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Movie Discussion Resource

Author: Peter

Sweet Country

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating: MA15+ (adult themes, violent images, sexual content, language)
Length: 113 minutes
Starring: Hamilton Morris, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown
Director and Cinematography: Warwick Thornton
Script: Steven McGregor, David Trantor

Brief synopsis

Set in cattle country on the frontier in the Northern Territory after the First World War, Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal station hand, works for a Christian station owner, Fred Smith (Sam Neill), who treats his Aboriginal workers with respect and care. A new station owner, Harry March (Ewen Leslie), a returned soldier, arrives in an adjacent property and asks Fred for help fixing his cattle yards. Fred, against his better judgement, sends Sam and his wife, Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), to help Harry. Harry abuses Sam, rapes his wife and sends them packing without food. Later, Harry pursues Philomac, a runaway Aboriginal boy, who escaped after he had been chained up. Mad and drunk, Harry approaches Fred’s house, thinking Philomac is hiding there. Fred is away but Sam and his wife are minding the house. Harry fires his gun several times into the house and then breaks the door down. Sam shoots him in self defence. Sam goes on the run, with Lizzie, knowing he has killed a “white fella”. Fletcher (Bryan Brown), the local police sergeant,  leads a posse in pursuit.

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?

Coming to terms with our history: the Pastoralists
White settlers had just arrived and carved out station properties from the land occupied by Aboriginal people. Many Aboriginal people chose to travel further away or stayed and provided labour for the station owners. They became skilled stockmen, drovers and station hands. Without their labour these stations could not exist. Harry and fellow station owner Mick display the attitudes common at the time. Aboriginal people were a resource to be exploited and used. How is this depicted in the film? What happened later when Aboriginal people were given citizenship rights? Find out what has happened to wages held in trust for Aboriginal people. What do you know about the Wave Hill walkoff in 1966? Google and report back to the group.

Coming to terms with our history: the Missionaries
Mission Stations were established to promote the gospel but also provided a sanctuary for Aboriginal people. The Ernabella Mission in the north of South Australia was established primarily for the latter reason by Dr Charles Duguid, a Presbyterian. Unlike many other missions there was no compulsion to embrace Christianity and local language and customs were encouraged. People were taught trades in all types of farm work. A school, teaching literacy in Pitjantjatjara, and a clinic were established. Find out more about this and other missions, such as Poonindie, Point McLeay and Point Pearce. See the case study….

Owen Karpany: a Case Study
Born to a stockman father and midwife mother at Wallaroo Hospital, Mr Karpany said the indignity of having to ask the mission superintendents for permission to come and go or take part in cultural activities was replaced by abandonment and the government of the day selling off the rich farmland then later leasing it back to the Aboriginal people.

The 65-year-old recalls when Point Pearce was a bustling community where work was plentiful and young people had career options. He spent time working as a gardener, carpenter, stockman and considered a career as a jockey before he got too heavy.

“We had a mechanic shop, people were working on home maintenance, carpenters, painters, gardeners and there was a dairy that provided milk,” he recalls. “There was a butcher shop, a piggery, cattle, horses, trucks tractors and tractors and stuff like that.”

The dairy lasted for a while but now Point Pearce has little to offer its young residents and does not even receive internet access. “When I was young we had choices, now the kids here have got nothing,” Mr Karpany says.                  Source: AndrewDowell, Sunday Mail, 20 Jan 2018. AdelaideNow
What do you think went wrong? How can we fix this?

Coming to terms with our history: the Government
The authority figures in this film are the police and Judge Taylor (Matt Day). Police relied on Aboriginal trackers to pursue felons. If the felons were Aboriginal the police had little chance of finding them. On encountering a group of Aboriginal warriors while in pursuit of Sam, Archie the tracker (Gibson John) retreats but Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) takes no notice until too late. He calls to retreat but his constable panics and fires his gun killing one of the Aboriginals, whereupon he is killed in turn. This sort of incident was not uncommon and has been termed the Frontier Wars. The existence of massacres has often disappeared from local histories only to be rediscovered later.
Why do you think these events were forgotten by Europeans?
Early governments tried to treat Indigenous people as equal citizens under British Law but this did not always work. Why? Can you find or know of recent examples?

