Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: redemption

The Redemption of Henry Myers (2014)

Redemption of Henry MyersThe Redemption of Henry Myers first aired on the Hallmark Channel in March 2014. It will be available on DVD Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The film is one from new, Christian-based studio EchoLight Studies, founded by former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who was an executive producer on this film. The studio has stated that it strives to not “create sermons wrapped in a movie but to create content that inspires, fascinates and incorporates a strong Christian worldview.”

The film is the story of Henry Myers (Drew Waters, Breaking Bad) who has lived a hard life. This Western opens as so many classic Westerns do, with a bank robbery. The symbolism in the opening scene is remarkable for the direction the rest of the film will go. A man on a horse-pulled cart carrying two pine coffin boxes, opens the boxes to reveal two of the most wanted men in the area. Afterwards, they rob a bank. In the midst of struggle, Henry’s gun goes off and kills a preacher.

Riddled with bad dreams, Henry finally finds himself at the home of the widow Marilyn (Erin Bethea) and her two children, Will and Laura. The family is a faith-filled family, they pray together and read from the Bible each evening. Henry stays away from most of it. But he listens and he ponders.

Jaden Roberts is excellent as the young daughter Laura. In many ways, Roberts carries the scenes she is in. She is the innocent, yet wise girl. She sees beyond the rough exterior of Henry to see his warm heart. And in moments when Marilyn is ready to let him go, it is Laura who reminds her that their Christian duty to care for the stranger.

The images of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke are obvious. Henry is the man beaten and wounded, and Marilyn is the Samaritan who cares for Henry when no one else will. It is obvious because it is one of the Bible passages the family reads together. As Marilyn says to Henry at one point, “Everyone deserves kindness.”

And Henry is not used to that. As he starts to feel better, he helps out around the ranch with an arm in a sling. As he helps Will (Ezra Proch) put up a fence, the two have a conversation about doubt and faith. Will, who has been listening to the Bible being read since birth, doubts that there is much truth to it all. But Henry, who has only been listening to it for a few days, isn’t quite ready to say that it’s all unbelievable.

I typically approach Christian films with some caution. Frankly, deliberately Christian films tend to be bad films. Redemption, however, is not one of those films. It’s a good, clean, family friendly film. And it doesn’t go in the direction you might think it will. At least, I didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised at the twist, and think that it is a better movie because of it. I only have two wishes. I wish that the scene where Henry has his break-down of yelling to God was done a little differently. It was too predictable. The other is that I wish director Clayton Miller used more of Erin Bethea’s acting chops. Bethea is an incredible actress. I did not feel like Miller tapped into all that Bethea could  have offered this film.

Overall, the film is a good film. It portrays the struggle between revenge and redemption. It portrays, not just in dialogue, but through small details that change is possible, reminding us of the promise of new birth.

The DVD is available in stores and on Amazon.com. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_movieA ship sails across the Atlantic from Great Britain to the Caribbean. The ship is transporting the new governor of Port Royal and his young daughter, who is fascinated by pirates. The others on the ship, however, are not. As the young girl gazed out over the Atlantic, she notices something drifting in the water. It is a boy, about her age. They rescue the boy, who is wearing a locket. Worried that the adults will think the boy is a pirate, the young girl takes it to save his life.

Skip ahead eight years, the young girl is now a young woman, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and the young boy is now a young blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). The high seas adventure of this Walt Disney summer blockbuster based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow who has a deep affection for his blessed ship the Black Pearl. Sparrow’s trouble begins when he stops in the process of stealing a British ship to rescue Elizabeth Swann after she falls into the ocean. From there, Sparrow is at the top of the most wanted list.

Right away, one of Sparrow’s nemesis is the British commander, Norrington, who has made it his vocation to bring Sparrow to justice. Even though Sparrow saved Elizabeth’s life. Norrington wants to send Sparrow to his death. Elizabeth protests, only for Norrington to respond, “One good deed is not enough to redeem him from a life of wickedness.” To which Sparrow replies, “But enough to condemn me.”

Redemption is the theme of the film. Jack Sparrow is searching for redemption. Elizabeth, here in the rescue scene and throughout the movie, is the one who consistently raises the need to see others in a different light. People are not always so easily labeled good and bad.

