As the last scene of this movie faded away, replaced by a screen reading “Directed by Madonna,” I asked my companion, “If you’d known ahead of time that Madonna was the director, would you have enjoyed this movie as much?” He replied, “Honestly, no.”
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—through all 50 states, for any reason whatsoever. When I was a college student, back in the 70’s, I was in favor of legalizing abortion. I wasn’t a Christian then, but I was a feminist, the first feminist in my dorm, and I was loudly in favor of social revolution and women’s rights. I took it for granted that abortion was necessary, if women were ever going to be equal to men.
LISTENING INVOLVES THE WHOLE BODY
Don’t listen with your ears alone; use your eyes, as well, to gather clues from the person’s expression, stance, and overall demeanor. The body can reveal the soul. In writing about Eastern Orthodox spirituality, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) said that the body is like a Geiger counter;[i] it can disclose what is going on in the soul. He was making the point that it is not necessary for a monk to continually plumb the psyche, because his own body will disclose his inner spiritual and emotional processes. We can use that insight as well. By paying attention to what the other person’s body communicates as we listen to them, we can discern what is going on inside the heart, soul, and understanding.
If you know anything about Anna Karenina, you know that it is the story of a woman who abandons her husband for another man, and comes to a bad end. What you might not know is that the novel is about two marriages: Anna’s, which ends sadly, and Levin’s, which, though not without the usual stresses, goes well. The often-quoted first sentence of the book sets up the dichotomy: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I have 11 grandchildren. I see plenty of children’s movies. I have acquired a jaundiced eye. As autumn leaves drift into piles, as souvenir teacups proliferate around a royal wedding, thus do crass, crude, cynical children’s movies pile up around the family DVD player.
Until now. The Adventures of Tintin is superb. Grandparents everywhere will babble tearful thanks: it’s so much better than it had to be, given the industry’s steadily decreasing quality (everywhere but Pixar-land). Credit must go to both the stars at the helm, Peter Jackson (of The Lord of the Rings) and Steven Spielberg (of too many hits to mention), and the new technologies (motion-capture animation, improved 3-D process) deserve a toast as well. However, none of this would be here without the hero himself.
This might be an excellent movie; it certainly looks impressive. But I’m only a little less baffled now, after reading up on the storyline, than I was when I walked out of the theater. Suffice it to say that reviews by people who had already read the novel, or viewed the 7-part BBC series, regard the movie with great appreciation. Those who didn’t already know the storyline range from appreciative-but-puzzled to frustrated-and-annoyed.
Playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) made the comment a few years back, “The people hardest on [my work] always say that not a lot is happening.” Oh, but what delectable nothing it is. Foote won Oscars for Tender Mercies (1983) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and was nominated for The Trip to Bountiful (1985)—all works of great tenderness and insight. (Let me recommend too the little-known 1918, which accumulates quietly and then unexpectedly provokes a painful compassion.) Many of his films also show a good grasp of what it is to be a person of faith, and how to persevere in prayer when things are hard.
First the bad news, for adolescent viewers, anyway: there don’t be any dragons. Not the leathery-winged kind, at least. The title refers to a medieval map-making custom of inscribing the warning “Hic Sunt Dracones” on unexplored regions. In this case the warning refers to the unexplored regions of the psyche, where destructive emotions may lurk.
And that’s the happy ending.
It’s this unintentional resonance that threatens to turn In Time from a nifty thriller into an unintentionally obtuse message-movie, one that seems to say that an international financial disaster would be the best thing that ever happened to the poor. There may have been eras in the last few decades when a saucy statement along those lines might have been relished. Now is not one of those times.
[October 8, 2011]
Here’s a link to my interview on the PBS show, “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” about the movie Higher Ground: