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Movie Discussion Resource

Author: Sandy

Nine Days

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource Nine Days (2020) 

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Supernatural drama/Science Fiction/Fantasy
Rating:
M (mature themes, violence and coarse language)
Length: 2 hours 4 mins
Starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, and Bill Skarsgård
Writer/Director:
Edson Oda
Release date in Australia: July 15, 2021

Brief synopsis
Will (Winston Duke) spends his days in a remote outpost watching the live Point of View (POV) on TV’s of people going about their lives. When one of them dies unexpectedly, it leaves a vacancy for a new life on earth. Will is tasked to find a replacement from the candidates – unborn souls – who arrive to undergo tests determining their fitness, facing oblivion when they are deemed unsuitable to be human beings. Will’s role is as arbiter, like a reverse grim-reaper. His is the task to see who deserves to live a life – and who doesn’t.
Will soon faces his own existential challenge in the form of free-spirited Emma (Zazie Beetz), a candidate who is not like the others, forcing him to turn within and reckon with his own tumultuous past. Fuelled by unexpected power, he discovers a bold new path forward in his own life. This is a heartfelt and meditative vision of human souls in limbo, aching to be born against unimaginable odds, yet hindered by forces beyond their will. The film is a tender tale about what it means to be human. (see Wikipedia link ‘Nine Days’ for a longer plot synopsis)

Nine Days trailer here.

Questions for discussion

Note: this film may raise some angst and even trauma for people on subjects like suicide and mortality, so a group conversation may need to begin gently to check in on each other.
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as: 

  • What did you appreciate about this movie? 
  • What were the highlights?
  • What themes were 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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

Here’s a big discussion
Pre-existence, beforelife, or premortal existence is the belief that each individual human soul existed before mortal conception, and at some point before birth enters or is placed into the body. Concepts of pre-existence can encompass either the belief that the soul came into existence at some time prior to conception or the belief that the soul is eternal. Ancient Greek thought and Islam affirm pre-existence, but it is generally denied in Christianity.
=> There are BIG existential questions to explore here, respectful that people will have different views on matters, and shaped by different philosophical and religious influences. 

=> pre-existence is the scaffolding for the film; what do you think is the meaning of the film?

Life, in abundance
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (from “The Summer Day“ by Mary Oliver)
‘You are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life, a chance to be born in a fruitful environment where you can grow, develop and accomplish’. (movie quote, by Will)
Will has told Emma that he cannot tell her anything about his previous life, but in response to her showing concern for him, he indicates that in his previous life he once gave a theatre performance that made him feel alive, but never pursued his passion after that. He reacts angrily when another candidate, Alex, points out Will’s hypocrisy for judging people’s lives when he never did anything meaningful with his own life.
=> This could lead to a sharing about missed opportunities, disappointments about beginnings that never led anywhere or were stopped along the way, and reflection on Mary Oliver’s question about how you plan to use your one wild and precious life. 

Candidates for life
Will asks the candidates simple questions about life and has them take notes on what they like or dislike about the lives of others who were chosen. Over the course of the nine days, most of the candidates are dismissed for various reasons, such as self-consciousness and lack of respect for suffering.
=> If those chosen to join the living were selected on their capacity for kindness, compassion and empathy etc, what would the world be like? Is this what the reign of God is like? Discuss.

=> Even the ‘best’ and most talented candidates can be overwhelmed by situations in ‘real life’ and lose heart. Pre-selection of the ‘best’ candidate is no guarantee of a ‘successful’ life. Will’s character carries wounds from his own living, and one of the living takes their own life.
Discuss.

Emma
On multiple occasions, Will’s colleague Kyo (Benedict Wong) indicates Emma’s suitability.  But Will isn’t interested in her, perhaps because of her optimistic charming personality, and the way she is in touch with and expresses her emotions, and her good sense of humour. Will’s perspective comes from his own experience as a human himself. He claims that humankind is not as cheery and kind as Kyo (who has never been human) thinks. Will’s pessimism and overwhelming philosophy of the big bad world seem more realistic; Emma’s optimistic, life-embracing attitude towards the fruits of life doesn’t seem all too weary either. Emma encourages Will to look within and find out more about himself that he has been shutting off for quite some time.

=> Does the world need more ‘Emmas’?

=> Is there a gendered question here about ’emotional intelligence’ eg men are somehow seen as ‘weak’ if they show emotions. They are supposed to ‘man up’ and deal with things. 

Is Will God – arbiter? judge? remote?
I don’t believe in a God up in the sky/ who sits in heaven and never hears me cry.
I don’t believe in a God who’s far away – I believe in Jesus living here with us today.
(Robin Mann, God version 1.0)

“…we do not believe in God, that mythical being who sits on a throne in a far-off perfect land. Nor do we believe in the Monster-God, who lies in wait to punish us for mistakes and crimes.” (Dick Westley, p.85 ‘Redemptive Intimacy’).
Eric Kohn describes Will as ‘a jaded middle-manager trapped in a purgatorial cycle of interviewing souls for the opportunity of life’, a ‘cog in the wheel’. He gives candidates nine days to audition for life while completing a range of tasks he sets before them; the winner won’t remember any of it, but “you will still be you.”

=> Discuss in what ways Will is NOT like God, or aspects that fit our understanding of God?

Doing our theology
Psalm 139 (selected verses) O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You are acquainted with all my ways. You formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

=> what do you understand about the cycle/circle of life, held in God’s embrace before, during and after our years of living as human persons?

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself poem
The poem is long, and considers the experience of being human among other humans in the natural world. It is part of the climax of the film. It may be something to read at a later time. 

© Rev Sandy Boyce July 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Movie discussion resource.NineDays

Breaking Bread (2020)

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource Breaking Bread (2020)
Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Documentary
Rating:
M (coarse language)
Length: 1hour 25 minutes
Starring Dr Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, Shlomi Meir, Ali Khattib
Writer/Director:
Beth Elise Hawk
Release date in Australia: June 3, 2021

Brief synopsis
A feel-good foodie documentary featuring Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel – the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef. She is an Israeli citizen, and speaks both Arabic and Hebrew. She is on a quest to make social change through food. And so, she founded the A-sham Arabic Food Festival in Haifa, Israel, with pairs of Arab and Jewish chefs collaborating on traditional fare from the Levant, the area that includes Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. The documentary says Arab, not Palestinian, because some of the Muslim chefs are not Palestinian but from other Arab countries. The food includes dishes like kishek (a Syrian yogurt soup), and qatayef (a dessert typically served during Ramadan). The goal is to unite Arabs and Jews over their shared love of cuisine, and invite diners to try dishes not familiar to them. The film is a gourmet guide to the disparate historical shifts that have gone into the making of the country’s multi-faceted population. It is an engrossing film about hope, synergy and mouthwatering fare, with entertaining personalities. It showcases the surprising diversity of views and peoples in Israel. But it is really about more than food, it is about crossing cultural divides through cooking – and enjoying delicious dishes. The film illustrates what happens when people focus on the person, rather than religion; on the public, rather than the politicians.
‘Hummus has no borders’.
‘There is no room for politics in the kitchen’

Questions for discussion

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

  • What did you love about this movie? What were the highlights?
  • What themes were 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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

Eating at table together
Jesus was guest at many tables, sharing surprising company with the “wrong” sort of people. In the culture in which Jesus lived, to share a meal with someone meant sharing their reputation, linking yourself with them before society and God. In the Gospels, the religious leaders’ most common complaint against Jesus was this: that he ate with tax collectors and sinners* (ie those who were labelled by the religious authorities as outside the boundaries of acceptability). 

=> What biblical stories come to mind that happen around a meal?
=> Share your experiences eating meals with people from different cultural backgrounds. If this hasn’t been your experience, what do you imagine would be the challenges, and joys?
=> how is food a ‘bridge’ that can transcend political and religious divides?

Identity
Culture is the shared characteristics of a group of people, which encompasses, place of birth, religion, language, cuisine, social behaviors, art, literature, music – and food. Culture includes learned patterns of beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors. Each of us has personal, social, and cultural identities.
=> How defined/confined is identity based on on these things?
=> What are the challenges to offering generous, inclusive and hospitable space that values diversity and difference, and builds courageous communities committed to truth-telling, grace, hope, and love?

Draw the circle wide
These words by Gordon Light:
Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still.
Let this be our song: no one stands alone.
Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide…

Movie quote: ‘This is what’s missing – we don’t know each other enough’
Movie quote: ‘The difference between strangers and enemies is too small’
=> How do you go about widening your circles of friendship? Should there be ‘circles’ at all?

Eric Law: Finding Intimacy in a World of Fear
Eric Law postulates that since 9/11 we live in a climate of fear. He explores his own personal “journey through this landscape of fear” with the hope of helping others get a “handle” on ways to achieve intimacy in spite of the prevalence of fear.
* The climate of fear destroys trust
* Lack of trust reduces life to risk management (a reactive process)
* Life as risk management destroys intimacy
* Lack of intimacy destroys the primary support for facing fears: community
* Community requires the presence of vulnerability and truth telling
=> What is your own narrative through this ‘landscape of fear’ in which we find ourselves? Can you identify ‘sticking points’?

Food
Movie quote: ‘I think they should have given chefs to make peace in the world’
Movie quote: ‘Food can bring us together. Food can be the first step’
Movie quote: ‘You’re gonna use food to bring world peace. No, I’m going to use food to change a few people, that’s it. But if you change a few people and other people would do the same, then maybe we will succeed together to do some kind of a huge change’
“Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.” (Anthony Bourdain)
=> Imagine global leaders making and sharing meals together before they begin political conversations. How might that influence the dynamics of global politics?
=> how might hosting and sharing a meal with people from other cultural backgrounds ‘widen the circle’ and contribute to the greater good in the world?

Politics (by absence)
None of the chefs come from the West Bank and it goes without saying that there can be none from the Gaza Strip, although one chef makes a wistful reference to a dessert served at Gaza weddings. The politics in Israel and Palestine are complex, heart breaking, divisive, deadly. And yet Gaza is more than a troubled war zone – people have homes, cook, eat and do their best to carry on as normally as they can, no matter how desperate their circumstances.
=> this may just be for noting, and that the lack of freedom for Palestinian people is a loss for them, and for us all. But there may be a thoughtful conversation to be had about the ongoing situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

© Rev Sandy Boyce July 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Movie discussion resource.BREAKING BREAD

Movie Discussion Resource: Son of the South (2021)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama/biography
In the genre of “MLK/FBI”, the “John Lewis: Good Trouble” documentary, and the outstanding “Selma” of a few years ago (among others).
Rating:
M (thematic content, violence throughout, strong racial Slurs)
Length: 100 minutes
Starring Lucas Till, Lucy Hale, Brian Dennehy
Director: Barry Alexander Brown
Executive Producer: Spike Lee

Brief synopsis
A true story based on Bob Zellner’s autobiography, ‘The Wrong Side of Murder Creek’, set in 1961 in Montgomery, Alabama. A Klansman’s grandson must choose which side of history to be on during the Civil Rights Movement. Defying his family and white Southern norms, he fought against social injustice, repression and violence to change the world around him. Richard Roeper writes: This is an old-fashioned and borderline corny biopic that looks like it could have been made 40 years ago – but it’s also a true-life story about a man who denounced his racist lineage and dedicated himself to the cause, a man who is still with us today, and it’s a story well worth telling. We follow the journey of enlightenment experienced by Bob (Lucas Till) as he transitions from sideline sympathizer to front-line activist in the civil rights movement, in an emotionally charged story that packs a solid punch, serves as a valuable history lesson and, sadly, reminds us that more than a half-century later, we still have a long, long way to go. We pick up Bob’s story in Montgomery, Alabama, as he’s just a few months from graduating from a Methodist college, at which point he’ll head north to the Ivy League school of his choosing – quite an achievement for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks son of a preacher and a schoolteacher. Bob is a movie-star handsome, well-liked guy who’s engaged to the beautiful Southern belle Carol Anne (Lucy Hale), who comes from a moneyed family and is just tickled pink about their prospects together. As one of Bob’s good ol’ boy buddies says as they clink beers in a honky tonk: “To Bob: free, white and 21.” Bob believes in the burgeoning civil rights movement, but mostly in an academic sense, literally. For a thesis on race relations, Bob and a handful of classmates make the journey to meet Rev. Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer) and Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier), who are amused by Bob’s naivete but graciously welcome the group. This sets off a chain of events where Bob bears witness to the horrific racism perpetuated by government officials, police and white citizens on Black activists, and changes the course of his life to join the movement. Bob’s grandfather (Dennehy) plays Bob’s Klan leader grandfather, who is horrified by his grandson’s actions. Sixty seconds after this guy appears onscreen, we detest him – and of course, that’s a testament to how quickly Dennehy could own a part. The fight for equality isn’t over, and this story is as relevant today as it was back when Bob Zellner’s college friends didn’t see anything oppressive or offensive about celebrating someone as “free, white and 21.”

Questions for discussion
The film may be a catalyst for conversation leading into deep sharing and mutual support. 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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

Watching on the sidelines; the journey to activism and change
UK Film Review: “the film is… a message to well-meaning white America that good intentions mean nothing if they’re left on the sidelines.” What’s important is to have the courage to do the right thing 🙂 in the moment. Rosa Parks said, “Not choosing is a choice.” Bob made a choice – a costly choice. He was earnest and well intentioned. But he needed saving himself and went through hell and back. Aligning himself with the Civil Rights movement, he was beaten up, and risked loss of future prospects and status, and so much more. Bob decided what side he would be on and how involved he would get. 
=> Share your own experiences of ‘watching on the sidelines’. There may also be stories of the journey to activism to share.

George Floyd – 25th May 2021 is the one year anniversary of his death
George Floyd died while being detained by Minneapolis police officers. Sixty years after the ‘Son of the South’ story unfolded, we still have racism and horrific violence perpetrated against people of colour. The fight for equality is far from over. Indigenous people are treated overall much worse by the police and prisons in Australia’s judicial system than black Americans are in the U.S. Adult Indigenous Australians are 11 times more likely to be in prison than other Australians, whereas black Americans are “only” three times as likely to be in prison as the average American. The death rates in “police custody” (before getting to prison) are seven times higher for Indigenous Australians than all Australians. In Australia in 2020, 4.7% of Indigenous men were incarcerated, compared with 0.4% of all men. For the population as a whole, those numbers are 2.6% of Indigenous people, and 0.2% of all people.
=> Sixty years on from the historical setting of the film, has much changed? Are there signs of hope? Whose interests are being served by the ongoing, deeply entrenched systems of inequality and racism? 

Wrong side of history/Right side of history
The saying ‘right side of history’ is a relatively new phrase. US President Obama frequently used the phrase, eg “I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.” Western culture assumes each shift in the values of the dominant culture constitutes moral progress. Is that so? There have been massive societal and social changes (though not really the subject of the movie) but ‘progress’ has never been a predictable forward leaning phenomenon, where each change gives way to a new stage in human progress, from darkness to enlightenment. We love the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ (delivered in a sermon at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, though the words were from Theodore Parker). But is this assertion true? Sometimes it feels like treading water, and history repeating itself. MLK Jr King was a hopeful realist who believed that because God is just and righteous, so justice and righteousness would prevail. If justice is to prevail, people who hope for justice must also become and be advocates for justice.
=> how do you respond to ideas like the ‘right side of history’, and ‘the moral universe bends towards justice’.  What experiences and biblical insights shape your thinking?

Courageous leadership
We stand on the shoulders of workers, organizers, advocates, and leaders who have fought for a more just world. In the movie there are several Civil Rights leaders who are assigned ‘minor’ roles. James Forman Sr. was a prominent African American leader in the American Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. As executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for much of the 1960s, he played an essential role in many of the seminal events of the Civil Rights movement, including the freedom rides, the Birmingham movement, and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. John Lewis led the Freedom Riders. Rosa Parks was depicted as the subject of an interview by Bob and some senior College students as part of their thesis on race relations. 
=> Who are some of the courageous leaders you appreciate, and who inspire you?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 22nd May 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Land (2021)

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource Land (2021) 

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating:
M (thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity)
Length: 89 minutes
Starring Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Sarah Dawn Pledge, Kim Dickens
Director
: Robin Wright (directorial debut)

Brief synopsis
“A story of humanity, in the face of uncertainty.”
The poignant story of one woman’s search for meaning in the vast and harsh American wilderness. The nature of her grief is revealed only in flashbacks and visions about her husband and son. Edee (Wright) finds herself unable to stay connected to the world she once knew in a big city. She retreats to the magnificent, but unforgiving, wilds of the Rockies. A local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir) finds her starving and dehydrated and brings her back from the brink of death. Then, Edee must find a way to live again.

(One critic wrote: “Wright’s directorial debut might capture the beauty of Wyoming but the story will put you to sleep”. Hmmm, maybe don’t watch it when you’re tired then?)

Questions for discussion
The film may be a catalyst for conversation leading into deep sharing and mutual support.
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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

Grief – ongoing
Counsellor: Edee, how are you feeling, right now. What are you feeling?
Edee: That it’s really difficult to be around people, because they just want me to be better.
Counsellor: So you’re not able to share what you’re feeling with other people?

Perhaps her own character traits of arrogance and egotism make her grieving more difficult. Nevertheless, Edee’s inner pain is evident and hope seems elusive. She feels alone, conflicted, defeated, unable to share her deepest feelings.
The pain and grief of someone living with loss continues, long after the external markers of sorrow seem to diminish. People breathe a collective sigh of relief when someone seems to be ‘better’, almost as if it relieves them of any caring responsibilities. 

=> Discuss your own experience – a time that has been difficult and challenging, or when you have been supporting someone else.

Losing oneself in the landscape
The beauty and grandeur of the winter landscape of the Rocky Mountains is also harsh and unforgiving. The landscape seem to externalise Edee’s inner world. She tries to lose herself physically in the vastness of the landscape. There is a deliberate recklessness in her lack of preparation to live in the wild, as if she anticipates her life will end with her death at the hands of Mother Nature. A slow suicide. She ignores the kindly advice of the man who suggests that it’s safer to have a vehicle in the isolated spot she has chosen to live. She throws away her phone. She doesn’t have enough provisions nor does she know the basics of survival. She doesn’t care about safety or her own well-being. She anticipates death will eventually come and swallow her up. Edee says to Miguel, “I’m here in this place because I don’t want to be around people,” and he responds, in a gentle voice, “Only a person who has never been hungry thinks starving is a good way to die.”
Psalm 8.4 wonders about the relationship between God and humanity, about God’s love and concern for mortal beings. In the scheme of things, in the vastness of the universe, what is a single life? And yet, rather than diminish the worth of each human life, the Psalmist reminds us that each one has value and dignity and significance.

=> Discuss how Psalm 8.4 (and similar) may give a sense of ‘being held’ in times of grief when life seems to have no purpose and no worth. Are there other biblical references that come to mind?

Alone, together
The film suggests that rather than finding resolution through isolation in the face of pain, grief and loss, connection is what matters. Miguel becomes a gentle ally, companion and teacher for Edee. She asks him, “Why are you helping me?” He says, “You were in my path”. He teaches her basic tools for survival. As their friendship grows, each of them has an opportunity to find healing. Their relationship shows that there is a deep yearning for human connection and companionship through the human journey, even in the midst of challenges. Sometimes that connectivity may best be honoured with silence and a commitment to journey with a person rather than fill the void with words.

=> Reflect on ways you have received/given helpful support in times of need. 

Tears for Fears: Everybody wants to rule the world
Miguel sings the song a few times. It includes the lines “Turn your back on mother nature” and “It’s my own design/It’s my own remorse,” both of which resonate with Edee’s story. There’s a line in the chorus that is also important to remember when it comes to depression and grief, emotions that can sometimes feel like they’ll never end: “Nothing ever lasts forever.” (Brian Tallerico, adapted)

=> What songs would you choose to be on a soundtrack for this film?

‘Retreats’
Many people find ‘retreats’ to be helpful, including ‘silent retreats’, with space to learn, connect personal beliefs, values and goals, and find a deeper meaning in life.
“I calm and quiet my soul. I dwell deeply and richly in this present moment. I surrender what has been. I let go of what might be. I am here. God is living this moment with me. I look at the sky. Contemplate eternity. Remember the billions of years that lie before and ahead of this universe. I relax. There is plenty of time”. (from Living from the Stillpoint:Prayers and meditations for ordinary days by the Stillpoint Spirituality Network, SA Synod)

=> Compare and contrast spiritual ‘retreats’ with Edee’s ‘retreat’ from the world.

First Nation peoples and healing
When Miguel finds Edee dying in her cabin, he brings a local nurse, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), to help revive her. Alawa is a First Nations woman. There are other First Nations people who appear in one of the final scenes at Miguel’s home, performing a ritual. This part of the storyline is undeveloped, but there is a richness there to explore further.

“Indigenous health systems view the earth as a source of life rather than a resource (Looking Horse)”. 

“Traditional psychology treats patients in the context of their immediate social context and tends to focus solely on human relationships. Eco-psychology places the psyche in the context of the more than human world meaning the complex, interconnected web of humans, animals, plants, microbes, rocks, oceans and stars” (Larry Robinson).

=> Reflect on western health, ‘eco-psychology’, and insights about healing rituals of Indigenous peoples. 

The ending
‘The ending comes out of nowhere, rushed as the end credits abruptly appear on the screen. After visiting Miguel at his home, Edee is ready for the first time in two years to reach out to her sister. This undermines the character’s complete grieving process, showing something much too tidy to be the end result of the same situation that was introduced in the opening moments”. (Shea Vassar)

=> Discuss whether you found the ending satisfactory, or whether it served as a neat and tidy way to finish the film. How else might it have been finished/reach a conclusion?


© Rev Sandy Boyce 22nd May 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Steve Parker and Geoff Boyce discuss ‘Land’ in the World Service#4, and the episode includes a beautiful song by Jackson Browne, Human Touch. This episode of the World Service focusses two related themes – grief, isolation and loneliness and the necessity of human contact, form the backbone of this episode.

 

 

Download pdf here Movie-discussion-resource.Land2021.pdf

June Again

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource June Again (2020) 

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating:
M (coarse language)
Length: 99 minutes
Starring Noni Hazelhurst, Claudia Karvan, Stephen Curry, Nash Edgerton
Director
: J.J.Winlove (debut feature)
Release date 6 June 2021

Brief synopsis Yet another in a run of movies about dementia. Noni Hazlehurst leads this heartwarming Australian tale as a woman who we meet as an elderly, nursing-home bound woman. She has a sudden burst of clarity that restores her faculties, lust for life and headstrong, meddling personality. She has a few days to bring her estranged children together and save the family business (and maybe rekindle an old flame). Much to their amazement, June re-enters the lives of her adult children, Ginny (Karvan) and Devon (Curry), and learns that ‘things haven’t gone according to plan’. With limited time but plenty of pluck, she sets about trying to put everything, and everyone, back on track. When her meddling backfires, June sets out on a romantic journey of her own and discovers she needs help from the very people she was trying to rescue.

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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

An Australian take
It’s great to have an Australian take on the movies about dementia released this year.  Casting actors with a comedic pedigree, actors much loved by Australian audiences, changes the way the story is told (in contrast, for instance, to the brilliant movie The Father, with its multi-layered, dramatic telling of the story from the perspective of a man with dementia).
=> What did you appreciate about having a uniquely Australian way of telling the story?

If I could turn back time’
Many families would love a reprieve for their loved one living with dementia. “If I could turn back time” comes to mind – and ‘if only’: to live again, and love again. Watching loved ones ‘fade away’ is heart wrenching. 

Although, of course, a reprieve would also mean the sometimes unhelpful dynamics of family life also resume, so it’s not all plain sailing. June’s daughter Ginny says to her: ‘Can’t you act like a normal mother for once. I have really missed you, you know!’

Memories of difficult conversations and situations may be stirred:
If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I’d take back those words that have hurt you
And you’d stay
I don’t know why I did the things I did
I don’t know why I said the things I said
Pride’s like a knife, it can cut deep inside
Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes (Cher, If I could turn back time)

=> this might be an opportunity to share experiences about friends and family living with the reality of prolonged and profound loss associated with dementia
=> discuss family dynamics whereby family members with complex histories are now in a reverse dependent/carer relationship, needing to set aside past hurts, disappointments etc to provide the care for elderly parents.

