Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Movies Page 2 of 7

Roman Catholic Response to Spotlight

Steven Greydanus ( is a film reviewer whose point of view I greatly respect. I commend him to you. He is also a Roman Catholic. His take on Spotlight (a movie we’ve discussed here and here) as a Roman Catholic is worth noting.

Recently, this was posted to Twitter by a Father Kevin Cusick:

Spotlight places in @DecentFilms top 10: I found it a bit shallow on abuse cause, superficial in treatment of Church

Greydanus (@DecentFilms), over several tweets, responded with this:

FWIW, Catholic response to #Spotlight has been positive.

As with any historical film, one can take issue with Spotlight on individual points (I do).

It’s important to recognize that Spotlight presents subjective experiences/opinions of characters…

…who helped expose abuse/coverup. Sadly, these journalists etc. were mostly alienated from the Church…

…because church leaders and others in the Church didn’t take responsibility for cleaning up our own house.

If church leaders had done their job, we would control the narrative. They didn’t and we don’t.

Despite their anti-Church animus, the [Boston] Globe reporters did us a service. The film is their story, not ours.

His full review is here.


In their engaging, sad, and highly personal reflection on sexual abuse in the evangelical church, Marci Preheim and Sarah Taras comment:

If abuse requires silence, deception, and wordsmithing to flourish, then the way to kill it is to bring it into the light.

I can’t tell from reading their post whether that was an intentional or accidental reference to the recent Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight, but it certainly made me think of it.

Spotlight2For some time my friend and fellow pastor Mike had urged me to see Spotlight. I resisted mainly because I was certain that my movie-going partner, my wife, would not want to see it. I think, though, as well, that a part of me just does not want to be made to feel uncomfortable. And that, for sure, is a problem that is shared by too many.

I was surprised to discover that my wife, in fact, WANTED to see the movie, and we were both glad we did. Spotlight is far and away one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

In the first place, it is simply a well told story. It follows the journalistic efforts that uncovered the scope of the sex-abuse scandal in Boston telling that story with energy and passion. The film is well paced, sustaining interest from the beginning until the end. Unlike many movies, I did not stop to consider the time. I was engaged the full length of the film.

The movie was written and directed by Tom McCarthy who has been a favorite of mine for a long time. (If you’ve not seen The Visitor, put that one on your list, as well.) This movie is his best.

I was particularly impressed with the acting of Mark Ruffalo. His “it could have been me” speech about 3/4 of the way through was one of the best sustained monologues that I can recall having seen.Spotlight1

The topic is handled deftly and without making it solely a problem of the Catholic Church. That’s important because the abuse of children and the protection of the abusers is NOT a Catholic issue. It may have found a home there, and the sheer size of the church magnifies the scale of the problem, but this is shamefully a problem in Protestant churches as well as the article referenced at the beginning makes clear. The value of a spotlight is that the hidden things must be brought to light, and the light must never be shut off, no matter how uncomfortable we are with what it exposes.

The film is honest enough to say that it was not simply the church that allowed this to go on for so long. There is a human complacency that settles upon us all. We don’t like boats that are rocking, and we don’t want to be the ones doing the rocking. Blame is spread far enough to make us all look deeply at the issues of which we are even now aware, but don’t want to engage. Abuse? Abortion? Poverty? Sexual slavery and trafficking?

It is so often easier, to our shame, to simply close our eyes.

The movie forces us to open our eyes, but is never heavy handed in doing so. One leaves the theater strangely hopeful and blessed for having spent the time.

Spotlight is not likely to be in theaters much longer. If you have not seen it, and cannot see it in theaters, it is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Wit and Wisdom

Watching the deeply moving movie Wit several years ago made me deeply appreciative of the work that nurses do. Among other things, the film reminds us that the most direct connection between medical care and the patient is the nurse. Her (or his) skill and compassion makes a world of difference in how illness and death is experienced.

After it was over, I had to call my daughter, a nurse, and thank her for what she did. (Further thoughts on that first viewing here.)

20696006I recently finished reading Being Mortal by surgeon, professor, speaker, writer, husband, and father (a man with way more time than the rest of us) Atul Gawande. It is a deeply personal, well-written, and engagingly thoughtful book, subtitled “Medicine and What Matters in the End”. Gawande leads us through the tangled web of issues that confront us when we consider death and what leads up to it. I read it as a pastor but found that it would be a worthy read for any who expect that someday they might, you know, die.

