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Year: 2014

Charlie’s Country

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

Questions for discussion

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Healing

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Canopy

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Noah

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original material © Jon Humphries

 

Wadja

Published / by Graham Brice

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

A review by Graham Brice that may stimulate further discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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