That difficult conversation
(from James Wigney, The Advertiser) Claudia Karvan has a theory as to why Australia – and western society in general – makes so few movies for older generations: we’re scared of dying. ‘I don’t think we like to reflect on our own mortality. I think we are very interested in our individual power and agency and we are very uncomfortable with the fact that we are going to die. And not only are we going to die, we are going to age and we don’t know how we are going to age or what’s going to take us out. It’s a difficult conversation because it can be so confronting and so bleak’.
=> What is your reflection on Karvan’s ‘theory’?

Phenomenonal
John Travolta in Phenomenon, an average guy who becomes a genius for a short time. Inexplicable at first, but turns out he had a deadly brain tumor that had stimulated his phenomenal brain functions. It is a short interlude before the inevitable demise from his terminal condition but he sets about doing good work with those around him. 

In ‘June Again’, the lead character is gifted precious but limited time to be with family, to make amends. She sees herself as coming back ‘just in time’, to intervene in her adult children’s lives and put things right. 

=> Imagine yourself in the same situation as June – what would you want to do with the precious time to ‘live again, love again’? How does that impact upon how you live now?

‘Fun Friday’
Aged care homes do their best to provide opportunities to gather, play games, do crafts, sing, listen to music etc. (And there are excellent facilities that provide safe and caring environments). But what about the generation that grew up on The Beatles and Rolling Stones, events like Woodstock, the Vietnam War protests etc., who won’t know the words to ‘Daisy, Daisy’ or other sing-a-long songs. The dissonance is very real and disconcerting.
Years ago, a friend suggested her group of friends should buy houses in the same street so they could build their own community network of support rather than face the prospect of going into aged care where they feared losing independence and indeed, for some, their sense of personhood (‘old people all look the same, right?’).
Might the prospect of going into aged care feel a bit like going into someone else’s constructed reality?
Who cheered on June as she ‘did a runner’ from the aged care home?
=> How do you respond?

‘The Dresser’
Devon to June: ‘What is it about the dresser?’
June replies: “It was the one piece of him that I kept”.
There are multiple losses that happen with dementia and sometimes ‘things’ (like ‘the dresser’) provide a tangible link to people and places that remain dear to one’s heart and soul. When people move into aged care, and into a small room with only space for nick nacks, it can be hard to leave behind familiar things that were more than simply ‘objects’. Indeed, families in cleaning up a house after a loved one has moved into care, often have no time for sentimentality and sometimes don’t know the worth of an object (financially or emotionally).
Baby Boomers tell their parents they don’t want the furniture and collectibles accumulated over the years but which must now be thinned down or parted with altogether as they move to smaller quarters. The ‘grown kids’ recoil with something close to horror at the thought of trying to find room” for their parents’ collections, including complete sets of fine china and crystal. For their parents, to have a lifetime of carefully chosen treasures dismissed as garage-sale fodder, can be downright painful. And the same will happen as Baby Boomers downsize and move into retirement villas and aged care. Adult ‘kids’ don’t want the ‘stuff’ their parents have accumulated. Many of today’s millennials are not even interested in keeping the awards, trophies and other memorabilia from their own school days, which their parents have carefully boxed and stored for them. When the kids do eventually look at that stuff, it’s often while taking it out to the trash. Millennials are living their life digitally and that’s how they are capturing their moments. Their whole life is on a computer; they don’t need a shoebox full of greeting cards.” (https://www.redeemer-cincy.org/uploads/files/0820-riseandshine_86.pdf ). Research shows 78% of Millennials prefer to spend money on experience over material possessions and ‘apartment style’ living means younger generations are accumulating far less things.
=> Discuss your own approach to ‘things you treasure’ and perhaps your own experience of treasures being discarded by family to the op shop.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 28th April 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Nomadland

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource Nomadland (2020) 

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating: M (nudity)
Length: 139 minutes
Starring Frances McDormand (and real life nomads in the cast)
Director
: Chloé Zhao
Based on Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder.

  • This film won the Oscar for best director (first woman of colour, and only second woman director to do so), and best picture in the 2021 Oscars. Frances McDormand, took out the award for best actress in a leading role (for the third time in her career).

Brief synopsis
Fern (Frances McDormand) has lived in a rural town in Nevada for years with her husband. He has died recently. Fern’s work as a substitute teacher finishes when the gypsum mine is closed, and with it, the whole town. Fern, now in her 60’s, finds herself forced out of her home and faced with an uncertain future. She sells most of her belongings and buys a second hand van (nicknamed ‘Vanguard’). She has kept some sentimental items like the dishes her father purchased at a garage sale. She sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. She travels from town to town, state to state, searching for work oppportunities: ‘I need work. I like work’. She takes a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment centre, and also finds a variety of work including as a camp host at an RV park, and hourly paid work in a restaurant. A friend and co-worker (Linda) invites Fern to visit a desert winter gathering in Arizona which provides a support system and community for fellow nomads in their senior years where Fern learns basic survival and self-sufficiency skills for the road. The film features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades. This is a remarkable odyssey of a feisty woman who finds community and her true self in her home on the road.

Questions for discussion
The film may be a catalyst for conversation leading into deep sharing and mutual support. 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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

‘You have a go, you get a go’
In 2014, Joe Hockey’s declared ithat Australia was a nation of “lifters and leaners” (those who were dependent on the government, and everyone else who does the work). In 2019, the Australian PM said, “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go. We make a contribution and don’t seek to take one. When all Australians do that, that’s when we get the fair go mentality and culture that has made our country strong today. So under our policies, if you’re having a go you’ll get a go. We will always be backing in those Australians who are looking to make a contribution not take one and, together, that’s how we make our country stronger.”
… and what about those who do everything they can do ‘have a go’ but can’t ‘get a go’?
Writing in The Guardian, Katharine Murphy responds to the idea that some categories of people are inherently more deserving than others; that those who find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder are apparently lacking individual imagination and work ethic, rather than a set of circumstances that governments might look at correcting for the good of society as a whole. The idea that opportunity is ‘equal for everybody’, and some people just ‘squander opportunity because they are lazy’. lf you accept the rhetoric, it gives a free pass to governments. If being stuck in a poverty trap is the fault of the individual, then governments, fortuitously, are off the hook. There is no need to investigate whether we are making a choice in this country – either consciously or unconsciously – to fail a group of fellow citizens, and in doing that, failing an important ideal of ourselves”

Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich followed low-income workers in their desperate attempts to make a living wage in 1988. She concluded that even hard workers could not get out of poverty.

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America by Alissa Quart presents a sad picture of financial vulnerability of middle-class families who are strapped for money due to the 2008 financial crash, unemployment, high child care costs, and the lack of paid family leave. 

=> Discuss the impact of financial vulnerability in a global economy and the impact on people forced to give up their homes due to financial insecurity.  This has also been evident in 2020 with COVID 19 and businesses having to close with subsequent significant job loss. 

Dealing with change and crisis
‘The moment you accept the troubles you’ve been given, the door opens’ (Rumi) ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed unless it is faced’ (James Baldwin). Fern tells people she is ‘okay’. She’s a hard worker, resolved, resilient. She’s a survivor, ready to meet the challenges. But not everyone has the self-determination or capacity to manage the unexpected and sometimes dire circumstances in which they find themselves. 

=> Discuss examples of your own or people you known. This may include the experience of refugees who flee danger, into an unknown future, who require courage, tenacity, resilience to meet the challenges. 

Ripening
Fern learns about the concept of ‘ripening’ from a fellow nomad. ‘All of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it, and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it’ (Joan Chittister)
=> Discuss the idea of ‘ripening’.

The landscape
Discuss why you think the director included those lingering wideshots of the landscape. 

Home Is Where the Heart Is, but Where Is “Home”?
When someone suggests she is now homeless, Fern responds, “I’m not homeless; I’m just houseless. Not the same thing, right?” One fellow worker at an Amazon warehouse explains a tattoo on her arm: “Home is not just a word, but something you carry around within you.” These workers are letting go of old definitions and old ways of trying to control their lives. 

People form strong emotional attachments to the places where they live. ‘Home’ is closely tied to our sense of who we are. “Home” is the place where you feel in control and properly oriented in space and time; it is a predictable and secure place.  “Home” is the primary connection between you and the rest of the world.
=> When the world is collapsing around you, and memories are all that is left, what happens when home is no longer a place? Where is ‘home’ for you (not necessarily your current address)? How would you manage if you had to sell what you have and ‘hit the road’? How might this resonate with people moving into aged care who must leave behind their home, belongings and sense of place?

Human yearning
There is a deep yearning for human connection and companionship through the human journey amidst challenges such as illness, loss, and fear of death. Fern is good listener to Swankie who is dying of cancer and has considered suicide. Fern’s gift of just being present with her is something Swankie will remember for as much time as she has left. 

One person says ‘there’s no final farewell. I’ll see you down the road. And I do. I see them again’. There is community in this group of nomads on the road between ‘here and there’.
=> Discuss the way the film presents both the strong independent individual, as well as deep connections in community.  Read Psalm 23, and discuss the way the psalm depicts God journeys with us as companion, guide, provider, etc.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 26th April 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Supernova 2021

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource Supernova (2021)
Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Romance drama
Rating:
M (coarse language)
Length: 93 minutes
Starring Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen
Writer-director: Harry Macqueen

Brief synopsis
Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci (Tusker) stars in this romance drama as a man diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Academy Award winner Colin Firth (Sam) co-stars as his partner of 20 years, comforting and caring for the love of his life. It’s a ‘roadtrip movie’ as we follow their travels across the Lakes District in England in their old camper van, visiting friends, family and places from their past. The trip unearths some confronting questions that must be answered before the illness fully takes hold. The movie gently explores the dementia journey – the gradual, long-term and irreversible deterioration, the decline in physical capacity, the emotional toll of confronting mortality, psychological manifestations, difficulties in communication, depression, as well as moral choices including reasons for taking one’s own life. It also tenderly explores the role of the carer, in this case one who has shared many years of love which grounds the caring and gives context for the burden he accepts. 

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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

The film may be a catalyst for conversation leading into deep sharing and mutual support.

Dementia/Alzheimer disease
Tusker knows what lies before him. We see his difficulties in memory, confusion in physical coordination, the inability to write or do up shirt buttons. We see him lose his ability to remember where he is and conceive of stories, and even the coordination required to write legibly. Sam must live with the slow-coming sorrow of inevitable loss. A difficulty of terminal illness is that you may begin to mourn the dying – who are still alive, still here – as if they are already dead. “You’re not supposed to mourn someone before they die.” (Tusker)
=> The conversation may centre around the experience of watching loved ones on that journey, or your own fears of entering that journey.

‘One liners’

‘If you had one wish in the world, what would it be?’ ‘I wish this holiday wouldn’t end’.
‘Can you tell, that it’s gotten worse?’
‘I need to be remembered for who I was, and not for who I am about to become’ (Tusker)
‘It’s not fair to you (Tusker)/it’s not about fair, it’s about love’ (Sam)
‘We will not starve for lack of wonders, but from lack of wonder’.
‘Being sad when something is gone, just means it was great while it was there. right?’
“Am I strong enough? Can I do it?” (Sam)
“I’m becoming a passenger. And I am not a passenger. This thing is taking me to a place where I don’t want to go.” (Tusker)
=> What thoughts and ideas stood out for you in the movie, for further reflection?

Imagery of supernova
(noun: a star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass)
Supernova is used as metaphor for human life. The movie begins with gazing at the stars in the night sky, with a small dot growing brighter and flaring vividly, then disappearing, dying.
“People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades”. (1 Peter 1:24, New Living Translation)
Pat Brown, SlantMagazine.com: “There is a visual metaphor more suited, and literally more grounded, than the one about exploding stars: the landscape with trees and denuded mountaintops reflected in placid lakes. Reflections in water, their clarity marred by slight, unpredictable perturbations, evoke the relation between outer and inner worlds, the mystery of the fragile human consciousness”.
(Is this a less obvious but equally meaning metaphor?)

The two main characters have each had their times of brightness in their professional fields – Tusker as a respected novelist, and Sam as a well known concert pianist. And still, even the best and the brightest will fade away, and relationships will come to an end through death. But we so often resist talking about dying as part of our living. 

=> Discuss your own (or family and friends) reticence to discuss death and dying, and put in place advanced care directives, and make plans for living in the midst of dying. 

When I consider the heavens…
When I consider the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars, which God has ordained; who are we that God takes thought of us? (Psalm 8:3,4)
=> The vastness of the universe helps these two amateur astronomers cope by showing the smallness of human lives and fates. Recall a time you have experienced the wonder of the stars and planets in an expanding universe, and your place in the universe.

Dying to Know
75% of us have not had an end of life discussion. 70% of us die in hospital despite most preferring to die at home. We all have the right to be involved in what the end of our life looks like. How do we bring to life conversations and actions around death, dying and bereavement and to grow the capacity of individuals and groups to take action toward end of life planning, to develop ‘death literacy’ (the practical know-how needed to plan well for end of life).
* Die-alogue cafes/Death Cafes are a meeting place for people to talk about death before it becomes the next event on the agenda, and  for those who may be seeking directions at a difficult time and a safe place to learn and share. Would you welcome such an opportunity to talk about death and dying in an informal, relaxed setting?
* Dying to Know Day, August 8 each year, is a national event designed to bring to life conversations and actions around death, dying and bereavement and to help grow the capacity of individuals and community groups to take action toward end of life planning. www.dyingtoknowday.org
Dying to Know: Bringing Death to Life, a book by Andrew Anastasios

Developing a theology of dementia and the love of God for human persons
Tusker dreads losing his memory and his sense of self.  The psalmist says all personhood is given by God, because human life is God’s gift. The psalmist said, ‘For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.’ (Psalm 139:13–14)
Sam’s sister Lilly says: ‘You’re still you Tusker. You’re still the guy he fell in love with’. Tusker replies: ‘No. I’m not. I just look like him’.
We are made in the image of God; nothing can take that away. For a person with dementia, their personhood hasn’t ceased or mysteriously disappeared because of the disease’s influences upon them.
=> what biblical stories and verses help you to reflect theologically on the decline of a person’s capacity – mentally, physically, psychologically, and yet affirms they are still held in the love of God?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 21st April 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Movie discussion resource – Download pdf

 

The Father (2020)

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource The Father (2020) 

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Commences in cinemas on April 1 in Australia
Genre: Drama
Rating:
M (for distressing language and themes)
Length: 1hour 37 minutes
Starring Academy Award winners Olivia Colman and Sir Anthony Hopkins
Novellist, Playwright, Director: Florian Zeller

  • In the 2021 Oscars, Anthony Hopkins won best actor for his role in The Father.

Synopsis
Anthony Hopkins plays a strong willed 80 year old Englishman, also named Anthony, who ‘has his ways’ and refuses all assistance from his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) as he ages, even when he recognises his progressive memory loss and disorientation. Kurt Jensen notes: ‘Anthony isn’t quite “losing” his mind. Rather, his brain functions like an ancient radio in which the tubes are blowing out one at a time’. It’s a depiction of things falling away. As Anthony tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.

This movie is told from Hopkins’ perspective as he ages and his memory fades. Things get confusing – for him and for the viewer with the fractured storytelling. The viewer has to piece everything together – characters, timelines, location. Some scenes repeat themselves with completely another character replaced, some elements from the set are altered or entirely disappeared. Even the house Anthony is living in may change completely. In this way, viewers experience the dementia that is affecting Anthony and his sense of perception. It is designed to mimic what an aging brain experiences. Only towards the end does the viewer get an opportunity to make sense of it all.

SimonsRants’s Review says, ‘The confusion, the anger, the regret, the brutal honesty and lack of self awareness, the fear, the bipolar nature was all so frighteningly accurate that I forgot many times that I was watching a film not a documentary or even real life’

Jade Pietro describes it this way: We witness Anthony’s mental decline directly as we are transported to his ever-changing world. It is a jarring and disturbing view. Scenes are flipped and repeated by different characters, timelines are repeated. Actors trade roles and utter familiar dialogue heard before. Items are lost or found and settings are slightly askew with changes in decor hinting at his mental disarray and anguish. As moviegoers, we cannot recognize the real from the surreal and the film accomplishes what no other film has done before…we become as dead to the real world, just as Anthony has, lost in a parallel universe and unable to find an easy escape. The emotional upheaval is palpable and moving.

This movie is emotionally powerful, beautiful crafted, moving and sad. Not for the faint hearted. It will be confronting for many who watch it, particularly those with a lived experience of dementia. But there is no doubt of how impactful it is – it is a beautifully crafted film with powerful performances that will stay with you. It captures the very real and devastating journey of dementia for so many people – and their loved ones. Olivia Colman as the carer for her father, is brilliant.
(Other movies in a similar genre include Armour, Still Alice, and Iris)

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?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 

The film may be a catalyst for conversation leading into deep sharing and mutual support. Recommended to families with elderly parents and friends, Ministry agents and Chaplains. 

Dementia/Alzheimer disease

This movie is told through the perspective of an elderly man entering into the painful journey marked by loss of memory. 
=> Perhaps the conversation may centre around caring for loved ones on that journey, or your own fears of entering that journey.

Behaviours
Dementia is a result of changes that take place in the brain and affects the person’s memory, mood and behaviour. In other instances, changes may be occurring in the person’s environment, their health or medication. Sir Anthony Hopkins brilliantly portrays the confusing world for someone with dementia and Olivia Colman is brilliant as his daugher Anne who just wants what’s best for her father. She struggles to deal with his deteriorating condition as he journeys from a charming, warm good natured father to someone who cajoles, bullies, demands attention and doesn’t hold back on his pent up frustrations. He sheds tears, gets cranky and flies into fits of rage, as he slowly losing his grip on what’s happening.
=> Perhaps this may be a conversation that offers a listening ear for those whose journey as a carer has been tough, trying to understand and support people with dementia. 

Nursing home/aged care
This difficult decision is one that many people have had to make for elderly loved ones, moving from ‘at home’ caregivers to supported aged care when more resources are needed than family can provide on their own. 
=> Sharing some of those experiences may provide some support, insight and consolation. 

A theology of dementia

  • All personhood is given by God, because human life is God’s gift. The psalmist said, ‘For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.’ (Psalm 139:13–14) Our whole person or being is made in the image of God and as such nothing can take that away. For a person who has dementia, their personhood hasn’t ceased or mysteriously disappeared because of the disease’s influences upon them. Personhood under God, as it is given by grace, holds high honour and respect, as he wants to be in relationship with us.
  • St Paul writes: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)
  • What does it mean to be a disciple – when you have forgotten who Jesus is?
  • John Swinton writes: ‘When I worked as a mental health chaplain, I was always struck by the way in which people with severe dementia who were withdrawn and assumed to be unable to communicate for the majority of their lives would change when drawn into participating in spiritual practices. People would very often “spring into life” when asked to pray the Lord’s Prayer, their words clear and coherent in ways that were deeply dissonant with their normal day to day communicational responses. When I offered people the Eucharist their bodies reached out and responded even when their minds no longer seemed able to grasp the intellectual complexities of the practice. When we greeted one another with the peace of Christ, people would respond and embrace, even if only for a brief moment, in ways that they simply didn’t respond in other contexts. My medical colleagues tell me it is nothing more than procedural memory: the product of long term memories of skills that were well learned and ingrained into people’s memories in ways that more recent memories were not. I have come to realise that memory is not just what we recall. Memory is, in fact, something that lives within our bodies; our memories are our bodies and our bodies are our memories. Memory is all that we are.’

© Rev Sandy Boyce 24th March 2021 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Sojourners article: ‘The Father’ is a portrait of grief and belovedness.

Claire Darling (2019)

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource

Claire Darling (2019)

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: ‘a lighthearted drama with fantasy elements’
Rating: M (mature themes)
Length: 94 minutes
Director: Julie Bertuccelli
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Alice Taglioni
Country of origin: France
Based on the best-selling novel Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge

Synopsis: In Verderonne, it’s the first day of summer and reclusive millionaire Claire Darling (Catherine Deneuve) wakes up hearing voices, convinced to live her last day. The action takes place over a period of just 24 hours. Claire is an old lady, and decides impulsively to clear out her beautiful house full of family heirlooms, antiques, paintings and objects d’art, laying them out on the front lawn of her mansion. Each object stirs vivid memories of her flamboyant yet tragic life. She is determined to sell everything – Tiffany lamps to the collection clock. A horde of curious passersby and opportunistic neighbours fight over the ridiculously underpriced antiques. A friend of her daughter Marie drops in and is bewildered by the impromptu garage sale. She tries to buy back things from buyers leaving. She saves one of the music boxes, leading her to remember her first time as a little girl, entering the house and being captivated by the beautiful things. She remembers the way Mrs Darling lovingly showed her her collection. She calls her childhood friend Marie to come back from Paris. Marie is obviously frustrated at seeing strangers carry off a painting of her grandmother and family furniture. The reunion between mother and daughter is frosty as they have not seen each other for 20 years. Mrs Darling still harbours a grudge about the family ring she has accused Marie of stealing and shut her out of her life. She blamed her husband for the death of their son. When Marie returns to the family home, she tries to stop the madness of the garage sale, and to work out the reason for her mother’s impulsive decision.
(Note: The director filmed the movie in the estate of her own grandmother, and mother and daughter in the film are mother and daughter in real life)

General questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?
* Where is God present in the story? Where does God seem absent?
* What Christian themes speak into the context of this narrative?

What are we without our memories?
“Who we are is just a collection of stories that we tell ourselves over and over again. If that’s true, we’re all just the composition of our memories, pieced together in whatever ways we can make sense of. As a survivor of complex trauma, I live in a nest of painful and even confused memories, rearranging the pieces that never feel settled or composed. I live in a near-constant state of remembering, but the act of remembering is not always visual or conscious”. (Sam Dylan Finch)
Memories can be anchors in our lived reality, but they are not always reliable. When an individual experiences a traumatic event, whether physical or psychological, memory can be affected. Memories can be ‘mis-remembered’ through grief, guilt and trauma, and may result in further trauma, or as ways to deny truth. In the movie, Claire flits in and out of memories, and all three female characters experience nonlinear moments that build into hallucinations. What is truth?

=> Discuss the dissonances and hallucinations Claire experiences with her memories and ways you may resonate with the mis-remembering of past experiences.

What are we without our most treasured possessions?
Lynda Rutledge, the writer of the book on which the film is based on said, “I’m a great collector of things; I feel uneasy in apartments that are too sparse. And I’m a big fan of garage sales and flea markets. The people selling their stuff lay themselves bare without realizing it. These objects are a window into their family history. They are shot through with experience, they have flesh and a soul”.
Possessions can act as an extension of ourselves. They may remind us of our personal history, our connection to other people, and who we are or want to be. Wearing a uniform may convince us we are a different person. Keeping family photos may remind us that we are loved. A home library may reveal our appreciation for knowledge and enjoyment of reading. Acquiring and holding onto possessions can bring us comfort and emotional security. But these feelings cloud our judgement about how useful the objects are and prompt us to hang onto things we haven’t used in years. (Melissa Norberg, Jessica Grisham, The Conversation, 2019)
The KonMari method of de-cluttering (‘does this item bring you joy?’) is a global phenomenon. What happens when possessions do bring joy even if they are unused? Do we keep ‘things’ or throw them out?
What is the role of ‘things’ when it comes to memories? Or family photos or paintings?
Will we be remembered by the ‘things’ we leave behind or what will be our legacy?
“They say that collecting is a way of banishing death – always pushing it away, because you can always find another piece to an endless puzzle. And this infinite edifice, through its accumulation and composition, becomes a work in itself, a knowing reflection on the incongruous world of our human fabrications. So selling these objects is an even bolder act for Claire Darling since, as she tells the priest, they helped her through the trials in her life. Accepting that all these objects she bought and cherished will outlive her and can have another life is nothing less than accepting her death”. (Lynda Rutledge)

=> Discuss your own relationship to possessions, especially emotional attachment. Is ‘downsizing’ a challenge for you in terms of what you own, or do you welcome ways to keep things simple?

