contribute a lot of theological content worth deep reflection.

Closing thoughts from Jon
This movie is by no means perfect. It is a work of art and an interpretation that arises from the mind of the artist involved. There are things that we could criticise. There are things we would change. I personally would have liked some vision-type scene where God gives Noah some peace – something more than an implied heavenly thumbs-up in the form of a big light show in the sky ending with a rainbow – after all he had gone through. In the movie, God as ‘The Creator’ is aloof and apart. The movie sidesteps much of the end of the Biblical narrative and it is a pity that it does in some ways, as I would have loved to have seen how it would get us thinking about the complex theological issues of covenant.

In the end though, the movie thoughtfully honours the story of Noah as a faith story. This is not through accurate retelling, but by opening up Scripture as a means of thinking about faith and the God who is ultimately a mystery. This is a depiction and is clearly designed to make people think. It seems full of deeply intentional consideration of theological issues. It honours the biblical narrative, not in literalism, but in opening up an engagement with the narrative by jarring us out of our traditional thinking about the story. If all people that think about is how the movie doesn’t match the biblical narrative then we have profoundly missed the point of the movie – and probably the purpose of scripture in faith as well. There is a lot of stuff that we could criticise, but then we may just fall into the temptation of being judgemental religious nay-sayers. This  film is a gift to the Church. It is there for us to take up and use as a stimulus for discussion. It is something to get people reading their Bibles about. Even if you totally disagree with all the points I made above and think it is a complete waste of time, then there is a bunch of material to build conversations, Bible studies and theological discussions around. Let’s just take it and use it for good to nurture faith and discipleship

l thoroughly enjoyed Noah”. It was one of the most theological and spiritual experiences that I have had in a while. These are my reflections. They are more about helping me clarify my thoughts, and I give thanks to you as a potential audience for providing the impetus and vehicle for this. I am not trying to convince anyone and, whilst happy to hear comments, I am not trying to stimulate debate, just thought.

Original material © Jon Humphries

 

Wadja

Published / by Graham Brice

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama (Saudi Arabia/German production)
Rating: PG for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking
Length: 98 minutes
Starring: Reem Abdulla as Mother, Waad Mohammed as Wadjda
Writer and Director: Haifaa al-Mansour

Brief synopsis
Wadjda, an 11-year-old Saudi girl living in the capital Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), dreams of owning a green bicycle that she passes in a store every day on her way to school. She wants to race against her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighbourhood, but riding bikes is frowned upon for girls and Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy one for her daughter. She is distracted by trying to convince her husband not to take a second wife, as Wadjda tries to find the money herself by selling bracelets for classmates, acting as a go-between for a teacher, and through other forbidden activities in the school yard. She signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the funds she needs for the bike.
More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadjda
and here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2258858/

Interesting information
This is the first feature length film made by a female Saudi director, and the first feature length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. It is Saudi Arabia’s first official submission to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film (2014) category. Because of restrictions placed on women in Saudi Arabia, the female director Haifaa Al-Mansour was not allowed to interact with her mostly male crew and had to direct the street scenes from a nearby van, watching through a monitor and issuing instructions through a walkie talkie.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there general theological themes that come to mind?

A review by Graham Brice that may stimulate further discussion

Defiance! ~ may as well be what Wadja means. How did this movie set in Riyadh manage to get to production in a country without cinemas? – this, the very first full length feature film shot entirely within Saudi Arabia? And how was it shot and directed. Well the Director Haifaa Al-Mansour was the first female director so most of the time she was hidden in a van using walkie-talkies to talk to the actors. This then is the very substance of the movie. A tale of deep feminist intent  but mostly quiet, patient resistance – led by a feisty pre-pubescent girl, the product of a family that though conservative, is more liberal than ‘ideal’ under Sharia law.

Most of the time we witness the ordinary, everyday rythms of family and culure where women must be escorted, covered with Birkas, or not seen at all, in the public arena. Yet one girl dreams big and takes on the oppression – and desperately wants a bike (forbidden for girls) so she can chase her boy – friend (not ‘boyfriend’ as these too are forbidden) to school. From such a simple poignant narrative the action is not quite gripping all the way but subtly, consistently, the tension rises and falls like the prayerful chants of the faithful and you never know what’s around the corner [and I’m not about to even hint in that direction].

To anyone new to any depictions of Saudi Arabia (like me) the onion keeps peeling away to a final rather brutal conclusion – but the film has no violence as such and is suitable to those sensitive to it. One can only grow in admiration for any resistance in such a disturbing land where the Koran and patriarchy seem inextricably bound.

Unobtrusive, unpretentious cinematography, clever editing and very sparse but pleasant sound track relying mostly on natural sound, all add up to a low budget but courageous film destined to be a classic in the fledgling Saudi film industry – if it is allowed to develop.

An interesting irony learnt from seeing the film is that the director was one of 12 children so to  ‘placate’ the roudy household, her father gave his kids videos to watch – and her love of film making was born in a country where any such industriousness is the province only of males. She didn’t see Wadjda as ‘political’ but then she would have to say that wouldn’t she?!

And this movie might never have happened if the director was not allowed to travel. In fact she studied a Masters of Film Making at the University of Sydney.

 

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Graham Brice, 14 April 2014 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

Gravity

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, SF
Rating: M
Length: 90 minutes
Starring:  Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director:  Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón

Brief synopsis
Far out in space, three American astronauts have left their shuttle to work on a Hubble telescope; we barely get to meet one of them but the other two are veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, and first-timer Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock. The atmosphere is relaxed, Kowalski cracks jokes to help his colleague overcome her nervousness. And then disaster strikes: a Russian satellite self-destructs and a mass of debris heads directly towards the three Americans…there are none of the trappings of conventional science fiction, no monsters, no bad guys at all. Just human beings in the vastness and eeriness of space, trying to survive after an unexpected disaster.  David Stratton– At the Movies, ABC.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The technology
We see the earth from space below and are mesmerised by the shapes of the clouds and the sea and earth. Then silently there appears, first as a dot in the far right top corner, then closer in the space shuttle, and closer still we see tiny figures in space suits bouncing around and the ever increasing sound of radio communications. The technology that makes all this real is amazing. The question is, “Why do we do it and should we be expending the vast amounts of money to do this while there are so many problems to be resolved on earth?” Discuss.

Knowing when you will die
After the storm of debris hits the shuttle, Stone is detached from the shuttle and flung into space with no self-propulsion unit; she is adrift attached only to Kowalski by radio. Kowalski comes after her and tows her back to the damaged shuttle. They find none of the other crew have survived. They then make for the International Space Station using only Kowalski’s propulsion pack. However, with the fuel in the pack exhausted they approach too fast and end up only attached by being tangled in loose cable. Kowalski knows his mass is pulling both of them away and Stone’s only chance is if he detaches himself from her. Stone manages to board the station and escape via a damaged Soyuz re-entry vehicle, hoping to reach the Chinese station which has an undamaged re-entry vehicle. But she uses up all the fuel in the process. She then faces death for the second time. What difference would it make if you knew when you were to die? What would keep you going?

Prayer
As Stone sits in the Soyuz she resigns herself to death; she expresses fear and wishes she had been taught to pray. Even atheists facing death have been known to pray. What is so special about prayer? Do you think it makes a difference? Stone turns off her oxygen supply and, as she breathes in carbon dioxide, she hallucinates, a common symptom. Her ‘non-prayer’ appears to be answered. What do you think? In both the Russian and Chinese spacecraft, religious symbols are in view. What does this suggest?

Survival – a purpose for living
Life in space is impossible. This statement is one of the first things to appear on the screen as the movie commences. All through the movie there is the struggle to survive in an impossible environment. The impossible is made possible only through the training and skill of the astronauts and their determination to survive. The fragility of the technology becomes only too apparent. What sort of person would it take to be an astronaut? Would you do it if you had the chance? Space is a dangerous place. Could you leave family and friends behind with this risk?

Isolation
Isolation has always been a part of religious experience. Whether it is in monasteries or religious retreats, or like the desert fathers and mothers as hermits in isolated places, it is often believed that it brings one closer to God. Do you think the isolation of space might have a similar effect? In April of 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space aboard Vostok 1. Gagarin was reported to have said, “I don’t see any God up here”, although he actually never said it. In 1969 Buzz Aldrin, just before re-entry by the first successful Lunar Landing mission in Apollo 11, recited from Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest Him?” Does the view from space make it more or less difficult to believe? Explain your answer.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project. © Peter Russell, 5 October, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Best Offer

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, romance, mystery
Rating: M (adult themes, sexual content)
Length: 2 hours 4 minutes
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland
Writer-Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Music: Ennio Morricone (and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra)
(This film has a long list of art works identified in the credits!)

Brief synopsis
This synopsis needs to be spacious in description so as not to disclose too much! The film is set in Europe’s high-end art world. There is no specific city named in which the story takes place, a pointer perhaps to the mysteries that will unfold in the film. It is a beautifully crafted tale of art, beauty, love, truth and falsity. A master auctioneer, Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) – a solitary, cultured, obsessive man – is contacted by a mysterious young woman Claire Ibbotson (Sylvia Hoeks) who is identified as the heiress of her late parents’ property. She convinces him to evaluate the paintings and antiques in the villa, which has now fallen into disrepair. He learns she has an illness that prevents her from meeting him face to face, and he becomes obsessed with seeing her, and in the process discovers he has a heart and a capacity to care. The film has surprising twists and turns. There’ll be lots of intriguing questions and connecting the dots after the film concludes, and some questions that may be unanswered!
The discussion questions that follow in this resource seek not to disclose the twists and turns, but to provide some framing for discussion.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Oldman
The main character ‘Oldman’ (a well chosen name) is solitary, lonely, difficult, demanding. He has his share of phobias. He doesn’t own a mobile phone – since his world is not populated by people with whom he holds significant relationships. He knows nothing of the life of his long serving and faithful secretary who he probably relates to more than anyone else on a daily basis. There is nothing hidden that prevents him learning about his colleague; it’s just that Oldman has no interest in the lives of others. He maintains that ‘talking to people is perilous’. He is intelligent but emotionally dead. It is intriguing that such a flawed character holds the attention of the audience. Certainly kudos to Rush’s acting ability. What did you find compelling about Oldman?

Automon
The 18th century automon is re-constructed from the rusted and broken cogs and wheels largely ‘stolen’ by Oldman from the villa. Yet, there is trickery in the ways the cogs and wheels are placed and ‘found’ in the villa, piece by piece, perhaps mirroring the trickery behind the constructing of Oldman’s emotional life, step by step. Discuss.

Secret rooms
Both Oldman and Claire have their secret rooms. His is much like Sarah Jessica Parker’s shelves accommodating her shoe fetish in Sex and the City. It contains his lifetime’s collection of precious art. Hers is the world she makes away from the company of people, hidden behind an ornate mural in the villa. Hidden lives. Secrets. Perhaps everyone has a ‘hidden room’ in their lives? Discuss.

Authenticity and fakery
Billy: ‘Emotions are like works of art. They can be forged. They seem just like the original but they are forgery’. Virgil: ‘Forgery’. Billy: ‘Everything can be fake Virgil: joy, pain, hate, illness, recovery….even love’.
Movie bi-line: ‘Some forgeries are worth the ultimate price’.
Oldman prides himself on his capacity to spot a fake artwork, and also to declare fake what is actually genuine for his own purposes. His willing accomplice Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland) then buys the discounted artwork at auction so Oldman can add to his collection. It is beauty rather than greed that motivates him, but it is a massive betrayal of trust and lack of integrity. Claire says she is disgusted that Oldman dyes his hair, that somehow there dying hair is an act of dishonesty. But she hides dark secrets of her own. What are other examples of the rhythm between authenticity and forgery in the film? Can anyone be trusted – even friends, colleagues, confidantes, lovers?

The mysterious woman in the café
The mysterious mathematically gifted woman in the café known as Claire (Sydney-born Kurina Stamell) knows all the comings and goings at the villa. She holds vital clues. In the rhythm of truth and trickery in the film, what is her character’s role in the plot?

Women and relationships
Virgil: ‘What’s it like living with a woman?’ Lambert: ‘Like taking part in an auction sale. You never know if yours will be the best offer’.
Oldman claims he ‘admires but fears women’. He has not had an adult relationship with a woman in his life. Instead, Oldman has invested his emotional life into paintings of women who have eyes only for him. Looking but not touching. They bring him reassurance and calm. What then attracts him to Claire, especially when he can’t see her and she has brought him great irritation?

The girl on the motorbike
The scene where Robert’s girlfriend goes to Oldman’s work to speak with him about personal matters seemed odd. But it invites more discussion about who’s been part of the fabrication and manipulation, and who’s been ‘clean’ and honest. Are any of the characters who they seem to be? Who can be trusted?

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….’
(Hebrews 12.1)
The scenes in Oldman’s his secret room is a visual delight, with all the faces that project love, comfort, understanding, and which give courage, purpose and the will to go forward. For people of faith, how do the ‘clouds of witnesses’ provide the courage and purpose to go forward?
Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th September, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Rocket

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (adult themes, some violent images, sexual content, brief language)
Length: 96 minutes
Starring: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam
Director and Screenplay: Kim Mordaunt (Australian)
(‘The Rocket’ is a natural extension of Kim Mordaunt’s 2007 documentary ‘Bomb Harvest’ about the secret war in Laos, and the thousands of unexploded warheads that still threaten the country)

Brief synopsis
A boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home. After a calamity-filled journey through a land scarred by the legacy of war, to prove he’s not bad luck he builds a giant rocket to enter the most exciting and dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival
© Red Lamp Films
‘The Rocket’ is a spectacular achievement that is powerful and delightful in equal measures. Artfully structured and gorgeously shot, it chronicles the struggles of a displaced family while steering well clear of either sentimentality or despair. Complex in its tone and characterizations, the film takes an unflinching – and edifying – look at the suffering caused both by a legacy of war and the new status quo of economic globalization. While never losing sight of those grim realities, it also offers us a transcendent tale of hope and perseverance in a world that few Westerners ever have the chance to see.
© Tribeca Film Festival. The film won the Audience Award, Best Actor, and Best Narrative Feature.

Questions for discussion

  • Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:
  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The film is warm-hearted, set amidst grim realities of life in Laos. The following may provide a catalyst for discussion.

The dam industry
By the end of the 20th century, the dam industry had choked more than half of the earth’s major rivers with some 50,000 large dams. The consequences of this massive engineering program have been devastating. The world’s large dams have wiped out species; reduced biodiversity; decreased fish production; flooded huge areas of wetlands, forests and farmlands. Some of the world’s most diverse wildlife habitat and fertile farmland has been flooded beneath reservoirs. Entire river ecosystems have been destroyed. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) established by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) stated that while dams have made an important contribution to development, ‘in too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits’. China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Laos, Iran, Chile, Mexico and Ethiopia are all building or planning numerous dams, which would have severe impacts on rivers and people. What do you know about the dam industry and the impact on the environment? What concerns are raised for you?

Internal displacement by projects (dams, mining etc)
Tens of millions of people have been forced from their homes and lands by dam projects. Most have been left impoverished. Those forced onto resettlement sites often do not have clean water to drink or enough food to eat. They often languish there, stripped of their traditional livelihoods, land and natural resources – the social fabric that binds their communities together ripped apart. Alcoholism, depression, domestic violence and disease increase. Compensation – if provided at all – is typically inadequate. Cash compensation is rarely enough to purchase comparable replacement land. When land-for-land compensation is provided, those displaced typically receive smaller amounts of poorer quality land. Unable to subsist on their new plots, farming families frequently end up living as migrant laborers or slum dwellers in cities. People who resist are often subjected to violence and intimidation. In China, people have been jailed and beaten for protesting against poor resettlement conditions for the Three Gorges Dam, which has displaced 1.3 million people. In Guatemala in the 1980’s, more than 440 Maya Achi indigenous people, mainly women and children, were murdered by paramilitaries because they refused to leave their ancestral lands for the World Bank-funded Chixoy Dam. Survivors of the massacre are still fighting for reparations for their suffering. Discuss the human impact of large dam projects.
Fact sheet: http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/irfactsheet_dammed_rivers_lores.pdf
Web resources: http://www.internationalrivers.org/problems-with-big-dams

Landmines and sleeping tigers
Landmines and cluster munitions have been described as “weapons of social cataclysm”. They perpetuate poverty, leave a legacy of indiscriminate civilian injuries and deaths, burden struggling healthcare systems and render vast tracts of land uninhabitable and unproductive. They keep poor people poor, decades after a conflict. During the Vietnam war (in which Laos was officially neutral) US planes dropped 260m cluster bomb sub-munitions on the country – of which 80m did not explode. Since 1964, an estimated 50,000 people have been killed or injured by mine and unexploded ordinances (UXO). One third have been children. Even today, Laos still averages 4 new victims each week.  When men are casualties, their extended families bear the cost. Children are forced to abandon school to assist with the burden of disability care, further entrenching poverty for another generation. Over 2/3rds of adults in Laos are employed in agriculture, yet poor farmers must choose between leaving land unproductive, or risking injury by using contaminated fields. Despite the efforts of organizations and corporations, less than 1% of UXO’s have been cleared in Laos.
Libya, Syria, Burma and Israel all deployed new UXO’s last year, and over the past decade cluster munitions have been used extensively by Israel in Lebanon and the US in Iraq. The US, Russia and China remain outside the relevant treaties.
Discuss, including ways you might learn more and get involved in campaigns.

