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Year: 2013

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