Tag Archives: Film

The Dude Abides

[The man of lawlessness] will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 (NIV)

Yesterday, as I was getting ready, I had the Cohen brothers’ classic movie, The Big Lebowski, playing in the background. It’s become one of my all time favorites movies. What most people don’t realize is that The Big Lebowski is basically a classic 1940s film noir detective story set in the early 1980s with an unlikely stoner named The Dude unwittingly placed in the role of the protagonist detective.

I grew up watching a lot classic films and the hard-boiled detective movies (e.g. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade) of the film noir genre were among my favorites. In The Big Lebowski you have all the classic detective movie motifs: the old millionaire, the millionaire’s daughter with whom the protagonist falls in love, blackmail, rabbit trails, crime lords, a secondary detective, and the protagonist detective getting “slipped a Mickey” (drugged with a drink).

I’ve observed that most people watch films in a vacuum, as though each film sort of stands alone. The reality is that all good stories and films borrow themes and motifs from one another. All of my favorite epics, for examples, have the overarching theme of good versus evil. Usually an epic story is about an ancient struggle coming to a climax. There’s always a prophecy woven into the storyline, as well. In Harry Potter there is the prophecy Harry retrieves from the Ministry of Magic. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is the prophecy and deep magic of the stone table. In The Lord of the Rings Aragorn is led to take the Paths of the Dead because of the “words of Malbeth the Seer.

I say it fairly regularly: “All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story.” Our stories reflect our own humanity. Deeper still, I believe that human history is a Great Story being told across the ages. I believe that evil exists and there is a very real struggle between good versus evil. I believe in the prophetic.

Along my life journey I’ve experienced the prophetic. I have found it to be both mysterious and messy and therefore quickly dismissed by many. I have come to believe that tragedy lies on either side of the tension between two possible errors: Dismissing the prophetic altogether or drowning too deeply in the mystery. I’ve always tried to hold the tension between the two.

In the early years of the Jesus movement there were many prophecies given concerning where the plot line of the Great Story was going. This led to many arguments and mistaken assumptions.  In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing some mistaken assumptions  in today’s chapter. Without drowning too deeply in the specifics, I find myself being reminded of two things.

First, there is evil, and evil opposes good. Jesus was very aware of the evil opposing Him. He knew that His coming was prophesied (He proclaimed Isaiah’s prophetic word in His first sermon). He cast out demons throughout His ministry. He knew He was being tempted by the evil one to abandon His sacrificial mission. We don’t like to think too much about the reality of evil, but it exists.

Second, evil cannot create but, instead, it always counterfeits. Tolkien clearly picked up this theme in his epic stories. Orcs were counterfeits made in opposition to elves. Trolls were counterfeits made in opposition to ents. Paul says there is prophesied a counterfeit messiah to come whom he calls the Man of Lawlessness. The Greek term he uses is anthropos (man, mankind, humanity; as in anthropology the study of humanity) anamos (opposition, lawless, wicked; from which we get the English word animosity). Paul explains that it has been prophesied that this counterfeit messiah will come before Jesus’ return in a climax to this Great Story.

In the quiet this morning I find myself pondering all of these mysteries. I don’t want to get lost in them, but neither do I want to dismiss them. Again, I find myself trying to hold the tension. I believe my life journey is part of the Great Story. How it fits and weaves into the larger plot lines is a mystery to me. I’m just trying to stick to the path appointed for me, to follow the steps I’m led, to do the good God calls me to do, and to be shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove, aware of both the evil and the good around me.

Or, as Jeffrey Lebowski would put it: “The Dude Abides.”

Abide well today, my friend.

While We Wait for Deliverance

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
Isaiah 63:7 (NIV)

We love stories of the lone hero. The mysterious figure shows up out of nowhere to aid the victim(s) of injustice and take out the bad guys who are oppressing the many. We see echoes of this theme from chivalrous medieval tales like Robin Hood, to the great Westerns like High Plains Drifter, and even the classic Samurai movies of Kurosawa.

As I often say, all good stories are echoes of the Great Story. In today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah presents us with a poetic vision of Messiah who stands alone in doling out wrath and vengeance to the oppressive enemies of His people. This theme, and Isaiah’s imagery, is intricately wound into the visions of John’s Revelation, which would come hundreds of year’s later.

