Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max - 1979Mel Gibson is Max in George Miller’s cult classic that changed the scope of Australian cinema. In a flimsy plot, Max is a normal young man in the time and place when things are not as normal anymore. Set in the not-too-distance future, this somewhat apocalyptic wasteland is symbolic of the social decay. Max becomes a victim of this social decay more than once.

A biker gang terrorizes the wasteland. These villains, Toecutter is the leader of this gang. There are villains and then there is Toecutter. He, like the other villains, are just plain terrifying. This gang of villains play into very fear we have, no matter how deep we have buried them.

Max is one of the leather-cladded policemen who are doing their best to keep the biker gang in line. He is one of the good guys. And he really is a good guy. When his partner is killed by the gang, he decides to walk away from his job. It is too dangerous. He takes his wife and his son, and they leave the area in search for a better, safer, place to live.

The tone and the appearance of the film changes then. No longer is the screen dominated by dark leather and villainess faces. Now the screen is occupied by sunshine, beaches, and bluejeans. Life is good. It is the clearest sense that there are two different realities in this wasteland. It is a reminder of the tension between what Max and the police are fighting for and the reality that the biker gang prefers. It is the tension between good and evil; justice and injustice; integrity and corruption.

Max is drawn back into the tension when, stopping to fix a flat tire, his wife encounters the biker gang. They do not cease their terror, not even when they kill Max’s son and severely injure his wife. It is too much for Max. He cannot handle it. He returns home, digs out his leather police uniform, and chooses a car out of the garage. He is back and he is mad.

Max seeks justice through revenge. In less time than it took the film to get to this point of the plot, Max eliminates each member of the biker gang. When he finds the last gang member, Max handcuffs the guy to a wrecked vehicle. After setting up a crude time-delay fuse with that involves a slow fuel leak, Max throws the guy a hacksaw. Max is giving him the choice of sawing off the handcuffs or his ankle. Or he dies.

Max doesn’t seem to care, as he casually drives away. The handcuffed man’s fate is unknown after the vehicle explodes.  Max drives off into the unknown, symbolizing how it is with his soul.

It seems that chaos wins in this reality. Even the best of the good guys seems to have been engulfed by the chaos. Which should remind us how slippery the slope is between chaos and order is.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

planetofapesadvancehestonWhen it was released in April of 1968, it was not well received by many critics. However, Planet of the Apes would go down as a classic sci-fi film. Charlton Heston is George Taylor, an American astronaut who, along with his crew, crashes 2,000 years in the future on an unknown planet. Everything on this planet seems to be turned upside down. In this strange land, apes rule, and humans are hunted, caged, and enslaved.

At first, Taylor is injured and unable to speak. He tries various things to get the apes to understand that he is as intellect as they are. It is Zira (Kim Hunter) who sees something special in Taylor. At first it is evolution. She and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) want to study Taylor to see how humans are evolving. The dialogue, with intent, is similar to conversations humans have had about studying apes. After they get to know Taylor, a theory that was being forgotten returns to the surface. Cornelius’ archeological studies suggest that humans existed on the planet in a more civilized society than apes currently do.

It is perfect and brilliant commentary on the modern human condition. In the beginning of the film, in one of Taylor’s speeches, he says, “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox that sent me to the stars, still make war with his brother?” A question, no doubt, theological and philosophically debated in 1968 in the midst of a war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. The effects of which were not lost on the film’s crew. Michael Wilson rewrote the original script by Rod Serling (the ending was the only contribution of Serling’s that Wilson kept). Wilson, like so many during the 1950s in Hollywood, was blacklisted for allegedly being communist. The Cold War and the changing tides of culture and thought and its effects on society hit close to home.

Final Scene - Planet of the Apes

Nor is it a surprise the role of nuclear destruction (a great fear of the Cold War) plays in the film. Taylor’s longing for a war-free world is only met with a world destroyed by war. The iconic ending, with Taylor on his knees in the sand, yelling, “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” reveals the truth. Don’t be mistaken, Taylor is not referring to the apes, but the humans he left behind. Taylor has not been on an unknown planet. He has been on his own, war-torn planet where everything has been turned upside down.

1968 was a turbulent time, as well, for people of faith. Many were trying to reconcile being at war for so long. Others were struggling with new laws of desegregation. Suddenly lives where changing, and not everyone was handling it well.

Since the beginning of time, religion has played a significant role in societies. It is appropriate that Planet of the Apes includes this as part of the story. The sacred texts, though only talked about and not seen, are a character in the film themselves. Dr. Zaius (Defender of the Faith and Minister of Science) and the others are the ape versions of Pharisees. While watching the film we know that Dr. Zaius is wrong in what he is doing.