Complexity of mother/daughter relationships
“Despite what we prefer to believe, the female of our species isn’t hardwired to love her offspring. The lack of maternal warmth and validation can warp a daughter’s sense of self, and makes her lack confidence in or be wary of close emotional connection, and shapes her in ways that are both seen and unseen. The unloved daughter is diminished by the mother-daughter connection”. (Peg Streep).
In the early 70’s Nancy Friday began her research that explored the unique interaction between mother and daughter, which was published as My Mother/My Self (a good read!). The research emphasised that the greatest gift a good mother can give remains unquestioning love planted deep in the first year of life, so deep and unassailable that the tiny child grown to womanhood is never held back by the fear of losing that love, no matter what her own choices in life.
=> we each carry different experiences of mothering, and women will have their own stories about their particular mother/daughter relationship. The movie may open opportunities to share some of those experiences; pastoral sensitivity will be needed for listening as well as speaking.

Resolution of conflict
When Claire ends up in hospital, Marie is at her side. Claire is finally warm to her daughter. She tells her she loves her. Marie shows her mother the ring she re-found that afternoon (that Claire had accused her of stealing and had led to estrangement for 20 years). Mrs Darling gives it to her. It is a precious family heirloom that has passed from grandmother to mother, to daughter. It seems to be the only object Claire seems to value. Marie is overcome with emotion and hugs her mother, only to be pushed away by her. The wonderful moment for Marie when a break-through seems to be reached with her mother is shattered in the next moment when rejection continues as if nothing had happened between them.

=> The ebb and flow of coldness and warmth in relationships can be complex and challenging. Sometimes the rhythm is constant, and confusing. Sometimes it may be at intervals of many years. Or sometimes the rhythm is with our hopeful hearts and aching reality. Are there ways you have encountered this and how may you have learned to come to terms with it?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 23rd May 2019,
Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download but kindly attribute appropriate copyright

Movie Discussion Resource.ClaireDarling.May2019

Interview with director, Julie Bertuccelli

 

Vice (2018)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama/biopic
Rating:
MA15+ (for some violent images)
Length: 132 minutes
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams,Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
Writer/Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis
“Vice” covers 50 years in the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), beginning in his early years as a Wyoming-based electrical worker, Yale dropout, and drunken disappointment to his strong-willed and influential wife Lynne (Amy Adams). Advised to either clean up his act or lose his family, Cheney eventually finds his footing in politics, starting off as a Congressional intern in the Nixon Administration, where he is mentored by Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and gains an intimate understanding of the power system and how to thrive within it. After a successful political career that included earning the roles of White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, 5 terms in Congress, and Secretary of Defence to George H.W. Bush, Cheney puts politics in his rearview to focus on his family and gain wealth in the role of CEO at oil behemoth Halliburton. At this point Cheney could have settled happily into retirement. When George H.W. Bush’s “black sheep” son, George W. (Sam Rockwell), decides to run for president in 2000, he asks Cheney to be his VP. Cheney sees an opportunity to transform the symbolic position into the most powerful role in the Oval Office. When Bush unexpectedly beats Al Gore in the 2000 election, Cheney is given carte blanche in selecting the transition team, which he populates with PNAC (see explanation below) loyalists. With his role as unofficial President firmly in place, Cheney uses the tragedy of 9/11 to test the full measure of his power by essentially creating a reason to invade Iraq to capitalize on the country’s vast oil fields, not to mention creating a deplorable torture program and flouting the Geneva Conventions. Throw into the equation a couple heart attacks, a lesbian daughter Mary (Alison Pill) and their politically ambitious eldest daughter Liz (Lily Rabe), and an accidental shooting, and you have the makings for one fascinating biopic.  (Source: Lucas Mirabella, LATFUSA)

General questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie: 

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story? 
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind? 
  • Where is God present in the story? Where does God seem absent? What Christian themes speak into the context of this narrative?

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
(Lord Acton)
This is a film about the abuse of power. It’s also an exploration about the way history unfolds slowly, the subtle and hidden changes to regulatory ‘checks and balances’ when no-one is paying attention, so we are left to wonder, ‘how did we get here?’ Cheney’s character often wields power by silence and secrecy, watching for opportunities, the man behind the curtain, pulling the country’s strings. “I can handle the more mundane jobs,” Cheney’s character tells George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), “Overseeing bureaucracy, military, energy, and foreign policy.” Many political observers credit the Bush administration, and Cheney specifically, for the deterioration of American politics that has led to Donald Trump’s administration. Cheney was also the chief architect of the US invasion of Iraq which directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and irrevocably upended global affairs. (see reference to PNAC below)
Discuss the sometimes incremental changes (and even use of language) that have led to huge changes in how global politics works today. Or perhaps it always been so?

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was a neoconservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. focused on U.S. foreign policy “to promote American global leadership” premised on the understanding that “American leadership is good both for America and for the world”. Of the 25 people who signed PNAC’s founding statement of principles, 10 went on to serve in the George W. Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. The PNAC played a key role in shaping the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, particularly in building support for the Iraq War.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century)

Those who speak out about concerns with what they see happening can easily be dismissed as lovers of conspiracy theories, but in reality there are forces are working behind the scenes to determine priorities that may not always be congruent with community expectations for the common good and flourishing of all people. When is the time to speak out about policies and practices and priorities of concern? Discuss.

What do you believe in?

When Cheney was working for Rumsfeld he asks his mentor, “What do we believe in?” Rumsfeld simply guffaws and closes a door in his face. Does it matter what personal or political values politicians have? How much are we persuaded by these beliefs as voters? What do you listen for in the political spiel of political candidates? Who has inspired you with their beliefs – personal and political/public? What is the basis for your own values and the things you hold as important for our global community? Discuss. 

The human side of power
The film contrasts Cheney’s mild, relaxed, private personality and his dark, ruthless, public persona. He has a loving family and shows tenderness towards them. He shows his humanity when his daughter Mary comes out as gay after being jilted by a high school girlfriend. But there are no holds barred in politics, and the issue of gay marriage becomes a political weapon – with the nod from Cheney to his other daughter Liz who is running for the Senate. Does winning at all costs mean that the personal can be made public and used as a political football? Discuss. 

(Another angle to discuss is Lynne Cheney herself, who was the force that propelled her husband into making something of himself, and in the process enable her to move beyond the domestic violence of her upbringing, and her stultifying hometown life. She was a supportive, courageous and loving wife. She was also a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a Ph.D. in British literature. In her own right, in a different time and place, and different  circumstances, she may have well carved out a political career for herself). 

‘Liberal leaning’

The last part of the film with the focus group degenerates into verbal and physical fighting with one person saying it’s liberal leaning and another equating facts with the way a ‘liberal leaning’ person is defined. Each defines the other – easy to categorise, demonise and objectify. This happens in politics, and in religion. It happens in relation to the role of the ABC in Australia with consistent allegations that it is liberal leaning and biased. Discuss.

Sliding doors
There is a fake end-credits sequence in the film that imagines Cheney’s public career had stopped after his service as George HW Bush’s defence secretary, when he was one of the restrained architects of the Gulf War, and, the faux sequence suggests, could content himself with breeding Labrador retrievers in retirement. But happy endings are only for Hollywood, and as the latest news from Afghanistan shows, the Dick Cheney Story, in all its dark and human complexity, remains unfinished. (Todd S. Purdum). Discuss sliding door moments in your own life – opportunities missed, unexpected outcomes and serendipitous moments. 

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th December 2018, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download but kindly attribute appropriate copyright

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre:
Drama
Rating: MA15+
Length: 1 hour 55 minutes
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Writer/Director: Martin McDonagh

Brief synopsis 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a darkly comic drama from Academy Award nominee Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated. Written by Fox Searchlight Pictures

General questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?
* Where is God present in the story? Where does God seem absent?
* What Christian themes speak into the context of this narrative?

Rev Steve Francis, Moderator, WA UCA Synod, writes: 
Every once in a while, I watch a film that disturbs and depresses me, while at the same time commands my respect and confronts my sensibilities.You can watch the preview of the film here.
But be warned – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not a light-hearted comic romp, where everyone ends up living happily ever after. It is a black tragi-comedy. It won four Golden Globe awards this year including Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Film (Drama), and many BAFTA nominations.
While I found myself at times smiling and even laughing, for the most part, I was struggling with the powerful themes of forgiveness and revenge, life and death, damnation and redemption, which collided with a blisteringly foul-mouthed script. There were some tender moments, but the issues of suffering, domestic abuse, suicide, violence and rape were very much in your face. 
Without giving too much away, the story centres on a divorced mother, Mildred, who is grieving the abduction, rape and murder of her teenage daughter. She is angry, really angry at the lack of progress in the police investigation. Fuelled by this deep frustration, she rents three abandoned billboards near her home which read in sequence, “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come Chief Willoughby?” These three billboards create great controversy in the town and while having sympathy for the grieving mother, most of the town seems to side with the police chief who is himself struggling with cancer.
The film is full of painful confrontations like how to deal or not deal with domestic abuse, suicide, arson, injustice and racism.
Part of what hit me was the sense of anarchic nihilism that pervades the film, where so much emotion and action come from the toxic power of revenge. At one moment the hurting mother reflects on the awful possibility that “there ain’t no God, and the whole world is empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other”. Is this really the truth about our existence?
Momentarily in my mind when I heard Mildred say these words, I wanted to put up three alternative billboards before her, “there is a God”, “the earth is charged with the grandeur of God” and “life is precious and we all matter”.
How tragic that the pain and suffering of life with all its questions and injustices can lead to a conclusion that essentially life has no ultimate meaning.
The Christian gospel operates from a very different script where justice can replace revenge, love can overcome hate and forgiveness can trump bitterness.  “Three Billboards” is a powerful film and points to a journey towards redemption and ruin. I found myself wishing some of the characters were more open to the road less travelled, the way of Jesus.
Probably intentionally the film is full of caricatures; corrupt police, white racists, male abusers and predictably a Catholic priest who is viewed as insensitive and hypocritical.
Thankfully, we need not live out a caricature.
The Christian community can be a billboard for love, peace and reconciliation that our world needs to see. I pray that in some small way, the billboard people see in our lives may promote the Christian hope of wholeness, a restored community and the new beginning that the gospel brings.
=> Discuss your response to Steve’s comments about the film.

Lacing a western-tinged tale of outlaw justice with Jacobean themes of rape, murder and revenge, the film finds a grieving mother naming and shaming the lawmen who have failed to catch her daughter’s killer. The anarchic nihilism of the narrative is underpinned with a heartbreaking meditation upon the toxic power of rage. When characters, struggling to make sense of all this chaos, utter platitudes such as “anger just begets greater anger” and “through love comes calm”, it seems less like a killing joke than a weirdly sincere mission statement.
Seven months after her daughter, Angela, was abducted and killed, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) emblazons the roadside billboards of the title with signs taunting police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) about the lack of arrests. For Mildred, the Ebbing police force is “too busy going round torturing black folks” to solve crime. “I got issues with white folks too,” declares bozo cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) after throwing someone out of a window – a bravura one-shot sequence pointedly orchestrated to the lilting strains of His Master’s Voice by Monsters of Folk.
The righteously angry Mildred has her own demons, torturing her bullied son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), with her guilt-driven vendetta, wrestling with the awful possibility that “there ain’t no God, and the whole world’s empty, and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other”.
From the opening morning-mist shots of those lonely billboards to the flames that evoke the burning crosses of the KKK, cinematographer Ben Davis perfectly captures the film’s knife-edge balance between humour and horror, mayhem and melancholia.
Whether each of these characters is on a road to redemption or ruin is left open-ended.
=> Discuss your response to this excerpt (from an article by Mark Kermode in The Guardian).

© Rev Sandy Boyce 17th January 2017
Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download but kindly attribute appropriate copyright

Movie discussion resource.ThreeBillboards

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

A United Kingdom

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical narrative
Sacrificial love

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

Joining forces

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

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

Movie discussion resource.A United Kingdom

Lion

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion fatigue

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

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

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

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

Movie discussion resource.LION 2

Allied

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

Questions for discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Big Short (2015)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
The_Big_Short_teaser_poster

Genre: Biographical comedy-drama, history
Rating: M (coarse language and occasional nudity)
Length: 130 mins
Starring: Christian Bale (as Michael Burry), Steve Carell (as Mark Baum, based on Steve Eisman), Ryan Gosling (as Jared Vennett, based on Greg Lippmann), and Brad Pitt (as Ben Rickert, based on Ben Hockett)
Director (and co-writer): Adam McKay

 

Brief synopsis
Three parallel stories of a few high finance investors who foresee the credit and mortgage housing collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. They saw the crisis coming, in which massive numbers of American mortgage holders would default. They took the risk to bet against the market by buying up billions of dollars in credit default swaps and then just waited for things to turn their way. A true story, based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis.

This longer synopsis might help – it’s a complex film!
Michael Burry, an eccentric ex-physician turned one-eyed Scion Capital hedge fund manager, has traded traditional office attire for shorts, bare feet and a Supercuts haircut. He believes that the US housing market is built on a bubble that will burst within the next few years. Within the company, Burry largely does as he pleases, so he proceeds to bet against the housing market with the banks, who are more than happy to accept his proposal for something that has never happened in American history. The banks believe that Burry is a crackpot and therefore are confident in that they will win the deal. Jared Vennett with Deutschebank gets wind of what Burry is doing and, as an investor, believes he too can cash in on Burry’s beliefs. An errant telephone call to FrontPoint Partners gets this information into the hands of Mark Baum, an idealist who is fed up with the corruption in the financial industry. Baum and his associates, who work at an arms length under Morgan Stanley, decide to join forces with Vennett despite not totally trusting him. In addition to Burry’s information, they further believe that most of the mortgages are overrated by the bond agencies, with the banks collating all the sub-prime mortgages under AAA packages. Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, who are minor players in a $30 million start-up garage company called Brownfield, get a hold of Vennett’s prospectus on the matter. Wanting in on the action but not having the official clout to play, they decide to call an old “friend”, retired investment banker Ben Rickert, to help out. All three of these groups work on the premise that the banks are stupid and don’t know what’s going on, while for them to win, the general economy has to lose, which means the suffering of the general investor who trusts the financial institutions. (written by Huggo, on IMBD website)

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might be enough to reflect on/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 story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

Financial language as exclusionary
The film requires characters to talk to camera and explain some of the technical financial terms as it’s assumed it’s a bit beyond the average person to understand. There are also some ‘extras’ who appear in a single scene to talk to camera – Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and Selena Gomez at a Vegas blackjack table walking the audience through synthetic CDOs. In what ways is financial language exclusionary, such that ‘experts’ are needed who understand investments. In what ways may that financial knowledge be self-serving and a source of power, greed and corruption? Discuss.

The human cost
 in the face of human greed
Brad Pitt’s character scathingly points out to two young hedge fund investors, excited that the market is about to turn in their favour (ie about to crash) that thousands or even millions of people will as a consequence be plunged into homelessness and poverty, with the potential to take down the world’s economy. What is the human cost for vulnerable citizens who are the victims of those who are clever enough to read the market, invest and win big time? What about greedy investors and bankers, involved in widespread fraud and corruption? Financiers are often quite separated from the average person, sometimes located high above the streets insulated from the harm their greed inflicts on ordinary people. Who are the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ in the movie? And what makes them so? What instances do you know about in relation to the lack of supervision and regulation in the banking and trading systems? Discuss.

The Bechdel Test

Cartoonist and Fun Home graphic novelist Alison Bechdel developed the test that measures the number and depth of female characters in a work of fiction by asking three questions: Do at least two women appear in the movie, do they talk to each other, and do they have a conversation about something other than men? (Sometimes an additional question is tossed in: Are the female characters named?) Sure, The Big Short is a true story, and therefore can narrow its focus to the main characters, who happen to be white men. But still worth talking about the way women are depicted in the film.
In fact, the housing crisis wouldn’t have unfolded as it did without women – women like Meredith Whitney. Author Michael Lewis describes her in the prologue to The Big Short book: ‘Whitney was an obscure analyst of financial firms for an obscure financial firm who, on Oct 31, 2007, ceased to be obscure. On that day she predicted that Citigroup had so mismanaged its affairs that it would need to slash its dividend or go bust. It’s never entirely clear on any given day what causes what inside the stock market, but it was pretty clear that, on October 31, Meredith Whitney caused the market in financial stocks to crash. By the end of the trading day, this obscure woman who could have been dismissed as a nobody, had shaved 8% off the shares of Citigroup and $390 billion off the value of the U.S. stock market. Four days later, Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince resigned. Two weeks later, Citigroup slashed its dividend. From that moment, when Meredith Whitney spoke, people listened. Whitney’s mentor was Steve Eisman, the inspiration for Steve Carell’s character in the film. Discuss.

Money, the economy and the ‘common good’
American theologian John B. Cobb asserts that ‘Western society is organized in the service of wealth” and thus wealth has triumphed over God in the West’.
In the world of the New Testament, it was understood that ‘since all good exists in limited amounts which cannot be increased or expanded, it follows that an individual, alone or with his family, can improve his social position only at the expense of others’. (Bruce Malina, ’New Testament World’, pp71-93).
An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”
‘A commitment to the common good could bring us together and solve the deepest problems the world now faces: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?’ (Jim Wallis).
Discuss.

Rev Sandy Boyce 23rd January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
Download TheBigShort

Suffragette

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: British drama, biography, drama, history

Rating: PG13 (violence, brief strong language, partial nudity)
Length: 1 hour 46 minutes
Starring : Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter

Brief synopsis
In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women fighting for equality and the right to vote. In the face of police action, Maud and the suffragettes play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might be enough to reflect on/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 story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Please note this is a catalyst for discussion, not a review. There has been criticism that the script has filtered out the contextual complexities of politics, and the direction reduces difficult situations to simple sentiments (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). However, there is plenty to discuss from the movie!

‘Dreams’
Maud is given a book, Dreams in a Desert, by Olive Schreiner. On the inside page, there are names of women involved in the suffragette movement, as the book is passed from one woman to another, to fuel their imagination and to sustain their commitment. She reads, “The woman wanderer goes forth on the path towards freedom.” She wonders, “I am alone, utterly alone. Why do I go to this far land?” And reason says to her, “Silence, what do you hear? Thousands, and they beat this way. . . Feet of those who follow you. Lead on.” Discuss this quote in the context of movements of social change, and particularly the notion that even an ordinary ‘foot soldier’ may be a leader with the potential to inspire others.

Domestic terrorism?
The women used their own bodies as weapons of resistance. They also blew up post boxes, smashed windows, destroyed communication networks, carried out arson – predicated on the confidence that ‘there’s another way of living this life’. Is violence justified because it is the language those in power understand? Could social change to address institutionalised gender discrimination have been achieved by peaceful means? How would this violence be viewed through the lens of ‘anti-terror’ laws? What are contemporary examples of civil disobedience e.g. action in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, war, the environment, and working for justice? ‘Good ends are sometimes reached by bad means, but that’s no reason to celebrate the means. Rather we should mourn that some had to resort to bad means to achieve the good ends that should have been theirs all along’. (The non-violence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr would come decades later in the 20th century. The courage of Malala in advocating for change through peaceful means would not come until a century later). Discuss.

Media
Media was used by the police and politicians to shame the suffragettes. The suffragettes too learned the power of media. This is demonstrated most starkly at the Epsom races, where two of the women plan to use the presence of the media to attract attention to their cause. Film technology was in its early days, but the incident on the racecourse was captured on 3 newsreel cameras and raised the profile of the women’s campaign for change. How is media used, and misused, by people on all sides of social change, protest and dissent? Discuss.

Time for change – or the long slow drift to change?
The specific focus of the suffragettes for the right to vote was only part of the story, with women still disadvantaged and diminished in many areas e.g. sexism, ‘honour killings’, rape, domestic violence against women, pay inequity, exclusion of women from leadership in some church traditions. There is still such a long way to go to improve their conditions and gain equity, and requires ongoing change to to address the complex issues involved. How do you see the dynamics of direct action for social change through the cycle of unrest, upheaval, change and stability? What role does media play in change, and social media with instant methods of alerting people to decisions on strategy for gatherings and actions?
Tessa Hadley: ‘Historians these days tend to attribute the eventual achievement of women’s suffrage to the significant role they played in the war economy, and to the longer, slower attrition of the constitutional suffragists, who didn’t engage in direct action. And then the slow tides of economic and social change, moving through the 20th century, brought by so many more women in the workforce’.
Is the long slow drift towards change something that is inevitable and ‘reasonable’, or is direct action needed in a world that increasingly thrives on the inequities of people. Discuss.

Foot soldiers
The film’s main focus is on ordinary people drawn into action for social change, changing history. They are denigrated as ‘foot soldiers’ (fodder for a cause). Yet social change requires a movement of people, not just charismatic individuals. Rosa Parks was a member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and only one of many who were arrested for not giving up their bus seats. Martin Luther King Jr was the hesitant champion of highly orchestrated NAACP civil disobedience campaigns. The Arab Spring that began in 2010 spread rapidly through the Middle East and north Africa region with millions involved. Discuss the role of ‘foot soldiers’ in a movement.

Ripe for the picking
Maud’s personal history (didn’t know father, mother died when she was 4, she worked in a laundry from 7 years old, workplace intimidation etc) made her more responsive to the suffragette movement. In a contemporary setting, there are social, economic and political conditions that make individuals, groups and communities ‘ripe for the picking’, and sometimes recruited into terror networks. Discuss.

Votes for women
The world has changed for the better in the past century, although ‘the project of feminist advancement is radically incomplete’ (Jacqueline Rose). The new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has a Cabinet of equal parts men and women. ‘It’s an incredible pleasure for me…to present a cabinet that looks like Canada’. When asked why he had a gender-equal cabinet he replied simply, ‘because it’s 2015’. The film’s credits list the dates when women were given the vote – starting with New Zealand and Australia (SA being the first State to do so). Some countries took much longer (eg Switzerland, 1971). Discuss how women are represented in leadership.

Prophetic imagination (Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001)
Brueggemann names lament and grief, and a deep awareness of the plight of the poor and oppressed, as the starting point for social change, that then requires an engagement of the prophetic imagination in anticipation of what God will do to generate newness. Discuss.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th January 2016 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source. Download here . . .

Noah

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original material © Jon Humphries

 

The Best Offer

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, romance, mystery
Rating: M (adult themes, sexual content)
Length: 2 hours 4 minutes
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland
Writer-Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Music: Ennio Morricone (and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra)
(This film has a long list of art works identified in the credits!)

Brief synopsis
This synopsis needs to be spacious in description so as not to disclose too much! The film is set in Europe’s high-end art world. There is no specific city named in which the story takes place, a pointer perhaps to the mysteries that will unfold in the film. It is a beautifully crafted tale of art, beauty, love, truth and falsity. A master auctioneer, Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) – a solitary, cultured, obsessive man – is contacted by a mysterious young woman Claire Ibbotson (Sylvia Hoeks) who is identified as the heiress of her late parents’ property. She convinces him to evaluate the paintings and antiques in the villa, which has now fallen into disrepair. He learns she has an illness that prevents her from meeting him face to face, and he becomes obsessed with seeing her, and in the process discovers he has a heart and a capacity to care. The film has surprising twists and turns. There’ll be lots of intriguing questions and connecting the dots after the film concludes, and some questions that may be unanswered!
The discussion questions that follow in this resource seek not to disclose the twists and turns, but to provide some framing for discussion.

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

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

Oldman
The main character ‘Oldman’ (a well chosen name) is solitary, lonely, difficult, demanding. He has his share of phobias. He doesn’t own a mobile phone – since his world is not populated by people with whom he holds significant relationships. He knows nothing of the life of his long serving and faithful secretary who he probably relates to more than anyone else on a daily basis. There is nothing hidden that prevents him learning about his colleague; it’s just that Oldman has no interest in the lives of others. He maintains that ‘talking to people is perilous’. He is intelligent but emotionally dead. It is intriguing that such a flawed character holds the attention of the audience. Certainly kudos to Rush’s acting ability. What did you find compelling about Oldman?

