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Year: 2011

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