Superstition and beliefs
There is much in this film that hangs on religious belief and practice, and superstition. For instance, Ahlo’s grandmother insisted he was born with the curse of a twin and should be killed (his twin was stillborn). Any accidents and bad luck are attributed to him. The father, like other villagers, appeases the gods with offerings in makeshift shrines. Animal heads are offered to the gods. There are strongly held beliefs in ghosts. The rocket festival hinges on which rocket can go high enough to wake the rain gods and bring much needed rain. Discuss the role religious belief and practice play in the people’s lives.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 31st August, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

 

Amour

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama (French language)
Rating: M (mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language)
Length: 127 minutes
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert
Director & Writer: Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke – winner of many awards including Palme d’Or & Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film

Brief synopsis
Georges and Anne are a couple of retired music teachers in their 80’s enjoying life, content in each other’s company. Anne suddenly has a stroke at breakfast that begins her harrowingly steep physical and mental decline as Georges attempts to care for her at home as she wishes. In the end, George, with his love fighting against his own weariness and diminished future on top of Anne’s, is driven to make some critical decisions for them both. (Kenneth Chishol) More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amour_(2012_film)

Questions for discussion
It’s a harrowing but truthful story of the onset of physical and mental decline, with insights into both the person affected and the one who suddenly finds themselves as the carer, as well as how family respond to the changed circumstances. The filmmaking style is almost as a documentary with the camera simply following the activity. No bells and whistles here, just the confronting nature of day-to-day routine. It’s a serious film, but not depressing in the sense of needing to avoid reflecting on these issues. Fruitful discussion will be had in sharing insights about the film and its story, and personal experiences.

Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

For richer, for poorer, in good health and poor….
Long after the bliss of the wedding day, the reality of the exchanged vows comes to be known when the health of a loved one deteriorates. This story is one response. What is the nature of love when demythologised from ‘romanticized’ love? What is the nature of love spoken about in the Biblical text often used in weddings: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’(1 Cor 13:4-6). What inspired you in this movie and what challenged you?

Preserving dignity
There’s lots of dignity to be lost – adult diapers, people talking about you in the third person, having to be ‘fed and watered’ and bathed. But being home in familiar settings may enable the person to feel they still have a sense of self-worth and identity and not just a patient in a bed in a care facility. There are plenty of challenges, though, in being a care provider for someone at home, and plenty that is ‘lost’ for the carer. What insights did the movie provide, and what insights do you have from those who have experienced being a carer?

Who are you?
Chronic illness and physical and mental deterioration can change the relationship between people who have lived with each other for many years and who know each other so well. How to care for the person you have loved, even when it seems they are no longer ‘present’ in the same way? How to be cared for by the person you have loved, when you can no longer do the simple things in life like going to the toilet on your own? What are the challenges in this scenario?

A rollercoaster
What emotions did you see in the couple – determination, resignation, frustration, serenity etc. How might you imagine you would be in similar circumstances – as the one who is ill, or as the one who is the carer? What support would you need to survive these harrowing circumstances – people, things, services, respite etc?

Second fiddle
The couple’s daughter, Eva, is an occasional visitor. She seems to be tolerated, but there is none of the warmth and serenity extended to her that the couple themselves have shared in their day-to-day living before Anne’s stroke. Eva is almost seen as an outsider, greeting with reserved hostility lest she interfere in their decision-making in response to Anne’s situation. The onset of illness is devastating, but can also be divisive in families.  Discuss.

The elephant in the room
“Life is so long,” Anne says contentedly while she and Georges flip through an old photo album. They have lived their lives well, and with delight. Is it a shock, or to be expected, that after Georges tenderly reads a favourite book to Anne that he then smothers her? It is a premeditated and shocking act. It raises ethical, moral and legal issues. How do you respond to this act of someone who loves another so deeply that they would commit murder (or more kindly, to put the other out of their ongoing misery)? Is the capacity to breathe enough to determine ‘living’, when life has become so diminished?

A personal story for reflection
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/02/surviving-amour.html
Later, when Anne, upon returning home from the hospital, made Georges promise she’d never have to go back, I thought of my grandfather’s room in the geriatrics ward—of how we’d read the newspaper together on the edge of the bed he would die in, the bed my grandmother convinced the nurses to let her crawl into to sleep beside him. She’d insisted he be admitted, despite the fact there was nothing any doctor could do: for Anne and Georges, the ultimate act of love was Georges allowing and even expediting Anne’s death, but for my grandparents, it was my grandfather allowing my grandmother to try to keep him alive. I remembered the day of his funeral, when I had to look away as my grandmother climbed into the back of the hearse and, dizzy with grief, knelt over the coffin she had begged the funeral director to open, so she could talk to his body one last time. I thought about her now: I always knew she would dissolve when he died, but I had not foreseen that her grief would sustain itself, essentially undiminished, for years. That she would transform into a person I often barely recognize. (Hannah Goldfield)
Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.© Rev Sandy Boyce 19th June, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

The Great Gatsby PosterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (adult themes, some violent images, sexual content, brief language)
Length: 2 hours 33 minutes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton.
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (based on F.Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby)

Brief synopsis
The story is told by would-be writer Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) who leaves the Midwest and arrives in New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles. © WB

Questions for discussion
The film and the book need to be considered as two different things, so focus discussion on the movie rather than how faithful it was to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Some of the questions below are more about the actual movie making process that is a hallmark of Luhrmann’s movies. An important question is how this process enhanced or distracted from the content. The themes of the film and the novel are relevant today in the ‘dot com’ boom – now ‘bust’ in the GFC. There will be much to discuss about the ideas depicted.

Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

In pursuit of the ‘holy grail’
Gatsby manipulated his circumstances, believing he was free to do anything to pursue Daisy, his ‘holy grail’. His actions were premised on the belief that the means justify the end, and reveal a lack of moral and ethical constraints in his decision-making. How might his character be a symbol for modern day individuals and companies in pursuit of their own ‘holy grail’ with no moral and ethical constraints?

‘He is Gatsby’
Baz Lurhmann’s wife and collaborator Catherine Martin told the NY Times, ‘He is Gatsby’. There is much to attract ‘Bazzamatazz’ Luhrmann to this fictional story of Gatsby, the self-made millionaire given to extravagance and excess. Does it help that Luhrmann as moviemaker has an insider’s view of the kind of world he depicts? Does such a position lead itself to informed critique or collusion? Discuss.

There’s a story to tell
We hear the story through Nick’s recollection as a wide-eyed innocent. The main characters have died or fled, and he is the only witness left who is able to tell the story. He is encouraged to write as part of his therapy. It is certainly revelatory. How might the process of storytelling reveal a deeper meaning to our experiences? Discuss.

Gatsby – a babe in the woods of worldliness
Gatsby’s whole life purpose is dedicated to getting Daisy back. Having revealed his dire financial circumstances to her a few years before, he has now built wealth beyond even his wildest dreams, mainly through illegal means. Yet, there is an innocence about him that collides with Tom’s ruthless worldliness and deceit. Tom takes whatever he wants, but knows how to avoid the consequences and it is Tom who determines Jay’s fateful ending. He represents those who really know how to ruthlessly ‘play the game’ – and win. Can you think of contemporary examples? Discuss.

Retrospective or prophetic?
Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel is a critique of American culture in the 1920’s, a symbol of the unsustainable boom that was doomed to collapse. The characters enjoyed extravagance oblivious to the financial and social catastrophe that was bound to happen eventually.  In Luhrmann’s film, the story is told looking back from the Depression of 1929.   Is the story stronger when told retrospectively from the experience of the Great Depression, or with looming doom on the horizon to which none of the characters are privy?

Visual Feast
Critics have described it as ‘a spectacle in search of a soul’, a ‘Bazdardisation’. But, is the excess really the point, a visual way of depicting the excesses and decadence of the 20’s, and the shallowness of the nouveau riche and wanna be’s? The contrasts of the haves and have nots, the wild parties and the cold and cavernous house, the way Gatsby showers his expensive shirts on Daisy, overwhelming her physically and emotionally. The wild zooms across the bay highlight the gulf between ‘new’ money and ‘old’ money. There are other times when the effects seem contrived, though maybe this is also a commentary about the way Gatsy’s persona itself is contrived and constructed for effect? The party scenes are captured with constant movement and rapid editing, underlining the superficiality and hollowness of the hedonistic world of over stimulation and general excess (holding a mirror to the 21st century?). There is little character development, perhaps highlighting the superficiality. Is it possible to deliver engaging visual cinema that does not become what it is commenting on? Discuss.

Music
1920’s music was very distinctive. Jazz was considered provocative and rebellious. Luhrmann uses contemporary hiphop, perhaps another music genre that is equally provocative and rebellious. How successful do you think the music selection was?

Transparent man
Gatsby is caught in the rain and his suit is transparent. Here is a self-made man who has re-constructed his identity, but even he can have his trappings stripped away to reveal a vulnerable person. In what ways might this help us to understand our own sense of identity, our illusions and constructs, and the way God knows us as we really are.

 

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce, Elizabeth Martin, 18th June, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

 

 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama/thriller
Rating: M (violence, adult themes)
Length: 126 minutes
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Live Schreiber
Director: Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsooon Wedding, Vanity Fair)
Screenplay: William Wheeler (2007 Booker short listed novel by Mohsin Hamid)

Brief synopsis
The film begins in a café in Lahore in 2011 where a Pakistani man Changez (Riz Ahmed) tells Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist, about his experiences in America. Roll back ten years, and we find a younger Changez fresh from Princeton, seeking fortune and glory on Wall Street with the prestigious financial consultancy Underwood Samson with his mentor Jim Scott (Kiefer Sutherland). The American Dream seems well within his grasp. He has a girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson). But after 9/11, the American dream soon begins to slip into nightmare: profiled, wrongfully arrested, strip-searched and interrogated, he is transformed from a well-educated, upwardly mobile businessman to a scapegoat and perceived enemy. He is conflicted between his American Dream and the enduring call of his family’s homeland. (c) IFC Films

Questions for discussion
There is so much to discuss in this movie! Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The film maker
Nair was educated in Delhi and at Harvard. She is a Hindu, married to a Muslim and his family comes from Uganda. It has become another home for Nair where she has set up a film-making school. She says, ‘The beauty of living in two or three places (and moving between worlds) is your world view is forced to expand. When you live only here (America), it’s a one-sided conversation with the rest of the world. I really believe that in spite of what George W. Bush once said: “You’re either with us or against us”—which is part of what propelled me to be a bridge-maker—there is a middle ground, not just in America but in the whole world. Many people are tired of the state of affairs now.” How might the filmmaker’s background impact upon the movie’s central theme? In what way might her filmmaking serve as a bridge-builder in a polarized world? Discuss.

Corporate greed
Jim Scott (Kiefer Sutherland) is the corporate killer, cold, clinical, determined – a Gordon Gekko for the 21st century. He is the mentor for a group of ambitious young business graduates in a Wall Street valuation firm. Changez adapts quickly to the cut- throat practice of making people redundant. The workers are the pawns in the process. In the Philippines, many are engaged in poorly paid manual labour and menial blue-collar jobs due to their lack of education or opportunity. In the time period depicted in the movie, the manufacturing industry sank to an historic low and investor confidence hit rock-bottom. Nearly 3 million Filipinos were unemployed and the unemployment rate in Metro Manila reached 17.8 percent. The impact of Wall Street professionals laying off workers in the interests of profit could not be more devastating. Discuss.

Under the microscope
The movie provides good reason for Changez to be disillusioned with his adopted country, the crumbling of the American dream linked to the crumbling of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  The harassment and denigration of people of Muslim appearance is well portrayed (mild in comparison to what many Muslim Americans and migrants were and are subjected to). Yet Changez fails to critique his homeland, Pakistan, with the same level of scrutiny. He is ‘at home’, holding a privileged position as a university lecturer in Lahore. Yet the religious fundamentalism, the systemic problems and double standards in ethics and moral values in Pakistan seem to lie unexamined in the background while Changez applies a different lens for his critique on America. Discuss.

What’s in a name?
Is it too simplistic, or are we meant to read much into the names assigned to characters? Changez – changes. Khan – a name designed to evoke that of Genghis Khan? Erica – AmERICA. Bobby LINCOLN – American journalist. How do these names assist the plot?

Shaping of identity
Fundamentalism – in capitalism and in religion – is explored and presented as evil twins whose destructive consequences are inevitable. The ‘reluctant’ fundamentalist is shaped not so much by religion but by the experience and assessment of America. The part that is still valued and makes him a ‘lover of America’ is what makes him a ‘reluctant’ fundamentalist. What role does circumstance play in shaping identity – values, principles and prejudices, and views about religious and political life? In what ways does the film deal with the complex issues of nationality, ethnicity, religion and belonging?

One tribe for another
In response to 9/11, America became even more patriotic – flags everywhere, defining who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Changez swaps one ‘tribe’ for another ‘tribe’ where he feels he belongs. In a multicultural world, is tribalism the default position when there is threat? Are there examples where this is not the response in words and action? Discuss.

Hospitality – sharing a meal together
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen. Reaching Out).
Liev Schreiber (who plays Bobby, the journalist) says, “Having met many Muslim people during the course of my life, one of the things that I liked about Moshin’s writing was that he set the whole book essentially over a meal. One of the aspects of Muslim culture that I have always admired is that the guest is God. So that no matter who you are, or what your politics are, or what your past is, or what your history with that person is, when you are in their home you are treated with a tremendous amount of respect and made to feel very special. It was a great context for a conversation because it allowed the opportunity for simple humanity to trump rhetoric. For instance, the notion in the book, which hopefully still is evocative in the film, is ‘I understand you are upset and I understand how you must feel about all this, but please, before we go any further, you have to taste these sweets because they are the best in my province’.
Discuss the role of hospitality in a culturally complex world.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 26th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Science Fiction
Rating: M
Length: 132 minutes
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana
Director: J.J.Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof

Brief synopsis
After being called home, the crew of the USS Enterprise find a seemingly unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, carried out a devastating terror attack on London and leaving the earth in chaos. Captain Kirk leads a deadly manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction. As the heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices will be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
More information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek_Into_Darkness

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Please note that this movie discussion resource is not a review, but a catalyst for conversation

Human nature
Despite everyday gripes and niggles amongst the USS Enterprise crew, the bond between them is held strong under the leadership of Captain James Kirk. Even in the extreme circumstances in which they find themselves, the crew show friendship, loyalty, courage and resolve under pressure. Is the best in human nature brought out under pressure and difficulty? If yes, are those who have ‘easy’ times in life more prone to the dark side of human nature when they do encounter difficult times? Or are positive human characteristics built in the ‘easy’ times and ‘banked’ for withdrawal at a later time when needed? Discuss.

Conflicted? Bring on a war!
The nature of human aggression is a key theme in the movie. What drives the destructive actions of the characters? This is more nuanced than ‘good guys/bad guys’ and simplistic evil. The motivations for what happens are often complex and surprising.  Given all of this, the real danger seems to come from those who can see no other option to resolve conflict than by declaring war, and employing negative militarism. Discuss.

A glimpse into the future
Amazing technology is on display in the movie. But the question is, in what ways is technology best able to support what is life giving, and how do we rein in technology when it is actually life denying? Does technology simply provide more sophisticated ‘toys’ against an enduring landscape of good and evil? Discuss.

