The literature of the age is film, and a believer needs to study. It is a pleasurable study, especially when the actors or the material are as well-tuned as recent offerings have been. I give you three films today, because the tsunami of the thoughts they are channeling will likely lap at your threshold whether you watch them or not.
In Salt (undoubtedly so-named so there can be Salt II, as in the arms treaty) the force-of-nature who is Angelina Jolie carries a chase movie through sheer force of will. She is a Russian mole who was planted in the U.S. as a child, awaiting activation by her evil “creator.” Needless to say, she kills all the bad guys in a fit of redemptive violence – which is still a false myth, no matter how many times it gets filmed.
I walked out of the theatre (in the blazing heat) and said, “Note to Angelina. Do not let your however-many-you-have-now children EVER see what Mommy does for a living.” A couple of her murderous looks scared me, and she is not my mommy. Even more, the depth of American paranoia scared me. We can see a terrorist behind every bush and we are sure the government is crawling with ineptitude and corruption. If one is not as lithe as Angelina and in shape enough to sprint through an entire movie, they are doomed. It is all up to you, you brilliant individual. You are the master of your fate and you may need to kill them all for everything to work out all right (or to at least get to the sequel).
In Inception Leonardo di Caprio wants to get back to his kids. But first he has to implant a thought in a billionaire’s brain and let go of his wife who is living in the depths of his unconscious where he condemned her to exist when he implanted the notion in her deepest unconscious that reality was not as real as the subconscious worlds they traveled together. (Oh, it is much more convoluted than that!) It is the Matrix, meets the Wizard of Oz meets some movie with Barbra Streisand as a therapist.
I walked out of the theatre (in the blazing heat) and said, “THAT, was awesome, I don’t care if I understood it or not.” Apart from the amazing visuals, people will love this movie because they are so in love with their own psychological process. There is a definite parallel with Salt, in that Angelina had what amounted to an “inception” as a child. Plus, the movie Inception is questioning whether the technology might exist in some place less-regulated like Mombasa or Japan that can invade our minds. We’re paranoid about the technology and lack of security (and I think we should be), but we are also so fascinated by our own unknowable selves that we might sign up for Leonardo to explore our dreams and make his exploration into a reality show. We don’t want to “go there” but we are still self-absorbed.
In The Kids Are All Right five great performances illuminate the ultra-postchristian family for us. Nice lesbian mothers are dealing with the fissures in their long relationship — like sex and unrealized dreams. They meet up with the sperm donor after the teenage kids find him. Painful hijinks ensue. Hollywood is going to tear down any notion of what is now called the “traditional” family if they have to spend every cent they have to do it. Again we see the struggle we are all having with technology – this time the results of lab-produced children. Plus we are again thinking about our dreams, and the limits of our capacity to realize them. One of the teenagers in the film resents being the pawn in the “perfect lesbian marriage.”
I walked out of the theatre and said, “That was cute. I am amazed how good Annette Bening looks without make-up.” Propaganda comes in pretty packages these days — we do love our pills candy-coated. One of the things I noticed, and appreciated, was the way the filmmaker focused on each of the five characters and showed how they were dealing with the moral implications of what was happening in the family. The relational disaster happens and everyone changes for the batter. I enjoyed the hope.
Hang on to your hope if you go to the movies — because someone is out to get you! You may end up as a player in the battles of the unseen forces. They may invade your mind. A technological glitch from your past may rise up to wreck the present. Everything is definitely out of control. I think most Christians I know are being swept along with these same reactions to our era as everyone else. The story-telling technology is the main force that sweeps them, even if the realities they portray exist or not (and I am not even talking about Glenn Beck channeling the realities of his Mormonism).
The only real hope we have of standing against the flow, or at least of surfing it to the end instead of drowning in it, is to get up every morning and secure our connection with the Reality who grounds us in eternity, who won’t leave us alone to stand against the forces washing up on our doorsteps. Jesus saved us and will save us, no matter how big those faces and stories on the screen appear to be. We are that reality in our body; we express that reality in what we say and do. And I believe, in the end, all the other fantasies that try to undermine Jesus will fade into nothingness in his light, just like a door to the sunlight opening up in a dark theater.