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Year: 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Published / by Sandy

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

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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



Brief synopsis 

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

Plot summary here

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

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


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

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

Race matters

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

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


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

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

Movie discussion resource.MurderontheOrientExpress.PDFversion

Blade Runner 2049

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A United Kingdom

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical narrative
Sacrificial love

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

Joining forces

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

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

Movie discussion resource.A United Kingdom

Lion

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion fatigue

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

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

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

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

Movie discussion resource.LION 2

Allied

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

Questions for discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© Rev Sandy Boyce 4th January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
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