And yet, how often do we do the same thing?

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and others like him, do their best to dissuade Cornelius and Zira from following these loftily ideals of humans being intelligent. They call upon the sacred scrolls to reason why the humans should stay in their place and things not change.

When we are scared of something or uncertain about changes in society, we use our sacred texts to justify who is considered “us” and who is considered “them.” The scriptures become security blankets for why we do not welcome those who are different from us. Planet of the Apes warns us against this narrow thinking. Dr. Zaius clearly understands that there is a truth and a reality beyond the boundaries of their land. It is safer if everyone believes what they have been taught. Only danger awaits them when they step outside the boundary. It could be argued that because Dr. Zaius knows about the destruction of humanity’s civilization by humanity, that they do not want to repeat history. That they want to be smarter than the humans and not make the same mistakes, and so they hide behind their religion.

It is safer when we hide behind our sacred texts.

As Christians, we follow a boundary crosser. We follow a Messiah who stepped over the social lines of division. Jesus sat and had lunch with the tax collector. He talked to the Samaritan woman. He touched the lepers. He healed the blind and made the lame to walk. All of those who were different and (sometime literally) isolated from the rest of society. It was taught that Jews and Samaritans did not interact. Jesus broke that “rule.” It was taught that you avoided lepers and bleeding women. Jesus broke that “rule” on both accounts.

And Jesus did so with love.

Planet of the Apes could have easily been a silly film about apes on Earth. Instead, it is filled with cultural commentary about the world in which we live and could live. And though the film has a few moments that are clearly reflection of the 1960s, it is a film that is ageless. Its message of peace over war, unity over segregation, balance of religion and science, is still a message to be heard today.

E. T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

ET PosterIn was the summer of 1982. It was the summer that Speilberg’s E.T. was released. I would have been three. My mother took me to see E. T., though she remembers my brother being with us, which means that it was probably when the film was released in 1985. My mother remembers me watching intensely through the whole film. I was taking, she recalls, everything in.

I don’t remember going to see  E. T. as much as I remember the E.T. doll I had.

ET doll

Or that something sacred and spiritual can happen in a movie theater. My love with movies started with E. T. And frankly, it was a good movie to start that love affair, if you will.

Speilberg’s film is one of the most watched and beloved film of our time. In 1994 it was added the Library of Congress National Film Registry and is number 24 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Films.

The story is quite simple, actually. Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his family are hanging out one night. They hear something in the backyard, and think that it a coyote. Elliott, however, feels like there is something else going on. Using Reese’s Pieces candy, he lures the creature out. He comes face-to-face with E.T.

Elliott hides E. T. in his room for a few days before showing him to his older brother Michael. Elliott knows that not everyone is going to understand what he has encountered. At first Michael (Robert MacNaughton) doesn’t either, but he comes around. Perhaps one of the reasons that Elliott and E. T. connect is because they share similar views of the world. E. T., like ten-year-old Elliott, explores the world with a child-like curiosity. For a huge part of the movie, you never see above an adult’s waist, expect for Elliott’s mother (Dee Wallace).

This is why we can connect with Elliott. We have all been able to relate to Elliott. We have been too old to hang out with our older siblings or the grown ups, and too young to enjoy the play of our younger siblings. We know what it is like to be stuck between two worlds.

Enter E. T. A stranger from another planet. Immediately a man with a huge ring of keys pursues E. T. and his fellow aliens. The man with the keys and his people know of E. T.’s arrival. We are led to believe (and later mostly confirm) that their intentions are not good.

Elliott hiding E. T. in his room is a means of keeping E. T. safe from those who which to harm him (i.e. do scientific testing on him.) It is more than just Elliott bringing home a stray pet. He has encountered something almost divine.

ET Stuffed Animals

To say that E. T. is a Christ-figure is not anything new. It has been said before. E. T. does a miracle when he points to a dying house-plant and it begins to grow again. He gives the plant new life. When he is watching Sesame Street and learning to talk, the first sentence he says is, “Be good.” I can’t think of a better way to put Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as found in the gospel of Matthew. E. T., like Jesus, shares a message of being and doing good.

Elliott and E. T. develop a means of sharing telepathically their feelings. Some of the film’s most comical scenes. While Elliott is at school, E. T. is at home exploring the house. He discovered beer and enjoys it. While E. T. is getting inebriated, Elliott starts feeling (and acting) the way E. T. is, while he is dissecting frogs in his science class. E. T. reads a Buck Rogers comic strip that gives him an idea to contact his people (“phone home”). When this happens, Elliott gets the idea to release the frogs. It is symbolic of what will happen to E. T. and what Elliott’s role will be. It is an encounter that changes them both.

