The Revenant: A Savage Grace

campfire

As a child I felt the call of the wild.  Jack London’s book sat on my bedroom bookshelf and every so often I would take and read.  Or rather, I would drink it in, as I did all of my favorite books, living moment by moment Buck’s eerie transformation from favored pet in sunny Santa Clara to wolf fiend of the Arctic.  Why did I love the tale?  Its cruelty held no charms for me, but its stark beauty captivated me.

One day my friends and I found a small, hurt animal – mouse, bird, I no longer remember what.  When one girl wanted to rescue it I spoke frostily of the law of club and fang until she protested, “Well . . . jeepers!”  That gentle “jeepers” sank its fangs into my soul.  Why would a Christian girl love The Call of the Wild? I decided I had overdosed on wolfish creatures (“They were savages, all of them . . . ”) and read London no more.

This past Christmastide I heard an NPR review of Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant and knew that I had to see it.  I had a professional motive, besides.  As a history professor specializing in the early nineteenth century, I did not want to be mauled by a student who had seen this film when I had not.  So, one fine Friday before the spring semester hit, I took myself to see The Revenant. Continue reading

Politics and Religion in Ridley Scott’s The Martian

maxresdefault

The Martian is good science fiction. It has a hard-edged realism combined with a compelling plot. In the near future, NASA is sending manned missions to Mars, but the Ares III mission runs into trouble. The crew leaves behind astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, because they think he’s dead, but Mark, who isn’t dead, decides that he doesn’t want to die on Mars. He begins working on a plan to get off the planet.

Director Ridley Scott manages to strike just the right balance of humor and tension, and Matt Damon does an excellent job giving us a hero we can root for. Damon’s got most of the screen time, and for most of his scenes he’s acting alone. Pulling off solo scenes successfully proves one’s acting mettle. The rest of the cast does a great job too (though I think an Oscar nod should go to Mackenzie Davis for imbuing a minor role with awesomeness). And let’s not forget to mention the topnotch special effects that are so good that you almost don’t notice they’re there. What a novel concept—effects that serve the story.

And it really is a good story.

Continue reading

Exploring Dante’s Inferno in Disney’s Frozen

frozen_elsa-wide

Disney’s Frozen might be the most Christian movie that I have seen this year. That’s saying a lot since Man of Steel was self-consciously trying to be the most Christian movie of 2013. I could probably write a post about how Frozen is a better allegory for the Christian gospel than C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but if I did, my colleagues at HBU might run me out of the university on a rail.

But I don’t want to talk about the Good News in Frozen, I want to talk about the Bad News. Don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil anything that’s not already in the trailer.

Elsa is a young queen, and she can’t seem to control her supernatural ability to freeze things. She runs to the mountain to get away from her problems, and once there she creates a palace of ice and sings with gelid abandon. Her song is one of defiance. She doesn’t need anyone else. She will be true to herself for the first time. She needs freedom.

Continue reading

Loki Have I Loved, But Thor Have I Hated

loki

Thousands of moviegoers left the 2012 blockbuster The Avengers demanding more of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and Thor: the Dark World has not disappointed these fans. Loki steals every scene in which he appears. I think there’s a pun in that last sentence.

The family dynamic between Thor and Loki reminds me of another famous sibling rivalry, Jacob and Esau. Esau and Thor are the older brothers, Jacob and Loki the younger. Thor and Esau enjoy the love of their fathers, while their mothers favor Loki and Jacob. Thor is a hairy brute. Esau is a hairy brute. Loki is a trickster attempting to steal his brother’s birthright. Jacob is a trickster who steals his brother’s birthright. Esau marries a woman that his parents don’t approve of. Thor spends his time chasing a woman Odin disapproves of. Jacob impersonates his brother. Loki impersonates everyone.

Whom should we pull for as we watch Thor: the Dark World? The Bible endorses Jacob, so I guess that means that we ought to embrace Loki. But isn’t he a bad guy? Well, yeah, but even Thor admits that he’s got more of a head for governing than Thor does. Let everyone do what they’re good at.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the Thor character. But when he’s at odds with his little brother, I can’t help but pull for Loki. Hiddleston’s portrayal of the trickster “fascinates” in the archaic sense of the word.

Continue reading