Philomac
Philomac (played by twins: Tremayne & Trevan Doolan) is an Aboriginal boy. His father is likely to be Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright), the owner of the station. Philomac is poorly treated but knows how to survive. He helps himself to anything going and tells people what they want to hear. Archie tells him how he, Archie, was taken from his parents and that this is not his country. He warns Philomac against the “white fella” things that will get him into trouble.
What do you know about the stolen generations? What future do you see for Philomac?
What is he up against? Is it any different today?

Standing up against racism
After some derogatory remarks regarding the Aboriginals, Fred Smith replies, “We’re all equal here. We’re all equal in the eyes of the Lord.”
What other examples did you notice of racism in the film. How did people respond?
The judge arrived in town to try the case against Sam.
What obstacles did he meet and how did he respond? Have you seen similar examples in our community today? How should we respond?

These people haven’t got a hope. Our country hasn’t got a hope.
Fred wanders off into the bush, in despair, speaking these words.
What would be your response? What indicators of hope were there? Discuss?


© Peter Russell, 2nd February, 2018, Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright
Download pdf file here . . .  Sweet_Country

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.

Hacksaw + Ridge

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Biography, War
Rating: MA 15+
Length: 133 minutes
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths
Director: Mel Gibson
Screenplay: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Brief Synopsis
This is a true story and unembellished. Unlike movies like The Revenant it is recent, well documented and there are still many living witnesses who experienced these events first hand. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a Seventh-Day Adventist conscientious objector who refused to bear arms on enlisting in the US Army during World War 2. The US Army could not work out why he would enlist in the first place if he wouldn’t carry a rifle. Doss wanted to be a medic but army rules said he had to qualify basic training with a rifle before doing his medic training. He refused on principle citing the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. He was determined to accompany his buddies but to save lives on the battlefield not to take them. However, Doss is imprisoned before being court martialled. On intervention from higher up in the chain of command the court martial charges are dismissed. Doss does his medic training and is sent to Okinawa where the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific takes place. The rest of the film is graphic and gruesome with bodies on all sides being blown apart. The carnage is enormous. Doss, unarmed, saves 75 men single handed. After being severely wounded he returns to the US where he receives from the President, the Medal of Honour, the United States’ highest military honour, awarded for personal acts of valour beyond the call of duty. Doss was the first conscientious objector ever to receive the medal.

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 biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Contradictions
Any Army is all about discipline and procedures and uniformity. You all obey orders, you all do the same thing. Armies have trouble coming to terms with diversity and difference. Only after many years has the Australian military started to change its attitude to gender differences; it now admits women to train as fighter pilots and enter combat units and has changed its attitudes to LGBTQI people. However, it seems the Australian military has a problem with harassment and bullying and much worse surfacing in recent years. Doss endures the same violence from his comrades. Why is diversity such a problem in our society? How does Doss endure it?

Family Values
Doss comes from a conservative SDA community. There is a real community spirit evident. How important is the community and family to those growing up today? Why are our churches so bereft of young people? Why don’t they catch the values we espouse or do they express them in another way? Is there still something missing?

Violence
Doss experiences violence in his family. His father (Hugo Weaving) is marred by his experiences in the Great War. All his mates are dead and he visits their graves. Alcohol deadens his pain but makes him violent towards his wife and children. Grown up, Doss confronts his father during a violent rage against his mother (Rachel Griffiths). The event is a turning point in Doss deciding that he will never touch a gun again. Does this response seem realistic? Would we have thought differently and say we need to stop someone who is threatening another even if violence is needed? Is the pacifist response the only real answer?