The season of Lent is a time when we contemplate our own encounters with Jesus. When we first encounter Jesus we aren’t sure what others will think. We take Jesus up in our rooms and hide him among our stuffed animals. We don’t know how our older brother will respond, but we are pretty certain our parents might freak out. When Elliott’s mother finds out about E. T., it is when E. T. is starting to get sick, and she rushes the children out of the house. Because E. T. and Elliott share feelings, Elliott is getting sick too.

As Michael opens the door, men in NASA suits make their way inside – more people who do not understand. They are coming to take E. T. away. E.T.’s sickness seems to be brought on due to his separation from his people. The scientists who come in, whose faces we mostly do not see, want to dissect E. T. Elliott is crying out to save him, but cannot.

Elliott is not the one doing the saving.

Earlier in the film, when Elliott is hiding E. T. in his closet, they are listening to his mother read Peter Pan to Gertie (Drew Barrymore). In the story Tinkerbell drinks poison in order to save Peter’s life. Gertie and her mom start clapping with Peter Pan to save Tinkerbell. As they listen to the story, Elliott and E. T. embrace. As a side note, the scene where Elliott and the other boys are riding bikes with the moon in the background, is homage to the scene at the end of the Walt Disney Peter Pan film where pirate ship sails across the moon.

ET saves ElliottThe concept of Tinkerbell sacrificing her life to save Peter’s is mirrored by E. T. sacrificing his life for Elliott. Which is the theological idea of the Messiah – the Christ, whose life and death we remember during Lent. Jesus sacrificed himself “even to death on the cross” (Philippians 2) to save mankind. We, like Elliott, cannot save Christ, but Christ is the one who saves humanity.

Lent prepares us for Easter, when Jesus rises from the dead. The power of Easter is the promise of new life. As E. T. dies, Elliott comes back to life. Everyone comes to terms that E. T. has died. They place him in a coffin like container, to be dissected at a later time. Gertie is carrying the house-plant that E. T. healed earlier in the film. She sits near Elliott. When the plant comes back to life, Elliott knows that E. T. is alive! E. T.’s heart is glowing red inside the container. Elliott opens it, wraps E. T. in a white cloth, closes the container and pretends to cry over it. Enlisting the help of his brother, Michael, and his friends, they use one of the scientist vans to drive E. T. to the forest. Once the forest, they await for the space ship to descend, good-byes are said, E. T. boards the ship and the ship ascends.

John Baxter, in his book on Steven Spielberg, shares this quote from the novelist Martin Amis:

“Towards the end of E. T., barely able to support my own grief and bewilderment, I turned and looked down the aisle at my fellow sufferers; executive, black dude, Japanese businessman, punk, hippie, mother, teenager, child. Each face was a mask of tears. And we weren’t crying for the little extraterrestrial, nor for little Elliott, nor for little Gertie. We were crying for our lost selves.”

The good news is that at the end of the desert of Lent, there is the promise of Easter. Death gives way to Life. Grief gives way to Joy.

Elysium (2013)

Elysium Movie Review - jasoncstanley.comMatt Damon is Max, a man who is trying to get his life back to together and has hopes of a better life on Elysium. Turns out that in 2154, the Earth is a grime place, while the exclusive 1% live on a space station called Elysium. There they have the best of the best. Resorts. Fine dining. Beautiful landscapes. And most of all, health care.

Elysium is from the creative mind of Neill Blomkamp, who brought us District 9. Blomkamp is no stranger to using his films for social commentary. And I’m going to put this out there, but the film seems to be paying some kind of homage to Mad Max.

The Earth scenes are limited to a ghetto of Los Angeles, that is mostly a Latino neighborhood. Max grew up here, looking to the skies, hoping to become a citizen of Elysium. A nun gives him a locket with a picture of the Earth, and tells him that the view of them is more beautiful. After doing time for being a car thief, Max has gotten himself a factory job. Someone has to develop the robots that police the streets.

It’s not the best job. His boss is a jerk, and its dangerous. Max ends up being exposed to radiation, and being told he only has five days left to live. The pills he has been given will only slow it down.

In the meantime, Jodie Foster is the defense secretary who makes it her mission to protect the freedoms of the 1%, even killing immigrants from Earth who try to cross over into Elysium. She is coming under some heavy heat from the President, and plans a coup with the CEO of the company that Max works with (William Fichtner). The CEO will develop a computer program that will enable anyone else to be President.