I especially appreciated the tour that Gawande gives of the line, the very thin and often imperceptible line, between decisions that prolong life and those that simply postpone death.

If the hero of Wit is the nurse, the heroic role in Being Mortal is played by hospice. Hospice nurses and doctors navigate that line between life and death with greater insight and often a better hold on reality than the rest of us. In my experience, and that of Gawande, they humanize experiences that others make clinical. And they do it well. In thirty years of ministry when I’ve been in the presence of death, I’ve always found the presence of hospice to be deeply comforting and an indispensable blessing.

And so, when I finished reading Being Mortal, I had to, once again, pass on my appreciation to my daughter who is, to be precise, a hospice nurse.

The point for readers here is not my daughter, as it is for me. The point is to watch the movie, to read the book, and to be pointedly grateful for those you know whose work and calling bring them to the side of those who need them when, in life and death, they need a humanizing touch.

Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Love StoryI managed to make it through the 70s without seeing Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw in Love Story, though it was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 1. If the IMDB summary is any indication, we’ve all seen variations of the same movie “A boy and a girl from different backgrounds fall in love regardless of their upbringing – and then tragedy strikes.”

What makes the movie memorable, apart from the theme song, is the tag line that was everywhere when the movie was released, and survives on the DVD cover:

Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

I’m not sure whether the line is intended to be taken seriously or not. But it’s prominence seems to suggest it is a theme at the heart of the movie. And if the line causes you to shake your head in stunned puzzlement, you are not alone.

It’s that common reaction to the line that lies at the heart of one of my favorite movie scenes. This one is from a movie that came out two years later, What’s Up, Doc? starring the same Ryan O’Neal falling in love this time with Barbra Streisand. It is something of a screwball comedy made memorable to me by this thirty second clip:

I can only add, “Amen.”

[If you can’t for some reason get this clip to play, you can see it in a slightly longer context here.]

Akira Kurosawa and His Sons

In one short span of time in the early 1980s I took my wife to see three movies in close succession. One was that year’s Academy Award winner for best movie, Terms of Endearment. One was a re-screening of the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born. The third was Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. In each, a main character dies, two of them by suicide.

I nearly lost my movie choosing privileges after that stretch. It was, however, my first exposure to Kurosawa. Years later, after watching two or three other Kurosawa movies, I watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and began to realize just how influential Kurosawa had been on modern movies. (One movie scholar has called Steven Spielberg a ‘son of Kurosawa’, a title apparently Spielberg is glad to bear.)

These days I have stepped into a gold mine of Kurosawa resources through a friendship with a lover of all things Japanese. My friend has recently supplied me with Seven Samurai, Ikiru, and Throne of Blood.

Seven Samurai I’ve seen before. Many others have as well, though they did not know it. Its American remake was a little thing called The Magnificent Seven. (That film is being remade for release in September of this year.)

Ikiru was a delight beyond measure. Translated it means ‘to live’ and it is a wonderful story of a man, pressed with the possibility of death, finding purpose in living. And yet, its ending is so dolefully Japanese.
I just recently had the opportunity to watch Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s retelling of the story of Macbeth. Of the movies I’ve seen, this one was the hardest for me to follow, and yet, I could not stop watching it. Striking was the performance of the main character’s wife, the one intended to fulfill the role that Lady Macbeth fills in Shakespeare’s play. She plays the role with a steady, unmoving posture, conveying a striking evil manipulation that is full of power and intrigue and, in the end, madness.

MifuneNevertheless, the part of the film that lingers is the ending. This is especially true when one realizes this film was shot in 1957 without any sophisticated special effects, no CGI, and no green screen shenanigans. Perhaps there is a notice in the Japanese credits that says, “No humans were harmed or killed in the making of this film.” If there isn’t, there should be. One wonders how Toshirô Mifune survived to film another movie. Those were real arrows shot by real archers at a real actor.

I spoke recently with an American film buff who had never heard of Kurosawa or seen his films. If you, like he, have not, do what you can to fix that soon.

[Note: Throne of Blood is available on Amazon to rent for $2.99, as is Ran, Kurosawa’s King Lear interpretation. The latter apparently can be watched for free under a special offer described here.

[Further note: embarrassingly I realized after this post went live that I had misspelled, consistently, at least, Kurosawa’s first name. That has been fixed (I think!), and the glow of my embarrassment has begun to slightly fade.]

Moral Order

I hope it was not implied in my previous post that because I thought that Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor was not a good memoir that I therefore thought any less of Peterson himself. Far from it. His voice is still a clear and meaningful one for those of us seeking to be pastors in the 21st century.

As such, I find that I resonate with him on many topics. One incidental comment made in his memoir has to do with detective fiction:

When I don’t know what to do, I read a murder mystery. Murder mysteries are the cleanest, least ambiguous moral writing that we have. All the while you are reading, no matter how confused you are about the motives or the significance of clues, you know that eventually the murderer will be identified and justice done. Just stay at it long enough and everything will be sorted out.”

Agreeing with this is Denis Haack as he quotes mystery author P. D. James:

“What the detective story is about,” author P. D. James says, “is not murder but the restoration of order.” …we yearn for order, prefer it, and instinctively know that disorder can blossom into a chaos that can be deadly. In such a world, when a detective solves the crime a bit of order is restored in a corner of our badly fragmented world. Even a fictional account can refresh our hope that against all odds order just might be able to be restored.

Haack goes on to commend a recently completed ten-year British detective show called Foyle’s War which exemplifies this point.
Foyle s War 1

We have watched some of the episodes multiple times, purely for the enjoyment of seeing them. At the end we are always satisfied, not simply because a measure of order has been restored, but because we feel edified, having watched a virtuous character bring law, justice, and mercy into his corner of a broken world.

I hope to have more to say about Foyle’s War, easily my favorite television series in recent memory. In the meantime, read P. D. James or sit on the couch and begin the 20 plus episodes of Foyle’s War. Well, well worth it.

Watching and Reading

Art or literature or music or movies are community possessions. They are meant to be experienced and then discussed in community and conversation. Finding those people with whom these can be discussed and experienced can be a difficult thing, especially if ones tastes are as eclectic as mine.

The other day a friend and I were sitting at Starbucks when I flagged down a man who had been seated next to us and was beginning to leave. I had seen him reading there before and so I stopped him and asked what for him would be his ‘go to’ books, books or authors he loved to read and to which he often returns. He pulled up a chair and we talked for 15 minutes or more. It was not even until the end of the conversation when I realized that I did not even know his name.

A few days later he passed my table at Starbucks to ask me about a couple more books, and we found out that after the previous conversation, I had ordered a book he had recommended and he had ordered one I had recommended. This is the way, it seems to me, art of whatever variety is meant to be appreciated.

Notes for those who must know details:

He favors mature, classic authors – George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky. He managed to get Middlemarch back onto my ‘must read’ list.

He mentioned a passing interest in the Kennedy assassination, and so I recommended to him Stephen King’s 11/22/63. He found out I was a Presbyterian pastor (we both had read and loved Gilead by Marilyn Robinson) and he recommended, and I ordered, Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.

And, I should add, that the friend with whom I was sitting was a passing acquaintance until the day I saw him at Starbucks reading King’s On Writing. We bonded immediately.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I’ll never quite know why and how it is that a particular actor becomes one whose death I lament – but hearing that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose of heroin yesterday struck me as very sad. I feel I’ve lost something that was valuable. A face, a voice, a presence that I’ll never experience again.

Hoffman Magnolia 300x201

The best and most reflective tribute I’ve read is this from critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet.

In a way, we mourn the death of actors because we love the characters they played, not because we knew who they were as individuals. And it’s plain to see that Hoffman was fighting a terrible battle behind closed doors, while audiences enjoyed what he could do to bring other personalities to life.

We don’t know them, and what the average observer might not know is that Hoffman was fascinated with the character of Christ, and considered himself a believer. This was sparked by the genuine faith of his sister and the vigor of her evangelical community.

The idea that a young person could be sane, generous, intelligent and Christian held out great appeal for him. So did the palpable sense of community he felt with his sister and her friends.

The whole piece is worth reading, and pondering. Soberly, he concludes:

Moreover, I am inspired to remember that even if all of my worldly dreams come true and I gain riches and fame and respect, I am still vulnerable. I have no place to speak any words of judgment over the circumstances of Hoffman’s death. In my moments of clear-thinking, I know that I have my own addictions. I have my own secrets that exist in direct contradiction to what I profess and what I long to be. By grace, I’ve been spared all kinds of devastating consequences. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, and upon us all.


There is the story of the baseball umpire who would not stay in place, but wandered all over the field during a game. Before his superiors could correct this behavior, he was struck by a line drive, knocked out cold, and removed from the field on a stretcher. And that marked the Fall of the Roamin’ Umpire.