Isaiah’s poem starts out all bloody wrath as Messiah alone dispenses divine justice. Then, Isaiah’s poem turns to reveal the kindness and compassion towards the victims of injustice. Isaiah proclaims this kindness towards a rebellious and undeserving people who, in Isaiah’s current circumstances, are suffering from the destruction of their nation and God’s temple. The poem ends with a plea for that mysterious hero to show up.

I’m reminded this morning that we all go through times in our lives which seem dark and hopeless. We long for a hero, mighty to save, to dispense justice. Our hearts pour out pleas for deliverance as an unceasing mantra. Both of these are longings for that which we do not control. Yet amidst the two, the hope for a Deliverer and our pleas for deliverance Isaiah places a simple act:

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal there was an article with advice for those who chronically worry. One expert advised that people “tell themselves a different story.” I think that’s exactly the example Isaiah provides us. Even in the darkest of times, as we wait for deliverance and better times to come, we can recall the stories of blessings we have been graciously afforded, and ways that God has strengthened, provided, and shown us faithfulness.

Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

chapter a day banner 2015

 

Top Five Things Wrong with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

hobbit posterWendy and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. As with all of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, it is expertly done and an entertaining film in its own right. I will certainly see it again and will eventually buy it for our personal library. Nevertheless, there are reasons Tolkien purists will take issue with the film. Here is a quick list of my own personal head-shakers (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the film you might want to wait to read this list):

  1. In the book, Bilbo finds “the one ring” on his journey in a moment of good fortune, and it becomes a seemingly innocent and useful magic tool for an inexperienced burglar looking for an edge. Bilbo has no idea of the ring’s history or power. In fact, even in Bilbo’s old age Gandalf refuses to share with his old friend the truth of his precious find when Bilbo dismisses it as a trivial yet useful treasure he picked up on his journey there and back again. In Desolation of Smaug, the ring immediately has a menacing effect on Bilbo who seems to struggle with an inner moral choice whether to put it on or not. You won’t find that in the book.
  2. The introduction of the “she-elf,” Tauriel and the return of Legolas into The Hobbit narrative is perhaps the singlemost troubling element of sacrilege to the Tolkien storyline. The ludicrous development of romantic feelings between Tauriel and one of the young dwarves is beyond sacrilege. It’s an eye-rolling, “wtf” worthy element of ridiculousness.
  3. When Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the dwarves to journey to Dol Guldur he makes this strange journey up a mountain staircase and leap-frogs through some booby-trapped, video-game like passage way. I half expected him to run into Lara Croft, but what he finds there is simply Radaghast who comments “This is a strange place to meet.” Strange indeed. Silly, actually. It makes no sense whatsoever, is never explained, and doesn’t even fit into the rewrite of the story.
  4. In the history of Middle Earth, the journey Gandalf makes to Dol Guldur after leaving the company is a meeting of the White Council to attack the ancient fortress and send Sauron packing to Mordor in hasty escape. The filmmakers choose not to film this large scale battle (What?! Peter Jackson passes up the opportunity to show a protracted, large scale battle?! I guess he figured we wouldn’t want to spend another hour in the theater), and instead shows Gandalf the caged prisoner of the Eye. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
  5. I was shocked at how quickly the filmmakers move us through Mirkwood. In the book, the journey through Mirkwood is a marathon of adventure, but in the film it takes just a few minutes to get through the spiders’ webs to Thranduil’s dungeon, and then Bilbo makes quick work of getting the dwarves out of their cells and into barrel riding, white water action. Ents would surely bemoan this “hasty” treatment of the story, but Jackson wants to move us, post haste, to the Lonely Mountain where he can give us a very protracted (and completely made up) battle between Smaug and the Dwarves that allows Jackson and the Weta team to show off all of their CG wizardry. We have molten gold and a giant golden dwarf hastily made in Trojan Horse type trickery that surely has Tolkien rolling over in his grave.

Yesterday I was listening to The Tolkien Professor’s eight part lecture series on The Hobbit. He begins the series by stating his hope that Peter Jackson does not make The Hobbit into a movie because he knows the filmmaker will feel the need to make Tolkien’s whimsical children’s tale into an epic of Lord of the Rings proportions so that it will fit nicely as a prequel into the filmmaker’s own The Lord of the Rings adaptation. Professor Olsen was prophetic. I’ve provided only a short-list of the discrepancies you’ll find in the film. There are plenty more. Buy me a pint at the Green Dragon and I’ll gladly share a more complete list.