Back on Earth, Max makes a deal with Spider that he will download information from the CEO in exchange for a ticket to Elysium. They have no idea that the CEO has downloaded the program he has created into his own brain and is on his way to deliver it to the defense secretary. The best scene in the film is possibly the one where Max and his buddies shoot down the CEO’s private jet and attempt to steal the data.

Most of the group is killed off, but Max survives. He hides out at the home of an old childhood friend who happens to be a nurse (Alice Braga). Her daughter is dying from leukemia and could use the healthcare of Elysium.

Eventually, Max allows himself to die to give Spider time to install the computer program that Max downloaded. Max’s sacrifice means that all people on Earth are now citizens of Elysium. Including his friend’s dying daughter, who longer is dying.

Max becomes Christ-like. After searching for his own fulfillment, he comes to the realization that his death (something he knows is coming) will benefit the many. Max’s actions are a vast contrast from the defense secretary’s. Perhaps Blomkamp is saying that the privilege of the 1% is at the cost to the 99%. Perhaps he is saying that universal healthcare is needed. That it is unacceptable for a child to die from leukemia when there is a way to heal her.

Elysium by definition is a place or condition of ideal happiness. The power is that elysium is too often an exclusive thing. Even in Jesus’ day, happiness was limited to a select few. The powers that be kept the weaker, poorer in their places. The wealth of the 1% was gained on the back of the 99%. Jesus broke into this system with a message and with a life that was counter to all that.

Love was for all. Justice was for all. Peace is for all. There are no outsiders. In Blomkamp’s tale, citizenship is for all. Healthcare is for all. There are no outsiders. It is an important message. We are all the same. We are all in this together. We are all citizens of the same Kingdom.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

star_trek_v_la_ultima_frontera_1989_1It’s not a bad movie. True, the first four were better. This fifth film is just a bit of a mess. The plot is slightly disjointed, leaving us wondering at different points why what is happening is happening. There are parts of the plot that are underdeveloped – why are the Kligans necessary? Some loose ends when it comes to character development – why tell us about painful pasts if its not going to make a significant difference? There is a lacking in storytelling that explains how we got from A to Z.

But maybe this is the difference between a film directed by William Shatner, like this one, and J. J. Abrams. Loose storytelling verses tight, consistent storytelling. Not to mention the scenes which Shatner had to have been inspired from other films from the time. The bar scene on Paradise City, looks like, feels like, and even sounds like the bar scene in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Towards the end of the film as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy get closer to “discovering” God, it feels like, looks like, sounds like Indiana Jones. Does William Shatner want to be George Lucas?

And its a shame, really. The fifth film promises to truly go where no one has gone before: beyond the Great Barrier, where it is believed God (or as the credits say, “God”) resides. Shatner starts the film off with religious allusions. As the film opens, a mysterious figure clothed in what looks like a Biblical costume. He meets a man who is about to shoot him. “I though weapons were forbidden on this planet,” says the mysterious figure. He proceeds to touch the man with the gun in a healing fashion telling the man that his pain runs deep. “Share your pain . . with me.” The man immediately feels as if some pain has escaped him. “How can I repay you for this miracle?” he inquires.

The mysterious man reveals himself to be a Vulcan and the man who was healed commits to following him on his mission of peace and healing. At first glance, it appears that this mysterious Vulcan, who we later learn is Sybok who is Spock’s half-brother, is a Christ-figure. Which isn’t a far stretch, as we have already seen Spock as a Christ-figure in earlier films. Even though Sybok seems to possess power to heal deep, emotional pains, that is where the Christ-figure allusion ends.

Sybok takes hostage three delegates – General Korrd a Klingon, Caithlin Dar a Romulan, and the earthly St. John Talbot. The plan is draw a Federation starship to Paradise City. But, it turns out that all three delegates are in on the “hostage.” They want the Enterprise for their epic adventure in search for God.

In the meantime, Captain Klaa of the Klingons, proceeds to seek after the hostages to free General Korrd. But when he finds out that Captain James T. Kirk is involved, he changes his plans to go after Kirk. Klaa’s obsession with Kirk seems to serve no purpose other than as a distraction, until the end of the film.

The God figure that Sybok seeks turns out to be more of a Satan-like figure. While the figure appears to look like God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, he does not act like God. He is demanding, wanting the starship to escape the place he has been locked into. “What does God need with a starship?” Kirk asked. Furthermore, this figure is destroyed by the Klingons who are hunting after Kirk.

For a moment it would appear that Shatnar’s Star Trek is making a science-over-religion statement. The implication is that those who search for God are searching in vain. And that sentiment is echoed by so many in our world today. Why bother with the search for God, because once you find him, you will be greatly disappointed.

