Friday, February 29, 2008

The Mist

Well the Oscars are over, and I may get around to a blog entry on the four (out of five) "Best Picture" nominated films I saw over the course of two days last weekend. But first let me recommend a great overlooked film - Frank Darabont's The Mist. When I first heard about this my response was kind of "yeah, whatever." I had seen The Fog and it was awful (though the John Carpenter original I hear tell is a lot better). But when I heard that this was a Frank Darabont film, I thought I'd give it a try. After all, the man who made The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, knows how to make a good movie out of a Stephen King story, right? Well, my instincts were right and this is one of the best creature features I've seen in a while. Even Thomas Jane is good in this (didn't know he had it in him).

Frank Darabont at work behind the camera (left)

You would think that a film with a premise like this would be filled with Hollywood cliches. A small town near a military base is covered by a dense fog and people begin to be picked off by prehistoric tentacled monsters hidden in the fog which have been set loose as a result of the military experimenting with inter-dimensional portals. The remarkable thing is that Darabont gets his actors to behave in ways that you could imagine people would behave in a situation like that instead of acting like Hollywood stereotypes. The slow building of suspense as the townspeople in the local supermarket begin to realise that something is amiss is brilliantly carried off and a masterpiece of direction.

Marcia Gay Harden's religious fruitcake "Mrs. Carmody" is a bit of a cheap shot, I guess (why are religious people in movies so often dangerous and crazy?) but her mania provides the Lord of the Flies scenario that sees the grocery store inhabitants revert to their most savage and primitive of survival instincts. A sacrificial victim is needed to appease the blood lust of the monsters and Mrs. Carmody is happy to provide the victims. Renee Girard's concepts of "mimetic violence" and the "scapegoat mechanism" are at work here. A sacrificial social order based on violence is the only thing that can secure salvation for those trapped in the mist enshrouded supermarket. Or is it? Thomas Jane's David Drayton and his little band of dissenters beg to differ and make their escape prefering the monsters in the fog to the ones in the grocery store.

A warning-the ending of this film is very downbeat. By the final act, you feel like you really need the payoff of a happy ending but it doesn't come. This shows a lot of restraint on Darabont's part as he makes good on his intention to be faithful to the original story, even at the risk of alienating the audience. Four stars from me.

On Burning Heretics

I've been reading any interesting post by Stumac over on In the Moment about the bad behaviour associated with battles over theology. I think we find this kind of thing so hard to deal with partly because we view heresy so differently from the ancestors. We tend to see it as an intellectual infirmity - the person isn't thinking straight. They, on the other hand, saw it as a moral fault - the willingness to believe a lie. Actually the New Testament seems to assume this pre-modern concept. It's interesting to note that in the Book of Revelation it is not only the false prophet who is thrown into the lake of fire but also "all those deceived by him." Hang on isn't being deceived something amoral, something "not my fault"? Perhaps not; perhaps I allow myself to be deceived because of some inner fault that is willing to believe a lie.

The other difference between us and earlier generations of Christians is that because religion was previously so much a part of society (especially from the late medieval/early modern period) a heretic threatened the very stability of the social order. Today a heretic can hold whatever false doctrines he or she wants and it doesn't bother us at all because we live in a free and liberal society, in a world of complete freedom of religion. Every suburban Kingdom Hall is evidence that this system works very well. But to a person in, say, Luther's Germany, a heretic such as Michael Servetus (just as an example) was considered not unlike the way we might consider a terrorist - a person whose view threatened the safety of society and who needed to be prosecuted for his religious views for the good of the whole.

Now, I am not trying to make excuses for the atrocious act of burning and torturing heretics. It was as unChristian then as it would be today. But understanding these people's context and the way they acted as people of their time helps us understand a little better the actions they took (even if we still believe they were wrong). I'm glad we no longer burn heretics - these days we make them bishops.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Apology

Kevin Rudd in Darwin during the election campaign (AAP: Alan Porritt)

Yesterday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made history with the following speech. I'm sure you've already heard it and read it, probably more than once, but I wanted to post it here because many of my international vistors (hopefully some of my Australian History students from Houghton Down Under, may not have got it elsewhere. Mungo Macallum has complained that it should have been written by a poet, but he is one, so he would say that. OK so it may have been written by a parliamentary team of speech writers but it is historic, and it is just, and it is a solid foundation for a shared future.

"Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Halt Teaser Trailer

Here is a teaser trailer for the Boy Wonder's current short film project (still in post-production as we speak).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (3 February 2008)

One of the most popular themes in reality TV is the “make-over.” A person is transformed from an ordinary looking person with not much style or dress sense into a stunning, sexy, smartly dressed man or woman through the magic of the make-over team. A variation on the theme is plastic surgery shows where a disfigured person undergoes radical changes to their face and/or body through surgical intervention. The highlight of the show is when friends and loved ones all gather and the person is revealed for the first time in all their transformed glory. Tonight sees the return of TV’s The Biggest Loser where people are transformed from being morbidly obese to being, well…not morbidly obese. Viewers will sit through the entire series in order to get to the final episode when the contestants will stand in all their reduced glory – transformed and transfigured by their experience of diet and exercise.

The New Testament word "transfiguration" may be translated by our English word, "metamorphosis." It is used four times in the New Testament and is translated twice as, "transfigured," (Mark 9:2; Matthew 17:2 - the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount) twice as "transformed" (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18 - the transformation of believers into greater degrees of Christlikeness). The linking of these Gospel passages with Paul’s letters is important. It shows that we are to share in some way in the glory of Christ. C.S. Lewis once said that if we could see the creature God will make of our neighbour we would be tempted to bow down and worship him.

The First Sunday of Epiphany the text is always about the baptism of Jesus where the voice is heard from heaven: "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Today is the last Sunday, and a voice again says, "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Eugene Peterson paraphrases these words: "this is my son, marked by my love, the focus of my delight." This reassurance was needed by Jesus and needed by the disciples as Jesus is about to enter into the final journey to the cross. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday the commencement of the season of Lent, when we are called to fast and to undergo a season of self denial and repentance in preparation for Easter. At such a time we need the revelation that we are given here. Often we are told in sermons that we must change. How often have you heard someone say in a prayer. ”Lord may we leave this place changed people.” I wonder if that is really the answer.

In Cecil B. Demille's final film, The Ten Commandments, Moses emerges from Sinai (an event recalled in today's Old Testament reading) looking very different from when he went into the cloud. It works in its own way I guess but it also looks a little comical. It comes off as a clever makeup job but it’s unintentionally humorous as no reason is given why a previously younger looking Moses has now emerged from his encounter with God donning a full flowing beard and looking about 40 years older! I don’t know how many sermons I’ve given on the transfiguration – a lot. But when I look in the mirror I see the same old me. We too often come away from a sermon on the transfiguration asking ourselves what we need to do to change. It is not what we do that leads to change, it is what we see. What Peter, James and John saw on the mountain that day, certainly changed them as their writings bear witness.

The sad thing about make-over shows is that the people who make such transformations to their exterior self soon revert to their older careless ways and are just as slovenly and overweight as when they began. A make-over is only skin deep. It is not a make-over we need but laser surgery. This Lent as we adopt our Lenten discipline and focus on Christ let the emphasis not be on the discipline but on the focusing. May God grant us to see a new vision of Christ’s glory so that “all of us, with unveiled faces [see] the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, [and are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Amen.


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