Sparrow’s other nemesis in the film is Captain Barbossa, played by the brilliant actor Gregory Rush. Barbossa leads a mutiny on the Black Pearl which leaves Sparrow stranded on a deserted island. But because Barbossa leans heavily on a dark power, he and his crew are cursed leaving them among the Undead. They look like any other normal pirate, until they are exposed to the light of the moon, where their skeletal cadavers are revealed. Which all seems like a silly plot point, until you realize that even though they are dead (and not killable), they are searching for the cure from the curse.

Elizabeth is the source of Norrington’s other self-determined vocation – marriage. But Elizabeth has been in love with Will Tuner ever since she first met him. When Sparrow finds out who Will is – or more importantly, who his father is – Will becomes very important part of Sparrow’s plan to reclaim the Black Pearl.

Barbossa, believing that Elizabeth is a Turner, thinks that she is the one who will break the curse. But she is not. Sparrow tells Barbossa that he knows whose blood he needs to break the curse. Blood is needed to break the curse. For Barbossa and the crew to be redeemed, to come back to life again, blood is needed. The blood of the only son of Bill “Bootstrap” Turner – Will. At first, Will believes that his father was a salesman, killed by pirates. When he finds out that his father really was a pirate, he struggles to come to terms with who his father is and who he is.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, would talk about sin as a disease (curse) of which grace was the cure. Grace is possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.

We know the cure for the curse, but what caused the curse of the Black Pearl? No doubt, Pirates was intended to have a summer blockbuster sequel from the beginning. Who would have thought it would have four?

Noah: Discussion Questions

ark4As I’m been working on collecting my thoughts and reading other thoughts about the new film Noah, the Christian educator in me wrote out some questions. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

Noah Discussion Questions

1. Which of the characters, as they are presented in the film, did you relate to the most? In what ways?

2. There is a lot of longing for communication with God in the film. How have you experienced (or not experienced) communication with God? What was that like?

3. In the film, God communicates with Noah through a dream. How has God traditionally communicated with the Church?

4. His father tells Noah about the tradition that has been handed down regarding caring for God’s creation. How is this a part of your faith tradition? How do you feel about humanity’s responsibility for caring for creation?

5. The film depicts the results of sin and wickedness through the barrenness of the earth. In what ways have you seen sin and wickedness depicted in prayers, hymns, or other forms of faith tradition?

6. Use this chart to compare the Biblical narrative with the film. Discuss how the filmmakers depicted different parts of the story.

7. There were a number of added scenes that were not recorded in Genesis. For example, the Bible does not communicate what happened on the ark through all the rain and floating. The filmmakers make an attempt to fill in that gap. What do you imagine may have happened on the ark? If you were one of Noah’s family members, what would it have been like for you?

8. One of the Watchers comes to Noah in the middle of the night to help him and his family get to Grandfather. Why do you think he came at night to help him? In what ways is this Watcher like Nicodemus (John 3)?

9. When Noah is describing his dream from God, he tells his Grandfather, “I saw death and new life.” How does this statement summarize Christian theology?

10. The first animals that are sent to the ark are doves. What do you think the significance of that is?

11. Ila, the girl Noah adopts and who will become Shem’s wife, is barren at first. Note other women in the Bible who were barren (at first). What similarities are they between them and Ila? What does barrenness symbolize in the spiritual life?

12. Noah changes in the film. At what point does this change happen and how does it affect him and his relationships?

13. What significant changes have happened in your life that has affected you and your relationships?

14. Noah and his wife have a conversation where Noah says that there is wickedness in all of us. His wife counters that there is goodness in us. How does this relate to the debate over original sin?

15. In what ways is Noah’s wife like the persistent widow in Luke 13?

16. In the battle scene, the Watchers one by one return to the Creator. What form do they take when they return to the Creator? How is this redemption?

17. While on the ark, Noah tells his family the story of creation. Temptation is symbolized by a black snake coming out of a green snake, living the skin behind. The fruit of the tree, beats like a human heart. A shadowed figure of Cain kills his shadowed figure of Abel. These images are shown throughout the film. Talk about each symbol and how it is significant to the Christian Story.

18. When Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, he holds true to his task of destroying humanity. Why is Noah so certain that God has called him to destroy all of humanity?

19. Noah walks out of the ark and cries to God, “Why do you not answer me?” When have you had days like that? Why do you think God seems so silent at times?

20. After the ark finds dry ground, how has Noah changed? If you had such an intense experience, how would you have changed?

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