And yet, as the crew celebrates on the Enterprise on the return home, we find a glimmer of hope in the galaxy. As Spock and McCoy look out into the vastness of the unknown frontier, McCoy asks, “Is God really out there?” A question we have all probably asked at one point or another in our lives.

It is Captain Kirk that offers the final word. “Maybe he’s not out there at all. Maybe he’s right here,” he says as he touches his chest, “In the heart.”

Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places.

Star Trek III: Search for Spock (1984)

Star Trek III The Search For Spock (1984) QuadAs the second film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, draws to a close, the crew of the Enterprise bid farewell to their beloved officer of science: Mr. Spock. In a final scene, Spock’s body is released from the starship to the bagpipes of “Amazing Grace.” He has died and has been laid in his tomb.

In the third film (the third of the eleven films in the franchise), the saddened crew return to Earth, only to realize that Bones, or Dr. McCoy, is going slightly crazy. It turns out that while Spock’s body was left on the new planet Genesis, all of his memories flooded into Bones. Bones is not himself, because Spock is occupying part of Bones’ mind.

Spock’s father, the respected Ambassador, requests that the Enterprise crew retrieve Spock’s body and bring it, along with Bones, to Vulcan. In the process, Spock’s memories will be reunited with his body. In order to achieve this, Kirk (William Shatnar) and the others must take the Enterprise without permission from the Federation. Their risk pays off, but not without encountering a Klingon Bird of Prey. The Klingon warrior Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) is on his own search; a search for the secret to Genesis. A secret that he believes will give him absolute power.

The crew of the Enterprise is still shaken by the sudden death of Spock. Mostly because he willingly gave his life to save them all.

Spock: The needs of the many outweigh the . . .
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one.

The Christ-figure imagery continues in Search for Spock. As a science team (the main scientist being David, Kirk’s son) searches for life on Genesis, they discover Spock’s burial coffin in the forested, garden-like part of the planet. They open it and only find his burial robe. The scientists eventually find a small, Vulcan boy in the forest. The Vulcan scientists are quick to realize that this child is Spock. “He’s not himself, but he lives.”

New life. Resurrection.

This theme of new life continues in the film, as Kirk comes to terms with the knowledge that Spock is worth the risk. “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many,” he says as he risks all to save Spock. Kirk embodies the shepherd in the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15. The shepherd counts his sheep and notices that he only has 99 out of 100. He takes the chance of leaving the 99 behind to go in search of the 1. To the Holy One, every stray soul is worth searching for. And like Kirk’s, the search includes risks. Jesus’ parable of the shepherd in search of the lost sheep was a metaphor for what Jesus was doing at that moment to fulfill the Kingdom of God. In a post-resurrection context, we are the shepherd risking all we have to search for those who are lost.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

In the third installment of the Terminator films, we find a John Connor (Nick Stahl) who is no longer 13, and “lives off the grid.”  John is a young adult living on the streets, no phone, no home, nothing. He is working in manual labor, recalling the past through a voice over narration. “They tried to kill me,” he says, “before I was born, and again when I was 13.”

“I feel the weight of the future,” John narrates at the beginning of the film. “So I keep running.” He is running from the vocation that has chosen him and from the terminators that may be coming to kill him. We see him next as he is breaking into a veterinarian’s office in the hopes of finding drugs. Evidence of how far he is willing to go to relieve some of the weight he is experiencing.

In the meantime, a T-X has been sent from the future. The T-X is even more deadly and destructive than the T1000 in T2. The T-X has arrived to kill not John Connor, but other resistance leaders of the future. SkyNet has taken a different approach. John Connor is no longer a priority, it is the other young adults who are his followers who will be leaders of the movement.

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One of these leaders is Kate Brewster played expectantly well by Claire Danes. Kate is getting married and has a somewhat estranged relationship her father. She is a vet, who answers an emergency call in the middle of the night. When she arrives at the clinic she finds a high John, whom she locks into a dog kennel. While attempting to calm a distressed cat owner, Kate comes face-to-face with the T-X.

The T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives in his usual nude way. After gleaning clothes from a stripper at a ladies’ night bar, he sets out to find and rescue Kate from the T-X.  He also has to rescue John.

T-101: John Connor, it is time.

John: Are you here to kill me?

T-101: No. You must live.

John assumes his future-self sent the terminator as he did in the last film. But it was actually Kate who sent him. While running away from the T-X, John and Kate learn a lot about their future together from the T-101. Most surprisingly they learn that SkyNet still rises to power.

