Friday, 17 October 2014

God In Film: Bruce Almighty

So I have officially started up my God in Film project! As you can see, my first entry will be the film, Bruce Almighty. Bruce Almighty is a film that I have seen many, many times. It's a family favourite and was often picked for Saturday family movie night. So this is likely to be one of the easier posts for me to write. It's a film I enjoy, and it definitely has some interesting ideas about God. 

Bruce Nolan is just your everyday guy. He’s a TV reporter in Buffalo doing a lot of “cutesy” news and he loves his long-time, devoted girlfriend, Grace. However, all feels like it’s crashing down to him when he suddenly loses out on the coveted anchor job (on air, no less) and finds himself fired from his job. Furious with God and how He’s “picking on” Bruce, he cries out in rage, but also asks for a sign. What he doesn’t expect is it meet God, Himself, and to be given His powers! Because God “can fix it all in five minutes”, can’t he?

The film is filled with interesting little tidbits in its view of God. When Bruce first meets God, God is playing the role of janitor, electrician and “the boss” in the building he’s in. Everything Bruce does always has an effect, not just on himself, but also on the world around him. When Bruce pulls the moon closer for a romantic night with Grace, it causes tsunamis and flooding the next day in other parts of the world. Bruce causes a meteor to strike during a boring interview so that he can get the big story, but it causes power outages for those around the city.

But let me talk about the films overall view of God. Admittedly, if you’re looking, it’s really inconsistent.The thesis of the film, “be the miracle” is nice a thought. Instead of focusing all your time on complaining to God, reach out to others around you. We should all lend a helping hand, and the world will be a better place. Yes, God is all powerful, but we have the power to make changes in our own lives and to help others.

I know the film is trying to say that things are better left in God’s hands than our own, but the troubling thing about this ending is that life goes back to normal, and everyone is much happier, when prayers aren’t being answered by Bruce at all, that he isn’t using any of his powers, except his human kindness. The film starts to say (and I’m not entirely sure it realizes it’s saying this) that life is better when we’re nice to each other, so we don’t really need God at all. This is a bit of a contradicting end to the film and it seems to be in contrast with the point they are actually trying to make.

Bruce reaches a breaking point. He has lost Grace, maybe forever, and has just been hit by a truck and is having a chat with God while he’s potentially dead. During this scene, God says to Bruce “People want me to do everything for them. But what they don't realize is *they* have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” However, going back to the Bible, Philippians 2:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. These two things seem to come in stark contrast to me. Philippians tells us that in everything we should present our requests to God. But we also should do so with thanksgiving and without being anxious. It’s a hard balance to strike, admittedly but the verse means that we should always rely on God, but go through life without worrying. God will take care of you, whether he gives you what you want or not, but he is always giving us what is best for us.

And while I agree that we should try our hardest in life to help ourselves and to help others, to “be the miracle”, I think this minimizes how completely involved God actually is in our lives. We should be relying on God for everything. I know the point the film is trying to give, that we can’t just sit around waiting for God to clean up the mess we’ve made, but at the same time, the Bible specifically calls us to constantly be in prayer, to give everything over to God and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him. Yes, it may come in the way of others and that we can be used as someone’s “miracle” but the minimization of God and how He wants to be involved completely in our lives puts this films theology and the Bible in contrast.

God wants us constantly in prayer, constantly giving over everything to Him, but also to live our lives with thanksgiving, and for us not to be anxious about anything. I think the film only seems to remember the thanksgiving and the not being anxious part. You need that, but you also need God too, to make it complete.

The film, on the surface, gives a nice sentiment, and one that everyone, not just Christians, can get in on. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I can get behind the surface thesis of the film. We should always strive to live selflessly, to help others, and to be the best we can be. Be intentional about helping others, you may just be the answer to their prayer. However, it can’t just stop at that. What the film doesn’t say is that we still need to always reach out to God. We can’t do everything by ourselves, and often the divine intervention is what leads us to helping specific people and answering specific prayers. It’s not all just coincidence. If we partner up with each other, and especially with God, then, truly, we can make the world a better place.

The film gets a lot of ideas about God right, however. God is all powerful, is all-knowing, and He knows a lot better than us as to what’s best for us. This is especially shown when Bruce gets tired of answering everyone’s’ prayers, he just hits reply-all and answers every single prayers as “YES”. Bruce gave everyone exactly what they wanted at the same time. And chaos completely ensues. While good things come of it (people losing lots of weight, becoming taller, etc), there is also terrible things that happen. 400, 000 people win the lottery, and there are riots in downtown Buffalo (though the movie doesn’t really explain why everyone is rioting…). The film also makes a hard case that God can’t mess with free will. While I don’t know if this is necessarily true (you can make cases both ways, really), but it makes for an interesting dynamic with how humans interact with God. And in the end, it shows us that to truly live, we must surrender everything to God. In Bruce’s moment of breaking, he cries out that he surrenders. The film understands that you must surrender. You can’t live half-heartedly for God. However, as stated above, everyone’s lives in the film gets better when prayers go unanswered and God stops using his power. The film had good intentions, and indeed, did carry some of those out and played them well. However, the theology of the film is inconsistent and sometimes in contrast. It is a harmless film with some nice surface theology but shouldn’t be taken overly seriously. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is, in the perfect sense, a slow burner. It starts off pretty unassuming and normal. Nick Dunne gets home sometime during the day of his 5th wedding anniversary to see a chair overturned and the glass coffee table smashed to bits and his wife Amy nowhere to be found. And from there the story slowly unwinds, raveling looser, building and building until all hell breaks loose.