Religion does matter
Doss is very religious. He observes the Sabbath; Saturday is the day of rest for SDAs. He prays, he carries his Bible everywhere. After their first attempt to take Hacksaw Ridge his unit is repulsed and they are ordered back again to commence their assault on the Sabbath, which is a problem for Doss. When the commander discovers the unit hasn’t moved forward he is told that they are waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. They will not move without him. Doss is not afraid to hide his faith. But he does not preach to anyone; it is his behaviour that speaks. What does this say to us? Does our faith make a difference to the way we live? In what ways?

Just One More
Doss prays, “Help me get just one more, Lord.” Each time Doss goes out to save a comrade against the odds that he won’t survive, he works on the principle “one at a time”. We may have challenges that appear too hard to surmount or even deal with. Does this show a way forward? “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matt 6:34 (The Message) Discuss. Also does prayer help? Why?

Faith?
Doss finds himself in the underground tunnels dug by the Japanese. He avoids Japanese patrols but runs into a wounded Japanese soldier. Without hesitation he starts to treat the wounded man as if he was no different from any American. He binds his wound and administers morphine. Andrew Garfield the actor who plays Doss is quoted as saying, “He transcended any idea that there was a good side or a bad side. He was there to serve something greater than himself, something even greater than his army. He was there to serve humanity. This is a good example for us, who are being pitted against each other in this very violently separating culture we find ourselves in.” 1
Discuss.

  1. Sunday Mail, watch (TV guide insert) Oct 23 2016,  p15.

© Peter Russell, 10th November, 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople posterGenre: Adventure, Drama, Comedy
Rating: PG (Not recommended for children under 15; may contain material which some children find confusing or upsetting.)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House
Director and Screenplay: Taika Waititi
Adapted from the book: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump.

Synopsis
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a wild child, out of control. He has stolen, defaced, destroyed and graffitied property. He has been a serial foster child and almost run out of options. He has one chance left and if that fails it will be juvenile prison. In a police car and accompanied by his welfare officer, Paula (Rachel House), he arrives at a run down farm property in the wilderness. There he is introduced to Bella (Rima Te Wiata), who welcomes him with a hug. Ricky cases the joint and is startled by Bella’s husband, Hec, coming up the hill carrying a wild boar on his back, and promptly gets back in the police car. Threatened with juvenile detention he gets out and stays with Bella and Hec. Soon he finds that Hec doesn’t want anything to do with him. Bella, however. is all kindness, feeds him and has set up a special room for him with all sorts of comforts including warming his bed with a hot water bottle. He runs away the first night and Bella finds him in the morning, asleep, up the hill and scarcely 200m from the house. He sees Bella attack a wild pig and kill it with only her bare hands and a knife. He is invited by Bella but refuses to join her plucking the fur from dead rabbits. He is horrified but finds life is better with Bella and his birthday is celebrated with cake and singing and a present of his own pet dog which he calls Tupac. Hec endures Ricky in silence.

Suddenly, when it seems that Ricky has at last found a safe place, Bella dies. Hec and he are both devastated. Hec makes it clear that Ricky goes back to welfare. Hec indicates he is not going to stay on the farm. Ricky decides that he will not go back. He packs supplies, takes the rifle that Bella taught him to shoot with and goes bush. Lost, and having run out of food, Hec finds him but is injured. He and Ricky are forced to camp out. Meanwhile the authorities find that Hec and Ricky are no longer at the farm and a national manhunt is called with a $10,000 reward. Hec and Ricky are on the run together and through many adventures, avoiding the authorities, grow closer together. Ricky feels that Hec is family and Hec reluctantly feels more for Ricky. Ricky calls Hec and himself the Wilderpeople.

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?

Who we are?
Ricky sees himself as a gangster and a rapper. He is a tough dude? How do you see Ricky? A lot of kids in trouble are not literate but Ricky is keen on books and reading and makes up Haiku poetry which, he explains, was taught to him to let him express his feelings in a helpful way. Ricky is astonished to discover that Hec can’t read. How does this change through the movie? How important is it to express our feelings in a positive manner? How do you do this?