Automon
The 18th century automon is re-constructed from the rusted and broken cogs and wheels largely ‘stolen’ by Oldman from the villa. Yet, there is trickery in the ways the cogs and wheels are placed and ‘found’ in the villa, piece by piece, perhaps mirroring the trickery behind the constructing of Oldman’s emotional life, step by step. Discuss.

Secret rooms
Both Oldman and Claire have their secret rooms. His is much like Sarah Jessica Parker’s shelves accommodating her shoe fetish in Sex and the City. It contains his lifetime’s collection of precious art. Hers is the world she makes away from the company of people, hidden behind an ornate mural in the villa. Hidden lives. Secrets. Perhaps everyone has a ‘hidden room’ in their lives? Discuss.

Authenticity and fakery
Billy: ‘Emotions are like works of art. They can be forged. They seem just like the original but they are forgery’. Virgil: ‘Forgery’. Billy: ‘Everything can be fake Virgil: joy, pain, hate, illness, recovery….even love’.
Movie bi-line: ‘Some forgeries are worth the ultimate price’.
Oldman prides himself on his capacity to spot a fake artwork, and also to declare fake what is actually genuine for his own purposes. His willing accomplice Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland) then buys the discounted artwork at auction so Oldman can add to his collection. It is beauty rather than greed that motivates him, but it is a massive betrayal of trust and lack of integrity. Claire says she is disgusted that Oldman dyes his hair, that somehow there dying hair is an act of dishonesty. But she hides dark secrets of her own. What are other examples of the rhythm between authenticity and forgery in the film? Can anyone be trusted – even friends, colleagues, confidantes, lovers?

The mysterious woman in the café
The mysterious mathematically gifted woman in the café known as Claire (Sydney-born Kurina Stamell) knows all the comings and goings at the villa. She holds vital clues. In the rhythm of truth and trickery in the film, what is her character’s role in the plot?

Women and relationships
Virgil: ‘What’s it like living with a woman?’ Lambert: ‘Like taking part in an auction sale. You never know if yours will be the best offer’.
Oldman claims he ‘admires but fears women’. He has not had an adult relationship with a woman in his life. Instead, Oldman has invested his emotional life into paintings of women who have eyes only for him. Looking but not touching. They bring him reassurance and calm. What then attracts him to Claire, especially when he can’t see her and she has brought him great irritation?

The girl on the motorbike
The scene where Robert’s girlfriend goes to Oldman’s work to speak with him about personal matters seemed odd. But it invites more discussion about who’s been part of the fabrication and manipulation, and who’s been ‘clean’ and honest. Are any of the characters who they seem to be? Who can be trusted?

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….’
(Hebrews 12.1)
The scenes in Oldman’s his secret room is a visual delight, with all the faces that project love, comfort, understanding, and which give courage, purpose and the will to go forward. For people of faith, how do the ‘clouds of witnesses’ provide the courage and purpose to go forward?
Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th September, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

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

The Rocket

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (adult themes, some violent images, sexual content, brief language)
Length: 96 minutes
Starring: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam
Director and Screenplay: Kim Mordaunt (Australian)
(‘The Rocket’ is a natural extension of Kim Mordaunt’s 2007 documentary ‘Bomb Harvest’ about the secret war in Laos, and the thousands of unexploded warheads that still threaten the country)

Brief synopsis
A boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home. After a calamity-filled journey through a land scarred by the legacy of war, to prove he’s not bad luck he builds a giant rocket to enter the most exciting and dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival
© Red Lamp Films
‘The Rocket’ is a spectacular achievement that is powerful and delightful in equal measures. Artfully structured and gorgeously shot, it chronicles the struggles of a displaced family while steering well clear of either sentimentality or despair. Complex in its tone and characterizations, the film takes an unflinching – and edifying – look at the suffering caused both by a legacy of war and the new status quo of economic globalization. While never losing sight of those grim realities, it also offers us a transcendent tale of hope and perseverance in a world that few Westerners ever have the chance to see.
© Tribeca Film Festival. The film won the Audience Award, Best Actor, and Best Narrative Feature.

Questions for discussion

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

The film is warm-hearted, set amidst grim realities of life in Laos. The following may provide a catalyst for discussion.

The dam industry
By the end of the 20th century, the dam industry had choked more than half of the earth’s major rivers with some 50,000 large dams. The consequences of this massive engineering program have been devastating. The world’s large dams have wiped out species; reduced biodiversity; decreased fish production; flooded huge areas of wetlands, forests and farmlands. Some of the world’s most diverse wildlife habitat and fertile farmland has been flooded beneath reservoirs. Entire river ecosystems have been destroyed. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) established by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) stated that while dams have made an important contribution to development, ‘in too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits’. China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Laos, Iran, Chile, Mexico and Ethiopia are all building or planning numerous dams, which would have severe impacts on rivers and people. What do you know about the dam industry and the impact on the environment? What concerns are raised for you?

Internal displacement by projects (dams, mining etc)
Tens of millions of people have been forced from their homes and lands by dam projects. Most have been left impoverished. Those forced onto resettlement sites often do not have clean water to drink or enough food to eat. They often languish there, stripped of their traditional livelihoods, land and natural resources – the social fabric that binds their communities together ripped apart. Alcoholism, depression, domestic violence and disease increase. Compensation – if provided at all – is typically inadequate. Cash compensation is rarely enough to purchase comparable replacement land. When land-for-land compensation is provided, those displaced typically receive smaller amounts of poorer quality land. Unable to subsist on their new plots, farming families frequently end up living as migrant laborers or slum dwellers in cities. People who resist are often subjected to violence and intimidation. In China, people have been jailed and beaten for protesting against poor resettlement conditions for the Three Gorges Dam, which has displaced 1.3 million people. In Guatemala in the 1980’s, more than 440 Maya Achi indigenous people, mainly women and children, were murdered by paramilitaries because they refused to leave their ancestral lands for the World Bank-funded Chixoy Dam. Survivors of the massacre are still fighting for reparations for their suffering. Discuss the human impact of large dam projects.
Fact sheet: http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/irfactsheet_dammed_rivers_lores.pdf
Web resources: http://www.internationalrivers.org/problems-with-big-dams

Landmines and sleeping tigers
Landmines and cluster munitions have been described as “weapons of social cataclysm”. They perpetuate poverty, leave a legacy of indiscriminate civilian injuries and deaths, burden struggling healthcare systems and render vast tracts of land uninhabitable and unproductive. They keep poor people poor, decades after a conflict. During the Vietnam war (in which Laos was officially neutral) US planes dropped 260m cluster bomb sub-munitions on the country – of which 80m did not explode. Since 1964, an estimated 50,000 people have been killed or injured by mine and unexploded ordinances (UXO). One third have been children. Even today, Laos still averages 4 new victims each week.  When men are casualties, their extended families bear the cost. Children are forced to abandon school to assist with the burden of disability care, further entrenching poverty for another generation. Over 2/3rds of adults in Laos are employed in agriculture, yet poor farmers must choose between leaving land unproductive, or risking injury by using contaminated fields. Despite the efforts of organizations and corporations, less than 1% of UXO’s have been cleared in Laos.
Libya, Syria, Burma and Israel all deployed new UXO’s last year, and over the past decade cluster munitions have been used extensively by Israel in Lebanon and the US in Iraq. The US, Russia and China remain outside the relevant treaties.
Discuss, including ways you might learn more and get involved in campaigns.

Superstition and beliefs
There is much in this film that hangs on religious belief and practice, and superstition. For instance, Ahlo’s grandmother insisted he was born with the curse of a twin and should be killed (his twin was stillborn). Any accidents and bad luck are attributed to him. The father, like other villagers, appeases the gods with offerings in makeshift shrines. Animal heads are offered to the gods. There are strongly held beliefs in ghosts. The rocket festival hinges on which rocket can go high enough to wake the rain gods and bring much needed rain. Discuss the role religious belief and practice play in the people’s lives.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 31st August, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

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

 

Amour

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama (French language)
Rating: M (mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language)
Length: 127 minutes
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert
Director & Writer: Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke – winner of many awards including Palme d’Or & Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film

Brief synopsis
Georges and Anne are a couple of retired music teachers in their 80’s enjoying life, content in each other’s company. Anne suddenly has a stroke at breakfast that begins her harrowingly steep physical and mental decline as Georges attempts to care for her at home as she wishes. In the end, George, with his love fighting against his own weariness and diminished future on top of Anne’s, is driven to make some critical decisions for them both. (Kenneth Chishol) More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amour_(2012_film)

Questions for discussion
It’s a harrowing but truthful story of the onset of physical and mental decline, with insights into both the person affected and the one who suddenly finds themselves as the carer, as well as how family respond to the changed circumstances. The filmmaking style is almost as a documentary with the camera simply following the activity. No bells and whistles here, just the confronting nature of day-to-day routine. It’s a serious film, but not depressing in the sense of needing to avoid reflecting on these issues. Fruitful discussion will be had in sharing insights about the film and its story, and personal experiences.

Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

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

For richer, for poorer, in good health and poor….
Long after the bliss of the wedding day, the reality of the exchanged vows comes to be known when the health of a loved one deteriorates. This story is one response. What is the nature of love when demythologised from ‘romanticized’ love? What is the nature of love spoken about in the Biblical text often used in weddings: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’(1 Cor 13:4-6). What inspired you in this movie and what challenged you?

Preserving dignity
There’s lots of dignity to be lost – adult diapers, people talking about you in the third person, having to be ‘fed and watered’ and bathed. But being home in familiar settings may enable the person to feel they still have a sense of self-worth and identity and not just a patient in a bed in a care facility. There are plenty of challenges, though, in being a care provider for someone at home, and plenty that is ‘lost’ for the carer. What insights did the movie provide, and what insights do you have from those who have experienced being a carer?

Who are you?
Chronic illness and physical and mental deterioration can change the relationship between people who have lived with each other for many years and who know each other so well. How to care for the person you have loved, even when it seems they are no longer ‘present’ in the same way? How to be cared for by the person you have loved, when you can no longer do the simple things in life like going to the toilet on your own? What are the challenges in this scenario?

A rollercoaster
What emotions did you see in the couple – determination, resignation, frustration, serenity etc. How might you imagine you would be in similar circumstances – as the one who is ill, or as the one who is the carer? What support would you need to survive these harrowing circumstances – people, things, services, respite etc?

Second fiddle
The couple’s daughter, Eva, is an occasional visitor. She seems to be tolerated, but there is none of the warmth and serenity extended to her that the couple themselves have shared in their day-to-day living before Anne’s stroke. Eva is almost seen as an outsider, greeting with reserved hostility lest she interfere in their decision-making in response to Anne’s situation. The onset of illness is devastating, but can also be divisive in families.  Discuss.

The elephant in the room
“Life is so long,” Anne says contentedly while she and Georges flip through an old photo album. They have lived their lives well, and with delight. Is it a shock, or to be expected, that after Georges tenderly reads a favourite book to Anne that he then smothers her? It is a premeditated and shocking act. It raises ethical, moral and legal issues. How do you respond to this act of someone who loves another so deeply that they would commit murder (or more kindly, to put the other out of their ongoing misery)? Is the capacity to breathe enough to determine ‘living’, when life has become so diminished?

A personal story for reflection
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/02/surviving-amour.html
Later, when Anne, upon returning home from the hospital, made Georges promise she’d never have to go back, I thought of my grandfather’s room in the geriatrics ward—of how we’d read the newspaper together on the edge of the bed he would die in, the bed my grandmother convinced the nurses to let her crawl into to sleep beside him. She’d insisted he be admitted, despite the fact there was nothing any doctor could do: for Anne and Georges, the ultimate act of love was Georges allowing and even expediting Anne’s death, but for my grandparents, it was my grandfather allowing my grandmother to try to keep him alive. I remembered the day of his funeral, when I had to look away as my grandmother climbed into the back of the hearse and, dizzy with grief, knelt over the coffin she had begged the funeral director to open, so she could talk to his body one last time. I thought about her now: I always knew she would dissolve when he died, but I had not foreseen that her grief would sustain itself, essentially undiminished, for years. That she would transform into a person I often barely recognize. (Hannah Goldfield)
Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.© Rev Sandy Boyce 19th June, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

The Great Gatsby PosterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (adult themes, some violent images, sexual content, brief language)
Length: 2 hours 33 minutes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton.
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (based on F.Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby)

Brief synopsis
The story is told by would-be writer Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) who leaves the Midwest and arrives in New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles. © WB

Questions for discussion
The film and the book need to be considered as two different things, so focus discussion on the movie rather than how faithful it was to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Some of the questions below are more about the actual movie making process that is a hallmark of Luhrmann’s movies. An important question is how this process enhanced or distracted from the content. The themes of the film and the novel are relevant today in the ‘dot com’ boom – now ‘bust’ in the GFC. There will be much to discuss about the ideas depicted.

Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

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

In pursuit of the ‘holy grail’
Gatsby manipulated his circumstances, believing he was free to do anything to pursue Daisy, his ‘holy grail’. His actions were premised on the belief that the means justify the end, and reveal a lack of moral and ethical constraints in his decision-making. How might his character be a symbol for modern day individuals and companies in pursuit of their own ‘holy grail’ with no moral and ethical constraints?

‘He is Gatsby’
Baz Lurhmann’s wife and collaborator Catherine Martin told the NY Times, ‘He is Gatsby’. There is much to attract ‘Bazzamatazz’ Luhrmann to this fictional story of Gatsby, the self-made millionaire given to extravagance and excess. Does it help that Luhrmann as moviemaker has an insider’s view of the kind of world he depicts? Does such a position lead itself to informed critique or collusion? Discuss.

There’s a story to tell
We hear the story through Nick’s recollection as a wide-eyed innocent. The main characters have died or fled, and he is the only witness left who is able to tell the story. He is encouraged to write as part of his therapy. It is certainly revelatory. How might the process of storytelling reveal a deeper meaning to our experiences? Discuss.

Gatsby – a babe in the woods of worldliness
Gatsby’s whole life purpose is dedicated to getting Daisy back. Having revealed his dire financial circumstances to her a few years before, he has now built wealth beyond even his wildest dreams, mainly through illegal means. Yet, there is an innocence about him that collides with Tom’s ruthless worldliness and deceit. Tom takes whatever he wants, but knows how to avoid the consequences and it is Tom who determines Jay’s fateful ending. He represents those who really know how to ruthlessly ‘play the game’ – and win. Can you think of contemporary examples? Discuss.

Retrospective or prophetic?
Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel is a critique of American culture in the 1920’s, a symbol of the unsustainable boom that was doomed to collapse. The characters enjoyed extravagance oblivious to the financial and social catastrophe that was bound to happen eventually.  In Luhrmann’s film, the story is told looking back from the Depression of 1929.   Is the story stronger when told retrospectively from the experience of the Great Depression, or with looming doom on the horizon to which none of the characters are privy?

Visual Feast
Critics have described it as ‘a spectacle in search of a soul’, a ‘Bazdardisation’. But, is the excess really the point, a visual way of depicting the excesses and decadence of the 20’s, and the shallowness of the nouveau riche and wanna be’s? The contrasts of the haves and have nots, the wild parties and the cold and cavernous house, the way Gatsby showers his expensive shirts on Daisy, overwhelming her physically and emotionally. The wild zooms across the bay highlight the gulf between ‘new’ money and ‘old’ money. There are other times when the effects seem contrived, though maybe this is also a commentary about the way Gatsy’s persona itself is contrived and constructed for effect? The party scenes are captured with constant movement and rapid editing, underlining the superficiality and hollowness of the hedonistic world of over stimulation and general excess (holding a mirror to the 21st century?). There is little character development, perhaps highlighting the superficiality. Is it possible to deliver engaging visual cinema that does not become what it is commenting on? Discuss.

Music
1920’s music was very distinctive. Jazz was considered provocative and rebellious. Luhrmann uses contemporary hiphop, perhaps another music genre that is equally provocative and rebellious. How successful do you think the music selection was?

Transparent man
Gatsby is caught in the rain and his suit is transparent. Here is a self-made man who has re-constructed his identity, but even he can have his trappings stripped away to reveal a vulnerable person. In what ways might this help us to understand our own sense of identity, our illusions and constructs, and the way God knows us as we really are.

 

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce, Elizabeth Martin, 18th June, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

 

 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama/thriller
Rating: M (violence, adult themes)
Length: 126 minutes
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Live Schreiber
Director: Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsooon Wedding, Vanity Fair)
Screenplay: William Wheeler (2007 Booker short listed novel by Mohsin Hamid)

Brief synopsis
The film begins in a café in Lahore in 2011 where a Pakistani man Changez (Riz Ahmed) tells Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist, about his experiences in America. Roll back ten years, and we find a younger Changez fresh from Princeton, seeking fortune and glory on Wall Street with the prestigious financial consultancy Underwood Samson with his mentor Jim Scott (Kiefer Sutherland). The American Dream seems well within his grasp. He has a girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson). But after 9/11, the American dream soon begins to slip into nightmare: profiled, wrongfully arrested, strip-searched and interrogated, he is transformed from a well-educated, upwardly mobile businessman to a scapegoat and perceived enemy. He is conflicted between his American Dream and the enduring call of his family’s homeland. (c) IFC Films

Questions for discussion
There is so much to discuss in this movie! Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

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

The film maker
Nair was educated in Delhi and at Harvard. She is a Hindu, married to a Muslim and his family comes from Uganda. It has become another home for Nair where she has set up a film-making school. She says, ‘The beauty of living in two or three places (and moving between worlds) is your world view is forced to expand. When you live only here (America), it’s a one-sided conversation with the rest of the world. I really believe that in spite of what George W. Bush once said: “You’re either with us or against us”—which is part of what propelled me to be a bridge-maker—there is a middle ground, not just in America but in the whole world. Many people are tired of the state of affairs now.” How might the filmmaker’s background impact upon the movie’s central theme? In what way might her filmmaking serve as a bridge-builder in a polarized world? Discuss.

Corporate greed
Jim Scott (Kiefer Sutherland) is the corporate killer, cold, clinical, determined – a Gordon Gekko for the 21st century. He is the mentor for a group of ambitious young business graduates in a Wall Street valuation firm. Changez adapts quickly to the cut- throat practice of making people redundant. The workers are the pawns in the process. In the Philippines, many are engaged in poorly paid manual labour and menial blue-collar jobs due to their lack of education or opportunity. In the time period depicted in the movie, the manufacturing industry sank to an historic low and investor confidence hit rock-bottom. Nearly 3 million Filipinos were unemployed and the unemployment rate in Metro Manila reached 17.8 percent. The impact of Wall Street professionals laying off workers in the interests of profit could not be more devastating. Discuss.

Under the microscope
The movie provides good reason for Changez to be disillusioned with his adopted country, the crumbling of the American dream linked to the crumbling of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  The harassment and denigration of people of Muslim appearance is well portrayed (mild in comparison to what many Muslim Americans and migrants were and are subjected to). Yet Changez fails to critique his homeland, Pakistan, with the same level of scrutiny. He is ‘at home’, holding a privileged position as a university lecturer in Lahore. Yet the religious fundamentalism, the systemic problems and double standards in ethics and moral values in Pakistan seem to lie unexamined in the background while Changez applies a different lens for his critique on America. Discuss.

What’s in a name?
Is it too simplistic, or are we meant to read much into the names assigned to characters? Changez – changes. Khan – a name designed to evoke that of Genghis Khan? Erica – AmERICA. Bobby LINCOLN – American journalist. How do these names assist the plot?

Shaping of identity
Fundamentalism – in capitalism and in religion – is explored and presented as evil twins whose destructive consequences are inevitable. The ‘reluctant’ fundamentalist is shaped not so much by religion but by the experience and assessment of America. The part that is still valued and makes him a ‘lover of America’ is what makes him a ‘reluctant’ fundamentalist. What role does circumstance play in shaping identity – values, principles and prejudices, and views about religious and political life? In what ways does the film deal with the complex issues of nationality, ethnicity, religion and belonging?

One tribe for another
In response to 9/11, America became even more patriotic – flags everywhere, defining who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Changez swaps one ‘tribe’ for another ‘tribe’ where he feels he belongs. In a multicultural world, is tribalism the default position when there is threat? Are there examples where this is not the response in words and action? Discuss.

Hospitality – sharing a meal together
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen. Reaching Out).
Liev Schreiber (who plays Bobby, the journalist) says, “Having met many Muslim people during the course of my life, one of the things that I liked about Moshin’s writing was that he set the whole book essentially over a meal. One of the aspects of Muslim culture that I have always admired is that the guest is God. So that no matter who you are, or what your politics are, or what your past is, or what your history with that person is, when you are in their home you are treated with a tremendous amount of respect and made to feel very special. It was a great context for a conversation because it allowed the opportunity for simple humanity to trump rhetoric. For instance, the notion in the book, which hopefully still is evocative in the film, is ‘I understand you are upset and I understand how you must feel about all this, but please, before we go any further, you have to taste these sweets because they are the best in my province’.
Discuss the role of hospitality in a culturally complex world.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for supporting the Movie Discussion Resource project.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 26th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Science Fiction
Rating: M
Length: 132 minutes
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana
Director: J.J.Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof

Brief synopsis
After being called home, the crew of the USS Enterprise find a seemingly unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, carried out a devastating terror attack on London and leaving the earth in chaos. Captain Kirk leads a deadly manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction. As the heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices will be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
More information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek_Into_Darkness

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

Please note that this movie discussion resource is not a review, but a catalyst for conversation

Human nature
Despite everyday gripes and niggles amongst the USS Enterprise crew, the bond between them is held strong under the leadership of Captain James Kirk. Even in the extreme circumstances in which they find themselves, the crew show friendship, loyalty, courage and resolve under pressure. Is the best in human nature brought out under pressure and difficulty? If yes, are those who have ‘easy’ times in life more prone to the dark side of human nature when they do encounter difficult times? Or are positive human characteristics built in the ‘easy’ times and ‘banked’ for withdrawal at a later time when needed? Discuss.

Conflicted? Bring on a war!
The nature of human aggression is a key theme in the movie. What drives the destructive actions of the characters? This is more nuanced than ‘good guys/bad guys’ and simplistic evil. The motivations for what happens are often complex and surprising.  Given all of this, the real danger seems to come from those who can see no other option to resolve conflict than by declaring war, and employing negative militarism. Discuss.

A glimpse into the future
Amazing technology is on display in the movie. But the question is, in what ways is technology best able to support what is life giving, and how do we rein in technology when it is actually life denying? Does technology simply provide more sophisticated ‘toys’ against an enduring landscape of good and evil? Discuss.

Playing with emotions
In terms of movie narrative, setting up scenes where you can’t predict the outcome is one of the most basic plot devices. The viewer is often plunged into harrowing scenes where all seems to be hopeless, until one of the characters without a great deal of fuss seems to be able to fix the problem. For instance, in the scene when the USS Enterprise is crashing back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and the crew has resigned itself to the fact that they’re all going to die, into the scene comes a no fuss ‘Fonzie’ (Happy Days) kind of person, who simply gives the reactor core a literal ‘kick start’ to make it work again, and things are all okay again. Is the heightened anxiety a tool in the hand of a director to play with the emotions of the audience, or does it point to the fact that someone coming into a difficult situation from another angle can see what had been there all along, but had apparently not been obvious to those trying to find a solution? Was all the stress worth it? Discuss examples from your own experience.

Pursuit of the baddies
After 9/11, it seems that nothing has been spared by way of catching the ‘baddies’ behind the attack, on the understanding that ‘someone has to pay for the act of terror’. In fact, the whole, tragic fiasco with the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but yet was proclaimed as victory, ‘prevailing’ over the ‘enemy’. Job done! ‘Into Darkness’ highlights the ethical implications of pursuing terrorists. How far is too far to catch a ‘baddie’? Discuss.

Playing with history
Trekkies are notorious for minutiae details in the Star Trek franchise. William Shatner once mocked rabid conventioneers on a Saturday Night Live skit when he told them to “get a life.” It is a challenge for a director who needs some degree of poetic licence. J.J. Abrams seems to have a bet both ways: ‘Spock and the audience retain all memory of past movies, but Federation history, as recorded in those films, is no longer unalterable. Things can now happen differently than they did before. It was like an Etch A Sketch got wiped clean’. (Kenneth R. Morefield) What are the theological and psychological implications for changing history, even in a movie franchise such as Star Trek? Discuss.