As Kate runs for her life, her General father is battling an unknown virus spreading quickly through the computers. They have a “secret weapon” they  have developed that could take care of this virus. Kate’s father, General Robert Brewster, is high up in the federal government who has the ability to tell the Pentagon no, they will not release SkyNet to deal with a major computer virus. His job is actually a cover up for a top-secret security work, which will become important when our three  heroes discover that a nuclear holocaust is upon them. Eventually, though, his hands are tied. SkyNet is release, however, instead of destroying the virus, it takes over all the machines.

While this is not the best of the Terminator films, it is still worth watching a few times. The CGI used in this film makes the first two look antique. And the film continues in developing John Connor as a Christ-figure.

“They tried to kill me before I was born.”

As John tries to explain the situation to Kate, he tells her, “Imagine that you were going to do something important with your life.” This line sums up John’s story perfectly.  His life is at stake because he is going to do something important with his life. It is his life will save humanity, in the fullness of time. In the first Terminator film, the objective was to kill Sarah Connor in order to ensure that John Connor, savior of the world, does not come to be.  In Matthew’s gospel, Mary and Joseph are informed by the wise men that King  Herod is planning to kill all the Jewish baby boys. King Herod wants to ensure that no future leader rises against his rule. Mary and Joseph along with the infant Jesus escape the genocide by fleeing into Egypt. At one point T-101 tells John that he will die, which is why Kate is the one who sent T-101 to the past. It alludes to the fact that John gives his own life to save that of others.

“It is your destiny.”

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John Connor has a purpose in life. A vocation that the whole world depends on, whether they know it or not. He has a hard time, however, accepting the fact that he will be kept in the equivalent of a “safe house.”  As the apocalypse of the computer-age gets underway, Robert Brewster tells Kate of a secret underground weapons control facility. She and John head there. These scenes were actually filmed on location at a decommissioned federal control center in West Virginia.

This underground center could symbolize the tomb of Jesus Christ. It will be after this tomb experience that a new life will be found. Not necessarily an easier one, which speaks volumes to the human condition. While new life is apart of the journey of humanity, it does not always mean life will be easier. Life is still hard. Life is still challenging. Life is still a battle between good and evil.

The greater lesson that John learns is that the person he is now, is not the person he will become. That is the good news about new life. We are becoming into someone new, transforming the old. He is becoming the one who will bear salvation for the world.

“You’re terminated.”

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The T-X is evil, no doubt about it. She is an agent of SkyNet, which is the big bad in the film. It is not a mistake that the enemy takes on the shape and appearance of a human. She looks like one of us. “And no wonder!” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14, Common English Bible). The T-X can take on the appearance of others. At one point she becomes Kate in an attempt to trick Kate’s father. This enemy is deadly and determined to put an end to any possibility of salvation. She does not want there to be salvation. Her mission is to eliminate the possibility of hope.

This hope, however, is not lost. It is while John and Kate are in the underground control center, with computers that are thirty years old, that voices from across the country are heard. They found a radio range that SkyNet did not affect and they call out for anyone else who might be out there. And through these radio waves, the people hear the voice of John Connor, from the walls of a borrowed tomb, offering them hope in the midst of destruction and judgment.

Melancholia (2011)

melancholia-movie-posterHow does the world end?  Cultures throughout time have been intrigued by this question, and by what events will take place.  We read our holy books to find answers, but only find ourselves asking more questions.  In Melancholia, writer-director Lars Von Trier explores and ponders this question.

The film’s prologue is a collection of images set to rich, beautiful music—the overture to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  It’s almost as if Von Trier had closed his eyes while listening to this music and these are the images that flashed before his eyes.  But, the images—a moon rising; a bride running and being captured by branches; a bride floating in some body of water; a woman walking through the forest; a boy with a stick—are not that random. Von Trier, in the film’s beginnings, is using the tool of foreshadowing, giving the viewer hints to what is going to happen.  This prologue is an invitation.  The music chosen is enough to draw the viewer in.   Von Trier has set the stage for a beautiful, complex, and apocalyptic narrative.

The story starts with the younger of the two sisters, Justine.  We meet Justine and her groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) two hours late to their own reception.  As the party unfolds in all the traditional ways, Justine begins to disappear.  She explores the property outside, she puts her nephew to bed, she attempts to have a conversation with her anti-marriage mother. The whole time the camera jerks from one angle to the next, as if it is a home videorecording. The fun, light-hearted mood at the beginning of the film begins to slip away.

Every encounter Justine has during the scenes at the reception seems to be a tug of war. While Justine is slipping away, everyone else is desperately trying to pull her toward love, including her new husband Michael. It is here that we are surprised that Kristen Dunst was overlooked by the Academy Awards. This is by far the best role Dunst has portrayed yet. At the reception scenes, almost the first half of the film, we see in Dunst’s eyes life slowly being extinguished. We become more intrigued by Justine and what her story is. The greatest tug of war, and perhaps the more painful, is here in Justine. While her eyes testify to her slipping away, her face is trying to show happiness and joy. Dunst’s performance is gripping and, at the same time, heartbreaking as she makes Justine’s melancholia be very real for the viewer.