I am not purist enough to boycott the theater. As I mentioned at the outset, I found the film wonderfully entertaining. I understand that Jackson and his team are making movies to sell tickets and amass their own personal dragon hoard of gold. Beware, the greed of dwarves. Honestly, I believe that the filmmaker loves Tolkien as much as I do and, in the big picture, I understand that he’s introducing millions of people to Middle Earth who would otherwise have never have picked up the books. Good for him.

Now, a personal note to Mr. Jackson and his writing team: please leave me off the invitation list to Tauriel and Kili’s wedding.

Shots that Catch My Eye

2013 08 09 Nathan Hopping at Drama Camp

Over time you begin to see trends in what catches your eye as a photographer. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that I love capturing children in the full motion of play. On Friday night I took photos at Union Street Players‘ Drama Camp presentation and captured this picture of my little buddy Nathan hopping like a bunny with his bunny ears. There was just something about the picture that I instantly fell in love with: his posture, the hint of joy you can catch on his fact even though it’s turned away, and the blur of motion that gives you a sense of the kinetic energy of a child at play.

It suddenly reminded me of another favorite photo that I took it of my daughter Taylor when she was young and I was shooting on 35mm film. I took it as she ran and leapt in the woods. For some reason the image always reminded me of Christopher Robin on those classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations. It’s the same hint of joy you catch despite not being able to see her face, the posture of unbridled play and the blur of kinetic energy.

Taylor Jumping in the Woods LR

Tragic Stories Touch Secret Wounds

English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On...
English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On, watercolor by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 27

Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” Genesis 27:37 (NLT)

As an actor, I find it interesting to read the theatrical lengths to which Rebekah and Jacob went to make Jacob convincingly play the part of Esau and deceive Isaac. As  I read today’s chapter, I also thought what a tragic story is revealed in these past few chapters.

  • How twin brothers could be so different
  • The conspiracy of (seemingly) heaven and earth to favor Jacob from birth
  • The parental favoritism that divides the parents and family
  • The deceptive stealing of birthright and blessing
  • The fulfillment of Jacob’s given name (which in Hebrew sounds like both “Heel” & “Deceiver”)

I couldn’t help, as I read, to think of other epic stories told on film such as Legends of the Fall and The Godfather which deal with similar themes of fathers and sons, of favoritism and blessing, and of tragedy and loss. I believe that there is something very compelling in these stories for us because they tap into very human realities from our very own family systems and experiences. These are things which families rarely speak about or even acknowledge, and  their suppression makes the truth and reality of them even more powerful when we read or see similar themes so artfully articulated in story. It’s like scratching at an old wound.

I walk away from some stories and chapters with more questions than answers. Today’s chapter is one of them. Why did God seem to honor the deception of Rebekah and Isaac? How could Isaac so passively allow these things to happen? How and why does God utilize human brokenness and sin to bring about His will?

It’s a good morning for a cup of coffee and a thoughtful conversation around such interesting questions.

Three, Two, One

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 70

But I’ve lost it. I’m wasted. God—quickly, quickly! Quick to my side, quick to my rescue! God, don’t lose a minute. Psalm 70:5 (MSG)

Can you think of how many movies and television shows you’ve watched that include a countdown timer on a bomb or other device? The device was first used in film by German filmmaker Fritz Lang in the 1929 Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon) and filmmakers quickly understood that the inclusion of a countdown heightened the tension for audiences who watch the numbers slowly ticking down towards an uncertain climax. Even this week Wendy and I were watching the television series Homeland. As the tension built we were huddled together on the couch squeezing each other’s hand.

Psalm 70 is similar to a number of songs that David wrote. The unique thing about David’s lyric in today’s psalm is the sense of urgency that David expresses. He’s not casually asking for help. You can feel the countdown timer ticking down. He’s crying out in desperation.

There are times in life that our prayers take on a sense of urgency. It is said that “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Psalm 70 is an ancient reminder that desperate times also call for desperate prayer. It once again reminds me of why I love the psalms. Across the 150 song volume, the breadth of human experience is expressed reminding us that we can take our momentary circumstances and emotions to God no matter what they might be. If life seems to be ticking down to some impending doom, we can cry out to God and squeeze His almighty hand.