Things that go boom
And the point of it all? Is it nothing more than a series of video-game ready action sequences of chases, explosions, crashes and fights that would fit just as easily into most any movie franchise? ‘We open with a scene of Indiana Jones (aka Kirk) running away from some primitive aliens. Several scenes had a verbal or digital countdown. Want to know what the Star Trek franchise has become? Before the count gets to zero you must (push this button/pull this lever/climb this ladder/inject this serum) or (someone you love/everyone on this ship/millions of extras) are going to die’. (Moreland) Is this all simply a vehicle for spectacle and ‘things that go boom’, with the Director appropriating the Star Trek characters people have come to love? Or is there something else going on? Discuss.

Where is God in ‘Into Darkness’
Is there a ‘Christ figure’ in the movie? Is God spectacularly absent (and maybe there’s something to discuss given what transpires)? Is the ‘good guys/bad guys’ theme an echo of images and actions of God from the Hebrew Scriptures where the ‘bad guys’ are defeated? How helpful or not is this image of God? Discuss.

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!
© Rev Sandy Boyce 18th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
The resource is available to download for use in small group discussion.

The Other Son

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama (French, English, Hebrew, Arabic)
Rating: M (scene of violence, brief language and drug use)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Arren Omari, Khalifa Natour
Screenplay: Noam Filoussi, Lorraine Levy (Director), Nathalie Saugeon

Brief synopsis
The story contemplates what if the son raised by a Jewish family was an Arab by birth? And what if a Palestinian family’s adored youngest boy was Jewish? To heighten the irony, the birth switch happened when a Haifa clinic was evacuated during an Iraqi scud missile attack in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Joseph (Jules Sitruk), in his mandatory national service medical for the Israeli army, discovers that his blood group does not match either of his parents – his doctor mother Orith, and his colonel father, Alon. Palestinian Muslims, Leila and Said, on the West Bank, learn that their son Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), recently returned from studying in Paris, actually belongs to Orith and Alon. This film explores the question of identity – what it means to be a Jew or an Arab – in the politically charged context of Israel, and particularly the Gaza Strip.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

Shaping of identity
Joseph has been raised as an Israeli Jew. He strongly believes in his religion (he’s one of his synagogues best pupils) and defends his country’s stance in the conflict. When he learns that he should have been raised as a Palestinian Muslim, he questions his beliefs.  Which side of the fence should he be on? Should there be a fence at all? Discuss what shapes identity, values, principles and prejudices, and religious and political views?

Love your enemy
The boys each grow up in an “enemy” family across the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank. While politics may have separated Palestinians and Israelis, families do have an opportunity to form personal relationships that transcend the divide. Thus Yacine and Joseph are able to form a growing bond and begin to understand each other, finding a peace that has escaped their respective countries and families. Discuss.

Different ways of coping
The two teenagers and their families are faced with the challenge of shifting religious identities, family connections, and political realities. They each experience stages of grief. The fathers are deeply in denial. Yacine’s older brother Bilal responds with fury at the notion that he’s grown up with a Jew. In contrast, the warm-hearted and pragmatic mothers seek reconciliation with their lost offspring, and arrange a meeting between the entangled families. All the females ignore the nature-nurture debate: Yacine and Joseph’s little sisters immediately become friends. Do you think this portrayal of gender differences is realistic? Discuss.
The social and economic context
There is a stark difference between the living conditions for the Palestinians and the Israelis. We see the difficulties imposed by checkpoints; the ominously looming fence seems to function both as a physical barrier and as a metaphor for cultural and religious division. Yacine has to endure checkpoint searches just to visit the West Bank home of his parents, but with his new Israeli passport, he can work and play on the Tel Aviv beach denied to other West Bank Palestinians. Joseph experiences the claustrophobia of walking along the huge barbed wire-topped separation wall (covered with anti-Israeli graffiti).  Lawrence Toppman observes: ‘The movie doesn’t need to preach a “we’re all equal” message. When we watch the boys bond with their new kin over food or music, then see the lines of Palestinians plodding through armed checkpoints to reach jobs or visit Israeli friends, we get the point: These two Semitic peoples are bound by traditions and genetics but divided by seemingly irresolvable politics’. Discuss.

Hospitality – sharing a meal together
(Henri Nouwen): “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Discuss ways in which hospitality bridges the divide between these two entangled families.

Telling the bad news – the clinical response
The clinic director meets with both sets of parents to explain what happened, and in a very matter of fact way outlines how the records of the boys will be corrected and offers the empty suggestion that they find a way to ‘get on with their lives’. What’s your experience of doctors and others delivering difficult news?

The religious life
The rabbi, who has taught Joseph since he was a child, informs him in a legalistic way that he will now need to officially convert to the faith since he was born to a non-Jewish mother. Although he’s been circumcised and Bar Mitzvah’d and a good student, now he’s not considered Jewish unless he goes through a complicated conversion process. At one point he jokes, “I’ll have to swap my kippur for a suicide bomb”. What’s the essential nature of religious life, and in what ways do rituals and practices aid religious life, and in what ways do they confound and clutter it?

Go back to where you came from
The TV series ‘Go back to where you came from’ sought to show what happens when people, hostile to the ‘other’, are placed in a situation where they have to walk in the shoes of the ‘other’, gaining understanding and compassion. Perceptively, in The Star-Ledger critic Stephen Whitty writes: “In the end, it seems, this is not a story about two families, and two lands. It’s a story about one family and one world’. Discuss.

One family, one world/we and all strangers are one
Jesus says: “I ask that they may all be one. As you, Father (Mother), are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”
We and all strangers, our most bitter enemies, are one. The cry of the most far-flung peoples rises in our hearts: the hope of our salvation rests in theirs. Our pain, our freedom, our beauty is all one thing. O One, may the light of your love dispel the illusion of our manyness, the great sadness of our separation. With the glory of our varied lives, in your love, O One, we are one’. (Steve Garnaas-Holmes) What is your response?

 

Palace Nova TheatresElizabeth Martin 9th May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy as a resource for movie discussions.
Thanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!

The Hunt

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Drama (2012)
Rating: MA15+ for adult themes and brief sex scene
Length: 116 minutes
Language: Danish with English subtitles
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen (Best Actor Award, 2012 Cannes Film Festival), Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Director: Thomas Vinterberg Writers: Thomas Vingerberg, Tobias Lindholm

Brief synopsis 
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is loved by the children and his colleagues at his local kindergarten in a small rural town in Denmark. He is newly divorced, and his ex-wife and teenage son Marcus have moved away. His life is recovering with the prospects of a new girlfriend, and the re-forging of his relationship with Marcus. A young girl at the kindergarten, Klara (who has a harmless ‘crush’ on him), makes a statement that leads to accusations of inappropriate behaviour against Lucas. It’s a simple lie that spirals out of control and the small community quickly turns against him. Distrust and presumption of guilt overtakes logic and the boundaries of civil behaviour.

* This is a film in which the very real and awful reality of child sexual abuse is taken seriously, while at the same time portraying the very real and awful reality of false allegations. The viewer is aware that the accused is innocent and witnesses the way he is treated, the way his life is torn apart. The innocent one has been failed by the system.
** Given the serious accusations of child abuse against Jimmy Saville and others, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, what place does a film like this have at this time?

Questions for discussion
This discussion resource does not attempt any particular comment on the movie itself but offers general areas for discussion. Here are some general questions for starters:

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

False accusations
The world was shocked by the Boston marathon bombings (April 2013), which killed 3 people and injured 264. The Reddit website was one of the main forums for online Boston bomber sleuths and self-appointed cyber detectives, where a subreddit – a space for discussion on a particular subject – called findbostonbombers was used to exchange comments and images, and incorrectly linked 22 year old Mr Sunil Tripathi to the bombings, which then went viral. Sadly, he had been missing for a month and was later found dead. The website acknowledged it had been a rallying point for a wild internet “witch hunt”: “Though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on Reddit fuelled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiralled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. We all need to look at what happened and make sure that in the future we do everything we can to help, and not hinder, crisis situations”. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/falsely-accused-bombing-suspect-confirmed-dead/4652176  The film does raise the question, what would I do and how would I react in a similar scenario regarding accusations against a person? Comment on the propensity for witch-hunts and accusations. What other examples come to mind?

Men’s relationships
In the culture of the small rural town, the transition to manhood is defined by getting a hunting license and a gun. There is great camaraderie between the men, but they move quickly to being violent aggressors. “It is a masculine and predatory environment, and the ease with which the men of the town assume the worst in Lucas suggests a dark recognition of the potential for themselves to inflict horrific crimes against the innocent. The violence against Lucas is arguably a symbolic act to rid the community of its potential for evil, even though Lucas is not the problem”. (Thomas Caldwell)  Discuss.

Rough and tumble play
Is Lucas’ ‘rough and tumble’ a developmental activity that helps them understand the limits of their own strength, and what is acceptable, or preparation for ‘manhood’? Does it serve to set up a hierarchy of stronger and weaker children, and thus determine social boundaries and relationships? What are your insights?

Leading questions and false leads
Klara’s tender age and angelic face personify innocence, making her allegation all the more believable. The kindergarten director works on the basic assumption that children never tell lies, while at the same time acknowledging Klara’s imagination and creativity. She handles the investigation process herself even though ill-equipped to do so. She brings in a counsellor who asks many leading questions and seems satisfied with Klara’s nods to his statements that ‘proves’ a case against Lucas. When parents are asked to look for signs of abuse – nightmares, bedwetting – not surprisingly they find that these are present amongst their children, as they are common for this age group. Klara attempts to retract her statement, but the community has already decided Lucas is a paedophile. What in the process escalated things out of control, and served to confirm suspicions rather than arriving at the truth?

A culture of violence and abuse beneath the veneer of respectability
While Lucas is accused of child sexual abuse, there are numerous examples of physical and emotional abuse by others – Klara’s parents constantly arguing while Klara is within earshot, ‘losing’ her; forgetting to pick her up from school; the physical abuse against Marcus and Lucas; the police taking away Lucas and ignoring the needs of Marcus who is still of high school age; the teenage boys showing Klara porn and referring to genitalia with language that Klara then appropriates unwittingly; the killing of Fanny the dog etc. Double standards operate here as in real life. Discuss.

The threat to male role models
One parent families account for 1/5 of all families in Australia, with about 87% headed by mothers. Children need good male role models, whether this is the father, relatives, teachers or other adults. But this film demonstrates how vulnerable men can be when spending time with children. Even establishing appropriate boundaries and behaviours may not provide adequate protection for men if an accusation is made. Discuss.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
While Lucas may not be a particularly religious person, his experience would resonate with many of the laments in the Psalms (eg Psalm 22, 37 etc). ‘My enemies surround me and pursue me’. What biblical stories resonate with Lucas’ experience of being abandoned, alone in the midst of a crisis?

 

Palace Nova TheatresThanks to Palace Nova for providing support for the Movie Discussion Resources!
The resource is available to download for use in small group discussion.
© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st May, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

Argo

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Historical drama thriller (2012)
Rating: M
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Director: Ben Affleck (third feature film)
Producers: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
Screenplay: Chris Terrio (based on ‘The Master of Disguise’ by Antonio J. Mendez and ‘The Great Escape’ by Joshuah Bearman, and the assistance of newly declassified CIA documents)
(2013 Best Picture – Academy Awards, Director’s Guild, Screen Actor’s Guild, Producer’s Guild & BAFTA – but strangely no Academy nomination for Ben Affleck as Director)

Brief synopsis
Based on true events, the film begins with the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 in retaliation for the U.S. providing refuge for the recently deposed Shah. Six U.S. workers escape and hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador and the other U.S. workers are held hostage in the Embassy. The US State Department begins to explore options for rescuing them from Iran. A CIA specialist is brought in for consultation and criticizes the proposals. Inspired by watching a sci-fi film on TV, he proposes creating a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting locations in Iran. In collaboration with a Hollywood make-up artist (John Goodman) who has previously crafted disguises for the CIA, and a film producer (Alan Arkin), a phony film studio is set up to ‘produce’ the film. The clock is ticking as the Iran revolutionaries in the U.S. Embassy are literally piecing together the clues, and the escapees know time is against them.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

U.S. and British interests in Iran – a brief history
America’s foreign policies directly led to the hostage crisis (1979-81), and the film begins with a history lesson that provides the context, and demonstrates that the Iranians did not do this out of baseless malice. Iran, a predominantly Muslim-Shiite populace was ruled by a series of monarchies. The last was Reza Shah Pahlavi who obeyed British colonial control to access oil resources. There were competing interests within Iran, chiefly Syed Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini, who was an Ayatollah (spiritual leader). In the 1950’s, the Iranian populace democratically elected Dr. Mohmmad Mosaddeqh who nationalized the country’s resources. During this struggle for nationalization of resources and autonomy for Iran, and in a period of increasing civil unrest, Pahlavi, at the request of the British MI6, left the country to plot the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh, with the CIA. In August of 1953, the CIA successfully backed a coup to oust Mossadegh (he was subsequently imprisoned until death) and re-instituted both the Shah Pahlavi, and placed a prime minister more in favour of Western interests. Ayatollah Khomeini, who had cast his lot with Mossadegh, earned the ire of Western-backed governments. The ire reached an apex when Khomeini publicly denounced the Shah in 1964, for which the former was placed under house arrest, and subsequently exiled. Khomeini based himself in Iraq in 1965 until ordered to leave by Saddam Hussein in 1978. He stayed in France until his return home during the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. By 1978, the Iranian populace, angered with an American-backed regime, could no longer be contained, and forced Shah Pahlavi to leave during a series of intense national strikes and clashes with the military, who were overwhelmed by sheer numbers of anti-Shah protesters. As Khomeini assumed power, the new government learned that the Shah Pahlvi had sought asylum in the United States, ostensibly for treatment of lymphoma. When the newly formed theocratic regime and revolutionary guards became aware of this, they helped a group of university students to overrun the US embassy in Iran, and held Americans hostage for over a year. (Ibrahim Khider, http://ikhider.com)

Crises in the world do not ‘just happen’ in a vacuum. There are always overt or covert events that provide the catalyst, and as in Argo may be kept secret for decades, or may never be known publicly.

  • Discuss other similar situations of which you are aware.
  • Discuss the reason for the emergence of Wikileaks as a way of revealing what is happening in the background and hidden from public knowledge.

While politics is secondary in the film, discuss the way its portrayal of the U.S. as a ‘superpower under siege’ serves as a topical comment on its place in the world today.

Non-violent solutions
‘Operation Eagle Claw’ was a U.S. military operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis. Its failure, and the humiliating public debacle that ensued, damaged American prestige worldwide, and probably played a major role in Carter’s defeat in the 1980 U.S. Presidential election. Contrast this with the military precision of the killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden, a CIA led operation. Legal and ethical aspects of the killing, such as his not being taken alive despite being unarmed, were questioned by a few (including Amnesty International) but generally welcomed by the U.S., UN, NATO and European Union and a large number of governments. It may have contributed to Obama’s re-election as President, by demonstrating his preparedness to use military solutions, and as the execution of ‘justice’ for bin Laden who was judged responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Argo shows a non-violent, creative intervention. The CIA agent Mendez is the antithesis of the Jason Bourne character, living off his wits not his guns. The plan is risky (beefed up for Hollywood but not as suspenseful as the film shows – there were no car chases by Iranian security forces with guns ablaze; Iran took several years to reconstruct shredded American embassy documents; and the disguised American embassy staff left the Iranian airport quietly). Yet, even during this tense operation, Mendez was informed that it had been cancelled and that a military rescue was being planned instead.

  • Discuss the propensity for military intervention and the secondary value of negotiation, dialogue, and even compromise.

The allure of cinema and filmmaking
Following the Khomeini Revolution in 1979, Iranian filmmakers went into exile. From 1979 to 1985, only about 100 features were released in Iran. Khomeini’s censorship was strict. For a time, foreign films were cut, and then banned altogether. It is fascinating in this context that the Iranian cultural office would be so helpful to the ‘Canadian’ film crew and that the planned rescue had even a glimmer of hope for success. Perhaps, such is the allure of cinema and filmmaking. In many countries, western films are viewed with contempt for their content, western values and depictions of sexuality.

  • Discuss the universal attraction of cinema as a vehicle for storytelling.
  • Discuss the way films ‘carry culture’, and the way values are embedded in films.

Download pdf file here.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 30th March, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly acknowledge the source.

Silver Linings Playbook

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Silver Linings Playbook PosterGenre: Family drama, love story, comedy (2012) – a ‘dramedy’?
Rating: M (Mature themes, coarse language, sexual references and violence)
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O.Russell (based on best selling novel by Matthew Quick)

Brief synopsis
Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything – his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jackie Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) after spending eight months is a state institution. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, hoping that remaining positive he would be able to reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances that led to their separation. His parents want him to get back on his feet and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

Naming the elephant in the room
Mental illness is still seen as a source of shame by many – a taboo subject strictly off limits to discuss in public. As a result people do not always seek help, nor do their family and friends feel confident to name the ‘elephant in the room’ in a way that is helpful. The two main characters in the movie both suffer mental illness. He is battling bipolar disorder, mood swings, depression and anxiety. He is socially inept, and moves quickly from moments of serenity to chaos. She is a fellow troubled soul – a grieving widow who experiences a spectacular meltdown with multiple sexual partners in her work place. Pat’s father (de Niro) is a mass of neuroses – very superstitious and an obsessive-compulsive sports-fan. The movie will gain an audience not for the subject matter but because it will be marketed as a ‘rom-com’ and ‘chick flick’. Is it smart to package such serious content in a comedy, populated almost entirely by characters with personality disorders ranging from subtle to severe? Do you think it works as a means to open up a more robust discussion about mental illness?

Everyone’s a little crazy?
Every character seems to have some kind of obsession and is crazy in their own way. Maybe it’s a way to survive – a little madness mixed with generous helpings of love and support. How true is this in your own observations?

Patience in the background
Jackie Weaver’s role as the mother is understated, yet it is she who finds the strength to bring her son home from the mental institution without telling her husband and against doctor’s orders, knowing full well the volatile situation at home. She is the ‘oak’ that hold the family together. Her persistent and attentive presence shows her deep love and care for her family. The mother spends much of her time looking concerned, anticipating yet another out of control situation. The role of carer and supporter can be exasperating, challenging and tiring. What is your experience of this, or that of family and friends?

Told from the heart
The director and Robert de Niro have family members with mental illness (the teenager who knocks on the door is the director’s son). The story is told from the heart, with the hope that it will point to a wider understanding of mental illness. The story does not gloss over the angst and difficulties of bi-polar and other mental conditions, nor are they used as cheap humour. It is a serious film in an entertaining package. What is the role of ‘education’ focussed on ‘facts’ in contrast to ‘education’ through entertainment? Can you think of other examples of the latter that have raised consciousness about issues and encouraged people to seek help to address issues and problems? Singer Kylie Minogue’s battle with cancer saw a leap in women seeking mammograms. Might a film on mental illness similarly encourage people to seek help?
The silver lining
Pat seeks the silver lining, trying his best to do it his own way. His mantra is excelsior (‘ever upwards’ in Latin) and is the lens through which he chooses to view life. For Tiffany, the dance competition is her way to find the silver lining. In what ways does a change in attitude contribute to a change in experiencing life with all its complexity, and conversely, what examples do you know of an unwillingness to change attitude that results in ongoing personal hurt and damage in relationships?

The narrative that shapes our lives and view of the world
Pat rants against the author Ernest Hemingway because he’s unhappy that there’s no happy ending. He wants to find the ‘silver lining’ for a better way. What examples can you identify in the biblical narrative that tell a different kind of story – about love and acceptance, being ‘beloved of God’ and the affirmation God has loved us since the moment of conception (Psalm 139). What narratives do you think primarily shapes people’s view of themselves and the world (media, movies, computer games etc?).

In denial – but who wants to ruffle feathers
Pat seems convinced his marriage will get back on track and things will be normal. He cannot see that his behaviour has long-term consequences, and he anticipates things will simply be forgiven. The family doesn’t challenge Pat’s delusion because they don’t want to upset his already fragile mental state. There is collusion in delusion to keep some sort of order. It is Tiffany who plays with the ‘straight bat’, truth telling in ways that are often confrontational but not deliberately hurtful. What are the limitations of truth telling, and the dangers of collusion?

Here is a pdf file to download

© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st February, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Lincoln

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Lincoln posterGenre: Drama
Rating: M (Mature themes, coarse language, and intense scene of war violence)
Length: 153 minutes
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay: Tony Kushner (Angels in America), based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Brief synopsis
This is a grand, poignant and very long drama that focuses on Lincoln’s tumultuous final 4 months in office in 1865. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.

 

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

‘Here there be dragons’ (adapted, http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/lincoln.aspx)
‘Here there be dragons’ – so wrote the old cartographers on their maps, sketching fantastical beasts with fins and fangs. They were fearsome and horrible, able to swallow ships and devour cities. Mr. Lincoln had his fill of dragons.

One is named War. The Civil War broke out the month after Lincoln’s inauguration as President. War is a gluttonous beast that fed on the country for four sickening years. Hundreds of thousands have died at its feet, lost in its bloody maw. America’s forests and fields are covered in corpses. The streets are alive with the cry of mothers and children, mourning the beloved dead. Another is called Slavery, a demon that’s torn at the country since its inception and before—mocking its hypocrisy, decrying the duplicity of its declaration that “All men are created equal” when so many live in chains.
Now, finally, in 1865, Lincoln feels the time is right to slay a monster or two. The rebellious South is exhausted and ready to plead for peace. Slavery may, with a little luck, be wiped out through an act of Congress—the 13th Amendment. But there’s a catch: End the war, and the Confederate South will insist on preserving slavery. Free the slaves, and the South will have no incentive to make peace. “It’s either the Amendment or this Confederate peace,” William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, tells him. “You cannot have both.” Lincoln is the story of monsters, the man who slew them, and the price he paid to do so. What did you find inspiring about the ‘dragon slayer’?

Leadership
In her book on which the screenplay is based, Doris Kearns Goodwin depicted Lincoln as a smart and wise agent of change whose leadership abilities enabled him to convince key players from the complete spectrum of both parties to support his agenda. His vision and tenacity enabled him to both confront the injustice, but also to stand firm in the face of fear and prejudice that permeates political debate. He demonstrated a tremendous capacity for patience as well as strength of will. There were other key leaders including Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), the President’s right hand man, and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical Republican who was strongly opposed to slavery. What qualities and skills are required for the kind of leadership that generates change, and where do you see such skills demonstrated in contemporary culture, and within the church?

Family ties
The film shows the burden of Lincoln’s family problems. All politicians have to juggle competing challenges and commitments in the workplace and family. Discuss what you imagine might be the personal cost for leaders in public office.

Quirks and foibles
Not all politicians tolerated Lincoln’s propensity to tell stories and anecdotes: one member of the cabinet storms out of the room muttering how he cannot abide another story. The public and media scrutinize politicians mercilessly, looking for any signs of ‘weakness’, quirks and foibles. What place is there to be ‘real’ in politics rather than politicians who project an image carefully manufactured by the ‘spin doctors’?

 

Politics and faith
Lincoln’s speeches, actions and priorities were evidence of his faith in God, though he never wore faith on his sleeve. America during the Civil War was a deeply religious country. Politicians, then as now, tried to enlist God to their side. Can you give other examples in the movie, and in contemporary politics, where faith informs politics, and is used to influence politics? What role is appropriate for faith in politics?

 

Devious politics (adapted, http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/lincoln.aspx)
Lincoln is politically savvy and shrewd and uses dirty tricks to push the 13th Amendment through Congress. He knows that the Emancipation Proclamation (enacted 2 years previously in 1863) required some serious contortions to legally justify it. The Amendment would clear up any potential illegality, but to get it passed Lincoln arranges for some dubious “lobbyists” to help get the required votes. While they are forbidden from using money to outright bribe anyone, they can offer jobs in exchange for “yes” votes. Lincoln tells one congressman that he’ll have him booted out of Congress unless he votes “yes.” He continually sidesteps rumors that he’s entertaining peace offers from the Confederacy – but in fact he is. The opposition demands the President respond to rumors that there’s a Confederate delegation in town; he says there is no delegation in Washington, D.C., “as far as I know.” It’s true, but only semantically so: He stalled the delegation outside town. When one principled adjunct refuses to deliver that message to Congress, Lincoln gently takes the missive out of his hands and gives it to a less scrupulous messenger.