The narrative is split into two parts. While it follows the present, counting the days since Amy’s disappearance, it also flashes back to Nick and Amy’s past, using Amy’s diary as our source. Amy and Nick meeting, Amy disappearing. Amy and Nick getting engaged, Nick being questioned by the police about Amy and not knowing very much about her. Amy and Nick losing their jobs and moving to Missouri to be with Nick’s mom who has cancer, Nick doing a press conference and smiling next to his wifes’ missing poster.  Slowly and slowly, things seem to get completely out of control. And then she’s just gone.

David Fincher was beyond the perfect person to direct this. The pace of this film was pitch-perfect and I think any other director would’ve moved the story along quicker. But what makes this film so good, and so enticing, is the slow build. The story drops a hint here, a small clue there and slowly unwinds all the characters, their stories, and their lies, until it all just explodes. The story never reveals more than it needs to. Fincher lets us know information when we need, and never before. Having read the book and knowing what we going to happen just as fun, I think, than if I hadn’t read it beforehand. Fincher drops clues and makes small gestures and has throwaway lines that made me, the informed viewer, love the attention to the tiny details.

Fincher also makes some pretty hard jabs at the way the media and the public react to cases like this. The highly publicized case, with beautiful people involved. The way we put “experts” on TV to make judgments when they have very basic information, how the population takes “sides” based on “evidence” reported by the media, and the rumors and untrue details made up to spiral the case. The flip-flopping over the public disliking Nick, then loving him, then thinking he is a killer and hating him to liking him again speaks volumes about widely publicized cases we heard about so often. People are so quickly jumping to conclusions of who did it and assuming they know much more about a case that they really do. People regard it almost like reality TV, being almost that far removed from what the actual situation is.  

And in contrast, Fincher does the exact opposite, as a director. Fincher doesn’t paint anyone as black or white. He shows them as they are so that we, not leaning one way or the other, like we like to have people painted. But the audience actually has to make their own decisions on the characters. He leaves everything ambiguous enough that you teeter back and forth on opinion, but it’s also not too vague that you don’t connect with a character. Even after the reveal of what exactly is going on and who did what, no judgment is laid down by the director. The characters are treated fairly, and don’t have them boxed in neat and perfectly into either “good” or “bad”. Life isn’t like this, and Fincher puts that out there for us to see. It’s such a different approach from most films of this genre. Fincher doesn’t really care what we’re supposed to think, he just wants us to think. And I love it.

In regards to casting, Ben Affleck is spot-on. Though I read the book before I knew about casting choices, I knew Ben Affleck would be the perfect casting for Nick. Nick is an interesting character. We are constantly trying to decide whether he’s just aloof, or if there’s some other motive going on. At a press conference, he stands next to the missing poster of his wife, looking sullen. When one of the dozens of photographers shouts “smile!”, he obliges, for a quick second. But it’s that smile that haunts him. It’s that homecoming king, charming smile that nobody can seem to figure out. That smile, that moment, is what seals the deal of Affleck nailing the part of Nick.

Rosamund Pike is the one you’ve been hearing most about since the film’s release. Pike, not as big a star or household name as her on-screen husband, has been around for a while. From Bond girl to Bennett sister, she’s done various projects, but none as juicy or amazing as this role here. Without spoiling anything, Rosamund Pike as Amy steals the show. Pike is beautiful, with wide, innocent eyes plays Amy to a tee. There is much more to Amy than there appears to be, and Pike just adds so many layers (that the audience who hasn’t read the book may not quite see at first). Hard to talk about without any spoilers, but expect to hear Pike’s name in conversation come Oscar time. Her role is insanely juicy and Pike knocked it out of the park.

The supporting cast, as well, was quite spot on. While many were questioning some of Fincher’s choices, there was no one who was at all weak or not giving out their best. Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt exceeded many people’s expectations. Playing the cocky and hot-shot lawyer, Perry brings some unexpected talent to the role and was well cast. As well, Neil Patrick Harris seemed a very odd choice to me, and while his character is also very odd and little unfitting, he really does nail the role well. Carrie Coon, who is still relatively unknown, was perfect as Margo, Nick’s twin sister. The only real moral compass of the film, she brought perfect wit and empathy where it was needed.

But seriously, this film is just stitched together in a way that no other director would dare to do. The pace is a pure slow burner, the unraveling of the story. And not to mention that one scene, which had some of the most perfect editing and was an incredibly gutsy and was ever-so Fincher. It was a shocking move, how it was filmed and edited, but it seemed to cap things so perfectly for the story we have. As well the ‘aha’ reveal scene, where things finally start to become explained is perfectly done. It’s incredibly impacting and is just so well done. The emotional impact it punches is really great and the reveal is so perfectly timed and edited.

Indeed, just the whole film was so well edited (as usual), and the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was perfectly mood setting (again, no surprise). While it’s not really a film that just anyone will enjoy, it’s extremely well made and is perfectly adapted from its source material (mainly due to the author penning the screenplay). While the book doesn’t expand on a few points I felt it would benefit from (the impact of Amazing Amy on real Amy’s life, and many other things that I can’t talk about without spoilers) but it was the film that the book deserved and then some.