Being Spiritual but not Religious
Bella talks about her Maori beliefs about what will happen when she dies. There is not much evidence of any religion until the funeral service. Only a few people are present including Hec and Ricky making up half. Why is there a Christian Service for Bella? The minister prattles on. Why do you think Hec walks out? Would you have done? Why? What issues does this raise?

The Misfits
After the funeral Hec reflects on Bella collecting misfits, referring to himself and Ricky. It was who she was. Bella tells Ricky “Have your breakfast … then you can run away.” On a walk in the bush with Bella, Ricky sees some wild horses and asks if he can ride them. Bella replies, “Why do they need to be ridden anyway? Why can’t they just eat grass and be happy?” What does this say about Bella? Do you know any people like Bella? It takes special people to foster wayward kids. At the moment our society has more kids than foster families. Why do you think this is? What dangers are there in Christian families fostering children? What do you think it takes to be foster parents?

Finding Family
Ricky finds a home and the warmth and love is reflected in a hot water bottle and a dog. Why do you think Ricky is drawn in to this family, despite Hec’s protests to leave him alone and not call him “Uncle”? Even when Hec takes to the bush and finds Ricky when he is lost and wants to take him back, Ricky persists in refusing and wanting to follow Hec. Why do you think this is? Why does he hold on despite obviously having been rejected by other foster parents? What might be different this time?

The Wilderness
Out in the wilderness, Hec and Ricky and the two dogs travel and survive, even in the cold of winter snow. What elements of being in the wilderness contribute to the developing relationship between Hec and Ricky? How does the spirituality of place appear in the film? Discuss.

When what we say is not what we mean
When Ricky and Hec meet some men on the hunt for them, Ricky and Hec’s explanation of their relationship together is misconstrued. Why does this happen? How easy and dangerous is it to jump to conclusions about people you don’t really know? Discuss.

Unconditional Love
Aunt Bella showers unconditional love on Ricky. Comment on how she does this? Ricky encounters another family on his journey that does the same. Who are they and why do you think they do this? What might be said about the Christian values that these people hold? Why aren’t all Christians like this? Counterpoint to this is Paula who sees Ricky as a problem to be solved. “No child left behind!” A tick in a box! How can the bureaucratic response from organisations or government ever be the answer? Can it be changed?

 

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Peter Russell, 8 August 2016, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

The Revenant

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Rating: MA15+ (for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)
Length: 156 minutes
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Arthur Redcloud
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Brief synopsis
Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) is part of a large hunting expedition into the wilds of the northern United States seeking furs. The movie opens with him and his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), moving through the wilderness with their flintlock muskets at the ready. It is 1823 and the wild and frozen vistas are the magnificent backdrop to the film. The main body of the hunters are busily skinning animals and bailing up the pelts, a raw bloody business, when attacked by a party of Arikara Native Americans seeking their chief’s daughter, Powaqa, who has been abducted by an unknown group of hunters. The battle scene is graphic and brutal. Glass, Hawk and a small group manage to escape the slaughter in their boat which they later abandon. Carrying as many pelts as they can they abandon the boat and strike out on land depending on Glass to guide them. Glass is separated from the party and attacked by a bear defending its cub. Glass is savaged by the bear but manages to kill it, but not before being seriously wounded and near death. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the leader of the group, does rudimentary first aid and sews up Glass’s many wounds. The group then attempts to carry Glass on a stretcher but find it seriously hampering their progress. There is an argument that Glass, being so far gone, be put out of his misery but the Henry can’t follow through. He promises money to those volunteering to stay and provide a Christian burial when Glass must inevitably die. Hawk and two others volunteer to care for Glass while the rest press on. One of those left is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who had initially wanted to kill Glass. When alone, he attempts to smother Glass. Hawk comes to the rescue and is killed by Fitzgerald who drags his body away. When the other member of the party, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), returns Fitzgerald convinces him that Hawk has wandered off and Glass is as good as dead. They put him in a shallow grave and half cover him. When Fitzgerald and Bridger return they report Glass’s death to Henry after Fitzgerald warns Bridger not to talk. Bridger refuses to take his part of the money for looking after Glass.