When he is chastised for his seeming lack of a moral compass and his willingness to compromise, Lincoln tells a story. He relates how as a backwoodsmen, he learned it was sometimes necessary to deviate from true north in order to evade a swamp or gorge. If you continue straight on toward your goal, regardless of obstacles, that might terminate your trip forever, Lincoln asks, “What’s the use of knowing true north?”

Lincoln was an idealist as well as a pragmatist. Is idealism necessarily compromised by pragmatism? Is dirty politics a ‘necessary evil’ to achieve an outcome for the greater good?

Here is a pdf file to download

© Rev Sandy Boyce 5th February, 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Life of Pi

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

PosterGenre: Adventure/drama (2012)
Rating: PG (mild survival themes)
Length: 120 minutes
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: David Magee (based on best selling novel by Yann Martel)

Brief synopsis
The film is about a 16-year old boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel. When Pi is 16, his father decides to close the zoo he runs in Pondicherry and move the family to Canada, planning to sell the zoo animals to ensure a good future for his children. Pi is the sole survivor of a shipwreck and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story is told as a narrative by the adult Pi, now living in Canada, who is approached by a novelist referred to him by his a family friend, believing that Pi’s life story would make a great book.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

There are so many discussion points raised in the book and the film. The following provides some particular aspects that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Belief in God
There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take the one with a heart – Lao Tzu
Pi’s religious beliefs and love of God are central to his sense of being. He is not constrained by religious divisions, and does not see a need to limit oneself to one pathway. He is comfortable to practice faith as a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. On the other hand, his father is a ‘rationalist’ with no time for religious life and rituals. Even in Pi’s struggle for survival, when his physical needs are his primary concern, he still finds comfort and courage from his belief in God. His study, with dual majors in religion and zoology, also shows a lack of tension between faith and science. How do you respond to Pi’s fluidity in religious belief, undergirded by a sincere love of God? In what ways might the ‘choose your own’ spirituality liberate, and in what ways may it be problematic?

 

What is truth?
In the final scene, Pi gives an account of his adventures to Japanese officials. In one story he recounts what the viewer has seen. In the second, he parallels his experiences with ‘Richard Parker’ where he himself becomes the one who has killed and who steals food. Perhaps it is the second story that is ‘truth’ – revealing Pi’s desperate instinct to survive, and the first is simply his sanitized version that he tells to keep his own sense of ‘self’ intact. But since neither story can be proven, it’s useless to frame the question, ‘what is truth?’ Perhaps both stories are compensatory? He asks the Japanese officials which of his two stories they preferred, since neither can be proven, and sees no reason why they should not believe the better story. One can choose to believe ‘the better story’ in the same way one can choose to believe in God as the ‘better story’, of hope over despair, of courage over cowardice, of compassion over contempt. The viewer (and reader) is faced with the same choice.

Pi has no problems with ‘relative truth’, and senses intuitively that truth is not absolute. There is an aspect of invention in all “truths” and “facts,” because everyone is observing everything from their own perspective. One reviewer asked, ‘Why do we choose to believe in reality when it is illusion that keeps us alive?’ In what ways does this ‘fluidity’ in truth allow generosity of spirit, and in what ways may it be problematic?

 

Reason and faith – a foolish dichotomy?
Discuss this comment: ‘Life of Pi asks the same thing of spirituality as a mathematician might ask of the symbol PI – what is PI really? At its core, we only know PI to be an unresolved quantity. But more important than what PI is, we understand what PI does so we are able to put this unresolved quantity to work for us. The spirituality in Life of Pi comes to us as an unresolved quantity. We are asked to focus on the utility of a religious narrative rather than getting tangled in the “irresolvable essence” which Reason might demand of us’. (David Allred)

 

Survival struggles trump religious belief
Pi’s moral and religious convictions are tested at sea – he must eat meat, and he must take life. Both are contrary to his views before the disaster but as made clear in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival often trumps belief and morality. In disasters and wars, we know people behave in ways that may be contrary to their usual behaviour. Yet, others behave in ways that display the human spirit at its best – courage, selflessness etc. Perhaps Pi’s concerns to help ‘Richard Parker’ is one example of this? What other factors might determine the way a person will behave when put to the test?

 The nature of freedom
The zoo animals provide a lens to reflect on human freedom. While people do not usually live in cages (though thousands live in tents in refugee camps for many years) nor contained by fences (though some are constrained by divisions like the huge boundary fence in Bethlehem, borders between countries and in the DMZ), people’s freedom may still be limited by having to source food and water, and find safe places to live. People in western countries with ease of access to basic necessities will have more freedom than people in countries and situations (such as war and conflict), but may have other restrictions on their freedom – education, social, isolation, sexuality and gender restrictions, racial, emotional, psychological etc. What is the nature of freedom?

A guiding narrative
‘In many ways, culture is adrift on the sea of Rationalism. Reason attempts to segregate our habitats by way of reductionist thinking. It’s true, Pi needed reason to survive, but to give survival meaning, he needed something much different. He needed a guiding narrative. I think most of us know what that feels like’. (David Allred). Discuss the assertion that culture may be ‘adrift on the sea of Rationalism’ and that we may need a ‘guiding narrative’ to shape meaning. In what ways do the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures serve as guiding narratives for faith (as distinct from ‘historical’ or even ‘rational’ documents)? How does this insight affect the way we read and engage with them?

Download pdf file here

© Rev Sandy Boyce 11th January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Les Misérables

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Music/drama (2012)
Rating: M for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Length: 2 hours 38 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helene Bonham Carter
Director: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
Script: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil

Brief synopsis                                               

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. (C) Universal   See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables_(2012_film)

Questions for discussion

This discussion resource does not attempt any particular comment on the movie itself but offers general areas for discussion. Yes, it’s a sing-fest and yes, it’s long (I loved it all!). Victor Hugo’s story is so well-known, and there have been many movies made, as well as the world’s longest running musical stage play on which this film is based. No doubt there will be plenty to discuss! Here are some general questions for starters: 

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

So much could be written for discussion prompts as the story is so rich with revelatory episodes and insights into human nature. However, space constraints limit how much can be offered in this resource, so the following is a catalyst only.

Fantine – a slippery slide into despair

There are so many contemporary examples of Fantine – girls and young women in countries who move from rural areas to the city in search of work but end up in the ‘flesh trade’ simply to survive. Some are tricked, and end up as victims of human trafficking and the slave trade. Fantine (brilliantly portrayed by Anne Hathaway) works hard so she can send money to support her daughter Cosette, unaware she and her daughter are both victims to the treachery of those who trade on others’ misery. When Fantine is dismissed from her job she finds herself suddenly on the street, and descends quickly into despair and desperation. She sells her hair, her teeth and her body seeking to find ways to support Cosette. ‘I dreamed a dream’ could be the tragic anthem of the many Fantines in our world today. Who might they be and what are their circumstances?

Valjean

Jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, Valjean endures 19 years of imprisonment and cruel ‘justice’. When he is unexpectedly granted parole, he seeks refuge in a church where the kindly Bishop offers food and shelter. Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver during the night but is caught escaping by the authorities. Surprisingly, the Bishop says that the silver was given as a gift, and secures Valjean’s release. Genuinely touched by the Bishop’s love, grace and generosity, Valjean tears up his parole papers and vows to start an honest life under a new identity. He comes to be known as a compassionate man, including to Javert himself on several occasions.
In your experience, what enables people to make such a change in their lives and what examples do you know?

Convicts jailed for minor offences were transported to the ‘penal colony’ in Australia, and made the most of a chance for a fresh start. Do you sense there may be ways that the hope of ‘second chances’ has found its way into Australia’s self-identify?

Javert, the law man                (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javert)

Javert is a prison guard, and later a policeman, who devotes his life to the law, his priorities being to serve God faithfully through the law. Javert pursues Valjean for years. It makes no difference to him that Valjean has long since become a pillar of the community, devoting himself to the welfare of others as a manufacturer and later mayor of a small town. To Javert, he remains a convict who has breached parole. He resolutely holds to the belief that a ‘criminal’ can never change, and that Valjean is irredeemably evil. What contemporary examples are there when law is applied in a way that denies true justice, and may serve to further oppress people already in dire circumstances?

Javert – the conundrum

‘Javert is in emotional turmoil when he is unable to reconcile the image of Valjean he has carried all through the years of a brutal ex-convict with what he sees are Valjean’s acts of kindness on the barricades. He is horrified to finally realize that Valjean can be both a ‘criminal’ and a good person. Javert realizes he can’t be justified in letting Valjean go, nor in arresting him. His whole world is in turmoil – he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. His realization makes a mockery of Javert’s entire system of moral and values. (There are other scenes when Valjean and other characters also face ethical and moral quandaries).
Do you know examples of the tension between acting lawfully and acting (im)morally?

The rich and the poor

In 19th century France, the poor were extremely poor and without hope for a better life. If we look at our contemporary world, the extremes in wealth – in and between nations – is deplorable. You may have seen the ‘if the world were a village’ before – it’s sobering, and may prompt a spirited discussion!

‘If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:

80 would live in substandard housing; 16 would be unable to read or write; 50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation; 33 would be without access to a safe water supply; 39 would lack access to improved sanitation; 24 would not have any electricity (and of the 76 that do have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.) 8 people would have access to the Internet. 1 would have a university education. 1 would have HIV. 5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth (all 5 would be US citizens). 48 would live on less than $2 a day. 20 would live on less than $1 a day’.

 

Perspectives about God.

Javert views God through the lens of the law. Valjean’s life is transformed by the Bishop’s grace and mercy. ‘Grace’ and ‘the law’ are often at odds with each other in theological reflection, and in how people reflect on God. What lens/es do you use as you reflect on God? What other theological themes emerge from this story?

Download pdf  here.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 4th January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Quartet

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Musical/comedy/drama (2012)
Downtown Abbey meets The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Perhaps the birth of a new genre: film gris, or ‘grey film’?

Rating: PG-13 brief strong language, suggestive humor
Length: 98 minutes
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon
Director: Directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman
Script: Ronald Harwood (originally a stage play)

Brief synopsis
posterLifelong friends Wilf and Reggie together with former colleague Cissy, are residents of Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. Every year on Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday, the residents unite to give a fundraising concert. But when Jean Horton, a former grande dame of the opera fallen on hard times, also Reggie’s ex-wife and the fourth and most celebrated member of their former quartet, moves into the home to everyone’s surprise, the plans for this year’s concert start to unravel. As old grudges threaten to undermine past glories and theatrical temperaments play havoc with the rehearsal schedule, it becomes apparent that having four of the finest singers in English operatic history under one roof offers no guarantee that the show will go on. Quartet is a wickedly comic film about redefining old age and growing old with hope; demonstrating how art illuminates life and the human spirit remains undimmed even as the brightest stars start to fade. (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/quartet)
Questions for discussion

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

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

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

Growing old disgracefully, or with dignity, or…..
The film offers a meditation on ageing, appealing particularly to baby boomers and early retirees . The characters include Wilf – delightfully wicked, using the excuse his stroke has removed his ‘radar’ to censor inappropriate comments and his unrelenting flirtatiousness, and Jean – resenting that she must re-locate from her luxury home to a retirement home. The film, in common with others in the ‘grey film’ genre, is a multiple-strand story about older people, strong on character, and exploring themes of ageing and death, and yet ultimately upbeat and celebratory. What stood out for you in this latest contribution to the genre?

Never too late…..

Some people carry personal hurts, humiliations, bitterness and regrets like heavy luggage to be dragged awkwardly through life. It may shape their ‘raison d’etre’ and frame their decisions and priorities, and also rob them of joy and freedom. The movie suggests possibilities for second chances, and transformation of older people with open hearts and open minds. The four main characters must decide whether they want to let go of the fears, errors, and disappointments of the past in order to engage once more with the art that blessed them with beauty and meaning. Setting aside how realistic is the specific resolution and reconciliation in the movie, what are your insights about ‘letting go’ and ‘letting be’ in older age?

Dementia

Cissy is showing signs of dementia – one moment bright and alert, the next not knowing where she is or what she’s doing. You might have seen friends and family with dementia and know how difficult it can be. ‘Mother and Son’ turned it into a comedy, but it can be very distressing – for the individual and those around them. What are your experiences?

A sea of white hair

In the same way that babies all tend to ‘look the same’, people in older years can sometimes lose the distinctiveness of their younger years. It’s too easy to just see an ‘old person’ with white/grey hair (or dyed hair!), rather than a vital person with the rich experiences of a well lived life. (In addition to the main actors who are ‘the quartet’, there are (real) distinguished musicians and actors who form the rest of the cast. Do stay for the credits at the end to learn about who they are and what they have done in their professional life). How do we give room to hear each other’s stories, and to value experiences and what people have done in younger years? What is your experience?

Losing what has been precious

Ageing carries with it the loss of capacity in various ways – physical and intellectual, as well as specific skills, creativity etc. There will be regrets about what is or has already been lost. Jean’s character, the star soloist, still has the applause of the audience ringing in her ears and still celebrates her numerous encores. But she is also painfully aware that her prime is now past. She treasures the voice she once had – and listens to the vinyl recordings of past triumphs in the privacy of her room. What is your experience, personally or what you see happening with friends and family?

Living together

‘Baby boomers’ and early retirees will struggle with giving up independence and to be treated as an ‘old/er person’. Many will relish holding a disposition towards life that is lively, energetic, engaged and curious. A group of friends in Adelaide have talked about organizing a place to live together in older years, supporting each other but living with relative independence. What do you make of the idea of a home for retired musicians, or retired craft workers, or actors, or life long friends……..? What plans to you have?

Music genres – an invitation to explore new things

Reggie, a man of the theatre and fine arts, does a google search on the computer (that in itself provides an opportunity to explore new things), and opens a discussion on the differences between opera and rap with visiting students. He opens himself to learn new things, to make connections. With rap, he announces, a man is stabbed in the back and then talks about it. With opera, a man is stabbed in the back and he opens up with emotion (speaking from his own experience in the arts and in his marriage). How might this scene be indicative of being open to new things, no matter what your age? Discuss.

Old age in the biblical narrative

What stories of older people can you recall in the biblical narrative who shared in God’s activity in the world? There are many examples worth exploring and discussing.

 

Download pdf file of this resource here© Rev Sandy Boyce 1st January 2013 Pilgrim Uniting Church,

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

The Sapphires

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Musical/drama
Rating: PG
Length: 103 minutes
Starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Chris O‘Dowd
Director: first time Aboriginal film maker and actor, Wayne Blair
Script: Tony Briggs, son of one of the women the film is based on. Cinematographer: Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah)

Brief synopsis

The film is set in 1968, a period when the racial divide was significant in Australian history. Aboriginal people had just received the right to vote and children were still being separated from their families. Around the globe, there was protest and revolution in the streets. There were drugs and the shock of a brutal assassination. And there was Vietnam. The sisters Cynthia, Gail and Julie are discovered‘ by Dave – a talent scout with a kind heart and a great knowledge of soul music. They travel from their home in a remote rural Aboriginal mission to Melbourne for an audition to entertain American troops in Vietnam. The sisters are joined by cousin Kay, who lives in Melbourne. They transition their singing talents from country and western to soul – Australia’s answer to ‘The Supremes’. Based on a true story, The Sapphires celebrates youthful emotion, family, community, love and respect – and music. It is a testament to resilience, spiritedness and strength.
Further information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sapphires_%28film%29

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:

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

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

Intents and purposes
It‘s easy to be fooled by the film as a feel good movie‘, or a sweet n‘ dumb feelgood bopper‘(Henry Barnes in The Guardian), or a workaday Australian comedy‘ (Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph). . What do you think the scriptwriter and film makers were hoping to achieve? (note: the credits above for the script writer, director and cinematographer).

Community
What does the film reveal about the nature of the Aboriginal community on the mission station in terms of values that hold the community together?

Stolen Generations
While the film doesn‘t have the pathos‘ of Rabbit Proof Fence that focuses on Stolen Generations, it does make reference to the ongoing threat of children being taken. At a moments notice, the black cars may roll up and children taken away. This is 1968 in Australia! Kay, the cousin, is one who has been taken as her skin is fair and she can be absorbed into mainstream white‘ culture. The incongruence between the living situation on the mission and Kay‘s world with Tupperware parties is comical but profound. It reveals the way fractures were created amongst and between families.

Character
This is not a film with a political‘ agenda but serves to highlight the strong, defiant, resilient and joyful character of the young women. For some Aboriginal people, dysfunction and dislocation have created a culture of fatigue and despair, affecting whole communities, where no hope lies on the horizon. For others, there is a determination that provides the catalyst and a means to make a change, and to thumb your nose at the naysayers‘ and racists, such as in the film. It‘s complex, but a question for consideration — what are the building blocks that enable change to happen, for people to determine their own future, to rise above being victims of abuse or disregard? What are the disincentives?

Country and western to soul
One of the film‘s strengths is the amazing soul soundtrack and the brilliant vocal performance by Jessica Mauboy. It does raise a question about what is required for success. Do the soul songs of the 60‘s serve the self-expression of the young women (a musical soundtrack for their own lives), or do the young women serve the need for people to sing like The Supremes (who would never venture into Vietnam). As it was said in the film, there were a number of wanna be‘ girl groups lined up who sing the same songbook‘ of soul songs — are The Sapphires simply groomed to provide for the market place, or is there something authentic for them in discovering soul music as a medium that provides the musical landscape of their own lives? How does the soul music contrast to the simple gospel song in their native Yorta Yorta language, which the young women sing in harmony to their mother on the phone from Vietnam? Since 1968, consider ways in which Aboriginal culture has been brought into mainstream‘ arts. For instance, the Bangarra Dance Theatre is considered Australia‘s leading Indigenous performing arts company, combining the spirituality of traditional culture with modern storytelling.

The film as educator
What capacity does a film have to become a vehicle to educate and inspire? In what way might telling a story like this, especially one based on real people and events, have the power to persuade and inspire about ways of becoming all one can be — for people of all cultures? How might this compare to the genre of documentary, which may have been an alternate way of telling the story of these remarkable women?

My people will be your people
The relationship with Dave Lovelace (talent scout) and Gail (mother bear‘) transcends culture — he being Irish and she being an Aboriginal Yorta Yorta woman. He speaks about her family being his family. It brings to mind the story of Ruth who, according to the biblical narrative, was a Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family. She tells Naomi, her mother in law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16).
What is involved when tightly contained circles of belonging‘ become more permeable to welcome and embrace what is other‘? What is involved in our global community to embrace other‘ wholeheartedly in this way?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 23rd August 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Download pdf file of this resource here

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Romantic comedy/drama
Rating: PG13
Length: 1 hour 58 minutes
Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)

Brief synopsis
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on Deborah Moggach’s book, These Foolish Things, and follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by brochures for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to find the palatial residence a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.  © Fox Searchlight
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.

Growing old
The movie may be enjoyed by any age, but particularly for those who have reached retirement &/or more senior years. One writer described it as ‘An hilarious and touching comedy about growing old disgracefully’. Another writes: ‘It’s a film with appeal across the generations, tapping into universal fears of being forgotten in old age’. What were the stereotypes? What surprised you? What resonated eg identity, sexuality and seniors, disappointments and failed hopes, never too late to try something new.

Cultural
Set in the wonderful, perplexing and colourful nation of India, there are many scenes that pick up on cultural difference, cultural expectations. What stands out for you? Share some of your own experiences in another culture.

Philosophy
‘Everything will be alright in the end; if things are not alright, it means it is not yet the end’, Sonny (the well meaning and enthusiastic hotel manager) repeats several times. Kipling’s quote about treating disaster the same as triumph is also part of his philosophy. Can you identify the underlying ‘philosophy’ or approach to life of the main characters, and where it has led them. Do you identify with any of these approaches, or how would you sum up (in a sentence) your own philosophy?

Brits abroad
British holiday makers have a reputation of being in a ‘bubble’ – located in another ‘exotic’ location, but expecting all the usual British food and traditions. A kind of imperialism at work. The same could be said of holiday makers from many countries. What are the personal challenges of setting aside one’s habits, traditions and expectations and being prepared to enter into another culture?

Outsourcing
Many call centres are outsourced to India, part of the globalised market forces. What other examples of ‘outsourcing’ medical procedures are you aware of, or when people make the most of ‘cheaper’ operations in a developing country. What might be the pros and cons of this growing practice?

Travel as transforming
For better or worse, travel can be transforming. Each of the main characters respond differently to their new siutation. ‘It’s going to be extraordinary’, declares Graham, who had previously lived in India and has his own motives for being in India. ‘I’m in hell’, moans grumpy bigot Muriel (although she has some of the best lines such as: ‘I can’t plan that far ahead; I can’t even buy green bananas’). Endlessly complaining, Jean stays put at the hotel, not venturing out at all (apart from snooping on Graham, for whom she has a fancy). Her husband Douglas is keen to explore, and reads up on temples and palaces he might visit. Evelyn makes the most of an opportunity for her first ever job. Norman is ever optimistic and creative in the process of finding a partner.
What are you own experiences of travel as transforming?

India on the rise
The movie shows India as we might traditionally expect it to be, but less of the emerging middle class (particularly young adults), and new millionaires (expected to be 403,000 by 2015). Sonny tells his girlfriend: ‘You’re part of a modern India my mother cannot welcome!’ Things are changing rapidly for India. It is the world’s largest democracy with the world’s 2nd largest population, and expected to become the world’s 3rd largest economy within 20 years. Economic growth has exceeded 9% in recent years. India is a global player in telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals. It is interesting to note that the SA Government is keen to enhance economic ties with India, and has placed the country on top of the list of future trade partners. India is already the state’s fourth largest export market.
Yet, India continues to face massive problems with 300 million untouchables and 70 million tribals locked into a cycle of endemic poverty. Landless farm labourers still toil under oppressive conditions for a very meagre wage and religious minorities continue to be brutally persecuted.
What is this ‘modern India’, and what might be the impact upon the population in India?

Seniors and spirituality
“If we compare our lives to dramas with various themes and dramatic plot lines, then old age is the time when the meaning of the play become clear to us.”
(Zalman Schachter-Shalomi). ‘There are many seniors approaching their final years, overwhelmed by the realization that their life achievements are quickly losing their value, and that what is lying ahead will have to be faced with a new set of “skills” (capitalself.com).
What are some of the issues of ‘wellness’ and spirituality for seniors?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th March 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

The Hunger Games

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Action/drama
Rating: M (mature themes and violence)
Length: 142 minutes
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Director: Gary Ross

Brief synopsis
(longer plot synopsis – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392170/synopsis)

The Hunger Games is an adaptation from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war. Panem takes its place – a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. The Capitol is a glittering city where people live lavish lives, supported by resources, food, and material goods from the districts. The district people are essentially slaves, oppressed by hunger, poverty, and military control. Each year, a boy and girl from each of the twelve desperately poor districts are selected by lottery to fight to the death on live television, broadcast for the entertainment of rich people. Katniss Everdeen, the 16 year old heroine of the story, volunteers to take her younger sister Primrose’s place for the latest match. Katniss is the responsible provider for her family in the districts. Her father died in a coal mining accident, and her mother still grieves.
The contest is staged in the wilderness (think Survivor reality TV show, but where contestants don’t vote the others out, but rather kill them in a modern version of a gladiator contest). The final winner earns wealth and fame, and food for his or her home district. But he or she must bear the memory of having murdered to win. Katniss and her male counterpart Peeta together move on to revolution, as they become the somewhat reluctant symbols of a popular uprising against Panem’s oppressive government. The Hunger Games as been described an American equivalent of Harry Potter, a story of a teen searching for meaning in a chaotic and threatening society.

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.

