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:
Here’s what happens. You prepare for a phone interview with an actor or director by thinking up a list of questions. Really, you only need one or two good ones, and the conversation takes care of itself.
But the person being interviewed has a different perspective. There are certain points they want to get across, regardless of which questions you ask. They may have been reiterating these same points into different microphones a dozen times a day for many days.
When evangelicals hear that there’s a new movie about their brand of Christianity, they get nervous. All too often they are presented as idiots or villains. Stereotypes about narrow-mindedness, intolerance, cultish mind-control, and harsh subjugation of women abound.
Carolyn Briggs’ 2002 memoir, This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost hit a number of those notes. When their church leaders counsel her not to get a college degree, when they counsel her husband to forgo a plum job opportunity because they need instead the headship of the church leaders, when she refused medication during a complicated pregnancy and scoffed at taking shelter during a tornado, well, it sounds to many evangelicals like a pretty kooky church, if not a cult. But don’t expect members of the general public to make that distinction. Christianity Today’s review commented, “Unfortunately, this book is likely to win plaudits for its savaging of evangelical Christianity as the source of one woman’s oppression, and her abandonment of that faith as a fount of liberation.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the eighth and final film in the Harry Potter series, opens today in a blaze of special effects: castles burning, bridges collapsing, dragon-fire blasting, stone knights clunking stiffly to life, giants whacking smaller figures off the earth like tiny golf balls. This is not the first fantasy-action film to suffer under a Disproportionatus Curse, in which whatever profound themes exist in a book are obliterated, in the film version, by spectacle. This is a two-hour movie, and one hour is devoted to the battle at Hogwarts. What adolescent boys think of as “the good part,” and headachey adults as “the noisy part,” is delivered with exuberance and excess. Many young fans are looking for exactly that, and the film will fulfill all their hopes.
Picture Tom Hanks. Got it? OK, now picture a guy whom Julia Roberts would find so overwhelmingly yummy that she would not only kiss him with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever, but even try to jump up and wrap her legs around his waist. Now, very slowly, try to merge those two images.
If you can’t do it, don’t feel bad. Almost no one can come up with a result they find plausible. Almost no one but Tom Hanks.
What’s so mysterious about the Jesus Prayer? It’s one of the shortest and simplest prayers you can find: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It’s one of the most ancient prayers, too; think of how often in the Gospels people ask Jesus for mercy. A prayer for mercy would likely have been one of the variations when the Desert Mothers and Fathers (AD 2nd-5th c), who sought to pray constantly, were trying out different short, repeated verses of Scripture to discipline the wandering mind. (St. Augustine reports that they “have very frequent prayers, but these are very brief.”) Those ancient monasteries and hermitages are the spiritual nursery in which the Jesus Prayer had its birth.