I’m not an umpire, but I’ve been roamin’ widely through the holiday period. I’m not yet ‘fallen’ but I’ve had to grow silent until such time as a normal rhythm returns.

In the meantime, over the weekend a few posts crossed in front of me capturing two of my passions, movies and the church, which I felt merit passing on.

The first comes from Scot McNight, responding to the all too common “I love Jesus; I have no room for the church” sentiment. He suggests that those espousing such ideas need to hear Bonhoeffer reminding us

that we must, must, must surrender our ideals of the church and learn to live with its brokenness and the brokenness of all those connected to it. The fundamental problem is that the person who thinks this way thinks more highly of himself or herself than of others, sets himself or herself apart, and acts if he or she is superior. There is a communion table at the front of the church for a reason — because that’s what brings us together, not our competence in Christian living.

Well put.

Also concerning the church, or at least Christian culture, is the helpful attempt by Mike Osborne of University Presbyterian Church to correct the strange vocabulary of contemporary Christians.

I continue to believe that one of the strangest things about us Christians is our specialized vocabulary. Surely it accounts for at least some of the disconnect between us and our non-believing neighbors.

He takes on a number of phrases, some of which may be your favorites. Curious what you think.

And finally, on a different note, there is this well written review of the movie Her. I found the trailer for this movie creepy, and its premise disturbing. But the review leads me to want to see it. The reviewer, Lauren Wilford, says the central question the movie confronts is not the technological question, but rather, “What is it like to share your life with someone?”

What unfolds as we realize this is a poignant exploration of the questions that come in the middle of any thoughtful relationship. How do you grow without growing apart? Which differences between people are workable, and which are too fundamental to ignore? How do you reveal yourself to someone without scaring that person? And how do you offer grace in the midst of a love you’re losing, a love you’ve lost?

These seem to be the kinds of questions that are good to talk about.

And, as a side piece of the movie, Scarlett Johansson is making quite an impression as a star in a movie in which you never see her. As the reviewer notes:

Yes, my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance occurs in a film where you never see her body. The implication is not lost on me.

This one will have to go on my list.

Nostalgia and the Kingdom

To get me to ignore your message, frame it in crisis terms. I’ve become immune to any appeal suggesting that avoiding this movement or embracing that practice is ushering in the collapse of all the we (generally white Americans) find culturally precious. The claims may be accurate. The sky may be falling. But I’ve grown immune to the screaming.

We see cultural collapse when we are gripped with an unhealthy sense of nostalgia. We are persuaded that the 1950s was the height of safe Christian culture (or, for me for a time, 1860) – conclusions which for obvious reasons will be shared by white men far more than others.

Nostalgia links to our sense of shalom. We long for shalom, and sentiment for a time lost is easier to embrace than hope for a time yet unforeseen. Anything which seems to threaten that nostalgic longing is a portent of imminent social collapse. And for many, the harbinger and possible cause of this collapse is pop culture (rivaled only by, and often seen hand in hand with, the ‘other’ political party). The movies and music and media of our day are eroding our national strength and if not stopped or countered will lead to inevitable loss. So goes the argument meant to make me feel guilty if I don’t buy a ticket to Fireproof.

To argue the case one way or the other seems a bit fruitless to me. Lives are won or lost one at a time through old fashioned love and discipleship. Micro-ministry holds greater hope for the kingdom of God than macro-movements.

That said, pop culture does play a role, but it is not universally negative as some too easily assume.Magnolia melora walters john c reilly Signs that pop-culture can SERVE the kingdom and not degrade it are not hard to find. The 1999 movie Magnolia could be seen as evidence of our cultural fall with its sex and drug use and gay lead character. But the biblical themes of judgment are rich and the Christian character is the only one who is not coming undone. There is much positive here.

In 2005 Steven Spielberg directed a version of the H. G. Wells classic War of the Worlds. It was not a particularly good movie, but that’s not what matters here. In an interview Spielberg compared this movie with his earlier Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Both involved families. Both involved aliens. The difference, he lamented, was that in his earlier movie, crisis tore families apart. In this newer movie, crisis took families which were apart and pulled them back together.

Progression toward shalom, and not away from it, should be celebrated. Not all ‘progress’ is retrograde.

Nostalgia can fix our eyes on the past and blind us to the progress of God’s work in the present. Perhaps it is better to fix our eyes on the kingdom and celebrate it wherever we see its fingerprints, in the present, in the past, and especially in our hopes for the future.

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