Playing with emotions
In terms of movie narrative, setting up scenes where you can’t predict the outcome is one of the most basic plot devices. The viewer is often plunged into harrowing scenes where all seems to be hopeless, until one of the characters without a great deal of fuss seems to be able to fix the problem. For instance, in the scene when the USS Enterprise is crashing back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and the crew has resigned itself to the fact that they’re all going to die, into the scene comes a no fuss ‘Fonzie’ (Happy Days) kind of person, who simply gives the reactor core a literal ‘kick start’ to make it work again, and things are all okay again. Is the heightened anxiety a tool in the hand of a director to play with the emotions of the audience, or does it point to the fact that someone coming into a difficult situation from another angle can see what had been there all along, but had apparently not been obvious to those trying to find a solution? Was all the stress worth it? Discuss examples from your own experience.

Pursuit of the baddies
After 9/11, it seems that nothing has been spared by way of catching the ‘baddies’ behind the attack, on the understanding that ‘someone has to pay for the act of terror’. In fact, the whole, tragic fiasco with the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but yet was proclaimed as victory, ‘prevailing’ over the ‘enemy’. Job done! ‘Into Darkness’ highlights the ethical implications of pursuing terrorists. How far is too far to catch a ‘baddie’? Discuss.

Playing with history
Trekkies are notorious for minutiae details in the Star Trek franchise. William Shatner once mocked rabid conventioneers on a Saturday Night Live skit when he told them to “get a life.” It is a challenge for a director who needs some degree of poetic licence. J.J. Abrams seems to have a bet both ways: ‘Spock and the audience retain all memory of past movies, but Federation history, as recorded in those films, is no longer unalterable. Things can now happen differently than they did before. It was like an Etch A Sketch got wiped clean’. (Kenneth R. Morefield) What are the theological and psychological implications for changing history, even in a movie franchise such as Star Trek? Discuss.

Things that go boom
And the point of it all? Is it nothing more than a series of video-game ready action sequences of chases, explosions, crashes and fights that would fit just as easily into most any movie franchise? ‘We open with a scene of Indiana Jones (aka Kirk) running away from some primitive aliens. Several scenes had a verbal or digital countdown. Want to know what the Star Trek franchise has become? Before the count gets to zero you must (push this button/pull this lever/climb this ladder/inject this serum) or (someone you love/everyone on this ship/millions of extras) are going to die’. (Moreland) Is this all simply a vehicle for spectacle and ‘things that go boom’, with the Director appropriating the Star Trek characters people have come to love? Or is there something else going on? Discuss.

Where is God in ‘Into Darkness’
Is there a ‘Christ figure’ in the movie? Is God spectacularly absent (and maybe there’s something to discuss given what transpires)? Is the ‘good guys/bad guys’ theme an echo of images and actions of God from the Hebrew Scriptures where the ‘bad guys’ are defeated? How helpful or not is this image of God? Discuss.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!
© Rev Sandy Boyce 18th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
The resource is available to download for use in small group discussion.

The Other Son

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama (French, English, Hebrew, Arabic)
Rating: M (scene of violence, brief language and drug use)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Arren Omari, Khalifa Natour
Screenplay: Noam Filoussi, Lorraine Levy (Director), Nathalie Saugeon

Brief synopsis
The story contemplates what if the son raised by a Jewish family was an Arab by birth? And what if a Palestinian family’s adored youngest boy was Jewish? To heighten the irony, the birth switch happened when a Haifa clinic was evacuated during an Iraqi scud missile attack in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Joseph (Jules Sitruk), in his mandatory national service medical for the Israeli army, discovers that his blood group does not match either of his parents – his doctor mother Orith, and his colonel father, Alon. Palestinian Muslims, Leila and Said, on the West Bank, learn that their son Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), recently returned from studying in Paris, actually belongs to Orith and Alon. This film explores the question of identity – what it means to be a Jew or an Arab – in the politically charged context of Israel, and particularly the Gaza Strip.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Shaping of identity
Joseph has been raised as an Israeli Jew. He strongly believes in his religion (he’s one of his synagogues best pupils) and defends his country’s stance in the conflict. When he learns that he should have been raised as a Palestinian Muslim, he questions his beliefs.  Which side of the fence should he be on? Should there be a fence at all? Discuss what shapes identity, values, principles and prejudices, and religious and political views?

Love your enemy
The boys each grow up in an “enemy” family across the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank. While politics may have separated Palestinians and Israelis, families do have an opportunity to form personal relationships that transcend the divide. Thus Yacine and Joseph are able to form a growing bond and begin to understand each other, finding a peace that has escaped their respective countries and families. Discuss.

Different ways of coping
The two teenagers and their families are faced with the challenge of shifting religious identities, family connections, and political realities. They each experience stages of grief. The fathers are deeply in denial. Yacine’s older brother Bilal responds with fury at the notion that he’s grown up with a Jew. In contrast, the warm-hearted and pragmatic mothers seek reconciliation with their lost offspring, and arrange a meeting between the entangled families. All the females ignore the nature-nurture debate: Yacine and Joseph’s little sisters immediately become friends. Do you think this portrayal of gender differences is realistic? Discuss.
The social and economic context
There is a stark difference between the living conditions for the Palestinians and the Israelis. We see the difficulties imposed by checkpoints; the ominously looming fence seems to function both as a physical barrier and as a metaphor for cultural and religious division. Yacine has to endure checkpoint searches just to visit the West Bank home of his parents, but with his new Israeli passport, he can work and play on the Tel Aviv beach denied to other West Bank Palestinians. Joseph experiences the claustrophobia of walking along the huge barbed wire-topped separation wall (covered with anti-Israeli graffiti).  Lawrence Toppman observes: ‘The movie doesn’t need to preach a “we’re all equal” message. When we watch the boys bond with their new kin over food or music, then see the lines of Palestinians plodding through armed checkpoints to reach jobs or visit Israeli friends, we get the point: These two Semitic peoples are bound by traditions and genetics but divided by seemingly irresolvable politics’. Discuss.

Hospitality – sharing a meal together
(Henri Nouwen): “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Discuss ways in which hospitality bridges the divide between these two entangled families.

Telling the bad news – the clinical response
The clinic director meets with both sets of parents to explain what happened, and in a very matter of fact way outlines how the records of the boys will be corrected and offers the empty suggestion that they find a way to ‘get on with their lives’. What’s your experience of doctors and others delivering difficult news?

The religious life
The rabbi, who has taught Joseph since he was a child, informs him in a legalistic way that he will now need to officially convert to the faith since he was born to a non-Jewish mother. Although he’s been circumcised and Bar Mitzvah’d and a good student, now he’s not considered Jewish unless he goes through a complicated conversion process. At one point he jokes, “I’ll have to swap my kippur for a suicide bomb”. What’s the essential nature of religious life, and in what ways do rituals and practices aid religious life, and in what ways do they confound and clutter it?

Go back to where you came from
The TV series ‘Go back to where you came from’ sought to show what happens when people, hostile to the ‘other’, are placed in a situation where they have to walk in the shoes of the ‘other’, gaining understanding and compassion. Perceptively, in The Star-Ledger critic Stephen Whitty writes: “In the end, it seems, this is not a story about two families, and two lands. It’s a story about one family and one world’. Discuss.

One family, one world/we and all strangers are one
Jesus says: “I ask that they may all be one. As you, Father (Mother), are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”
We and all strangers, our most bitter enemies, are one. The cry of the most far-flung peoples rises in our hearts: the hope of our salvation rests in theirs. Our pain, our freedom, our beauty is all one thing. O One, may the light of your love dispel the illusion of our manyness, the great sadness of our separation. With the glory of our varied lives, in your love, O One, we are one’. (Steve Garnaas-Holmes) What is your response?

 

Palace Nova TheatresElizabeth Martin 9th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy as a resource for movie discussions.
Thanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!

The Hunt

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Drama (2012)
Rating: MA15+ for adult themes and brief sex scene
Length: 116 minutes
Language: Danish with English subtitles
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen (Best Actor Award, 2012 Cannes Film Festival), Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Director: Thomas Vinterberg Writers: Thomas Vingerberg, Tobias Lindholm

Brief synopsis 
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is loved by the children and his colleagues at his local kindergarten in a small rural town in Denmark. He is newly divorced, and his ex-wife and teenage son Marcus have moved away. His life is recovering with the prospects of a new girlfriend, and the re-forging of his relationship with Marcus. A young girl at the kindergarten, Klara (who has a harmless ‘crush’ on him), makes a statement that leads to accusations of inappropriate behaviour against Lucas. It’s a simple lie that spirals out of control and the small community quickly turns against him. Distrust and presumption of guilt overtakes logic and the boundaries of civil behaviour.

* This is a film in which the very real and awful reality of child sexual abuse is taken seriously, while at the same time portraying the very real and awful reality of false allegations. The viewer is aware that the accused is innocent and witnesses the way he is treated, the way his life is torn apart. The innocent one has been failed by the system.
** Given the serious accusations of child abuse against Jimmy Saville and others, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, what place does a film like this have at this time?

Questions for discussion
This discussion resource does not attempt any particular comment on the movie itself but offers general areas for discussion. Here are some general questions for starters:

  •  What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  •  What themes are explored?
  •  What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  •  What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  •  Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others  in a similar situation?
  •  Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

False accusations
The world was shocked by the Boston marathon bombings (April 2013), which killed 3 people and injured 264. The Reddit website was one of the main forums for online Boston bomber sleuths and self-appointed cyber detectives, where a subreddit – a space for discussion on a particular subject – called findbostonbombers was used to exchange comments and images, and incorrectly linked 22 year old Mr Sunil Tripathi to the bombings, which then went viral. Sadly, he had been missing for a month and was later found dead. The website acknowledged it had been a rallying point for a wild internet “witch hunt”: “Though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on Reddit fuelled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiralled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. We all need to look at what happened and make sure that in the future we do everything we can to help, and not hinder, crisis situations”. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/falsely-accused-bombing-suspect-confirmed-dead/4652176  The film does raise the question, what would I do and how would I react in a similar scenario regarding accusations against a person? Comment on the propensity for witch-hunts and accusations. What other examples come to mind?

Men’s relationships
In the culture of the small rural town, the transition to manhood is defined by getting a hunting license and a gun. There is great camaraderie between the men, but they move quickly to being violent aggressors. “It is a masculine and predatory environment, and the ease with which the men of the town assume the worst in Lucas suggests a dark recognition of the potential for themselves to inflict horrific crimes against the innocent. The violence against Lucas is arguably a symbolic act to rid the community of its potential for evil, even though Lucas is not the problem”. (Thomas Caldwell)  Discuss.

Rough and tumble play
Is Lucas’ ‘rough and tumble’ a developmental activity that helps them understand the limits of their own strength, and what is acceptable, or preparation for ‘manhood’? Does it serve to set up a hierarchy of stronger and weaker children, and thus determine social boundaries and relationships? What are your insights?

Leading questions and false leads
Klara’s tender age and angelic face personify innocence, making her allegation all the more believable. The kindergarten director works on the basic assumption that children never tell lies, while at the same time acknowledging Klara’s imagination and creativity. She handles the investigation process herself even though ill-equipped to do so. She brings in a counsellor who asks many leading questions and seems satisfied with Klara’s nods to his statements that ‘proves’ a case against Lucas. When parents are asked to look for signs of abuse – nightmares, bedwetting – not surprisingly they find that these are present amongst their children, as they are common for this age group. Klara attempts to retract her statement, but the community has already decided Lucas is a paedophile. What in the process escalated things out of control, and served to confirm suspicions rather than arriving at the truth?

A culture of violence and abuse beneath the veneer of respectability
While Lucas is accused of child sexual abuse, there are numerous examples of physical and emotional abuse by others – Klara’s parents constantly arguing while Klara is within earshot, ‘losing’ her; forgetting to pick her up from school; the physical abuse against Marcus and Lucas; the police taking away Lucas and ignoring the needs of Marcus who is still of high school age; the teenage boys showing Klara porn and referring to genitalia with language that Klara then appropriates unwittingly; the killing of Fanny the dog etc. Double standards operate here as in real life. Discuss.

The threat to male role models
One parent families account for 1/5 of all families in Australia, with about 87% headed by mothers. Children need good male role models, whether this is the father, relatives, teachers or other adults. But this film demonstrates how vulnerable men can be when spending time with children. Even establishing appropriate boundaries and behaviours may not provide adequate protection for men if an accusation is made. Discuss.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
While Lucas may not be a particularly religious person, his experience would resonate with many of the laments in the Psalms (eg Psalm 22, 37 etc). ‘My enemies surround me and pursue me’. What biblical stories resonate with Lucas’ experience of being abandoned, alone in the midst of a crisis?

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!
The resource is available to download for use in small group discussion.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

Argo

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Historical drama thriller (2012)
Rating: M
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Director: Ben Affleck (third feature film)
Producers: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
Screenplay: Chris Terrio (based on ‘The Master of Disguise’ by Antonio J. Mendez and ‘The Great Escape’ by Joshuah Bearman, and the assistance of newly declassified CIA documents)
(2013 Best Picture – Academy Awards, Director’s Guild, Screen Actor’s Guild, Producer’s Guild & BAFTA – but strangely no Academy nomination for Ben Affleck as Director)

Brief synopsis
Based on true events, the film begins with the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 in retaliation for the U.S. providing refuge for the recently deposed Shah. Six U.S. workers escape and hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador and the other U.S. workers are held hostage in the Embassy. The US State Department begins to explore options for rescuing them from Iran. A CIA specialist is brought in for consultation and criticizes the proposals. Inspired by watching a sci-fi film on TV, he proposes creating a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting locations in Iran. In collaboration with a Hollywood make-up artist (John Goodman) who has previously crafted disguises for the CIA, and a film producer (Alan Arkin), a phony film studio is set up to ‘produce’ the film. The clock is ticking as the Iran revolutionaries in the U.S. Embassy are literally piecing together the clues, and the escapees know time is against them.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

U.S. and British interests in Iran – a brief history
America’s foreign policies directly led to the hostage crisis (1979-81), and the film begins with a history lesson that provides the context, and demonstrates that the Iranians did not do this out of baseless malice. Iran, a predominantly Muslim-Shiite populace was ruled by a series of monarchies. The last was Reza Shah Pahlavi who obeyed British colonial control to access oil resources. There were competing interests within Iran, chiefly Syed Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini, who was an Ayatollah (spiritual leader). In the 1950’s, the Iranian populace democratically elected Dr. Mohmmad Mosaddeqh who nationalized the country’s resources. During this struggle for nationalization of resources and autonomy for Iran, and in a period of increasing civil unrest, Pahlavi, at the request of the British MI6, left the country to plot the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh, with the CIA. In August of 1953, the CIA successfully backed a coup to oust Mossadegh (he was subsequently imprisoned until death) and re-instituted both the Shah Pahlavi, and placed a prime minister more in favour of Western interests. Ayatollah Khomeini, who had cast his lot with Mossadegh, earned the ire of Western-backed governments. The ire reached an apex when Khomeini publicly denounced the Shah in 1964, for which the former was placed under house arrest, and subsequently exiled. Khomeini based himself in Iraq in 1965 until ordered to leave by Saddam Hussein in 1978. He stayed in France until his return home during the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. By 1978, the Iranian populace, angered with an American-backed regime, could no longer be contained, and forced Shah Pahlavi to leave during a series of intense national strikes and clashes with the military, who were overwhelmed by sheer numbers of anti-Shah protesters. As Khomeini assumed power, the new government learned that the Shah Pahlvi had sought asylum in the United States, ostensibly for treatment of lymphoma. When the newly formed theocratic regime and revolutionary guards became aware of this, they helped a group of university students to overrun the US embassy in Iran, and held Americans hostage for over a year. (Ibrahim Khider, http://ikhider.com)

Crises in the world do not ‘just happen’ in a vacuum. There are always overt or covert events that provide the catalyst, and as in Argo may be kept secret for decades, or may never be known publicly.

  • Discuss other similar situations of which you are aware.
  • Discuss the reason for the emergence of Wikileaks as a way of revealing what is happening in the background and hidden from public knowledge.

While politics is secondary in the film, discuss the way its portrayal of the U.S. as a ‘superpower under siege’ serves as a topical comment on its place in the world today.

