Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Doubt, Downfall, and Down Under

Barb and I had a pretty intense weekend of movie watching. Makes us long for another dose of Mama Mia!

On Friday we watched Doubt, a film that was awarded five academy award nominations. It is about some relationships within a Catholic church and school and the conflict between a strict nun and a personable priest, with a naïve nun caught in the middle. Most reviewers have commented that though the plot leaves too many unanswered questions it is carried along by its superb cast. I would agree, but it seems to me that that is the point. Ultimately the film is not about the story itself, but it is about the ambiguity that we cannot seem to handle, the ambiguity we want our stories to remove for us. Don’t look for anything to be neatly tied up. The film raises questions about doubt, but gives no answers, and certainly no heroes. Does the film maker mean for us to have certainty about nothing and no one? I wonder.

On Saturday night, we hunkered down to a German film with the English title Downfall. This movie is based upon the memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary, a woman who was in her early 20s and spent the last days of the war in Hitler’s Berlin bunker as, well, as men and women committed suicide around her. She and a few others escaped, although Hitler had given her a capsule of poison to take. Yessir, this makes for cheery viewing – 2 1/2 hours of delight. Though the film was highly recommended to me by a good friend with tastes that often match mine, and though it was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign language film of 2004, and though even now it resides at a lofty #79 on IMDB’s Top 250 films, I just didn’t get it. It documented a significant portion of history from a point of view we don’t often see, and I have to admit that the acting and the set design was stunning. But it was all so hopeless. I left with was this: that people look for a king. They look for someone who promises to lead them to a promised land, and if that person can successfully persuade them of their power and intention to do so, they will follow him with intense and possibly blind loyalty. When the person so followed is as evil as Hitler, that is scary. But oh to be able to successfully point people to Christ, a wise and worthy king.

Finally, also on Friday, we watched Out of Africa, 2. Well, not exactly. The title on the screen said Australia. But the movie was Out of Africa. The similarities were so many that I wondered how a film maker could take pride in a work that is so much a rip off of something that has already been done. Wealthy English woman ventures to wild and exotic foreign land following her man, but loses the man and is forced to manage an agricultural enterprise on her own against staggering odds. In the process she meets a wanderer, a man who supports her, loves her, but is too independent and free spirited to stay. He comes and goes and she endures it. We could go on with the similarities, down to a native man who repeatedly is filmed standing at a distance, keeping guard over the woman, and the fact that the woman becomes the first woman allowed in a local men’s drinking establishment. Between the two, go for Streep and Redford over Kidman and Jackman. Both are nearly three hours long, but the former is based upon a true story, and has a memorable soundtrack (and won seven oscars). Australia does have, however, the cutest child actor to appear on screen ever, a kid of aboriginal descent who has the biggest and most expressive eyes.

We intend on lightening up next weekend!

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5 Comments

  1. Rebekah

    “Downfall” was so great! (But you’re absolutely right that it wasn’t cheery.) I liked it because it portrayed Hitler as a person, not as a demon, but in portraying him like a person, it made what he did and who he was even worse.I hadn’t thought of it from your perspective though, which is a good point to take away.

  2. Rebekah

    P.S. That’s the fun of movie discussions–5 different people can watch a movie and have 5 completely different opinions!

  3. Randy Greenwald

    That’s the reason I love posting these things. I enjoy hearing the different perspectives. The movie did present Hitler as a person, as a more complex and rounded human person, but it presented him as well as being seriously deranged, I think. Worse was Goebbels, an even more creepy character.

  4. MagistraCarminum

    Yikes! Remind me that if we ever watch movies together, i want to do the choosing…;-)

  5. Randy Greenwald

    The choosing is all yours. I have to remember that you first introduced us to The Princes Bride!

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