Throughout this first half of the film, Justine continues to be drawn to this new star she observes in the sky. The star is actually the planet Melancholia, larger than Earth and headed for collision with Earth. This is the hinge of the film. We have witnessed the emotional end of Justine. Now Von Trier turns his attention to the end of the world.

The second half of the film is devoted to Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Claire commissions herself to take care of her now depressed sister.  Von Trier himself has struggled with depression and it only adds a level of intimacy that contributes to the cinematic excellence that is this film. Again, Dunst’s performance is riveting.

One of the most compelling scenes in this film is when Claire tries to help Justine take a bath. Justine is filled with so much agony that she can barely move. The emotional end (death) has left her physically weak. This scene is shot through a half-open door, somewhat symbolizing the state of humanity. Is the door opening? Or is the door closing? Either way, this scene causes you to catch your breath.

As Claire struggles to take care of her sister, she is wrought with anxiety that the mysterious planet Melancholia is going to bring destruction. She frantically searches the Internet for information. She goes into town and returns with a bottle of pills that she locks away.

During all of this anxiety, Claire’s husband John (exceptionally portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland) is calm and clear-headed. He is obsessed with watching and recording the planet’s progress. He insists the planet is just going to pass by, nothing is going to happen. The whole while, he includes their son Leo (Cameron Spurr) in this obsession.

While Claire becomes so overwhelmed by the planet’s movement, Justine provides perspective: “The earth is evil.  We don’t need to grieve for it. … Life is only on earth, and not for long.” And, it is this that is perhaps is the greatest message of this film.  If the earth as we know it is evil, we do not need to grieve for it. The old will pass away and the new will be created. The writer of 2 Peter tells us, “But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (3:13).

Claire will get so overwhelmed that she frankly tries to get her and Leo into town, yet nothing seems to work right. Justine, calm and collected, takes Leo into the woods to find sticks to use to build a magic cave. She becomes the caregiver. She is not as worried about the unfolding events. She doesn’t see the planet collision as a bad thing. It is almost as if she has finally found comfort.

The film’s finale will leave you speechless. It is very appropriate for the end credits to begin scrolling in complete silence.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

“You’re not here to kill me?” the thirteen year old boy asked.

“I’m here to protect you,” the man said in a deadpan voice.

“Who sent you?”

“You did. 35 years from now.”

“This is deep.”

The 13-year-old John Connor is right, this is deep. Terminator 2 has similarities to it’s parent film, while being very different.  The T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has returned, but not, as the dialogue above suggests, to kill, but to protect. The Terminator and John set out to rescue Sarah from the mental ward where she has been caged in.

The T-800 is there to protect John and Sarah from the newer, advanced prototype T1000 (Robert Patrick), the new and improved terminator made out of liquid metal. His mission is to kill John Connor to prevent the resistance from forming in the future.

The mission in T2 becomes stopping Judgment Day, which is still going to happen in 1997. In the process, John and the T-800 form a bond that is like that of father and son. We could, as other commentators have done, spend some time here exploring how John never really had a father figure in his life. Cameron does an excellent job of making that theme obvious. It is clear that this relationship with the machine is going to shape who John Connor will become.

But it also gives us a glimpse as to who John Connor is. John is insistent on the T-800 not killing people, a stretch for the cyborg for sure. But because the terminators mission involves following the commands of John, he controls himself and does not kill anyone. Though, that does not limit the violence in the film. The relationship between John and the T-800 present a larger theme/question that Cameron seems to be dealing with: what is the difference between man and machine?  Or, what makes humanity human?

John asks the terminator, “Are you ever afraid?” The terminator responds, “No.” The terminator has no feelings, emotions are not a luxury he can afford. Later, the terminator notices water in John’s eyes. “Why do you cry?” he asks. John’s simple answer is, “When it hurts.” As a 13-year-old, John is coming to terms with a vocation that has been placed upon him. One that he may not have chosen for himself had the circumstances been different.  These interactions only strengthen the father-son bond (a theme that will become a foundation for the third film).

These machines that come from the future started out to be something that was suppose to improve the life of humanity.  Instead, they are destroying humanity. After the final battle between the two terminators, John ask, “Is it dead?” “Terminated,” the T-800 answers.  “It’s over,” Sarah observes.  “No,” the T-800 says. He explains that there is one more chip on earth that needs to be destroyed in order to prevent this from happening again. His chip. The T-800 gives John the signal and he lowers the terminator into the fire to be melted and the future erased.

