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Year: 2017

A United Kingdom

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical narrative
Sacrificial love

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

Joining forces

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

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

Movie discussion resource.A United Kingdom

Lion

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion fatigue

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

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

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

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

Movie discussion resource.LION 2

Allied

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

Questions for discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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