Revenant means a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead. The rest of the movie depicts Glass’s return; his raw survival efforts, crawling painfully along the ground, cleaning his wounds, scavenging for food, catching fish, evading the Arikara hunting party and removing the entrails of a dead horse so he can weather a storm inside its carcass. In passing, the vast vistas of the un-spoilt wilderness are portrayed in all their frigid glory.

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?

Revenge or Justice
Revenge and survival are the themes running all through this film. The desire for revenge is what keeps Glass alive and spurs him on through incredible hardship. Blood vendettas and honour killings keep the cycle of violence alive in today’s world. The most graphic violence in the film was the bear mauling Glass. But human beings are different from bears. The bear will fight to protect its cubs but will not seek revenge if the cubs are killed. Human beings innately seek justice for wrongs done to them or their kin. When Glass and Hikuc, the Pawnee Native American (Arthur Redcloud), meet they swap stories. Glass is bent on revenge for the killing of his son. Hikuc recounts that he also has lost his family to marauding Sioux. He tells Glass, “Revenge is in the hands of the creator”.
‘Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, “I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord”.’ Romans 12:19 GNT What does this mean?
To what extent are the wars and conflicts around the world part of the revenge cycle?
Should governments take revenge? What conflicts might have been avoided if governments sought justice instead? What might this have looked like?

Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is made out to be the villain of the piece. He is certainly out for number one and antagonises Glass from the beginning. He volunteers to stay with the near dead Glass only because he has lost his pelts which he blames Glass for and takes the offer of money as some form of compensation for his troubles. He expects Glass to die quickly and digs a shallow grave. When Glass doesn’t succumb he construes a way to finish him off as he is supposedly worried about the Arikara chasing them. He abandons Glass, and lies to Henry that he gave Glass a proper burial. When Glass finally makes it back Henry finds that Fitzgerald has absconded with the contents of the safe. Henry and Glass pursue him.
Is Fitzgerald the only villain? Is he all bad?

In real life Fitzgerald did not kill Glass’s son. Glass pursued him mainly because he was left to die. And in real life he didn’t get his revenge and kill him.
See http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/revenant/
Comment?

Visions
There are flash backs to earlier times with Glass living in a Native American village with his Pawnee wife and young son. He sees soldiers killing his wife. His visions recur throughout the film. These visions appear to give him advice and strength to carry on. At the end of the film Glass, badly wounded, sees his wife again, who finally walks away from him.
What role did you see these visions taking? Have you had any similar experiences? Do you think visions contain spiritual messages?

Inside the ruined church
Glass happens upon a ruined church, unbelievably built with stone and containing still visible icons on the walls. Glass has a vision of his dead son and embraces him. He is left hugging a tree.
Why do you think this image was inserted into the film? What does this image imply about Christianity and its place in the landscape?

Meeting Hikuc
Near to starving, Glass comes upon Hikuc, a Pawnee Native American, feasting on raw buffalo meat. After an initial stand off they share the meat and camp together. Hikuc invites Glass to travel with him and shares his horse. The Pawnee observes Glass’s wounds and opines that Glass will die from them if not treated so then proceeds to apply Native American remedies. When hit by a sudden blizzard Hikuc builds a shelter for Glass and heats it with rocks from the fire.
What role do you see Hikuc playing in the movie? Are there any parallels to scripture?

Savagery
Glass survives only to discover a group of French trappers camped nearby. The body of Hikuc is hung from a tree with sign hung from his neck saying. “On est tous des sauvages” (“We are all savages”).
Are we all savages? Who are the real savages in this story? What makes the difference?
Savagery (violence) still abounds in our world today. Reflect on why this is so. What can be done?

Salvation?
Glass infiltrates the French trappers’ camp and sees a trapper raping Powaqa. He could easily have taken Hikuc’s horse and got away but he intervenes and saves Powaqa first. At the end Glass battles Fitzgerald and they are both severely wounded. Glass has his chance to kill Fitzgerald but remembers Hikuc’s words and refuses to finally despatch his enemy. Instead he slides Fitzgerald into the river, where he floats downstream to the Arikara hunting party who kill him. Too weak to move, Glass watches the Arikara come towards him. He watches them pass by and sees Powaqa with them.
You will know them by what they do. Matt 7:16 GNT Discuss.
How does this movie treat Native Americans?
What final messages are you left with?

Scripture Quotations Good News Translation Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society
© Peter Russell, 26 January, 2016, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

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
https://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.
https://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.
https://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. https://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.”
https://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

Wadja

Published / by Peter

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadjda
and here: https://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,

Gravity

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, SF
Rating: M
Length: 90 minutes
Starring:  Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director:  Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón

Brief synopsis
Far out in space, three American astronauts have left their shuttle to work on a Hubble telescope; we barely get to meet one of them but the other two are veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, and first-timer Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock. The atmosphere is relaxed, Kowalski cracks jokes to help his colleague overcome her nervousness. And then disaster strikes: a Russian satellite self-destructs and a mass of debris heads directly towards the three Americans…there are none of the trappings of conventional science fiction, no monsters, no bad guys at all. Just human beings in the vastness and eeriness of space, trying to survive after an unexpected disaster.  David Stratton– At the Movies, ABC.

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

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

The technology
We see the earth from space below and are mesmerised by the shapes of the clouds and the sea and earth. Then silently there appears, first as a dot in the far right top corner, then closer in the space shuttle, and closer still we see tiny figures in space suits bouncing around and the ever increasing sound of radio communications. The technology that makes all this real is amazing. The question is, “Why do we do it and should we be expending the vast amounts of money to do this while there are so many problems to be resolved on earth?” Discuss.

Knowing when you will die
After the storm of debris hits the shuttle, Stone is detached from the shuttle and flung into space with no self-propulsion unit; she is adrift attached only to Kowalski by radio. Kowalski comes after her and tows her back to the damaged shuttle. They find none of the other crew have survived. They then make for the International Space Station using only Kowalski’s propulsion pack. However, with the fuel in the pack exhausted they approach too fast and end up only attached by being tangled in loose cable. Kowalski knows his mass is pulling both of them away and Stone’s only chance is if he detaches himself from her. Stone manages to board the station and escape via a damaged Soyuz re-entry vehicle, hoping to reach the Chinese station which has an undamaged re-entry vehicle. But she uses up all the fuel in the process. She then faces death for the second time. What difference would it make if you knew when you were to die? What would keep you going?

Prayer
As Stone sits in the Soyuz she resigns herself to death; she expresses fear and wishes she had been taught to pray. Even atheists facing death have been known to pray. What is so special about prayer? Do you think it makes a difference? Stone turns off her oxygen supply and, as she breathes in carbon dioxide, she hallucinates, a common symptom. Her ‘non-prayer’ appears to be answered. What do you think? In both the Russian and Chinese spacecraft, religious symbols are in view. What does this suggest?

Survival – a purpose for living
Life in space is impossible. This statement is one of the first things to appear on the screen as the movie commences. All through the movie there is the struggle to survive in an impossible environment. The impossible is made possible only through the training and skill of the astronauts and their determination to survive. The fragility of the technology becomes only too apparent. What sort of person would it take to be an astronaut? Would you do it if you had the chance? Space is a dangerous place. Could you leave family and friends behind with this risk?

Isolation
Isolation has always been a part of religious experience. Whether it is in monasteries or religious retreats, or like the desert fathers and mothers as hermits in isolated places, it is often believed that it brings one closer to God. Do you think the isolation of space might have a similar effect? In April of 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space aboard Vostok 1. Gagarin was reported to have said, “I don’t see any God up here”, although he actually never said it. In 1969 Buzz Aldrin, just before re-entry by the first successful Lunar Landing mission in Apollo 11, recited from Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest Him?” Does the view from space make it more or less difficult to believe? Explain your answer.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project. © Peter Russell, 5 October, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
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