Monday, January 26, 2009

Movies I've seen recently

It's been a while since I've posted some of my movie reactions, so here goes...

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) is quite an amazing movie in many respects. For one thing, it's a remarkable true story about a Frenchman named Jean-Dominique Bauby, once the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine. In 1995, at the age of 43, Bauby had a stroke, became paralyzed all over his body except for his left eye, and ended up writing a book (entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) by "dictating" words to people by blinking his eye. So from one angle the film is a story about the indomitable human spirit, although throughout the movie Bauby struggles (understandably so) with feelings of despair and thoughts of surrender.

The cinematography is outstanding, and very creative. Most of the movie is shot as if you're looking at the world through Bauby's one good eye. So it puts you in Bauby's world, you think his thoughts, you feel his torment much more than if the movie had been entirely filmed in the traditional way.

One of the many things that moved me in this film was the love, care, and patience given Bauby by his wife, children, and hospital personnel. They represent the selfless devotion of Christ, who came to earth and gave his life for us when we were "locked in" sin (Bauby's condition is referred to as "locked-in syndrome"). Bauby often did nothing but reject them, yet they were determined to love Bauby back to health if that were possible.

A touching moment in the film is the scene where Bauby (in flashback) shaves the face of his invalid father (played by Max von Sydow). You can see the tender love of a father and son for each other, mixed with the sadness of separation. At one point Bauby's father tells Bauby that he's proud of him. It's a universal longing to be blessed by one's father. This film beautifully shows the value of affirming words spoken by a father to his child.

Religion is prominent in the movie, although not always is it shown positively. In one scene, Bauby (again in flashback) and his mistress travel to Lourdes, where sick people are flocking to a Catholic shrine for healing by Mary, the mother of Jesus. It made me think of American televangelists who "sell" Jesus and promise healing and prosperity. No wonder Bauby wasn't impressed. Overall, however, the Christians in this movie are generous, loving, inspiring role models.

My wife and I saw Marley and Me after the Christmas holidays. I had read the book last summer and couldn't put it down. You probably know the story. A newspaper columnist named John Grogan (played by Owen Wilson) and his wife Jennifer (played by Jennifer Aniston) get a yellow Lab puppy, and a long and happy love affair with this "worst dog in the world" ensues. I expected the movie to scarcely follow the book's story line, but I was pleasantly surprised. The movie accurately depicts many of the episodes in Grogan's book.

But for me, the movie was just OK. There was little real magic between Wilson and Aniston, and even less between them and the kids who played their children. Too bad, because that's one of the things that makes the book so touching. I think someone like Jason Bateman would have made a much better John Grogan. I'm not too keen on Owen Wilson as an actor. I keep thinking of him as Hansel in Zoolander.

I will say this: When we were driving home from the theatre, my wife says to me, "Mike, do you think we should get a dog?" Now this is a woman who has sworn repeatedly never to expose our home to any pet other than our declawed kitty Cleo.

So I guess Marley and Me worked some magic on her. (However, a few hours later she came to her senses.)

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) is a German film that tells the story of a brave young female member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement "White Rose" in 1943. Just 21 years old, Sophia Magdalena Scholl and her older brother Hans were nabbed by the Gestapo for printing and distributing leaflets critical of Hitler. The film follows Sophie's journey through the last six days of her life: arrest, interrogation, conviction, and execution by guillotine.

The acting is wonderful. You feel the sinister arrogance of the Nazi interrogators, the youthful bravery of Sophie, and her longing for a free and happy world. Christianity receives a very positive and healthy depiction as Sophie turns frequently to God in prayers that are moving and beautiful.

Like Valkyrie, which I saw in December, The Final Days moved me to wonder whether I would have been part of the resistance movement in WWII Germany. Would I have risked my life, and that of my family members, to stand up to Hitler and his madness? Would I have trusted God enough to join Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus von Stauffenberg, Sophie Scholl, and others like them and die if necessary for the freedom of Germany? Would I have acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with my God (Micah 6:8)?

I suppose even those people doubted their ability to do so until the moment of decision actually arrived. I'm thankful for the examples of people like Sophie Scholl. They are a great cloud of witnesses teaching us how to live by faith and look forward to a better country.

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