Disparity between the rich and the poor

The country of ‘Panem’ depicts the rich living in luxury, while those in the ‘districts’ live in poverty. Here in Australia, Treasurer Wayne Swan warns that income inequality is rising in Australia. The Bureau of Statistics Household Income Survey demonstrates the rise in the gap between the richest and poorest in Australia – in 1994-95 households in the top 10 per cent earned an average of 3.78 times more than the bottom 10 per cent. By the latest survey in 2009-10 this had grown to 4.21 per cent. The gap in wealth is even starker, with the wealthiest 20 per cent of households accounting for more than 60 per cent of wealth, with an average worth of $2.2 million. The bottom 20 per cent own just 1 per cent of the nation’s household wealth at an average of just $32,000. Bureau of Statistics figures show wages have risen about 111 per cent since March 2001. But over the same period, company profits are up about 185 per cent. Some of those company profits filter through in dividends to shareholders and super funds, but the wealthier you are, the more shares you’re likely to own. Big business and unions tend to hog the limelight in Canberra because they’re more organised and have much bigger resources to fight for their cause.

  • What might the disparity in wealth in Panem in the movie reveal in a fresh way about the disparity of wealth in our contemporary world – in Australia and in our global village?
  • What biblical references or stories might inform our views about society where ‘the ‘rich get richer, the poor get the picture’ (to quote Midnight Oil’)? Perhaps explore The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12*) and Hebrew (Old Testament) prophets like Micah and Amos.

* see http://bible.org/seriespage/beatitudes-matthew-51-12 for helpful background or Dave Andrew’s Plan Be series

Counter cultural/subversive ways of changing the world

Decades ago, the districts had revolted against the “Capitol”. When they failed, the annual ‘games’ was determined to be the punishment to remind them of the futility of resistance. The spin doctors in the movie describe the ‘games’ in a propaganda film as a “pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice” that are “how we remember our past” and “how we safeguard our future.” The games underline the way the ‘system’ favours those with wealth and power, and the masses are expected to put up with it. We see countless examples in history and in our contemporary world. Themes of resistance to oppression and hope for a better world are woven through the movie (and books). Such challenge and resistance to the ‘status quo’ is messy and difficult. It mirrors in many ways the experience of Jesus, as well as the transformative way of life Jesus offered his followers.

  • What are some contemporary examples eg Occupy Wall Street movement, Fair Trade campaign (fair trade for growers of products in the developing world)?
  • In what ways might the followers of Jesus lead by example in countering wealth and power that serve only the vested interests of a few, and serve to disadvantage those who cannot exercise power?
  • Can you recall other movies that have tackled this theme? How do you rate The Hunger Games in comparison for this theme?
  • Released in Australia just before Easter 2012 – are there any reflections on the life of Jesus and those who longed for liberation from the Roman occupiers who oppressed the people of the land?

Movies as an entry point into compassion

We may not ourselves have experienced abject poverty and disadvantage. It’s hard to be compassionate when our experience doesn’t provide an entry point into the experience of others. Movies offer a way into ‘story’ that allows us to explore the human journey through the experience of others.

Compassion occurs only between equals. When you are able to feel pain, acknowledge suffering, you are trustworthy to share the pain and suffering of others

  • Do movies like The Hunger Games translate into a deeper sense of compassion or a commitment to justice? What happened for you as you watched the movie?

Religious themes

Panem appears to have no institutional religious life. Perhaps the absence of religious life is one way allows oppression and violence? Diana Butler Bass* writes: ‘Despite the lack of conventional religious trappings, the major theme of the novel is a deeply theological question, one that has haunted the religious imagination for millennia: Can violence – even sacrificial violence – save? When Katniss volunteers for the games, she saves her sister’s life by offering to die in place of another. This echoes the Christian teaching of Jesus’s death as a sacrificial substitution for another. But Katniss’ actions undermine the traditional understanding of self-sacrifice. Katniss is not Jesus. To save herself, she must kill others. In “The Hunger Games,” salvation cannot be accomplished only by death but by murder. The game arena is a profane altar-where the teens slaughter each other to placate the emotional and political “gods” of the capital and reinforce belief in the system that binds the society.

Peeta, the other District 12 tribute, understands that violence never saves. Even seemingly noble or sacrificial death breeds more violence. Violence always serves oppressors, never the oppressed. “I don’t want them to change me in there,” he tells Katniss of the arena, “Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” To survive means to be twisted into one who murders others for entertainment and food. These games are not about fame and victory. They are about one’s fundamental sense of identity, about the impossibility of human dignity under the Capitol’s rule. “I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me,” Peeta says, “That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” Peeta wants to subvert this ritual violence for the sake of his humanity. He not only wants to survive; he wants to be free.

Ultimately, “The Hunger Games” argues for a human future of love and non-violence by immersing us into the voyeuristic orgy of violence brought about by inequality and injustice. Viewers must take stock of the limits of violence as a way of freedom and redemption. Katniss is a powerful figure, athletic and smart. But she is saved – and saves others – by reason and love, not hatred and fear. “The Hunger Games” points out that the world envisioned by spiritual leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King is infinitely preferable to a world of “bread and circuses,” where the many are controlled by the very few. The future hangs between these two visions: Will we be Panem or some other sort of world?

No religion in “The Hunger Games”? The story eschews religions that glory in crusades, jihads, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. In Panem, there is no place for religion that supports injustice. The enslaved neither want nor need such a religion. Banished are religions that celebrate bloodlust. There is too much of that already.

Yet “The Hunger Games” celebrates faith – faith in family, faith in friendship, faith in song, faith in justice. “The Hunger Games” proclaims that beyond the fences of fear built to enslave, control, and guard, there is joy, beauty, and wonder. In the end, there is true freedom, and the hard-earned hope that human beings can create a better world based not in sacrificial violence but in sacrificial love’.

(* Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/the-hunger-games-spiritual-but-not-religious/2012/03/21/gIQAgYJmTS_blog.html)

Heroes and those who fire our imagination

Depth psychologist James Hillman writing in The Soul’s Code: “Extraordinary people excite; they guide; they warn; standing, as they do, in the corridors of imagination – statues of greatness, personifications of marvel and sorrow – they help us carry what comes to us as it came to them. They give our lives an imaginary dimension. . . . making our world less impossible through familiarity with theirs.”

* Discuss in relation to the movie and other examples of people, past and present.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th March 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Iron Lady

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Biography/drama
Rating: M(mature themes and violence)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E Grant
Director: Phyllida Lloyd (‘Mamma Mia’)

Brief synopsis
(see also Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Lady_%28film%29)

The film depicts former British PM Margaret Thatcher (portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep), from her teenage years as a shopkeeper’s daughter to her retirement years. The film covers her decision to enter politics – seemingly against the odds, and then to contest for leader of the Conservative Party. Actual footage is shown newsreel style to demonstrate the tough circumstances in Britain during her time as leader. A large part of the film is depicted from the perspective of Lady Thatcher as a fragile elderly lady enduring dementia. The film relies on flashbacks to depict her earlier life, along with ‘conversations’ with her long dead husband Denis. It is a surprisingly intimate and compassionate portrait of a complex woman who ‘broke the glass ceiling’ and the barriers of gender and class to take on leadership in a male-dominated world.

 

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.
(Note: ‘MT’ used for Margaret Thatcher)

Power
The film portrays MT as a plucky underdog defying a male-dominated establishment. Her political philosophy was shaped in her teenage years by her father’s beliefs, a proud shopkeeper and Mayor, who tells her: “Never run with the crowd. Go your own way.” She was determined to push her agenda as a leader, even in the face of opposition. MT, as well as many other British PM’s, used a ‘kitchen cabinet’ approach to decision making, where trusted advisors worked through issues and made decisions which were expected then to be rubber stamped by the Cabinet. A leader who is surrounded by ‘yes’ people can ensure that there is rarely a need for robust discussion and ‘fierce conversations’.

How does one balance ‘going your own way’ with working in collaboration with a team for the common good (and national interest)?
How do you reflect on the statement, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely?
To what extent has political life become focussed on the leader rather than the leadership team actively working together?
How do reflect on this statement in light of MT’s style: ‘Authority cannot be bought or sold, given or taken away.’

Authority is about who you are as a person, your character, and the influence you’ve built with people; power erodes relationships. You can get a few seasons out of power, even accomplish some things, but over time power can be very damaging to relationships. We resort to power because our authority had broken down. Power is the degree to which people will accept your decisions without question. Influence is the ability to convince people of the validity of a decision. Using power when influence is needed is usually bad in the long run. Using influence builds power which can then be used very sparingly when absolutely needed’.

I will not die washing dishes
In the end, MT is alone in the kitchen washing a cup.  Ironically, she had told Denis when he proposed marriage to her that she never would become a conventional wife.  She would not die washing dishes.  Indeed, she relied on her husband to maintain the home front in her absence. In her autobiography she wrote: “I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side.” He saw his role as helping her survive the stress of the job. What are contemporary examples of partners of leaders who either provide caring support to the leader, or significant power in the background that influences policies? Is there a danger in one or the other approach? Does a leader in touch with the ordinary things in life like washing dishes have a better handle on issues affecting people and therefore more capacity for effective public policies and decision making, or do the demands of home life detract from such tasks?

Movie as history, history as movie
Is the movie focussed more on an old lady with dementia remembering her early life, or MT the Prime Minister? Is it satisfying in either of these realms? Is this the Iron Lady we know from history, or a ‘melted down’ version? The British newspaper The Guardian expressed concern that the narrative of the film overlooks Thatcher as “economy destroyer and warmonger” in favour of an “exclusive focus on Thatcher as a woman triumphing against the odds.” The movie overlooks the ‘collateral damage’ of her government policies of deregulation, privatization and globalization, and gives no explanation or background to the events in Britain at the time. The events are simply depicted as newsreel through the memory of an old lady so they are necessarily selective and subjective.

The film also skims over the surface of her much of her own personal and family life, and even her significant academic credentials (her training as a barrister – reflected in her capacity to argue a case strongly, and training as a research chemist – reflected in her forensic attention to detail). The movie lingers on the softer side of MT rather than the iron lady, including the tender dialogue with her long dead husband. When she learns of the deaths of service men after she declared war on Argentina over the Falkland Islands, we see MT struggling to contain her emotions.  The film depicts the “Iron Lady” as a mother writing from the heart rather than the powerfully cold and calculating side of the woman best known to the world. To what extent can such a movie be considered biographical and historical?

Ethical question: a living subject
There are plenty of movies made about people who are still living, but this one has drawn harsh criticism. Streep defended her choice to portray MT’s mental decline while MT was still alive: “Some people have said that it’s shameful to portray this part of a life, that the ebbing end of life is something that should be shut away and that people need to be defended from the images of those suffering from dementia. But I don’t think it’s shameful. I don’t see why it can’t be shown. It’s a film much more about ageing and elements of dementia rather than about an amazing prime minister.” What ethical questions might be considered when making a movie about a ‘living subject’?

The Falklands: the untold story
The famous economist Milton Friedman observed that “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. Once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo”, and to embed free market ideas into the society. The Falklands war in 1982 served such a purpose for Margaret Thatcher: the disorder resulting from the war allowed her to crush the striking miners and to launch the first privatisation frenzy in a western democracy. There are multi-layers in Government decision making, some of which are public, and much of which is hidden. The movie depicts MT in Churchill mode, fighting for what is Britain’s property, rather than an opportunist and strategist seeking to establish free market ideas and in the process to crush the striking miners. How do we tell history to reflect multi-layers such as this? Are there other examples?

Dementia
MT says of her aging reflection, “I don’t know who she is.” As people are living longer, dementia has become one of the issues of ageing. In what ways does the film contribute insights about ageing and dementia, and how does it resonate (or not) with your own experience with family and friends?

Thoughts are powerful
On a visit to a doctor, MT reveals she is more interested in what people think than what they feel.  So, when he asks her what she is thinking, she replies, “Thoughts are powerful, they bring action, and actions over time become habit, and habit becomes character.” In these lines delivered by the ageing MT, we see a woman of conviction that informed her leadership style. What are the strengths of her approach, and what might be the weaknesses of a leader who has less focus on feelings?

Let us have a king….
The ancient Hebrew people demanded to have a king like their neighbouring countries. Yahweh declined to install a king, given the human propensity for corruption. But when the people continue to insist, Yahweh grants their request. The succession of kings turned out to be mainly a flawed group of people who did not serve the interests of their people, and failed to give priority to the poor and marginalised. It is striking to consider examples of leaders in history who begin with good intentions and motives but who succumb to corruption. What examples come to mind? How does the example of Jesus contrast to this corruption and what was his critique of the religious and political leadership of his time? Are there positive models of leadership that come to mind? Is the political process itself somehow corrupting of leaders? How do you reflect on the suggestion that by the time someone is in a position to exercise power, they have been corrupted by the system.

Additional Reading:  http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=29612

© Rev Sandy Boyce 8th January 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au

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

The Ides of March

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Political drama  Rating: M (Adult themes and frequent coarse language)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti.
Director: George Clooney (his fourth film as director)
An adaptation of the play “Farragut North” (Beau Willimon, 2008).

Brief synopsis
PostThe context is a fictional Democratic primary in Ohio and the film focuses on electoral process and personal ethics. It draws on some of the hopefulness of Obama‘s 2008 campaign and some of the scandals involving Bill Clinton. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential candidate, competing against Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman. This film is about the political process, even when candidates are on the same side. The candidates are campaigning in Ohio. A win for Morris would all but guarantee him the nomination; a win for Pullman would give him vital momentum. Both campaigns are also attempting to enlist the endorsement of North Carolina Senator Thompson. The movie traces the experiences of the Junior Campaign Manager, a “true believer” who believes Morris is the only one who can make a positive difference to the future of the country. He gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail where everyone gets played‘. Brilliantly written and acted, although some may wonder what more it contributes to in the portfolio of political movies (Wag the Dog, W., The Candidate etc as well as episodes of the West Wing).
Full synopsis here, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1124035/synopsis.
Wikipaedia synopsis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ides_of_March_%28film%29.

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?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

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.

Political life
Under-handed backstabbing, hypocrisy, intrigue, and blackmail. Are these a ‘given’, an inevitable part of the political landscape? Is personal integrity and honesty believable in the political realm? Is charm a commodity cultivated for votes and opinion polls? Is politics more than likely to corrupt or ‘wake up’ idealistic wide eyed visionaries and dreamers? How much is compromise part and parcel of the political landscape, in order to achieve the best (or most expedient) outcome? How might those who are not ‘political animals’ influence the process? Who are the real movers and shakers in politics and what can we believe?

And what‘s the role of the media in the whole process, and who‘s really using who? Ida (Marisa Tomei) is a shamelessly opportunistic journalist in getting the scoop for NY Times stories. When is a friend a friend in the political world?

The poster for the movie has a man‘s face shown half hidden behind the folded page of a Time Magazine. It is a composite image of the two main characters in the film — Clooney the candidate and Gosling the campaign manager, conveying an underlying theme of Machiavellian deceit and betrayal. Is such behaviour inevitable in politics — or, more particularly, for those seeking leadership roles?

How do you reflect on the statement, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’?

While some people will be upset by the number of times f**k is used in the film, is this simply indicative of the ‘straight talking’ that takes place behind all the charm of candidate and the public campaign?

Biblical themes
Jesus clashed often with the political and religious leaders of the day, both the Roman occupiers as well as the Jewish leaders. In the context of the day, these were public stoushes, with arguments put to Jesus that were designed to trip him up. There was shaming (a political tool of the day), intrigue, betrayal, denial. Was crucifixion the inevitable outcome?

Making a difference
To what extent does power corrupt people in leadership generally? What are your own experiences? What alternatives have you experienced or know about?

References to the Ides of March
‘Ides’ means “the middle of”. The ”Ides of March” doesn‘t take place in the month of March, though. It is a reference to historical events eg Julius Caesar was assassinated on “the ide of march”. The ide of March is also mentioned in one of Shakespeare‘s plays dealing with Caesar‘s assassination. The soon-to-be-assassinated Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” It could also suggest the assassination of good moral character and ideals in the harsh and ruthless political arena where no one person is allowed to dominate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ides_of_March.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th December 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

Red State

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Drama
Rating: MA 15+
(action/horror/thriller/disturbing violence/some sexual content including brief nudity/language)
Length: 1.28 hours
Starring: John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith

PosterBrief synopsis
Sex, religion and politics – an explosive combination! Red State unfolds in a small town in middle America dominated by a fundamentalist preacher, Abin Cooper who holds extreme homophobic and anti-government views. (Remember Waco, Texas and the charismatic leader David Koresh?)

This film tells the story of three high school boys who make the most of an online invitation to a sexual rendezvous with a woman. The opening sequence is a bit like a typical teen horror flick. The boys end up being drugged and kidnapped by Cooper’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which believes the world is spiraling into moral oblivion. They are prepared to take matters into their own hands to deal decisively with examples of sexual immorality and homosexuality. Thus, the boys inadvertently trigger a disturbing series of events that cause all hell to break loose.

It’s compelling viewing but there is a disturbing degree of violence in this film and an incredibly high body count. In the end, Abin Cooper is taken alive, and spends the remainder of his days locked in solitary confinement, where he spends the rest of his days pacing anxiously around his cell muttering like a madman – singing and preaching to himself.

The critics are in two minds about this movie. So, why would you bother seeing it?

Steve Parker writes: “The acting is top-notch, especially Michael Parks as the sect leader and John Goodman as the ATF officer. The story is riveting and suspenseful. It tellingly portrays contemporary tensions between religion and politics that so often centre around aspects of sex, particularly in America. The basic point is that neither religion nor government really know how to communicate and handle each other and when they come together it creates a tinder box of dangerous attitudes that have serious consequences. Red State is very violent in making its point – but religion and governments have resorted to violence to try to “manage” their agendas. If you are at all squeamish – better not to see this one. If you do see it, you are in for a very confronting experience that will have you thinking deeply for a long time”.

David Stratton writes: “Red State is filled with hatred towards both fundamentalists, like the odious Cooper, and federal agencies, like the ATF depicted here, an organisation that operates beyond and above the law. Smith sets out to shock audiences by ensuring that we never quite know who are the goodies and the baddies in all of this, and who is going to get a bullet in the head next. It’s a really strange film, terribly violent on one level and on another filled with lengthy, long-winded philosophical discourses and blind alleys. It’s well made, and has an interesting cast, but its general unpleasantness overwhelms its other qualities”.

Questions for discussion
This particular movie is challenging in content and visually. Nevertheless, it does raise some interesting questions. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What topical issues were addressed, and what themes were explored?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • In what way is ‘the church’ depicted, and in what ways might strongly held ‘fundamental’ views and actions and beliefs be distinguished from what would more properly be identified as a sect? What’s the ‘tipping point’? What might potentially hold such extreme views in check?
  • What contemporary examples do we have of the toxic combination of sex, religion and politics?
  • What contemporary examples do we have of people like Abin Cooper – charming yet sinister – who attract others to a doctrine of hate and extreme views? What’s the line between sanity and madness for leaders of this kind?

© Rev Sandy Boyce October 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright

The Cup

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Australian drama
Rating: PG (Mild themes and coarse language)
Length: 106 minutes
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Curry, Daniel McPherson, Alice Parkinson, Bill Hunter, Shaun Micallef, Kate Bell, Jodi Gordon  and Colleen Hewitt
Director: Simon Wincer (Phar Lap, The Man From Snowy River)

PosterBrief synopsis
A simple, respectful heartwarming and inspirational true story of Damien Oliver’s (Curry) win on Irish horse Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup – the race that stops the nation – a week after his only brother Jason (McPherson) died in a racing incident. The brothers’ father, Ray, had also died in a racing accident under similar circumstances when they were children. His brother’s death throws him into turmoil, and this is what the film explores, especially his family relationships. Can he risk riding in the Melbourne Cup, when his mother (Hewitt) has lost two of her family to the sport? What is the impact on his wife (Gordon) when the dangers of the sport are cast so glaringly into the spotlight? Should he ride in the Melbourne Cup, or not? His grief tests his own resolve, as well as the faith of the Irish Trainer (Gleeson). Australians know the outcome of this week of turmoil, and Oliver’s win in 2002 captivated the nation. It has long since passed into Australian sporting legend. The film itself is a solid retelling of this inspirational story, even if is somewhat pedestrian and the script at times awkward, though the actors do a fine job. Ultimately The Cup is not just a story about horse racing, it’s about triumph over adversity and that inner courage inside all of us.

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 story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

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.

Australia loves the underdog
Prior to his brother’s death, Damien Oliver was riding high. He was already an acclaimed jockey having won his fourth Racing Victoria Limited Scobie Breasley Medal for riding excellence and the Geelong Cup, seen as a precursor to the Melbourne Cup. But the kind of ‘tortured trial’, protracted soul searching and defeats he experienced in the week between his brother’s death and the Melbourne Cup made his emotionally fragile and vulnerable. He was no longer a certainty, and no-one could be sure if his steely resolve and discipline would triumph over grief and sorrow. Discuss the way the ‘underdog’ is part of the fabric of Australian culture with your own examples.

Learning from those who have been in the dark valleys
‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ Grief is entirely personal, and people in the grips of grief sometimes believe no-one can understand their sorrow. People who can share sorrow and grief with others in the same situation, who know what it’s like, can be a great source of comfort, encouragement and even inspiration. The film references the Bali bombing (less than a month before the Melbourne Cup), and explores the influence upon Damien of AFL star Jason McCartney’s (Rodger Corser) heroic behaviour during that incident. What are your own experiences with sorrow and grief and how have you been encouraged by others who know the experience of the psalmist, ‘Even when the way goes through the darkest valley, I will not fear, for you walk at my side’ (Psalm 23.4).

Biblical themes
In one sense, the biblical narrative is a series of potentially overwhelming defeats, and at other times such difficult circumstances that one wonders how the people could survive emotionally, spiritually and physically. There are countless stories that come to mind including the exodus experience of being enslaved, the escape and subsequent pursuit, the wandering in the desert for a long period of time, invasions, occupation, persecution etc. In the midst of such circumstances, the Hebrew people, the early Jewish Christians and the fledgling Christian church gave testimony to the experience of God in their midst, who did not abandon them but was known even in the ‘darkest valley’ of their experiences. This knowledge and experience was enough to sustain the people’s courage and endurance, and to enable them to overcome the incredible odds. What biblical stories come to mind of the ‘underdog’, or those in desperate circumstances? What are your own stories of endurance despite the circumstances and who or what has helped you or inspired you?

Whereto from here…..
Is this film a welcome return to good old fashioned story telling brought to life in a movie, or does it feel a bit like a return to an era that no longer carries the story effectively? How have movies changed since the director’s foray into Australian iconic stories such as Phar Lap and The Man from Snowy River? Has the audience become ‘sophisticated’ and/or grown used to CGI (computer generated images) in movies which work on the big screen, or has the audience lost interest in the art of being attentive to a story told with less of the ‘effects’. Could be an interesting discussion point…….!

This discussion could also be a segue into a discussion about the biblical narrative and the way we ‘do’ church, with similar points to focus conversation.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

Oranges and Sunshine

Published / by Sandy

Genre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 104 minutes
Starring: Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Emma Watson
Director: Jim Loach
Location:  filmed in Adelaide, South Australia

posterBrief studio synopsis (pre-release)
Oranges and Sunshine tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom – up to 130,000 children as late as 1970. It was a dirty secret shared by the Governments of UK, Canada and Australia. These are children who had been given up for adoption by single mothers, ashamed to admit they had had a child out of wedlock. The children themselves were told their mothers had died and were told they would have a better future in another country and especially Australia, the land of oranges and sunshine. Children, some as young as four, were sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse. They were promised oranges and sunshine, they got hard labour and life in institutions. The film tells the story of Margaret who almost singlehandedly, and against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.

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 story/experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

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.

Seeking justice.

Mrs Humphreys begins her work by delving into the case of one of the children who sought her help in finding the birth mother. At that time, the migration program was not public knowledge, and Mrs Humphreys simply followed the leads as far as they went with quiet determination and tenacity. As she got closer to uncovering this secret government program she encountered threats on her life and resistance from government.
How far can one person go in pursuing justice? What examples do we have? How well are their stories told that in turn inspire others to persist rather than stand down? What are some of the challenges of our time that require persistence, determination and resilience to pursue justice? How might one person’s endeavours be more effective by building a community for change? What groups might these be in Adelaide, or Australia, or globally?