Non-violent solutions
‘Operation Eagle Claw’ was a U.S. military operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis. Its failure, and the humiliating public debacle that ensued, damaged American prestige worldwide, and probably played a major role in Carter’s defeat in the 1980 U.S. Presidential election. Contrast this with the military precision of the killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden, a CIA led operation. Legal and ethical aspects of the killing, such as his not being taken alive despite being unarmed, were questioned by a few (including Amnesty International) but generally welcomed by the U.S., UN, NATO and European Union and a large number of governments. It may have contributed to Obama’s re-election as President, by demonstrating his preparedness to use military solutions, and as the execution of ‘justice’ for bin Laden who was judged responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Argo shows a non-violent, creative intervention. The CIA agent Mendez is the antithesis of the Jason Bourne character, living off his wits not his guns. The plan is risky (beefed up for Hollywood but not as suspenseful as the film shows – there were no car chases by Iranian security forces with guns ablaze; Iran took several years to reconstruct shredded American embassy documents; and the disguised American embassy staff left the Iranian airport quietly). Yet, even during this tense operation, Mendez was informed that it had been cancelled and that a military rescue was being planned instead.

  • Discuss the propensity for military intervention and the secondary value of negotiation, dialogue, and even compromise.

The allure of cinema and filmmaking
Following the Khomeini Revolution in 1979, Iranian filmmakers went into exile. From 1979 to 1985, only about 100 features were released in Iran. Khomeini’s censorship was strict. For a time, foreign films were cut, and then banned altogether. It is fascinating in this context that the Iranian cultural office would be so helpful to the ‘Canadian’ film crew and that the planned rescue had even a glimmer of hope for success. Perhaps, such is the allure of cinema and filmmaking. In many countries, western films are viewed with contempt for their content, western values and depictions of sexuality.

  • Discuss the universal attraction of cinema as a vehicle for storytelling.
  • Discuss the way films ‘carry culture’, and the way values are embedded in films.

Download pdf file here.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 30th March, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly acknowledge the source.

Silver Linings Playbook

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Silver Linings Playbook PosterGenre: Family drama, love story, comedy (2012) – a ‘dramedy’?
Rating: M (Mature themes, coarse language, sexual references and violence)
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O.Russell (based on best selling novel by Matthew Quick)

Brief synopsis
Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything – his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jackie Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) after spending eight months is a state institution. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, hoping that remaining positive he would be able to reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances that led to their separation. His parents want him to get back on his feet and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Naming the elephant in the room
Mental illness is still seen as a source of shame by many – a taboo subject strictly off limits to discuss in public. As a result people do not always seek help, nor do their family and friends feel confident to name the ‘elephant in the room’ in a way that is helpful. The two main characters in the movie both suffer mental illness. He is battling bipolar disorder, mood swings, depression and anxiety. He is socially inept, and moves quickly from moments of serenity to chaos. She is a fellow troubled soul – a grieving widow who experiences a spectacular meltdown with multiple sexual partners in her work place. Pat’s father (de Niro) is a mass of neuroses – very superstitious and an obsessive-compulsive sports-fan. The movie will gain an audience not for the subject matter but because it will be marketed as a ‘rom-com’ and ‘chick flick’. Is it smart to package such serious content in a comedy, populated almost entirely by characters with personality disorders ranging from subtle to severe? Do you think it works as a means to open up a more robust discussion about mental illness?

Everyone’s a little crazy?
Every character seems to have some kind of obsession and is crazy in their own way. Maybe it’s a way to survive – a little madness mixed with generous helpings of love and support. How true is this in your own observations?

Patience in the background
Jackie Weaver’s role as the mother is understated, yet it is she who finds the strength to bring her son home from the mental institution without telling her husband and against doctor’s orders, knowing full well the volatile situation at home. She is the ‘oak’ that hold the family together. Her persistent and attentive presence shows her deep love and care for her family. The mother spends much of her time looking concerned, anticipating yet another out of control situation. The role of carer and supporter can be exasperating, challenging and tiring. What is your experience of this, or that of family and friends?

Told from the heart
The director and Robert de Niro have family members with mental illness (the teenager who knocks on the door is the director’s son). The story is told from the heart, with the hope that it will point to a wider understanding of mental illness. The story does not gloss over the angst and difficulties of bi-polar and other mental conditions, nor are they used as cheap humour. It is a serious film in an entertaining package. What is the role of ‘education’ focussed on ‘facts’ in contrast to ‘education’ through entertainment? Can you think of other examples of the latter that have raised consciousness about issues and encouraged people to seek help to address issues and problems? Singer Kylie Minogue’s battle with cancer saw a leap in women seeking mammograms. Might a film on mental illness similarly encourage people to seek help?
The silver lining
Pat seeks the silver lining, trying his best to do it his own way. His mantra is excelsior (‘ever upwards’ in Latin) and is the lens through which he chooses to view life. For Tiffany, the dance competition is her way to find the silver lining. In what ways does a change in attitude contribute to a change in experiencing life with all its complexity, and conversely, what examples do you know of an unwillingness to change attitude that results in ongoing personal hurt and damage in relationships?

The narrative that shapes our lives and view of the world
Pat rants against the author Ernest Hemingway because he’s unhappy that there’s no happy ending. He wants to find the ‘silver lining’ for a better way. What examples can you identify in the biblical narrative that tell a different kind of story – about love and acceptance, being ‘beloved of God’ and the affirmation God has loved us since the moment of conception (Psalm 139). What narratives do you think primarily shapes people’s view of themselves and the world (media, movies, computer games etc?).

In denial – but who wants to ruffle feathers
Pat seems convinced his marriage will get back on track and things will be normal. He cannot see that his behaviour has long-term consequences, and he anticipates things will simply be forgiven. The family doesn’t challenge Pat’s delusion because they don’t want to upset his already fragile mental state. There is collusion in delusion to keep some sort of order. It is Tiffany who plays with the ‘straight bat’, truth telling in ways that are often confrontational but not deliberately hurtful. What are the limitations of truth telling, and the dangers of collusion?

Here is a pdf file to download

© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st February, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Lincoln

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Lincoln posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (Mature themes, coarse language, and intense scene of war violence)
Length: 153 minutes
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay: Tony Kushner (Angels in America), based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Brief synopsis
This is a grand, poignant and very long drama that focuses on Lincoln’s tumultuous final 4 months in office in 1865. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.

 

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

‘Here there be dragons’ (adapted, http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/lincoln.aspx)
‘Here there be dragons’ – so wrote the old cartographers on their maps, sketching fantastical beasts with fins and fangs. They were fearsome and horrible, able to swallow ships and devour cities. Mr. Lincoln had his fill of dragons.

One is named War. The Civil War broke out the month after Lincoln’s inauguration as President. War is a gluttonous beast that fed on the country for four sickening years. Hundreds of thousands have died at its feet, lost in its bloody maw. America’s forests and fields are covered in corpses. The streets are alive with the cry of mothers and children, mourning the beloved dead. Another is called Slavery, a demon that’s torn at the country since its inception and before—mocking its hypocrisy, decrying the duplicity of its declaration that “All men are created equal” when so many live in chains.
Now, finally, in 1865, Lincoln feels the time is right to slay a monster or two. The rebellious South is exhausted and ready to plead for peace. Slavery may, with a little luck, be wiped out through an act of Congress—the 13th Amendment. But there’s a catch: End the war, and the Confederate South will insist on preserving slavery. Free the slaves, and the South will have no incentive to make peace. “It’s either the Amendment or this Confederate peace,” William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, tells him. “You cannot have both.” Lincoln is the story of monsters, the man who slew them, and the price he paid to do so. What did you find inspiring about the ‘dragon slayer’?

Leadership
In her book on which the screenplay is based, Doris Kearns Goodwin depicted Lincoln as a smart and wise agent of change whose leadership abilities enabled him to convince key players from the complete spectrum of both parties to support his agenda. His vision and tenacity enabled him to both confront the injustice, but also to stand firm in the face of fear and prejudice that permeates political debate. He demonstrated a tremendous capacity for patience as well as strength of will. There were other key leaders including Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), the President’s right hand man, and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical Republican who was strongly opposed to slavery. What qualities and skills are required for the kind of leadership that generates change, and where do you see such skills demonstrated in contemporary culture, and within the church?

Family ties
The film shows the burden of Lincoln’s family problems. All politicians have to juggle competing challenges and commitments in the workplace and family. Discuss what you imagine might be the personal cost for leaders in public office.

Quirks and foibles
Not all politicians tolerated Lincoln’s propensity to tell stories and anecdotes: one member of the cabinet storms out of the room muttering how he cannot abide another story. The public and media scrutinize politicians mercilessly, looking for any signs of ‘weakness’, quirks and foibles. What place is there to be ‘real’ in politics rather than politicians who project an image carefully manufactured by the ‘spin doctors’?

 

Politics and faith
Lincoln’s speeches, actions and priorities were evidence of his faith in God, though he never wore faith on his sleeve. America during the Civil War was a deeply religious country. Politicians, then as now, tried to enlist God to their side. Can you give other examples in the movie, and in contemporary politics, where faith informs politics, and is used to influence politics? What role is appropriate for faith in politics?

 

Devious politics (adapted, http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/lincoln.aspx)
Lincoln is politically savvy and shrewd and uses dirty tricks to push the 13th Amendment through Congress. He knows that the Emancipation Proclamation (enacted 2 years previously in 1863) required some serious contortions to legally justify it. The Amendment would clear up any potential illegality, but to get it passed Lincoln arranges for some dubious “lobbyists” to help get the required votes. While they are forbidden from using money to outright bribe anyone, they can offer jobs in exchange for “yes” votes. Lincoln tells one congressman that he’ll have him booted out of Congress unless he votes “yes.” He continually sidesteps rumors that he’s entertaining peace offers from the Confederacy – but in fact he is. The opposition demands the President respond to rumors that there’s a Confederate delegation in town; he says there is no delegation in Washington, D.C., “as far as I know.” It’s true, but only semantically so: He stalled the delegation outside town. When one principled adjunct refuses to deliver that message to Congress, Lincoln gently takes the missive out of his hands and gives it to a less scrupulous messenger.

When he is chastised for his seeming lack of a moral compass and his willingness to compromise, Lincoln tells a story. He relates how as a backwoodsmen, he learned it was sometimes necessary to deviate from true north in order to evade a swamp or gorge. If you continue straight on toward your goal, regardless of obstacles, that might terminate your trip forever, Lincoln asks, “What’s the use of knowing true north?”

Lincoln was an idealist as well as a pragmatist. Is idealism necessarily compromised by pragmatism? Is dirty politics a ‘necessary evil’ to achieve an outcome for the greater good?

Here is a pdf file to download

© Rev Sandy Boyce 5th February, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Life of Pi

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Adventure/drama (2012)
Rating: PG (mild survival themes)
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: David Magee (based on best selling novel by Yann Martel)

Brief synopsis
The film is about a 16-year old boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel. When Pi is 16, his father decides to close the zoo he runs in Pondicherry and move the family to Canada, planning to sell the zoo animals to ensure a good future for his children. Pi is the sole survivor of a shipwreck and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story is told as a narrative by the adult Pi, now living in Canada, who is approached by a novelist referred to him by his a family friend, believing that Pi’s life story would make a great book.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

There are so many discussion points raised in the book and the film. The following provides some particular aspects that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Belief in God
There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take the one with a heart – Lao Tzu
Pi’s religious beliefs and love of God are central to his sense of being. He is not constrained by religious divisions, and does not see a need to limit oneself to one pathway. He is comfortable to practice faith as a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. On the other hand, his father is a ‘rationalist’ with no time for religious life and rituals. Even in Pi’s struggle for survival, when his physical needs are his primary concern, he still finds comfort and courage from his belief in God. His study, with dual majors in religion and zoology, also shows a lack of tension between faith and science. How do you respond to Pi’s fluidity in religious belief, undergirded by a sincere love of God? In what ways might the ‘choose your own’ spirituality liberate, and in what ways may it be problematic?

 

What is truth?
In the final scene, Pi gives an account of his adventures to Japanese officials. In one story he recounts what the viewer has seen. In the second, he parallels his experiences with ‘Richard Parker’ where he himself becomes the one who has killed and who steals food. Perhaps it is the second story that is ‘truth’ – revealing Pi’s desperate instinct to survive, and the first is simply his sanitized version that he tells to keep his own sense of ‘self’ intact. But since neither story can be proven, it’s useless to frame the question, ‘what is truth?’ Perhaps both stories are compensatory? He asks the Japanese officials which of his two stories they preferred, since neither can be proven, and sees no reason why they should not believe the better story. One can choose to believe ‘the better story’ in the same way one can choose to believe in God as the ‘better story’, of hope over despair, of courage over cowardice, of compassion over contempt. The viewer (and reader) is faced with the same choice.

Pi has no problems with ‘relative truth’, and senses intuitively that truth is not absolute. There is an aspect of invention in all “truths” and “facts,” because everyone is observing everything from their own perspective. One reviewer asked, ‘Why do we choose to believe in reality when it is illusion that keeps us alive?’ In what ways does this ‘fluidity’ in truth allow generosity of spirit, and in what ways may it be problematic?

 

Reason and faith – a foolish dichotomy?
Discuss this comment: ‘Life of Pi asks the same thing of spirituality as a mathematician might ask of the symbol PI – what is PI really? At its core, we only know PI to be an unresolved quantity. But more important than what PI is, we understand what PI does so we are able to put this unresolved quantity to work for us. The spirituality in Life of Pi comes to us as an unresolved quantity. We are asked to focus on the utility of a religious narrative rather than getting tangled in the “irresolvable essence” which Reason might demand of us’. (David Allred)

 

Survival struggles trump religious belief
Pi’s moral and religious convictions are tested at sea – he must eat meat, and he must take life. Both are contrary to his views before the disaster but as made clear in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival often trumps belief and morality. In disasters and wars, we know people behave in ways that may be contrary to their usual behaviour. Yet, others behave in ways that display the human spirit at its best – courage, selflessness etc. Perhaps Pi’s concerns to help ‘Richard Parker’ is one example of this? What other factors might determine the way a person will behave when put to the test?

 The nature of freedom
The zoo animals provide a lens to reflect on human freedom. While people do not usually live in cages (though thousands live in tents in refugee camps for many years) nor contained by fences (though some are constrained by divisions like the huge boundary fence in Bethlehem, borders between countries and in the DMZ), people’s freedom may still be limited by having to source food and water, and find safe places to live. People in western countries with ease of access to basic necessities will have more freedom than people in countries and situations (such as war and conflict), but may have other restrictions on their freedom – education, social, isolation, sexuality and gender restrictions, racial, emotional, psychological etc. What is the nature of freedom?

A guiding narrative
‘In many ways, culture is adrift on the sea of Rationalism. Reason attempts to segregate our habitats by way of reductionist thinking. It’s true, Pi needed reason to survive, but to give survival meaning, he needed something much different. He needed a guiding narrative. I think most of us know what that feels like’. (David Allred). Discuss the assertion that culture may be ‘adrift on the sea of Rationalism’ and that we may need a ‘guiding narrative’ to shape meaning. In what ways do the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures serve as guiding narratives for faith (as distinct from ‘historical’ or even ‘rational’ documents)? How does this insight affect the way we read and engage with them?

Download pdf file here

© Rev Sandy Boyce 11th January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Les Misérables

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Music/drama (2012)
Rating: M for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Length: 2 hours 38 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helene Bonham Carter
Director: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
Script: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil

Brief synopsis                                               

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. (C) Universal   See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables_(2012_film)

Questions for discussion

This discussion resource does not attempt any particular comment on the movie itself but offers general areas for discussion. Yes, it’s a sing-fest and yes, it’s long (I loved it all!). Victor Hugo’s story is so well-known, and there have been many movies made, as well as the world’s longest running musical stage play on which this film is based. No doubt there will be plenty to discuss! Here are some general questions for starters: 

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

So much could be written for discussion prompts as the story is so rich with revelatory episodes and insights into human nature. However, space constraints limit how much can be offered in this resource, so the following is a catalyst only.

Fantine – a slippery slide into despair

There are so many contemporary examples of Fantine – girls and young women in countries who move from rural areas to the city in search of work but end up in the ‘flesh trade’ simply to survive. Some are tricked, and end up as victims of human trafficking and the slave trade. Fantine (brilliantly portrayed by Anne Hathaway) works hard so she can send money to support her daughter Cosette, unaware she and her daughter are both victims to the treachery of those who trade on others’ misery. When Fantine is dismissed from her job she finds herself suddenly on the street, and descends quickly into despair and desperation. She sells her hair, her teeth and her body seeking to find ways to support Cosette. ‘I dreamed a dream’ could be the tragic anthem of the many Fantines in our world today. Who might they be and what are their circumstances?

Valjean

Jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, Valjean endures 19 years of imprisonment and cruel ‘justice’. When he is unexpectedly granted parole, he seeks refuge in a church where the kindly Bishop offers food and shelter. Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver during the night but is caught escaping by the authorities. Surprisingly, the Bishop says that the silver was given as a gift, and secures Valjean’s release. Genuinely touched by the Bishop’s love, grace and generosity, Valjean tears up his parole papers and vows to start an honest life under a new identity. He comes to be known as a compassionate man, including to Javert himself on several occasions.
In your experience, what enables people to make such a change in their lives and what examples do you know?

Convicts jailed for minor offences were transported to the ‘penal colony’ in Australia, and made the most of a chance for a fresh start. Do you sense there may be ways that the hope of ‘second chances’ has found its way into Australia’s self-identify?

Javert, the law man                (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javert)

Javert is a prison guard, and later a policeman, who devotes his life to the law, his priorities being to serve God faithfully through the law. Javert pursues Valjean for years. It makes no difference to him that Valjean has long since become a pillar of the community, devoting himself to the welfare of others as a manufacturer and later mayor of a small town. To Javert, he remains a convict who has breached parole. He resolutely holds to the belief that a ‘criminal’ can never change, and that Valjean is irredeemably evil. What contemporary examples are there when law is applied in a way that denies true justice, and may serve to further oppress people already in dire circumstances?

Javert – the conundrum

‘Javert is in emotional turmoil when he is unable to reconcile the image of Valjean he has carried all through the years of a brutal ex-convict with what he sees are Valjean’s acts of kindness on the barricades. He is horrified to finally realize that Valjean can be both a ‘criminal’ and a good person. Javert realizes he can’t be justified in letting Valjean go, nor in arresting him. His whole world is in turmoil – he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. His realization makes a mockery of Javert’s entire system of moral and values. (There are other scenes when Valjean and other characters also face ethical and moral quandaries).
Do you know examples of the tension between acting lawfully and acting (im)morally?

The rich and the poor

In 19th century France, the poor were extremely poor and without hope for a better life. If we look at our contemporary world, the extremes in wealth – in and between nations – is deplorable. You may have seen the ‘if the world were a village’ before – it’s sobering, and may prompt a spirited discussion!

‘If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:

80 would live in substandard housing; 16 would be unable to read or write; 50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation; 33 would be without access to a safe water supply; 39 would lack access to improved sanitation; 24 would not have any electricity (and of the 76 that do have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.) 8 people would have access to the Internet. 1 would have a university education. 1 would have HIV. 5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth (all 5 would be US citizens). 48 would live on less than $2 a day. 20 would live on less than $1 a day’.

 

Perspectives about God.

Javert views God through the lens of the law. Valjean’s life is transformed by the Bishop’s grace and mercy. ‘Grace’ and ‘the law’ are often at odds with each other in theological reflection, and in how people reflect on God. What lens/es do you use as you reflect on God? What other theological themes emerge from this story?

Download pdf  here.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 4th January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Quartet

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Musical/comedy/drama (2012)
Downtown Abbey meets The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Perhaps the birth of a new genre: film gris, or ‘grey film’?

Rating: PG-13 brief strong language, suggestive humor
Length: 98 minutes
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon
Director: Directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman
Script: Ronald Harwood (originally a stage play)

Brief synopsis
posterLifelong friends Wilf and Reggie together with former colleague Cissy, are residents of Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. Every year on Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday, the residents unite to give a fundraising concert. But when Jean Horton, a former grande dame of the opera fallen on hard times, also Reggie’s ex-wife and the fourth and most celebrated member of their former quartet, moves into the home to everyone’s surprise, the plans for this year’s concert start to unravel. As old grudges threaten to undermine past glories and theatrical temperaments play havoc with the rehearsal schedule, it becomes apparent that having four of the finest singers in English operatic history under one roof offers no guarantee that the show will go on. Quartet is a wickedly comic film about redefining old age and growing old with hope; demonstrating how art illuminates life and the human spirit remains undimmed even as the brightest stars start to fade. (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/quartet)
Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Growing old disgracefully, or with dignity, or…..
The film offers a meditation on ageing, appealing particularly to baby boomers and early retirees . The characters include Wilf – delightfully wicked, using the excuse his stroke has removed his ‘radar’ to censor inappropriate comments and his unrelenting flirtatiousness, and Jean – resenting that she must re-locate from her luxury home to a retirement home. The film, in common with others in the ‘grey film’ genre, is a multiple-strand story about older people, strong on character, and exploring themes of ageing and death, and yet ultimately upbeat and celebratory. What stood out for you in this latest contribution to the genre?

Never too late…..

Some people carry personal hurts, humiliations, bitterness and regrets like heavy luggage to be dragged awkwardly through life. It may shape their ‘raison d’etre’ and frame their decisions and priorities, and also rob them of joy and freedom. The movie suggests possibilities for second chances, and transformation of older people with open hearts and open minds. The four main characters must decide whether they want to let go of the fears, errors, and disappointments of the past in order to engage once more with the art that blessed them with beauty and meaning. Setting aside how realistic is the specific resolution and reconciliation in the movie, what are your insights about ‘letting go’ and ‘letting be’ in older age?

Dementia

Cissy is showing signs of dementia – one moment bright and alert, the next not knowing where she is or what she’s doing. You might have seen friends and family with dementia and know how difficult it can be. ‘Mother and Son’ turned it into a comedy, but it can be very distressing – for the individual and those around them. What are your experiences?

A sea of white hair

In the same way that babies all tend to ‘look the same’, people in older years can sometimes lose the distinctiveness of their younger years. It’s too easy to just see an ‘old person’ with white/grey hair (or dyed hair!), rather than a vital person with the rich experiences of a well lived life. (In addition to the main actors who are ‘the quartet’, there are (real) distinguished musicians and actors who form the rest of the cast. Do stay for the credits at the end to learn about who they are and what they have done in their professional life). How do we give room to hear each other’s stories, and to value experiences and what people have done in younger years? What is your experience?

Losing what has been precious

Ageing carries with it the loss of capacity in various ways – physical and intellectual, as well as specific skills, creativity etc. There will be regrets about what is or has already been lost. Jean’s character, the star soloist, still has the applause of the audience ringing in her ears and still celebrates her numerous encores. But she is also painfully aware that her prime is now past. She treasures the voice she once had – and listens to the vinyl recordings of past triumphs in the privacy of her room. What is your experience, personally or what you see happening with friends and family?

Living together

‘Baby boomers’ and early retirees will struggle with giving up independence and to be treated as an ‘old/er person’. Many will relish holding a disposition towards life that is lively, energetic, engaged and curious. A group of friends in Adelaide have talked about organizing a place to live together in older years, supporting each other but living with relative independence. What do you make of the idea of a home for retired musicians, or retired craft workers, or actors, or life long friends……..? What plans to you have?

Music genres – an invitation to explore new things

Reggie, a man of the theatre and fine arts, does a google search on the computer (that in itself provides an opportunity to explore new things), and opens a discussion on the differences between opera and rap with visiting students. He opens himself to learn new things, to make connections. With rap, he announces, a man is stabbed in the back and then talks about it. With opera, a man is stabbed in the back and he opens up with emotion (speaking from his own experience in the arts and in his marriage). How might this scene be indicative of being open to new things, no matter what your age? Discuss.

Old age in the biblical narrative

What stories of older people can you recall in the biblical narrative who shared in God’s activity in the world? There are many examples worth exploring and discussing.

 

Download pdf file of this resource here© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Sapphires

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Musical/drama
Rating: PG
Length: 103 minutes
Starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Chris O‘Dowd
Director: first time Aboriginal film maker and actor, Wayne Blair
Script: Tony Briggs, son of one of the women the film is based on. Cinematographer: Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah)

Brief synopsis

The film is set in 1968, a period when the racial divide was significant in Australian history. Aboriginal people had just received the right to vote and children were still being separated from their families. Around the globe, there was protest and revolution in the streets. There were drugs and the shock of a brutal assassination. And there was Vietnam. The sisters Cynthia, Gail and Julie are discovered‘ by Dave – a talent scout with a kind heart and a great knowledge of soul music. They travel from their home in a remote rural Aboriginal mission to Melbourne for an audition to entertain American troops in Vietnam. The sisters are joined by cousin Kay, who lives in Melbourne. They transition their singing talents from country and western to soul – Australia’s answer to ‘The Supremes’. Based on a true story, The Sapphires celebrates youthful emotion, family, community, love and respect – and music. It is a testament to resilience, spiritedness and strength.
Further information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sapphires_%28film%29

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Intents and purposes
It‘s easy to be fooled by the film as a feel good movie‘, or a sweet n‘ dumb feelgood bopper‘(Henry Barnes in The Guardian), or a workaday Australian comedy‘ (Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph). . What do you think the scriptwriter and film makers were hoping to achieve? (note: the credits above for the script writer, director and cinematographer).

Community
What does the film reveal about the nature of the Aboriginal community on the mission station in terms of values that hold the community together?

Stolen Generations
While the film doesn‘t have the pathos‘ of Rabbit Proof Fence that focuses on Stolen Generations, it does make reference to the ongoing threat of children being taken. At a moments notice, the black cars may roll up and children taken away. This is 1968 in Australia! Kay, the cousin, is one who has been taken as her skin is fair and she can be absorbed into mainstream white‘ culture. The incongruence between the living situation on the mission and Kay‘s world with Tupperware parties is comical but profound. It reveals the way fractures were created amongst and between families.

Character
This is not a film with a political‘ agenda but serves to highlight the strong, defiant, resilient and joyful character of the young women. For some Aboriginal people, dysfunction and dislocation have created a culture of fatigue and despair, affecting whole communities, where no hope lies on the horizon. For others, there is a determination that provides the catalyst and a means to make a change, and to thumb your nose at the naysayers‘ and racists, such as in the film. It‘s complex, but a question for consideration — what are the building blocks that enable change to happen, for people to determine their own future, to rise above being victims of abuse or disregard? What are the disincentives?

Country and western to soul
One of the film‘s strengths is the amazing soul soundtrack and the brilliant vocal performance by Jessica Mauboy. It does raise a question about what is required for success. Do the soul songs of the 60‘s serve the self-expression of the young women (a musical soundtrack for their own lives), or do the young women serve the need for people to sing like The Supremes (who would never venture into Vietnam). As it was said in the film, there were a number of wanna be‘ girl groups lined up who sing the same songbook‘ of soul songs — are The Sapphires simply groomed to provide for the market place, or is there something authentic for them in discovering soul music as a medium that provides the musical landscape of their own lives? How does the soul music contrast to the simple gospel song in their native Yorta Yorta language, which the young women sing in harmony to their mother on the phone from Vietnam? Since 1968, consider ways in which Aboriginal culture has been brought into mainstream‘ arts (for instance, the Bangarra Dance Theatre is considered Australia‘s leading Indigenous performing arts company, combining the spirituality of traditional culture with modern storytelling, <a href=”http://www.bangarra.com.au” target=”_blank”>http://www.bangarra.com.au</a>.

The film as educator
What capacity does a film have to become a vehicle to educate and inspire? In what way might telling a story like this, especially one based on real people and events, have the power to persuade and inspire about ways of becoming all one can be — for people of all cultures? How might this compare to the genre of documentary, which may have been an alternate way of telling the story of these remarkable women?

My people will be your people
The relationship with Dave Lovelace (talent scout) and Gail (mother bear‘) transcends culture — he being Irish and she being an Aboriginal Yorta Yorta woman. He speaks about her family being his family. It brings to mind the story of Ruth who, according to the biblical narrative, was a Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family. She tells Naomi, her mother in law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16).
What is involved when tightly contained circles of belonging‘ become more permeable to welcome and embrace what is other‘? What is involved in our global community to embrace other‘ wholeheartedly in this way?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 23rd August 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Download pdf file of this resource here

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Romantic comedy/drama
Rating: PG13
Length: 1 hour 58 minutes
Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)

Brief synopsis
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on Deborah Moggach’s book, These Foolish Things, and follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by brochures for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to find the palatial residence a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.  © Fox Searchlight
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Growing old
The movie may be enjoyed by any age, but particularly for those who have reached retirement &/or more senior years. One writer described it as ‘An hilarious and touching comedy about growing old disgracefully’. Another writes: ‘It’s a film with appeal across the generations, tapping into universal fears of being forgotten in old age’. What were the stereotypes? What surprised you? What resonated eg identity, sexuality and seniors, disappointments and failed hopes, never too late to try something new.

Cultural
Set in the wonderful, perplexing and colourful nation of India, there are many scenes that pick up on cultural difference, cultural expectations. What stands out for you? Share some of your own experiences in another culture.

Philosophy
‘Everything will be alright in the end; if things are not alright, it means it is not yet the end’, Sonny (the well meaning and enthusiastic hotel manager) repeats several times. Kipling’s quote about treating disaster the same as triumph is also part of his philosophy. Can you identify the underlying ‘philosophy’ or approach to life of the main characters, and where it has led them. Do you identify with any of these approaches, or how would you sum up (in a sentence) your own philosophy?

Brits abroad
British holiday makers have a reputation of being in a ‘bubble’ – located in another ‘exotic’ location, but expecting all the usual British food and traditions. A kind of imperialism at work. The same could be said of holiday makers from many countries. What are the personal challenges of setting aside one’s habits, traditions and expectations and being prepared to enter into another culture?

Outsourcing
Many call centres are outsourced to India, part of the globalised market forces. What other examples of ‘outsourcing’ medical procedures are you aware of, or when people make the most of ‘cheaper’ operations in a developing country. What might be the pros and cons of this growing practice?

Travel as transforming
For better or worse, travel can be transforming. Each of the main characters respond differently to their new siutation. ‘It’s going to be extraordinary’, declares Graham, who had previously lived in India and has his own motives for being in India. ‘I’m in hell’, moans grumpy bigot Muriel (although she has some of the best lines such as: ‘I can’t plan that far ahead; I can’t even buy green bananas’). Endlessly complaining, Jean stays put at the hotel, not venturing out at all (apart from snooping on Graham, for whom she has a fancy). Her husband Douglas is keen to explore, and reads up on temples and palaces he might visit. Evelyn makes the most of an opportunity for her first ever job. Norman is ever optimistic and creative in the process of finding a partner.
What are you own experiences of travel as transforming?

India on the rise
The movie shows India as we might traditionally expect it to be, but less of the emerging middle class (particularly young adults), and new millionaires (expected to be 403,000 by 2015). Sonny tells his girlfriend: ‘You’re part of a modern India my mother cannot welcome!’ Things are changing rapidly for India. It is the world’s largest democracy with the world’s 2nd largest population, and expected to become the world’s 3rd largest economy within 20 years. Economic growth has exceeded 9% in recent years. India is a global player in telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals. It is interesting to note that the SA Government is keen to enhance economic ties with India, and has placed the country on top of the list of future trade partners. India is already the state’s fourth largest export market.
Yet, India continues to face massive problems with 300 million untouchables and 70 million tribals locked into a cycle of endemic poverty. Landless farm labourers still toil under oppressive conditions for a very meagre wage and religious minorities continue to be brutally persecuted.
What is this ‘modern India’, and what might be the impact upon the population in India?

Seniors and spirituality
“If we compare our lives to dramas with various themes and dramatic plot lines, then old age is the time when the meaning of the play become clear to us.”
(Zalman Schachter-Shalomi). ‘There are many seniors approaching their final years, overwhelmed by the realization that their life achievements are quickly losing their value, and that what is lying ahead will have to be faced with a new set of “skills” (capitalself.com).
What are some of the issues of ‘wellness’ and spirituality for seniors?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th March 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

The Hunger Games

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Action/drama
Rating: M (mature themes and violence)
Length: 142 minutes
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Director: Gary Ross

Brief synopsis
(longer plot synopsis – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392170/synopsis)

The Hunger Games is an adaptation from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war. Panem takes its place – a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. The Capitol is a glittering city where people live lavish lives, supported by resources, food, and material goods from the districts. The district people are essentially slaves, oppressed by hunger, poverty, and military control. Each year, a boy and girl from each of the twelve desperately poor districts are selected by lottery to fight to the death on live television, broadcast for the entertainment of rich people. Katniss Everdeen, the 16 year old heroine of the story, volunteers to take her younger sister Primrose’s place for the latest match. Katniss is the responsible provider for her family in the districts. Her father died in a coal mining accident, and her mother still grieves.
The contest is staged in the wilderness (think Survivor reality TV show, but where contestants don’t vote the others out, but rather kill them in a modern version of a gladiator contest). The final winner earns wealth and fame, and food for his or her home district. But he or she must bear the memory of having murdered to win. Katniss and her male counterpart Peeta together move on to revolution, as they become the somewhat reluctant symbols of a popular uprising against Panem’s oppressive government. The Hunger Games as been described an American equivalent of Harry Potter, a story of a teen searching for meaning in a chaotic and threatening society.

Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

 

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Disparity between the rich and the poor

The country of ‘Panem’ depicts the rich living in luxury, while those in the ‘districts’ live in poverty. Here in Australia, Treasurer Wayne Swan warns that income inequality is rising in Australia. The Bureau of Statistics Household Income Survey demonstrates the rise in the gap between the richest and poorest in Australia – in 1994-95 households in the top 10 per cent earned an average of 3.78 times more than the bottom 10 per cent. By the latest survey in 2009-10 this had grown to 4.21 per cent. The gap in wealth is even starker, with the wealthiest 20 per cent of households accounting for more than 60 per cent of wealth, with an average worth of $2.2 million. The bottom 20 per cent own just 1 per cent of the nation’s household wealth at an average of just $32,000. Bureau of Statistics figures show wages have risen about 111 per cent since March 2001. But over the same period, company profits are up about 185 per cent. Some of those company profits filter through in dividends to shareholders and super funds, but the wealthier you are, the more shares you’re likely to own. Big business and unions tend to hog the limelight in Canberra because they’re more organised and have much bigger resources to fight for their cause.

  • What might the disparity in wealth in Panem in the movie reveal in a fresh way about the disparity of wealth in our contemporary world – in Australia and in our global village?
  • What biblical references or stories might inform our views about society where ‘the ‘rich get richer, the poor get the picture’ (to quote Midnight Oil’)? Perhaps explore The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12*) and Hebrew (Old Testament) prophets like Micah and Amos.

* see http://bible.org/seriespage/beatitudes-matthew-51-12 for helpful background or Dave Andrew’s Plan Be series

Counter cultural/subversive ways of changing the world

Decades ago, the districts had revolted against the “Capitol”. When they failed, the annual ‘games’ was determined to be the punishment to remind them of the futility of resistance. The spin doctors in the movie describe the ‘games’ in a propaganda film as a “pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice” that are “how we remember our past” and “how we safeguard our future.” The games underline the way the ‘system’ favours those with wealth and power, and the masses are expected to put up with it. We see countless examples in history and in our contemporary world. Themes of resistance to oppression and hope for a better world are woven through the movie (and books). Such challenge and resistance to the ‘status quo’ is messy and difficult. It mirrors in many ways the experience of Jesus, as well as the transformative way of life Jesus offered his followers.

  • What are some contemporary examples eg Occupy Wall Street movement, Fair Trade campaign (fair trade for growers of products in the developing world)?
  • In what ways might the followers of Jesus lead by example in countering wealth and power that serve only the vested interests of a few, and serve to disadvantage those who cannot exercise power?
  • Can you recall other movies that have tackled this theme? How do you rate The Hunger Games in comparison for this theme?
  • Released in Australia just before Easter 2012 – are there any reflections on the life of Jesus and those who longed for liberation from the Roman occupiers who oppressed the people of the land?

Movies as an entry point into compassion

We may not ourselves have experienced abject poverty and disadvantage. It’s hard to be compassionate when our experience doesn’t provide an entry point into the experience of others. Movies offer a way into ‘story’ that allows us to explore the human journey through the experience of others.

Compassion occurs only between equals. When you are able to feel pain, acknowledge suffering, you are trustworthy to share the pain and suffering of others

  • Do movies like The Hunger Games translate into a deeper sense of compassion or a commitment to justice? What happened for you as you watched the movie?

Religious themes

Panem appears to have no institutional religious life. Perhaps the absence of religious life is one way allows oppression and violence? Diana Butler Bass* writes: ‘Despite the lack of conventional religious trappings, the major theme of the novel is a deeply theological question, one that has haunted the religious imagination for millennia: Can violence – even sacrificial violence – save? When Katniss volunteers for the games, she saves her sister’s life by offering to die in place of another. This echoes the Christian teaching of Jesus’s death as a sacrificial substitution for another. But Katniss’ actions undermine the traditional understanding of self-sacrifice. Katniss is not Jesus. To save herself, she must kill others. In “The Hunger Games,” salvation cannot be accomplished only by death but by murder. The game arena is a profane altar-where the teens slaughter each other to placate the emotional and political “gods” of the capital and reinforce belief in the system that binds the society.

Peeta, the other District 12 tribute, understands that violence never saves. Even seemingly noble or sacrificial death breeds more violence. Violence always serves oppressors, never the oppressed. “I don’t want them to change me in there,” he tells Katniss of the arena, “Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” To survive means to be twisted into one who murders others for entertainment and food. These games are not about fame and victory. They are about one’s fundamental sense of identity, about the impossibility of human dignity under the Capitol’s rule. “I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me,” Peeta says, “That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” Peeta wants to subvert this ritual violence for the sake of his humanity. He not only wants to survive; he wants to be free.

Ultimately, “The Hunger Games” argues for a human future of love and non-violence by immersing us into the voyeuristic orgy of violence brought about by inequality and injustice. Viewers must take stock of the limits of violence as a way of freedom and redemption. Katniss is a powerful figure, athletic and smart. But she is saved – and saves others – by reason and love, not hatred and fear. “The Hunger Games” points out that the world envisioned by spiritual leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King is infinitely preferable to a world of “bread and circuses,” where the many are controlled by the very few. The future hangs between these two visions: Will we be Panem or some other sort of world?

No religion in “The Hunger Games”? The story eschews religions that glory in crusades, jihads, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. In Panem, there is no place for religion that supports injustice. The enslaved neither want nor need such a religion. Banished are religions that celebrate bloodlust. There is too much of that already.

Yet “The Hunger Games” celebrates faith – faith in family, faith in friendship, faith in song, faith in justice. “The Hunger Games” proclaims that beyond the fences of fear built to enslave, control, and guard, there is joy, beauty, and wonder. In the end, there is true freedom, and the hard-earned hope that human beings can create a better world based not in sacrificial violence but in sacrificial love’.

(* Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/the-hunger-games-spiritual-but-not-religious/2012/03/21/gIQAgYJmTS_blog.html)

Heroes and those who fire our imagination

Depth psychologist James Hillman writing in The Soul’s Code: “Extraordinary people excite; they guide; they warn; standing, as they do, in the corridors of imagination – statues of greatness, personifications of marvel and sorrow – they help us carry what comes to us as it came to them. They give our lives an imaginary dimension. . . . making our world less impossible through familiarity with theirs.”

* Discuss in relation to the movie and other examples of people, past and present.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th March 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Iron Lady

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Biography/drama
Rating: M(mature themes and violence)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E Grant
Director: Phyllida Lloyd (‘Mamma Mia’)

Brief synopsis
(see also Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Lady_%28film%29)

The film depicts former British PM Margaret Thatcher (portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep), from her teenage years as a shopkeeper’s daughter to her retirement years. The film covers her decision to enter politics – seemingly against the odds, and then to contest for leader of the Conservative Party. Actual footage is shown newsreel style to demonstrate the tough circumstances in Britain during her time as leader. A large part of the film is depicted from the perspective of Lady Thatcher as a fragile elderly lady enduring dementia. The film relies on flashbacks to depict her earlier life, along with ‘conversations’ with her long dead husband Denis. It is a surprisingly intimate and compassionate portrait of a complex woman who ‘broke the glass ceiling’ and the barriers of gender and class to take on leadership in a male-dominated world.

 

Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.
(Note: ‘MT’ used for Margaret Thatcher)

Power
The film portrays MT as a plucky underdog defying a male-dominated establishment. Her political philosophy was shaped in her teenage years by her father’s beliefs, a proud shopkeeper and Mayor, who tells her: “Never run with the crowd. Go your own way.” She was determined to push her agenda as a leader, even in the face of opposition. MT, as well as many other British PM’s, used a ‘kitchen cabinet’ approach to decision making, where trusted advisors worked through issues and made decisions which were expected then to be rubber stamped by the Cabinet. A leader who is surrounded by ‘yes’ people can ensure that there is rarely a need for robust discussion and ‘fierce conversations’.

How does one balance ‘going your own way’ with working in collaboration with a team for the common good (and national interest)?
How do you reflect on the statement, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely?
To what extent has political life become focussed on the leader rather than the leadership team actively working together?
How do reflect on this statement in light of MT’s style: ‘Authority cannot be bought or sold, given or taken away.’

Authority is about who you are as a person, your character, and the influence you’ve built with people; power erodes relationships. You can get a few seasons out of power, even accomplish some things, but over time power can be very damaging to relationships. We resort to power because our authority had broken down. Power is the degree to which people will accept your decisions without question. Influence is the ability to convince people of the validity of a decision. Using power when influence is needed is usually bad in the long run. Using influence builds power which can then be used very sparingly when absolutely needed’.

I will not die washing dishes
In the end, MT is alone in the kitchen washing a cup.  Ironically, she had told Denis when he proposed marriage to her that she never would become a conventional wife.  She would not die washing dishes.  Indeed, she relied on her husband to maintain the home front in her absence. In her autobiography she wrote: “I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side.” He saw his role as helping her survive the stress of the job. What are contemporary examples of partners of leaders who either provide caring support to the leader, or significant power in the background that influences policies? Is there a danger in one or the other approach? Does a leader in touch with the ordinary things in life like washing dishes have a better handle on issues affecting people and therefore more capacity for effective public policies and decision making, or do the demands of home life detract from such tasks?

Movie as history, history as movie
Is the movie focussed more on an old lady with dementia remembering her early life, or MT the Prime Minister? Is it satisfying in either of these realms? Is this the Iron Lady we know from history, or a ‘melted down’ version? The British newspaper The Guardian expressed concern that the narrative of the film overlooks Thatcher as “economy destroyer and warmonger” in favour of an “exclusive focus on Thatcher as a woman triumphing against the odds.” The movie overlooks the ‘collateral damage’ of her government policies of deregulation, privatization and globalization, and gives no explanation or background to the events in Britain at the time. The events are simply depicted as newsreel through the memory of an old lady so they are necessarily selective and subjective.

The film also skims over the surface of her much of her own personal and family life, and even her significant academic credentials (her training as a barrister – reflected in her capacity to argue a case strongly, and training as a research chemist – reflected in her forensic attention to detail). The movie lingers on the softer side of MT rather than the iron lady, including the tender dialogue with her long dead husband. When she learns of the deaths of service men after she declared war on Argentina over the Falkland Islands, we see MT struggling to contain her emotions.  The film depicts the “Iron Lady” as a mother writing from the heart rather than the powerfully cold and calculating side of the woman best known to the world. To what extent can such a movie be considered biographical and historical?

Ethical question: a living subject
There are plenty of movies made about people who are still living, but this one has drawn harsh criticism. Streep defended her choice to portray MT’s mental decline while MT was still alive: “Some people have said that it’s shameful to portray this part of a life, that the ebbing end of life is something that should be shut away and that people need to be defended from the images of those suffering from dementia. But I don’t think it’s shameful. I don’t see why it can’t be shown. It’s a film much more about ageing and elements of dementia rather than about an amazing prime minister.” What ethical questions might be considered when making a movie about a ‘living subject’?

The Falklands: the untold story
The famous economist Milton Friedman observed that “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. Once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo”, and to embed free market ideas into the society. The Falklands war in 1982 served such a purpose for Margaret Thatcher: the disorder resulting from the war allowed her to crush the striking miners and to launch the first privatisation frenzy in a western democracy. There are multi-layers in Government decision making, some of which are public, and much of which is hidden. The movie depicts MT in Churchill mode, fighting for what is Britain’s property, rather than an opportunist and strategist seeking to establish free market ideas and in the process to crush the striking miners. How do we tell history to reflect multi-layers such as this? Are there other examples?

Dementia
MT says of her aging reflection, “I don’t know who she is.” As people are living longer, dementia has become one of the issues of ageing. In what ways does the film contribute insights about ageing and dementia, and how does it resonate (or not) with your own experience with family and friends?

Thoughts are powerful
On a visit to a doctor, MT reveals she is more interested in what people think than what they feel.  So, when he asks her what she is thinking, she replies, “Thoughts are powerful, they bring action, and actions over time become habit, and habit becomes character.” In these lines delivered by the ageing MT, we see a woman of conviction that informed her leadership style. What are the strengths of her approach, and what might be the weaknesses of a leader who has less focus on feelings?

Let us have a king….
The ancient Hebrew people demanded to have a king like their neighbouring countries. Yahweh declined to install a king, given the human propensity for corruption. But when the people continue to insist, Yahweh grants their request. The succession of kings turned out to be mainly a flawed group of people who did not serve the interests of their people, and failed to give priority to the poor and marginalised. It is striking to consider examples of leaders in history who begin with good intentions and motives but who succumb to corruption. What examples come to mind? How does the example of Jesus contrast to this corruption and what was his critique of the religious and political leadership of his time? Are there positive models of leadership that come to mind? Is the political process itself somehow corrupting of leaders? How do you reflect on the suggestion that by the time someone is in a position to exercise power, they have been corrupted by the system.

Additional Reading:  http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=29612

© Rev Sandy Boyce 8th January 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au

This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Ides of March

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Political drama  Rating: M (Adult themes and frequent coarse language)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti.
Director: George Clooney (his fourth film as director)
An adaptation of the play “Farragut North” (Beau Willimon, 2008).

Brief synopsis
PostThe context is a fictional Democratic primary in Ohio and the film focuses on electoral process and personal ethics. It draws on some of the hopefulness of Obama‘s 2008 campaign and some of the scandals involving Bill Clinton. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential candidate, competing against Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman. This film is about the political process, even when candidates are on the same side. The candidates are campaigning in Ohio. A win for Morris would all but guarantee him the nomination; a win for Pullman would give him vital momentum. Both campaigns are also attempting to enlist the endorsement of North Carolina Senator Thompson. The movie traces the experiences of the Junior Campaign Manager, a “true believer” who believes Morris is the only one who can make a positive difference to the future of the country. He gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail where everyone gets played‘. Brilliantly written and acted, although some may wonder what more it contributes to in the portfolio of political movies (Wag the Dog, W., The Candidate etc as well as episodes of the West Wing).
Full synopsis here, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1124035/synopsis.
Wikipaedia synopsis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ides_of_March_%28film%29.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Political life
Under-handed backstabbing, hypocrisy, intrigue, and blackmail. Are these a ‘given’, an inevitable part of the political landscape? Is personal integrity and honesty believable in the political realm? Is charm a commodity cultivated for votes and opinion polls? Is politics more than likely to corrupt or ‘wake up’ idealistic wide eyed visionaries and dreamers? How much is compromise part and parcel of the political landscape, in order to achieve the best (or most expedient) outcome? How might those who are not ‘political animals’ influence the process? Who are the real movers and shakers in politics and what can we believe?

And what‘s the role of the media in the whole process, and who‘s really using who? Ida (Marisa Tomei) is a shamelessly opportunistic journalist in getting the scoop for NY Times stories. When is a friend a friend in the political world?

The poster for the movie has a man‘s face shown half hidden behind the folded page of a Time Magazine. It is a composite image of the two main characters in the film — Clooney the candidate and Gosling the campaign manager, conveying an underlying theme of Machiavellian deceit and betrayal. Is such behaviour inevitable in politics — or, more particularly, for those seeking leadership roles?

How do you reflect on the statement, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’?

While some people will be upset by the number of times f**k is used in the film, is this simply indicative of the ‘straight talking’ that takes place behind all the charm of candidate and the public campaign?

Biblical themes
Jesus clashed often with the political and religious leaders of the day, both the Roman occupiers as well as the Jewish leaders. In the context of the day, these were public stoushes, with arguments put to Jesus that were designed to trip him up. There was shaming (a political tool of the day), intrigue, betrayal, denial. Was crucifixion the inevitable outcome?

Making a difference
To what extent does power corrupt people in leadership generally? What are your own experiences? What alternatives have you experienced or know about?

References to the Ides of March
‘Ides’ means “the middle of”. The ”Ides of March” doesn‘t take place in the month of March, though. It is a reference to historical events eg Julius Caesar was assassinated on “the ide of march”. The ide of March is also mentioned in one of Shakespeare‘s plays dealing with Caesar‘s assassination. The soon-to-be-assassinated Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” It could also suggest the assassination of good moral character and ideals in the harsh and ruthless political arena where no one person is allowed to dominate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ides_of_March.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th December 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Red State

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Drama
Rating: MA 15+
(action/horror/thriller/disturbing violence/some sexual content including brief nudity/language)
Length: 1.28 hours
Starring: John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith

PosterBrief synopsis
Sex, religion and politics – an explosive combination! Red State unfolds in a small town in middle America dominated by a fundamentalist preacher, Abin Cooper who holds extreme homophobic and anti-government views. (Remember Waco, Texas and the charismatic leader David Koresh?)

This film tells the story of three high school boys who make the most of an online invitation to a sexual rendezvous with a woman. The opening sequence is a bit like a typical teen horror flick. The boys end up being drugged and kidnapped by Cooper’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which believes the world is spiraling into moral oblivion. They are prepared to take matters into their own hands to deal decisively with examples of sexual immorality and homosexuality. Thus, the boys inadvertently trigger a disturbing series of events that cause all hell to break loose.

It’s compelling viewing but there is a disturbing degree of violence in this film and an incredibly high body count. In the end, Abin Cooper is taken alive, and spends the remainder of his days locked in solitary confinement, where he spends the rest of his days pacing anxiously around his cell muttering like a madman – singing and preaching to himself.

The critics are in two minds about this movie. So, why would you bother seeing it?

Steve Parker writes: “The acting is top-notch, especially Michael Parks as the sect leader and John Goodman as the ATF officer. The story is riveting and suspenseful. It tellingly portrays contemporary tensions between religion and politics that so often centre around aspects of sex, particularly in America. The basic point is that neither religion nor government really know how to communicate and handle each other and when they come together it creates a tinder box of dangerous attitudes that have serious consequences. Red State is very violent in making its point – but religion and governments have resorted to violence to try to “manage” their agendas. If you are at all squeamish – better not to see this one. If you do see it, you are in for a very confronting experience that will have you thinking deeply for a long time”.

David Stratton writes: “Red State is filled with hatred towards both fundamentalists, like the odious Cooper, and federal agencies, like the ATF depicted here, an organisation that operates beyond and above the law. Smith sets out to shock audiences by ensuring that we never quite know who are the goodies and the baddies in all of this, and who is going to get a bullet in the head next. It’s a really strange film, terribly violent on one level and on another filled with lengthy, long-winded philosophical discourses and blind alleys. It’s well made, and has an interesting cast, but its general unpleasantness overwhelms its other qualities”.

Questions for discussion
This particular movie is challenging in content and visually. Nevertheless, it does raise some interesting questions. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What topical issues were addressed, and what themes were explored?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • In what way is ‘the church’ depicted, and in what ways might strongly held ‘fundamental’ views and actions and beliefs be distinguished from what would more properly be identified as a sect? What’s the ‘tipping point’? What might potentially hold such extreme views in check?
  • What contemporary examples do we have of the toxic combination of sex, religion and politics?
  • What contemporary examples do we have of people like Abin Cooper – charming yet sinister – who attract others to a doctrine of hate and extreme views? What’s the line between sanity and madness for leaders of this kind?

© Rev Sandy Boyce October 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Cup

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Australian drama
Rating: PG (Mild themes and coarse language)
Length: 106 minutes
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Curry, Daniel McPherson, Alice Parkinson, Bill Hunter, Shaun Micallef, Kate Bell, Jodi Gordon  and Colleen Hewitt
Director: Simon Wincer (Phar Lap, The Man From Snowy River)

PosterBrief synopsis
A simple, respectful heartwarming and inspirational true story of Damien Oliver’s (Curry) win on Irish horse Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup – the race that stops the nation – a week after his only brother Jason (McPherson) died in a racing incident. The brothers’ father, Ray, had also died in a racing accident under similar circumstances when they were children. His brother’s death throws him into turmoil, and this is what the film explores, especially his family relationships. Can he risk riding in the Melbourne Cup, when his mother (Hewitt) has lost two of her family to the sport? What is the impact on his wife (Gordon) when the dangers of the sport are cast so glaringly into the spotlight? Should he ride in the Melbourne Cup, or not? His grief tests his own resolve, as well as the faith of the Irish Trainer (Gleeson). Australians know the outcome of this week of turmoil, and Oliver’s win in 2002 captivated the nation. It has long since passed into Australian sporting legend. The film itself is a solid retelling of this inspirational story, even if is somewhat pedestrian and the script at times awkward, though the actors do a fine job. Ultimately The Cup is not just a story about horse racing, it’s about triumph over adversity and that inner courage inside all of us.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Australia loves the underdog
Prior to his brother’s death, Damien Oliver was riding high. He was already an acclaimed jockey having won his fourth Racing Victoria Limited Scobie Breasley Medal for riding excellence and the Geelong Cup, seen as a precursor to the Melbourne Cup. But the kind of ‘tortured trial’, protracted soul searching and defeats he experienced in the week between his brother’s death and the Melbourne Cup made his emotionally fragile and vulnerable. He was no longer a certainty, and no-one could be sure if his steely resolve and discipline would triumph over grief and sorrow. Discuss the way the ‘underdog’ is part of the fabric of Australian culture with your own examples.

Learning from those who have been in the dark valleys
‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ Grief is entirely personal, and people in the grips of grief sometimes believe no-one can understand their sorrow. People who can share sorrow and grief with others in the same situation, who know what it’s like, can be a great source of comfort, encouragement and even inspiration. The film references the Bali bombing (less than a month before the Melbourne Cup), and explores the influence upon Damien of AFL star Jason McCartney’s (Rodger Corser) heroic behaviour during that incident. What are your own experiences with sorrow and grief and how have you been encouraged by others who know the experience of the psalmist, ‘Even when the way goes through the darkest valley, I will not fear, for you walk at my side’ (Psalm 23.4).

Biblical themes
In one sense, the biblical narrative is a series of potentially overwhelming defeats, and at other times such difficult circumstances that one wonders how the people could survive emotionally, spiritually and physically. There are countless stories that come to mind including the exodus experience of being enslaved, the escape and subsequent pursuit, the wandering in the desert for a long period of time, invasions, occupation, persecution etc. In the midst of such circumstances, the Hebrew people, the early Jewish Christians and the fledgling Christian church gave testimony to the experience of God in their midst, who did not abandon them but was known even in the ‘darkest valley’ of their experiences. This knowledge and experience was enough to sustain the people’s courage and endurance, and to enable them to overcome the incredible odds. What biblical stories come to mind of the ‘underdog’, or those in desperate circumstances? What are your own stories of endurance despite the circumstances and who or what has helped you or inspired you?

Whereto from here…..
Is this film a welcome return to good old fashioned story telling brought to life in a movie, or does it feel a bit like a return to an era that no longer carries the story effectively? How have movies changed since the director’s foray into Australian iconic stories such as Phar Lap and The Man from Snowy River? Has the audience become ‘sophisticated’ and/or grown used to CGI (computer generated images) in movies which work on the big screen, or has the audience lost interest in the art of being attentive to a story told with less of the ‘effects’. Could be an interesting discussion point…….!

This discussion could also be a segue into a discussion about the biblical narrative and the way we ‘do’ church, with similar points to focus conversation.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

Oranges and Sunshine

Published / by Sandy

Genre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 104 minutes
Starring: Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Emma Watson
Director: Jim Loach
Location:  filmed in Adelaide, South Australia

posterBrief studio synopsis (pre-release)
Oranges and Sunshine tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom – up to 130,000 children as late as 1970. It was a dirty secret shared by the Governments of UK, Canada and Australia. These are children who had been given up for adoption by single mothers, ashamed to admit they had had a child out of wedlock. The children themselves were told their mothers had died and were told they would have a better future in another country and especially Australia, the land of oranges and sunshine. Children, some as young as four, were sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse. They were promised oranges and sunshine, they got hard labour and life in institutions. The film tells the story of Margaret who almost singlehandedly, and against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  •  What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Seeking justice.

Mrs Humphreys begins her work by delving into the case of one of the children who sought her help in finding the birth mother. At that time, the migration program was not public knowledge, and Mrs Humphreys simply followed the leads as far as they went with quiet determination and tenacity. As she got closer to uncovering this secret government program she encountered threats on her life and resistance from government.
How far can one person go in pursuing justice? What examples do we have? How well are their stories told that in turn inspire others to persist rather than stand down? What are some of the challenges of our time that require persistence, determination and resilience to pursue justice? How might one person’s endeavours be more effective by building a community for change? What groups might these be in Adelaide, or Australia, or globally?

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing’(Edmund Burke) (* note: original quote said men – I’m sure today he’d be ok with ‘people’!)

How could such an event have happened in a so-called civilized society? How could the forced migration of so many children and the separation from birth mothers be kept secret? People in government circles knew – leaders, decision makers and those who implemented the policy through administration. Good people, who were caught up in a program devised by a few, and who failed to challenge and question. What held them back? Complacency, inadequacy, fear of retribution, or loss of employment? It is clear that those who are ‘good’ in our world outnumber those who are ‘evil’, and yet there are so many examples and ways in which ‘evil’ prevails. It is not the numbers themselves that count when evil prevails, but whether those who claim to be ‘good’ are willing to stand up and take a stand for what they know to be right. Discuss.

On this question, a re-read of the ‘sheep and the goats’ in Matthew 25:31-46 offers an intriguing insight. Those who are ushered into the kingdom are those who are a bit bewildered to be recognized as doing ‘good’ – they have simply responded to need that they saw before them, little realising that in doing so for the ‘least of these’ they do it for the Son of Man himself. Those who are sent away are those who would do good if someone but pointed out to them where such need existed – the ‘would have’ and ‘could have’ sort of people. Mrs Humphreys is an example of an everyday hero who sees a need and holds onto the pursuit of justice wherever it leads and for however long is required.

Abuse of children
Children have historically been those who are the ‘least of the least’. The children in the migration program were used as slave labour. They were abused. They had their identity stolen from them, and a severing of the relationship with their mothers. We live in a comfortable society far removed from many contemporary examples of children being put to work too early. We are complicit because we benefit from their labour, whether it is in sweat shops, chocolate production etc. How much do we know about their situation? How does it change our consumption of goods? What do we know about Fair Trade campaigns that highlight some of these issues, or other campaigns on behalf of children? How does it invite advocacy to bring about change? How might we respond to opportunities to make a difference in these children’s lives?

(note: some may also wish to discuss the Government policy that resulted in ‘the stolen generations’)

We in Australia cannot disassociate ourselves from child labour. Children of female outworkers (usually poor migrant female workers from Asia), assist their mothers in the production of garments in sweatshop conditions. While children are not usually employed by contractors, they do work long hours alongside their parents or other siblings, working on industrial sewing machines after school, until late at night and during school holidays. There are campaigns raising this issue in Australia and seeking change in condition for both the children and their mothers. How might you be part of advocacy programs such as this?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

Get Low

Published / by Sandy

“You can’t buy forgiveness. It’s free, but you have to ask for it.”

Genre: Drama
Rating:
M
Length:
103 mins
Starring:
Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spaceck . 103 minutes
Director:
Aaron Schneider

posterSummary:
A movie spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party… while he was still alive. Pathos and comedy intertwined.

Get Low begins with the sight of a blazing rural homestead, and ends with the image of a small group of friends clustered around a humble grave. In between is the story of an old man’s last bid for forgiveness and redemption. The film offers a meditation on getting old, and on the desire to garrote regret before mortality makes its final fatal lunge. Tim Kroenert. His write up on the film is here:  http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=26234

There is a very existential quality to Felix’s struggle. He takes his guilt seriously. He is not willing to accept the cheap grace of forgiving himself easily. But that also stands in the way of any other forgiveness—human or divine—that would help to unburden him as he approaches death. Forgiveness and grace are always a struggle. As Felix is told early on, it’s free, but it must be asked for. It only comes by being open to it. As Felix prepares for what he sees coming, it is this struggle to open himself to grace that is even more difficult than bearing the weight of his past. © 2010 Hollywood Jesus,   http://www.hollywoodjesus.com

Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored (guilt, forgiveness, grace, regret etc)?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the movie that resonate with your own story/experience?
  • Are there any biblical or theological themes or characters evoked by the story?

More specific questions in relation to the movie

Discuss the way that ‘confession’ and the courage to take responsibility can be cathartic, healing and liberating in a person’s life, as well as in community life.

What examples are there in the public arena (eg Rudd’s apology to Aboriginal people, the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa etc) as well as between people?

How might ‘confession’ operate both within and beyond the formal structures of church and law?

Discuss the option to ‘bribe’ God when people are desperate due to guilt, or circumstances.

What theological ‘lens’ is used to describe God’s relationship with people?

Discuss the crippling effect of pain and guilt in people’s lives that prevent them living fully.

Discuss the dynamic at work when people choose to barricade themselves in ‘prisons’ of their own making.

‘Sin’ – for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Sin is an area of theology that in some circles has been downplayed, as ‘original sin’ and ‘atonement’ theology has been challenged and given way to other dimensions such as ‘grace and mercy and forgiveness’. Discuss ‘sin’ in Felix’s life and your own understanding of the dynamic of ‘sin’.

At a more personal level:

What would you expect people might say at your funeral? How do you make yourself open to hear these things in your life? What sort of stories might they be (bitter, sad, funny, heartfelt, pathos, surprising, etc).

In what ways are your ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds congruent? Do people have an opportunity to see the ‘real’ you or do you sense others relate at a more superficial level on what they see and therefore presume?

What things in the past might hold you back in the present, and need resolution? How are these things played out in your life – isolation, self-punishment, withdrawal, denial etc?

What aspects of the film reveal areas that might need further exploration in your own life, or in your relationships or community?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce, Pilgrim Uniting Church May 2011

This resource is prepared to assist thoughtful reflections and deeper conversations after viewing a movie, and can be used freely by groups and individuals.

Griff the Invisible

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Rating: M
Length: 93 mins
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody
Director: Leon Ford
Country: Australia

posterStudio Synopsis – ‘The Greatest Superpower is love’
Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a quiet office worker by day, and a superhero by night. Into his private and secluded life comes Melody (Maeve Dermody), who turns his world upside down. She is a intrigued by the possibilities of science and, like Griff, shares his passion for what seems to be impossible. Griff’s day-time world is dominated by the office bully (Toby Schmitz); his protective brother appears to be his only friend. By night, Griff assumes his other identity, roaming the dark streets of Sydney protecting the innocent and the vulnerable from the dangers that lurk in the shadows. He is the hero, Griff the Invisible. Increasingly concerned by Griff’s eccentric behaviour, his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) attempts to draw him back into the ‘real world’. In doing so he introduces Griff to Melody, an equally eccentric and charming girl. Fascinated by Griff’s idiosyncrasies, which are equal only to her own, Melody begins to fall for Griff. As Griff is forced to face up to realities of a mundane world, it is up to Melody to rescue Griff the Invisible for his sake, and their love for each other.

Griff the Invisible is fresh, imaginative and original, owing more to the feel of a movie like Lars and the Real Girl than the super-hero genre. It is a debut feature film by writer / director Leon Ford. Griff the Invisible is fresh from international rave reviews and accolades from the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals.

Questions for discussion

This is a gentle, quirky and imaginative movie. It does raise some important issues about ‘growing up’, ‘identity’ etc. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:
What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?

What assumptions were embedded in the story?

What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?

Are there aspects of the movie that resonate with your own story/experience?

Are there any biblical or theological themes or characters evoked by the story?

The following provides some ideas for further discussion and reflection.

Growing up
We have all heard the words: ‘what will you do when you grow up?’, ‘when you are mature….’. Adolescence and early adulthood is viewed as a ‘stage’ on the way to ‘maturity’. There is much that needs to be left behind on the way, seemingly having no place in ‘mature adulthood’. Yet, there is a cost to shedding ‘immaturity’ in order to gain the appearance of ‘maturity. Often credibility as an adult is gained through submission to conformity. Those who retain ways of ‘being’ that resist the need to ‘conform’ and to be domesticated by societal and relational expectations are often considered ‘eccentric’.

Griff represents something universal, according to writer/director Leon Ford. ”He’s just an extreme version of what’s in me, and in all of us to varying degrees. We all put on roles for this job or that relationship. And we all have part of us that never grows up. I’m sure inside every fireman rushing down the street is a 10-year-old boy screaming. Even if they are off to save lives.”

How does this resonate with your own experience?

The imagination of a six year old
Writer/Director Leon Ford’s first inspiration for Griff the Invisible came when he was sitting in a cafe, watching a six-year-old boy in a Batman cape zooming between tables. Inside his game – which was inside his head – he was saving the world. It struck Ford that, at some stage, we give up on our spirit of play. ”It was somewhere in the teens for me,” he told a young audience at the Berlin Film Festival. ‘You’ve to hold on to that superhero in any way you can. Then let it out!”

When a six year old plays ‘superheroes’ or any other imaginary activity, it’s not play but reality in their head. They create with their imagination the world they choose to inhabit with their play. Perhaps we abandon our capacity to ‘play’ too readily. What is lost when cease to play and use our imagination – not just in relation to our own ‘being’, but in our capacity to imagine another kind of possibility that might positively contribute to the well being of the world? The experience of many is that there is a kind of nothingness that consumes our ‘being’ when play and imagination is set aside, perhaps masked by our busyness, distractions and possessions.

(from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende): “The Nothing is spreading. It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing. The Nothing caught us in our sleep and this is what it did to us.”
“Is it very painful?” Atreyu asked.
“No,” said the second bark troll, the one with the hole in his chest. “You  don’t feel athing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something moreis missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.”

Discuss how this resonates with your own experience?

Bullying and emotional well being
Griff the Invisible has something in common with the main character in The Neverending Story in which a boy, Bastian, is hiding from bullies at school. He finds a book called The Neverending Story and begins reading. Immediately he is taken into the world of the book, Fantastica, and begins imagining a place where stories are real. And Bastian has the power, as the reader, to change the world he reads about and to imagine it as he sees fit. He can make changes to the scenes around him and decides the fate of different creatures he comes across.

Griff lives in such a world, perhaps a response to bullying in school and at work. ‘State of the art’ electronic surveillance technology exists only in his head (and appears to be real to the audience). Superhero abilities exist only in the realm of his imagination. He is the ‘Dork Knight’, the The Invisible Man, protecting his neighbourhood with his own catch phrase “Get out of my neighbourhood!” He wants to believe he can make a difference, and rise to the challenges he sees around him, and to respond to the ‘Commissioner’s’ call – who apparently needs Griff’s help to ensure public safety and order is maintained.

We all know the experience of moving into our own ‘worlds’ when the need arises, and we all have our escapes (TV, music, sport etc) when we need to disengage from ‘reality’. We can escape to these worlds, where things make more sense, when we can ‘re-assemble’ in order to face the world again.

Griff expects no-one will understand or enter his ‘world’, not even his brother (hence his covering up the ‘evidence’ in his flat – keep it hidden, and protected from derision). He assumes that being on his own, eating on his own every night, is a necessary part of maintaining his constructed world.

It’s a thin line between mental health issues and the world of imagination, between social and emotional well being and the private, internal world (perhaps more real than the tangible one?) Imagination has the capacity to transform harsh reality into something that offers meaning and hope. Is there a place for such imagination in the ‘real’ world?

The Outsiders
“…. he felt that his life had been an utter failure, and that he himself was only one among millions of wholly unimportant people who could be replaced as easily as broken windowpanes…… He came to realize by some mysterious means that he was absolutely wrong: that there was only one person like himself in the whole world, and that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way.” (Michael Ende)

Griff and Melody recognize each other as kindred spirits. They connect as ‘outsiders’ in the ‘real world’, and draw closer to each other as insiders occupying a world that they shape together. We all wear masks at times to hide our true feelings, but kindred spirits are able to take off their mask and reveal who they really are. Melody matches Griff’s ‘world’ with her own views on things such as particle physics and the possibility of passing through walls, as well as her belief in the multiple existences of cats. Griff has been so caught up in his world that he can’t entertain the idea of sharing it with anyone else. But Melody is prepared to pursue him and to give value to his way of seeing things. She recognises the merits of complicity with Griff’s ‘world’. Her relationship with Griff is thus framed by love, support and protection, and the desire to make him happy in his ‘world’ rather than try to change it.

Writer/Director Leon Ford recognises that the conventional choice in his script would have been to pair Griff with an understanding nurturer who could provide him with a safe space to be gently crazy. Ford admits that he did try going down that road. ”But that would make her almost motherly. She’s probably more functional in everyday life than he is. She probably has friends. But it was important that she not have less depth of character.”

Tim, Griff’s older brother, is regarded as the more responsible, “normal” member of the family. He is stinging in his criticism of Melody who wilfully encourages Griff to inhabit his make believe world, when Tim wants to rescue Griff from it. He has hope that medication offers some hope that ‘normal life’ possible. Perhaps we can identify with some of Tim’s exasperation and even despair when individuals we know don’t seem to want to ‘grow up’ and be ‘responsible’.

It does invite exploration about what defines maturity and ‘responsibility’.

Strengths and weakness
It is easy to see the two main characters as flawed, limited, immature, irresponsible etc and to have hesitations about them as people – quiet, introspective and fragile. Writer/Director Leon Ford rejoices in the characters’ oddities. ”I think everyone in any job, any classroom or any train carriage has something inside they think is special or suppressed or misunderstood. I wanted to give that thing permission, to celebrate it and find a strength in it”.

Both characters are also highly intelligent, likeable, creative, determined, and display a steady confidence – despite the way others perceive them and relate to them. The audience sees both, and is placed in a position where a decision needs to be made towards the end in response to Griff destroying the superhero ‘props’ and his constructed world. When he dons the check shirt and the glazed appearance of ‘normality’- is this something to be greeted with applause and relief, or some despair?

Biblical references
Melody’s ideas about ‘parallel worlds’ may find company with the Christian understanding of the reign of God – here and yet not yet fully present. Who can see it and know it? It is an act of faith, an alternative way of viewing ‘reality’. The conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) opens opportunities to see things in a new way, even being ‘born again’. Like Griff, not everyone understands or appreciates an alternative way of viewing meaning and ‘reality’.

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
March 2011

The King’s Speech

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, History
Rating: M
Length: 118 mins
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter; Derek Jacobi; Geoffrey Rush
Director: Tom Hooper

Studio Synopsis
Based on the true story of the Queen of England’s father and his remarkable friendship with maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. The film stars Colin Firth as King George VI who unexpectedly becomes King when his brother Edward abdicates the throne. Geoffrey Rush stars as Logue, the man who helps the King find a voice with which to lead the nation into war. The multi-award-winning cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall & Michael Gambon

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • What biblical or theological themes come to mind that engage with the story?

 

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Stepping up

The story begins when the main character is still Prince Albert of York (‘Bertie’ to his family). He dreaded those occasions when he was called upon to speak at public events, due to his severe stammering problem. “They believe that when I speak, I speak on their behalf, but I can’t speak.” He knew his public role required him to step up, despite his private fears, trepidation and trauma. He displays the courage needed to overcome his personal limitations.

How might the anguish of regular public humiliations give new insight into the call of Moses (who similarly had a speech problem)? Or to any of the biblical characters who felt inadequate or ill-prepared in one form or another (too young -David, Jeremiah; too old – Sarah and Abraham,; or perhaps a foreigner, a woman etc).
What might the experience of some of these characters say to us, as we perceive our own strengths and weaknesses? What does it say about our preparedness to bracket off some misgivings or feelings of inadequacy in order to participate more fully in the vision for a transformed world of peace, love and joy?

 

‘Slow’ movement in a fast paced world

We are shaped by an ‘instant’ way of living – fast food, instant gratification, instant rewards, instant communication. Sometimes the same ‘instant’ and immediate approach can define our relationships. Logue the speech therapist recognises the speech problem as a symptom of something much deeper and complex, and commits himself to being a friend and confidante of Bertie. The relationship requires time, patience and ingenuity. In time, Bertie comes to trust Logue, and this unlikely friendship gives Bertie the support he needs in the most difficult of times.

Relationships can be complex, demanding and challenging, made more difficult in a fast paced lifestyle adopted by so many people today. What might this long term and ‘slow’ approach to relationships invite us to consider in our own relationships?

 

The orthodox – and the unorthodox

The eccentric speech therapist uses controversial and unorthodox methods. It creates the drama in the movie. He becomes an unlikely hero. In reality, many people who work outside of or with some disregard for the ‘norms’ or what is considered ‘orthodox’ are not always welcomed.  New and creative approaches, fresh insights, or even just ‘having a go and seeing what happens’ may be perceived as challenging and divisive, and to be resisted. Many people experience a lack of a ‘permission giving’ culture when trying to bring about innovation or fresh approaches.  Even Jesus experienced denigration and hostility from the religious leaders in his teaching and relationships who saw him as a threat, which led to his death by the collusion of religious and political authorities.

How does this dynamic of orthodox:unorthodox resonate with your experience?

 

Responsibility

The two royal brothers are contrasted in the movie – the older one is portrayed as a selfish and even frivolous man prepared to abandon his responsibilities for love of a married woman; the younger one is portrayed as a quiet and dignified man prepared to honour even the minor responsibilities he had in public life as a Prince and then a King – despite the personal trauma it caused him. He doesn’t give up, but pushes on until he is able to achieve what he needs to do.

Loyalty, perseverance and responsibility are pillars for some in their self-understanding, while others are less willing to give them elevated status and value. For some, such differences will be apparent in their family of origin or extended family. Others may identify it in work relationships. Others may experience it as a difference between those who are prepared to give their all to something – even at great cost to family and private life, whereas others don’t seem to be willing to share the same commitment.

Sometimes, the ‘Protestant work ethic’* drives some to take responsibility quite seriously, especially the ‘builders’ and ‘boomers’ generation. There can emerge a ‘moral high ground’ in how one perceives others who don’t seem to have the same commitment, and Gen X, Y and Z can be accused of being ‘less loyal’. ‘less committed’, ‘less responsible’.

What might be the ‘drivers’ for your own sense of responsibility and commitment?

 

(The Protestant work ethic is based upon the Calvinist notion of the necessity for hard work as a component of a person’s calling and worldly success and as a sign of personal salvation. The Protestants beginning with Martin Luther reconceptualised worldly work as a duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation to work diligently as a sign of grace. The Calvinist and Lutheran theologians taught that only those who were predestined to be saved would be saved, by grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. Since it was impossible to know if one was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was predestined by observing their way of life, of which hard work and frugality were important signs).

 

Integrity

President Obama is a gifted orator who inspired people. But it would also be true to say that people had grown to know him through reading his books – learning about his multi-ethnic background, his commitment to community development, his failures and disappointments, as well as his hard word. It is the quality of the man, not just his inspiring ‘yes, we can’ speeches, that caught the imagination of the world.

The public warmed to Bertie nor because he was a brilliant orator but because they knew the integrity of the man; the inspiration they derived from the speeches was not just through carefully crafted speeches but because people felt a strong connection with him as an ‘ordinary’ man who was not remote from their trials and tribulations.

In what ways does the ‘rhetoric’ and careful scripting of speeches by contemporary public figures give comfort or caution, and reflect integrity, or lack thereof? Who are the public figures who elicit your regard and esteem, and why?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
January 2011

 

Wall Street: Money never sleeps

Published / by Sandy

Genre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 133 minutes
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach
Director: Oliver Stone

posterBrief synopsis
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the corporate raider introduced in Wall Street in 1987 along with his iconic “Greed is good, greed is right, greed works” mantra, is back in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. He has served a lengthy prison stint for securities fraud and racketeering, and on his release he finds himself alone – no friends and family. He emerges into a strange new world in which he needs to redefine himself and reclaim his place. It’s now the 21st century, and a financial crisis is brewing. A young, idealistic Wall St investment banker works for an investment firm, rumoured to have billions in toxic debt. When a Government bailout is refused, it provides an opportunity for another firm (the source of the rumours) to jump in and purchase it at a fraction of its true worth. The young banker teams up with Gecko to solve the mystery of who began the rumours that led to the demise of the company and led to the death of his mentor. But Gekko has not been reformed in prison; rather, he has simply re-formed his old ways to suit a new context and shows he is still a master manipulator.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  1. What stood out as the main points in the movie?
  2. What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  3. What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  4. What biblical or theological themes come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Global Financial Crisis (GFC)
‘Greed is good’ encapsulated the opportunism of the 80’s with fabulous wealth associated with phenomena like the ‘dot.com.bubble’. As it turns out, greed can have dire consequences as experienced in the GFC with the sub-prime mortgage scandals and the bail out of the banks that were considered too important to fail. The opportunism of bankers and investors showed the soulless and callous way of those who give primacy to wealth and self-interest at the expense of ‘ordinary’ people who lost homes and livelihoods as a consequence. Gecko’s ‘victimless’ crime of the 80’s had a human face in the GFC of 2008. The assumption that capitalism can continue to expand is flawed. How does this movie speak into our contemporary global context?

 

Capitalism wears a green face – greed meets green
Jake Moore is the young trader whose competitive drive is offset by his idealism and investment in green energy. In one scene, Gecko’s daughter asks Jake, “Are you interested in changing the world or making money?” Is there a ‘marriage of convenience’ between ‘making money’ and ‘changing the world’ ?‘ Green’ is a new investment strategy – a means to tap into the community interest in ‘green issues’ but – in the end – is investment in ‘green’ only a new means to generate profit? We pay ‘carbon tax’ when we book flights and may choose ‘green’ sources of energy from an electricity provider, but at a greater cost. Is the ‘wedding’ of ‘greed’ and ‘green’ inevitable? Are there ‘benign’ ethical investments or is it always about the profit margin?

 

Financial ‘speak’
Critics have noted the scenes in which ‘men in suits’ talk quickly and slickly about money, in a lingo and manner that often leaves the viewer clueless about what is going on. Perhaps this is the director’s way of showing ‘insiders’ and the ‘outsiders’ – that there’s a whole world of financial speak and activity about which the average person has no idea. When one is on the ‘inside’, there’s a way of making sense of the world and relationships and opportunities, but these are generally outside the frame of reference for most people. Financiers are shaping the world economy in a way that most people are not privy to, nor able to influence.

 

Villains on Wall St
James (Josh Brolin) is the new villain on Wall St, who worships wealth and is prepared to destroy people and institutions for his own gain. He relishes power and access into the elite social stratum. When the young banker asks James about how much money he would need to be able to walk away from it all and live happily, James simply replies, “more.” When Moore tells Gecko, “No matter how much money you make, you will never be rich”, Gecko responds, “You see, it’s not about the money. It’s about winning the game between humans.” Gekko believes that relationships are merely a ‘zero-sum’ game in which someone has to lose, even if the loser is family. “Whether it’s greed or revenge or the compulsion to chase, it all amounts to the same thing … loss of control. And it’s always going to be there and it’s always going to be stronger than you’. Does a person’s character shape the nature of the financial world, or does the promise of wealth shape the person’s character? What counter examples are there to James and Gecko, such as Bill and Melinda Gates who use their wealth to serve vulnerable communities around the world through their Foundation.

The biblical narrative
While there are many references to wealth and riches in the biblical narrative, the commentary on them is more about how they are used (who benefits from wealth and at whose expense?) and about the love of money as a thing in itself. The biblical narrative was written in a context of ‘limited wealth’, and that whoever had more had ‘taken’ it from others. What biblical texts come to mind that deal with money and riches, and how do they make sense within this frame of reference of limited wealth? How do these texts speak into a context where it is assumed that capitalism can keep expanding?

Greed and evil
In his final speech, Gekko observes that because ‘greed is sin, it is always right there, waiting to pounce on us’. In what ways can wealth be intoxicating and seductive? What values and ethics counter the opportunities for the ‘sin’ of greed to control a person’s life? What do we learn from the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures, and the life and teaching of Jesus?

The Contented Fisherman by Anthony de Mello
The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. “Why aren’t you out fishing?” said the industrialist. “Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch some more?” “What would I do with it?” “You could earn more money” was the reply. “With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats . . . maybe even a fleet of boats. The you would be a rich man like me.” “What would I do then?” “Then you could really enjoy life.” “What do you think I am doing right now?” What insights emerge from this simple story?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.