“The unfortunate future rolls before us,” Sarah Connor’s narration at the end of the film says, “If a terminator can learn the value of human hope, maybe we can too.”  Yes, there is hope.

The Terminator (1984)

The inception of artificial intelligence in the early part of the 20th century triggered a nuclear war in 1997. The war between man and machine would progress into the 21st century and would all but leave humanity wiped out. The machines are finally losing the war due to a human named John Connor and his band of resistance fighters. The machines, to ensure victory, send a cyborg assassin from the year 2029 to the year 1984. His mission: kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor.

This is the basic story line of James Cameron’s The Terminator. This low-budget B-movie was never expected to be much of a success. This was evident by the reviews it got. But it topped the Box Office for two weeks and did launch three sequels. Not to mention what it did for its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger’s size and deadpan, monotone voice give the Terminator an unnerving edge to his limited dialogue (sixteen whole lines!) and the bodies left in the wake of the hunt for Sarah Connors.

The resistance fighters send a warrior to 1984 as well, but to protect Sarah Connor. This is not an easy job for Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Unlike the Terminator, bullet wounds hurt Reese. Yet, Reese does not give up, he continues to do all he can to keep Sarah alive. To the point of his own death.

Sarah (Linda Hamilton) is an average, single woman working as a waitress. Sarah has a hard time understanding what is going on or why she is being hunted down by a cyborg assassin. Reese does his best to explain to her what is happening. She questions him, “Why me?” questioning why the Terminator is coming after her. Reese then explains that she is the mother of the resistance’s leader, John Connor. Without her bravery and courage, humanity is doomed.

I can’t help but think of Mary in Luke’s gospel as Gabriel comes to her and explains that she, an average, single woman, will give birth to a child that will save all of humanity. I imagine if she did not express it, she thought, “Why me?” But the questioning only lasted for a second. In what we call the Magnificat, Mary declares, “Here I am.” She becomes what the Greek Orthodox call  theotokos, or God-bearer, because she literally bore Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ would be the Messiah who would redeem the people from slavery to sin, just as John Connor would be the messiah figure who will save humanity from the machines. Sarah Connor, then, becomes a messiah-bearer in her own right. She like Mary is brave and courageous, willing to be the vessel for the one who will save humanity.

Are we willing to do as Mary and Sarah did, and be God-bearers?  When times get hard and there are there is a real and present darkness, will we join the darkness or we will be brave and courageous to bear the light?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

I went and saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) tonight.  The film makers promised that this film would be the best action film of the summer.  And they delivered one action packed film!  I saw one blog (and forgive me, I don’t remember which blog) that compared this action in this film to the action in Iron Man (2008).  The action is definitely comparable.  But I would have to say that the storyline in Iron Man was much better than the storyline in Wolverine.  As much as I enjoy the vast Canadian landscape, I could have done with less of Canada and more of Mutants.

Wolverine is such a complex character, always struggling between what he considers ethically right (he seeks murderous revenge against his half brother) and what is ethically wrong (he stops his half brother from killing someone).  He struggles from being controlled by his temper and controlled by his compassion.  He struggles with being influenced by those around him, and the spark within.  Aren’t we all, to some extent, like Wolverine?

There are multiple ways in which we struggle with who we are – who we are becoming.  Many out there will say that the media has waved its wicked wand to influence our children and teens into thinking they should be someone they are not.  While there is valid concern for that, a group of high school students this week told me that they felt friends, parents, and teachers  (not necessary in that order) were the places they felt they were being influenced to be someone they were not.

Genesis 1:27 reminds us that we are each created in the image of God.  An image of God dwells within us.   To know that we are created in the image of God means that we have worth just as we are.

From the book of 1 Samuel:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7, NRSV).

This verse comes from the text where Samuel, a priest of God’s, goes to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king.  As Samuel approaches each of Jesse’s sons, oldest to youngest, the Lord rejects each of them.  Finally, an exhausted Samuel asked if Jesse has any other sons.  Jesse replies that he does, but he’s the youngest and out watching the sheep.  Samuel insists that Jesse send for him, and when the young boy approaches Samuel, Samuel knows that he is the next king of Israel.  The boy was David.

The point of the verse is that God does not look on the exterior, God looks on the interior.  If we are doing or acting a certain way as those around us think we should, we are reinforcing the idea that our exterior determines who we are.  We are reinforcing that the image of God within us does not matter.   If we do not recognize the image of God in us – if we do not look at our own interior, how can we see the image of God in others, much less expect others to see the image of God in us?