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing’(Edmund Burke) (* note: original quote said men – I’m sure today he’d be ok with ‘people’!)

How could such an event have happened in a so-called civilized society? How could the forced migration of so many children and the separation from birth mothers be kept secret? People in government circles knew – leaders, decision makers and those who implemented the policy through administration. Good people, who were caught up in a program devised by a few, and who failed to challenge and question. What held them back? Complacency, inadequacy, fear of retribution, or loss of employment? It is clear that those who are ‘good’ in our world outnumber those who are ‘evil’, and yet there are so many examples and ways in which ‘evil’ prevails. It is not the numbers themselves that count when evil prevails, but whether those who claim to be ‘good’ are willing to stand up and take a stand for what they know to be right. Discuss.

On this question, a re-read of the ‘sheep and the goats’ in Matthew 25:31-46 offers an intriguing insight. Those who are ushered into the kingdom are those who are a bit bewildered to be recognized as doing ‘good’ – they have simply responded to need that they saw before them, little realising that in doing so for the ‘least of these’ they do it for the Son of Man himself. Those who are sent away are those who would do good if someone but pointed out to them where such need existed – the ‘would have’ and ‘could have’ sort of people. Mrs Humphreys is an example of an everyday hero who sees a need and holds onto the pursuit of justice wherever it leads and for however long is required.

Abuse of children
Children have historically been those who are the ‘least of the least’. The children in the migration program were used as slave labour. They were abused. They had their identity stolen from them, and a severing of the relationship with their mothers. We live in a comfortable society far removed from many contemporary examples of children being put to work too early. We are complicit because we benefit from their labour, whether it is in sweat shops, chocolate production etc. How much do we know about their situation? How does it change our consumption of goods? What do we know about Fair Trade campaigns that highlight some of these issues, or other campaigns on behalf of children? How does it invite advocacy to bring about change? How might we respond to opportunities to make a difference in these children’s lives?

(note: some may also wish to discuss the Government policy that resulted in ‘the stolen generations’)

We in Australia cannot disassociate ourselves from child labour. Children of female outworkers (usually poor migrant female workers from Asia), assist their mothers in the production of garments in sweatshop conditions. While children are not usually employed by contractors, they do work long hours alongside their parents or other siblings, working on industrial sewing machines after school, until late at night and during school holidays. There are campaigns raising this issue in Australia and seeking change in condition for both the children and their mothers. How might you be part of advocacy programs such as this?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.

Get Low

Published / by Sandy

“You can’t buy forgiveness. It’s free, but you have to ask for it.”

Genre: Drama
Rating:
M
Length:
103 mins
Starring:
Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spaceck . 103 minutes
Director:
Aaron Schneider

posterSummary:
A movie spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party… while he was still alive. Pathos and comedy intertwined.

Get Low begins with the sight of a blazing rural homestead, and ends with the image of a small group of friends clustered around a humble grave. In between is the story of an old man’s last bid for forgiveness and redemption. The film offers a meditation on getting old, and on the desire to garrote regret before mortality makes its final fatal lunge. Tim Kroenert. His write up on the film is here:  https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=26234

There is a very existential quality to Felix’s struggle. He takes his guilt seriously. He is not willing to accept the cheap grace of forgiving himself easily. But that also stands in the way of any other forgiveness—human or divine—that would help to unburden him as he approaches death. Forgiveness and grace are always a struggle. As Felix is told early on, it’s free, but it must be asked for. It only comes by being open to it. As Felix prepares for what he sees coming, it is this struggle to open himself to grace that is even more difficult than bearing the weight of his past. © 2010 Hollywood Jesus,   https://www.hollywoodjesus.com

Questions for discussion

Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored (guilt, forgiveness, grace, regret etc)?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the movie that resonate with your own story/experience?
  • Are there any biblical or theological themes or characters evoked by the story?

More specific questions in relation to the movie

Discuss the way that ‘confession’ and the courage to take responsibility can be cathartic, healing and liberating in a person’s life, as well as in community life.

What examples are there in the public arena (eg Rudd’s apology to Aboriginal people, the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa etc) as well as between people?

How might ‘confession’ operate both within and beyond the formal structures of church and law?

Discuss the option to ‘bribe’ God when people are desperate due to guilt, or circumstances.

What theological ‘lens’ is used to describe God’s relationship with people?

Discuss the crippling effect of pain and guilt in people’s lives that prevent them living fully.

Discuss the dynamic at work when people choose to barricade themselves in ‘prisons’ of their own making.

‘Sin’ – for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Sin is an area of theology that in some circles has been downplayed, as ‘original sin’ and ‘atonement’ theology has been challenged and given way to other dimensions such as ‘grace and mercy and forgiveness’. Discuss ‘sin’ in Felix’s life and your own understanding of the dynamic of ‘sin’.

At a more personal level:

What would you expect people might say at your funeral? How do you make yourself open to hear these things in your life? What sort of stories might they be (bitter, sad, funny, heartfelt, pathos, surprising, etc).

In what ways are your ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds congruent? Do people have an opportunity to see the ‘real’ you or do you sense others relate at a more superficial level on what they see and therefore presume?

What things in the past might hold you back in the present, and need resolution? How are these things played out in your life – isolation, self-punishment, withdrawal, denial etc?

What aspects of the film reveal areas that might need further exploration in your own life, or in your relationships or community?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce, Pilgrim Uniting Church May 2011

This resource is prepared to assist thoughtful reflections and deeper conversations after viewing a movie, and can be used freely by groups and individuals.

Griff the Invisible

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Rating: M
Length: 93 mins
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody
Director: Leon Ford
Country: Australia

posterStudio Synopsis – ‘The Greatest Superpower is love’
Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a quiet office worker by day, and a superhero by night. Into his private and secluded life comes Melody (Maeve Dermody), who turns his world upside down. She is a intrigued by the possibilities of science and, like Griff, shares his passion for what seems to be impossible. Griff’s day-time world is dominated by the office bully (Toby Schmitz); his protective brother appears to be his only friend. By night, Griff assumes his other identity, roaming the dark streets of Sydney protecting the innocent and the vulnerable from the dangers that lurk in the shadows. He is the hero, Griff the Invisible. Increasingly concerned by Griff’s eccentric behaviour, his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) attempts to draw him back into the ‘real world’. In doing so he introduces Griff to Melody, an equally eccentric and charming girl. Fascinated by Griff’s idiosyncrasies, which are equal only to her own, Melody begins to fall for Griff. As Griff is forced to face up to realities of a mundane world, it is up to Melody to rescue Griff the Invisible for his sake, and their love for each other.

Griff the Invisible is fresh, imaginative and original, owing more to the feel of a movie like Lars and the Real Girl than the super-hero genre. It is a debut feature film by writer / director Leon Ford. Griff the Invisible is fresh from international rave reviews and accolades from the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals.

Questions for discussion

This is a gentle, quirky and imaginative movie. It does raise some important issues about ‘growing up’, ‘identity’ etc. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:
What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?

What assumptions were embedded in the story?

What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?

Are there aspects of the movie that resonate with your own story/experience?

Are there any biblical or theological themes or characters evoked by the story?

The following provides some ideas for further discussion and reflection.

Growing up
We have all heard the words: ‘what will you do when you grow up?’, ‘when you are mature….’. Adolescence and early adulthood is viewed as a ‘stage’ on the way to ‘maturity’. There is much that needs to be left behind on the way, seemingly having no place in ‘mature adulthood’. Yet, there is a cost to shedding ‘immaturity’ in order to gain the appearance of ‘maturity. Often credibility as an adult is gained through submission to conformity. Those who retain ways of ‘being’ that resist the need to ‘conform’ and to be domesticated by societal and relational expectations are often considered ‘eccentric’.

Griff represents something universal, according to writer/director Leon Ford. ”He’s just an extreme version of what’s in me, and in all of us to varying degrees. We all put on roles for this job or that relationship. And we all have part of us that never grows up. I’m sure inside every fireman rushing down the street is a 10-year-old boy screaming. Even if they are off to save lives.”

How does this resonate with your own experience?

The imagination of a six year old
Writer/Director Leon Ford’s first inspiration for Griff the Invisible came when he was sitting in a cafe, watching a six-year-old boy in a Batman cape zooming between tables. Inside his game – which was inside his head – he was saving the world. It struck Ford that, at some stage, we give up on our spirit of play. ”It was somewhere in the teens for me,” he told a young audience at the Berlin Film Festival. ‘You’ve to hold on to that superhero in any way you can. Then let it out!”

When a six year old plays ‘superheroes’ or any other imaginary activity, it’s not play but reality in their head. They create with their imagination the world they choose to inhabit with their play. Perhaps we abandon our capacity to ‘play’ too readily. What is lost when cease to play and use our imagination – not just in relation to our own ‘being’, but in our capacity to imagine another kind of possibility that might positively contribute to the well being of the world? The experience of many is that there is a kind of nothingness that consumes our ‘being’ when play and imagination is set aside, perhaps masked by our busyness, distractions and possessions.

(from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende): “The Nothing is spreading. It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing. The Nothing caught us in our sleep and this is what it did to us.”
“Is it very painful?” Atreyu asked.
“No,” said the second bark troll, the one with the hole in his chest. “You  don’t feel a thing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something more is missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.”

Discuss how this resonates with your own experience?

Bullying and emotional well being
Griff the Invisible has something in common with the main character in The Neverending Story in which a boy, Bastian, is hiding from bullies at school. He finds a book called The Neverending Story and begins reading. Immediately he is taken into the world of the book, Fantastica, and begins imagining a place where stories are real. And Bastian has the power, as the reader, to change the world he reads about and to imagine it as he sees fit. He can make changes to the scenes around him and decides the fate of different creatures he comes across.

Griff lives in such a world, perhaps a response to bullying in school and at work. ‘State of the art’ electronic surveillance technology exists only in his head (and appears to be real to the audience). Superhero abilities exist only in the realm of his imagination. He is the ‘Dork Knight’, the The Invisible Man, protecting his neighbourhood with his own catch phrase “Get out of my neighbourhood!” He wants to believe he can make a difference, and rise to the challenges he sees around him, and to respond to the ‘Commissioner’s’ call – who apparently needs Griff’s help to ensure public safety and order is maintained.

We all know the experience of moving into our own ‘worlds’ when the need arises, and we all have our escapes (TV, music, sport etc) when we need to disengage from ‘reality’. We can escape to these worlds, where things make more sense, when we can ‘re-assemble’ in order to face the world again.

Griff expects no-one will understand or enter his ‘world’, not even his brother (hence his covering up the ‘evidence’ in his flat – keep it hidden, and protected from derision). He assumes that being on his own, eating on his own every night, is a necessary part of maintaining his constructed world.

It’s a thin line between mental health issues and the world of imagination, between social and emotional well being and the private, internal world (perhaps more real than the tangible one?) Imagination has the capacity to transform harsh reality into something that offers meaning and hope. Is there a place for such imagination in the ‘real’ world?

The Outsiders
“…. he felt that his life had been an utter failure, and that he himself was only one among millions of wholly unimportant people who could be replaced as easily as broken windowpanes…… He came to realize by some mysterious means that he was absolutely wrong: that there was only one person like himself in the whole world, and that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way.” (Michael Ende)

Griff and Melody recognize each other as kindred spirits. They connect as ‘outsiders’ in the ‘real world’, and draw closer to each other as insiders occupying a world that they shape together. We all wear masks at times to hide our true feelings, but kindred spirits are able to take off their mask and reveal who they really are. Melody matches Griff’s ‘world’ with her own views on things such as particle physics and the possibility of passing through walls, as well as her belief in the multiple existences of cats. Griff has been so caught up in his world that he can’t entertain the idea of sharing it with anyone else. But Melody is prepared to pursue him and to give value to his way of seeing things. She recognises the merits of complicity with Griff’s ‘world’. Her relationship with Griff is thus framed by love, support and protection, and the desire to make him happy in his ‘world’ rather than try to change it.

Writer/Director Leon Ford recognises that the conventional choice in his script would have been to pair Griff with an understanding nurturer who could provide him with a safe space to be gently crazy. Ford admits that he did try going down that road. ”But that would make her almost motherly. She’s probably more functional in everyday life than he is. She probably has friends. But it was important that she not have less depth of character.”

Tim, Griff’s older brother, is regarded as the more responsible, “normal” member of the family. He is stinging in his criticism of Melody who wilfully encourages Griff to inhabit his make believe world, when Tim wants to rescue Griff from it. He has hope that medication offers some hope that ‘normal life’ possible. Perhaps we can identify with some of Tim’s exasperation and even despair when individuals we know don’t seem to want to ‘grow up’ and be ‘responsible’.

It does invite exploration about what defines maturity and ‘responsibility’.

Strengths and weakness
It is easy to see the two main characters as flawed, limited, immature, irresponsible etc and to have hesitations about them as people – quiet, introspective and fragile. Writer/Director Leon Ford rejoices in the characters’ oddities. ”I think everyone in any job, any classroom or any train carriage has something inside they think is special or suppressed or misunderstood. I wanted to give that thing permission, to celebrate it and find a strength in it”.

Both characters are also highly intelligent, likeable, creative, determined, and display a steady confidence – despite the way others perceive them and relate to them. The audience sees both, and is placed in a position where a decision needs to be made towards the end in response to Griff destroying the superhero ‘props’ and his constructed world. When he dons the check shirt and the glazed appearance of ‘normality’- is this something to be greeted with applause and relief, or some despair?

Biblical references
Melody’s ideas about ‘parallel worlds’ may find company with the Christian understanding of the reign of God – here and yet not yet fully present. Who can see it and know it? It is an act of faith, an alternative way of viewing ‘reality’. The conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) opens opportunities to see things in a new way, even being ‘born again’. Like Griff, not everyone understands or appreciates an alternative way of viewing meaning and ‘reality’.

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
March 2011

The King’s Speech

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Drama, History
Rating: M
Length: 118 mins
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter; Derek Jacobi; Geoffrey Rush
Director: Tom Hooper

Studio Synopsis
Based on the true story of the Queen of England’s father and his remarkable friendship with maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. The film stars Colin Firth as King George VI who unexpectedly becomes King when his brother Edward abdicates the throne. Geoffrey Rush stars as Logue, the man who helps the King find a voice with which to lead the nation into war. The multi-award-winning cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall & Michael Gambon

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:

  • What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • What biblical or theological themes come to mind that engage with the story?

 

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Stepping up

The story begins when the main character is still Prince Albert of York (‘Bertie’ to his family). He dreaded those occasions when he was called upon to speak at public events, due to his severe stammering problem. “They believe that when I speak, I speak on their behalf, but I can’t speak.” He knew his public role required him to step up, despite his private fears, trepidation and trauma. He displays the courage needed to overcome his personal limitations.

How might the anguish of regular public humiliations give new insight into the call of Moses (who similarly had a speech problem)? Or to any of the biblical characters who felt inadequate or ill-prepared in one form or another (too young -David, Jeremiah; too old – Sarah and Abraham,; or perhaps a foreigner, a woman etc).
What might the experience of some of these characters say to us, as we perceive our own strengths and weaknesses? What does it say about our preparedness to bracket off some misgivings or feelings of inadequacy in order to participate more fully in the vision for a transformed world of peace, love and joy?

 

‘Slow’ movement in a fast paced world

We are shaped by an ‘instant’ way of living – fast food, instant gratification, instant rewards, instant communication. Sometimes the same ‘instant’ and immediate approach can define our relationships. Logue the speech therapist recognises the speech problem as a symptom of something much deeper and complex, and commits himself to being a friend and confidante of Bertie. The relationship requires time, patience and ingenuity. In time, Bertie comes to trust Logue, and this unlikely friendship gives Bertie the support he needs in the most difficult of times.

Relationships can be complex, demanding and challenging, made more difficult in a fast paced lifestyle adopted by so many people today. What might this long term and ‘slow’ approach to relationships invite us to consider in our own relationships?

 

The orthodox – and the unorthodox

The eccentric speech therapist uses controversial and unorthodox methods. It creates the drama in the movie. He becomes an unlikely hero. In reality, many people who work outside of or with some disregard for the ‘norms’ or what is considered ‘orthodox’ are not always welcomed.  New and creative approaches, fresh insights, or even just ‘having a go and seeing what happens’ may be perceived as challenging and divisive, and to be resisted. Many people experience a lack of a ‘permission giving’ culture when trying to bring about innovation or fresh approaches.  Even Jesus experienced denigration and hostility from the religious leaders in his teaching and relationships who saw him as a threat, which led to his death by the collusion of religious and political authorities.

How does this dynamic of orthodox:unorthodox resonate with your experience?

 

Responsibility

The two royal brothers are contrasted in the movie – the older one is portrayed as a selfish and even frivolous man prepared to abandon his responsibilities for love of a married woman; the younger one is portrayed as a quiet and dignified man prepared to honour even the minor responsibilities he had in public life as a Prince and then a King – despite the personal trauma it caused him. He doesn’t give up, but pushes on until he is able to achieve what he needs to do.

Loyalty, perseverance and responsibility are pillars for some in their self-understanding, while others are less willing to give them elevated status and value. For some, such differences will be apparent in their family of origin or extended family. Others may identify it in work relationships. Others may experience it as a difference between those who are prepared to give their all to something – even at great cost to family and private life, whereas others don’t seem to be willing to share the same commitment.

Sometimes, the ‘Protestant work ethic’* drives some to take responsibility quite seriously, especially the ‘builders’ and ‘boomers’ generation. There can emerge a ‘moral high ground’ in how one perceives others who don’t seem to have the same commitment, and Gen X, Y and Z can be accused of being ‘less loyal’. ‘less committed’, ‘less responsible’.

What might be the ‘drivers’ for your own sense of responsibility and commitment?

 

(The Protestant work ethic is based upon the Calvinist notion of the necessity for hard work as a component of a person’s calling and worldly success and as a sign of personal salvation. The Protestants beginning with Martin Luther reconceptualised worldly work as a duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation to work diligently as a sign of grace. The Calvinist and Lutheran theologians taught that only those who were predestined to be saved would be saved, by grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. Since it was impossible to know if one was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was predestined by observing their way of life, of which hard work and frugality were important signs).

 

Integrity

President Obama is a gifted orator who inspired people. But it would also be true to say that people had grown to know him through reading his books – learning about his multi-ethnic background, his commitment to community development, his failures and disappointments, as well as his hard word. It is the quality of the man, not just his inspiring ‘yes, we can’ speeches, that caught the imagination of the world.

The public warmed to Bertie nor because he was a brilliant orator but because they knew the integrity of the man; the inspiration they derived from the speeches was not just through carefully crafted speeches but because people felt a strong connection with him as an ‘ordinary’ man who was not remote from their trials and tribulations.

In what ways does the ‘rhetoric’ and careful scripting of speeches by contemporary public figures give comfort or caution, and reflect integrity, or lack thereof? Who are the public figures who elicit your regard and esteem, and why?

 

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute the source.
January 2011

 

Wall Street: Money never sleeps

Published / by Sandy

Genre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 133 minutes
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach
Director: Oliver Stone

posterBrief synopsis
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the corporate raider introduced in Wall Street in 1987 along with his iconic “Greed is good, greed is right, greed works” mantra, is back in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. He has served a lengthy prison stint for securities fraud and racketeering, and on his release he finds himself alone – no friends and family. He emerges into a strange new world in which he needs to redefine himself and reclaim his place. It’s now the 21st century, and a financial crisis is brewing. A young, idealistic Wall St investment banker works for an investment firm, rumoured to have billions in toxic debt. When a Government bailout is refused, it provides an opportunity for another firm (the source of the rumours) to jump in and purchase it at a fraction of its true worth. The young banker teams up with Gecko to solve the mystery of who began the rumours that led to the demise of the company and led to the death of his mentor. But Gekko has not been reformed in prison; rather, he has simply re-formed his old ways to suit a new context and shows he is still a master manipulator.

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

  1. What stood out as the main points in the movie?
  2. What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  3. What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  4. What biblical or theological themes come to mind that engage with the story?

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.

 

Global Financial Crisis (GFC)
‘Greed is good’ encapsulated the opportunism of the 80’s with fabulous wealth associated with phenomena like the ‘dot.com.bubble’. As it turns out, greed can have dire consequences as experienced in the GFC with the sub-prime mortgage scandals and the bail out of the banks that were considered too important to fail. The opportunism of bankers and investors showed the soulless and callous way of those who give primacy to wealth and self-interest at the expense of ‘ordinary’ people who lost homes and livelihoods as a consequence. Gecko’s ‘victimless’ crime of the 80’s had a human face in the GFC of 2008. The assumption that capitalism can continue to expand is flawed. How does this movie speak into our contemporary global context?

 

Capitalism wears a green face – greed meets green
Jake Moore is the young trader whose competitive drive is offset by his idealism and investment in green energy. In one scene, Gecko’s daughter asks Jake, “Are you interested in changing the world or making money?” Is there a ‘marriage of convenience’ between ‘making money’ and ‘changing the world’ ?‘ Green’ is a new investment strategy – a means to tap into the community interest in ‘green issues’ but – in the end – is investment in ‘green’ only a new means to generate profit? We pay ‘carbon tax’ when we book flights and may choose ‘green’ sources of energy from an electricity provider, but at a greater cost. Is the ‘wedding’ of ‘greed’ and ‘green’ inevitable? Are there ‘benign’ ethical investments or is it always about the profit margin?

 

Financial ‘speak’
Critics have noted the scenes in which ‘men in suits’ talk quickly and slickly about money, in a lingo and manner that often leaves the viewer clueless about what is going on. Perhaps this is the director’s way of showing ‘insiders’ and the ‘outsiders’ – that there’s a whole world of financial speak and activity about which the average person has no idea. When one is on the ‘inside’, there’s a way of making sense of the world and relationships and opportunities, but these are generally outside the frame of reference for most people. Financiers are shaping the world economy in a way that most people are not privy to, nor able to influence.

 

Villains on Wall St
James (Josh Brolin) is the new villain on Wall St, who worships wealth and is prepared to destroy people and institutions for his own gain. He relishes power and access into the elite social stratum. When the young banker asks James about how much money he would need to be able to walk away from it all and live happily, James simply replies, “more.” When Moore tells Gecko, “No matter how much money you make, you will never be rich”, Gecko responds, “You see, it’s not about the money. It’s about winning the game between humans.” Gekko believes that relationships are merely a ‘zero-sum’ game in which someone has to lose, even if the loser is family. “Whether it’s greed or revenge or the compulsion to chase, it all amounts to the same thing … loss of control. And it’s always going to be there and it’s always going to be stronger than you’. Does a person’s character shape the nature of the financial world, or does the promise of wealth shape the person’s character? What counter examples are there to James and Gecko, such as Bill and Melinda Gates who use their wealth to serve vulnerable communities around the world through their Foundation.

The biblical narrative
While there are many references to wealth and riches in the biblical narrative, the commentary on them is more about how they are used (who benefits from wealth and at whose expense?) and about the love of money as a thing in itself. The biblical narrative was written in a context of ‘limited wealth’, and that whoever had more had ‘taken’ it from others. What biblical texts come to mind that deal with money and riches, and how do they make sense within this frame of reference of limited wealth? How do these texts speak into a context where it is assumed that capitalism can keep expanding?

Greed and evil
In his final speech, Gekko observes that because ‘greed is sin, it is always right there, waiting to pounce on us’. In what ways can wealth be intoxicating and seductive? What values and ethics counter the opportunities for the ‘sin’ of greed to control a person’s life? What do we learn from the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures, and the life and teaching of Jesus?

The Contented Fisherman by Anthony de Mello
The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. “Why aren’t you out fishing?” said the industrialist. “Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch some more?” “What would I do with it?” “You could earn more money” was the reply. “With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats . . . maybe even a fleet of boats. The you would be a rich man like me.” “What would I do then?” “Then you could really enjoy life.” “What do you think I am doing right now?” What insights emerge from this simple story?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright.