Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Movies Page 3 of 7

Moonrise Sex

There is a title that’s bound to attract some search engines. But that’s not why I chose it.

I have friends who are big fans of the movies of Wes Anderson. Like the Coen brothers, I find that he is an acquired taste, one which I, after seeing Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom am still working to acquire. Out of respect for my friends, and Anderson’s three Oscar nominations, and the fact that Moonrise Kingdom was nominated for the top prize at Cannes, I’m willing at most points to say that my lack of appreciation is a problem with me. I often simply don’t get Wes Anderson, but I’m willing to admit that that is my problem.

So I may not be the right person to address the question that Moonrise Kingdom raised for me. There is a scene in the film which probably made me, and many others, squirm. It made me ask, “When does a filmmaker’s reputation allow him to get a pass where he should not get a pass?”

The scene in question captures two child actors in a highly sexualized context. The scene itself is not distasteful. What is distasteful to me is the fact that two children were asked to enact it.

Curious what my friends thought, I asked their opinion of the movie. This led to a specific debate with them concerning the scene in question which I preserve below. I think that even for those of you who have NOT seen the film there may be some value in raising and considering the questions the scene raises.

Correspondent #1: I saw Moonrise Kingdom at the local ‘indie’ theater when it opened last May. As always with Wes Anderson, I love taking in the aesthetics – the sets, the costumes, the attention to detail, the soundtracks, the original scores, the cinematography. All those things alone do not a good movie make! I don’t remember being particularly impressed with the story or the characters. I remember a time or two feeling uncomfortable at the pre-teen romance. In general I found it entertaining enough, but it didn’t really ‘stick’ with me, I haven’t looked back at it since.

RRG: All you say about MK is on the money: quirky, visually intriguing, etc.

But here is what bothered me, not only for its troubling nature, but also that so many others, and particularly Christians, were not bothered by it. I can’t say what the definition of child pornography is, but would not filming children involved in sexual activity for the entertainment of others qualify? If that is accepted, then the question becomes ‘what is sexual activity’. When a 12 year old male actor is invited to and does place his hand on a female actor’s breast in the company of sexually oriented conversation, is that not close to, if not actual, child pornography (albeit of a mild sort)? These are not 20 year old actors playing 12 year olds; these are actual 12 year olds. Does it get a pass because it is Wes Anderson? Or am I revealing a level of latent prudishness?

Correspondent #2: Agreed about Moonrise for the most part. Only saw it once and thought that it was a little disturbing. Probably Wes Anderson’s weakest to date. He’s always fascinated by young lust, and those early awkward moments may have gotten the best of him in this film. Cinematography, acting, etc. was great as always, but the story didn’t do much for me. The letter writing back and forth and man/nature aspect could have been interesting if developed more…but as a whole…

RRG: See – this is my struggle! We ask a 12 year old to fondle another, and the worst we can say is that this ‘must have gotten the best of him’! We can’t bring ourselves to say that that was wrong? Maybe it’s just me enjoying a bit of my own self-righteousness here.

Correspondent #2: Ok…I would imagine you’ve enjoyed some movies with “worse” subject matter, no? And if not, if indeed this is the most offensive I would be curious as to why. They are peers in the movie, and they are both curious, so if in the abuse/fondling aspect I would definitely put it on the lighter end of that spectrum. Again, not condoning, just sayin’. And for what it’s worth, that scene did not bother my wife much who is VERY sensitive to sexual stuff on screen. There are many different trajectories he could have gone with it, but he leaves it there. No further. Still, curious as to why that got to you so much. I’ll continue thinking about this…..and if you’re self righteous, well I’m that plus desensitized. So you might need another opinion altogether.

RRG: There is difference between what I watch and what is appropriate behavior for actors. We would agree that for one actor to actually KILL another actor for entertainment purposes would be wrong. Right? So, we simulate that. I can watch a naked man and woman, within reason, on screen, but at least assume that these are adults who have been naked before and they somehow have figured out how to make this merely a professional engagement. Would I want my wife stripping naked for a camera? No… but I get that it is done and that those who do it are in some measure able to treat it as a job. However, we draw the line at actual intercourse, don’t we? That is reserved for the pornographic, xxx videos. Right? We still preserve a line there which legitimate cinema does not need to cross. Like killing, it is simulated. It does not need to be shown.

But in this movie, it is not the watching of the act that bothers me. It is that for the sake of entertainment, an actual 12 year old is asked to do what he would not ordinarily do (we hope): put his hand on the budding breast of another child actor. Is it okay for us to ask a child to violate another child like that? In actuality an act occurred – not simulated, but really. Anderson may have a fascination with young lust, but at this point his fascination verges into voyeurism which I think wrongly violates two children.

So does that help explain my issue?

Correspondent #2: Yea, it does. I heard a similar argument from a friend regarding people (women primarily) being nude on screen or on a stage, etc. His argument was it should never be done because the actor or actress has crossed the line of “acting” immodestly (if portraying sex or someone scantily clad or something) to being immodest. I get that. For Moonrise, from what I would say is a safe assumption, in the world of prepubescent youths, simply doing what they did is pretty tame and not all that uncommon – at least from what all is out there in the world.

Would you have been okay with the scene if they were shot from the neck up, the words were the same – whatever they were…”I’m going to touch your breasts now” or something like that explaining what he was doing, but it did not show said act OR the act was not actually done, just acted out in that sense? Just curious.

RRG: I understand the nudity issue, but have managed to somehow put that aside. I’ve lost too many arguments with artists who paint from live models. It’s too hard to make an ‘always wrong’ or ‘always right’ case in that regard. But I want to say that it IS always wrong to ask children to act in this way for the sake of entertainment. And perhaps it is mild, but I still think it is wrong to ask them to do it on screen for our entertainment. (And, as a side note, an article written about the film did note that their kiss was their absolute first, which, I suspect, suggests that they have not been out there feeling breasts either.)

And yes, if the words were the same, but they as children were not asked to do the act, I would not be as troubled. I’m troubled with 12 year olds losing their sexual purity, but I know that it happens. But I would not want to be one to encourage that.

Well, there it is. Comment away.

Merry Christmas

Surely someone, somewhere has made a Christmas card out of this quote:

I shall be taking you to Old London town in the country of UK, ruled over by Good King Wenceslas. Now human beings worship the great god Santa, a creature with fearsome claws and his wife Mary. And every Christmas Eve, the people of UK go to war with the country of Turkey. They then eat the Turkey people for Christmas dinner, like savages!

To the uninitiated, this quote comes from an episode of the British TV drama Doctor Who. In the episode, a group of alien tourists are on a cruise ship in orbit around earth. An excursion to the surface is arranged, and these words are those of the cruise director who, with a shady degree in “Earthonomics”, proves to be something of an unreliable guide.

It all makes me wonder, however, in this less than biblical age, if this description, or something like it, might not be closer to the common understanding of Christmas (or of other aspects of Christian orthodoxy) than we might think.

The History Channel Bible II

Much is being said and written about the success of the pilot for the Bible mini-series. Most reports are stating that it was watched by 13.1 million viewers, a stunning number when ordinarily successful shows draw 2 or 3 million.

But assessment of popularity and assessment of quality are not at all related. Members of a nearby mega-church were being urged to watch whether they were inclined to do so or not in order to boost the ratings and therefore encourage more productions like this. Numbers were inflated as well by the curious. By the time the sixth or seventh in the series rolls around, I wonder how many of those 13.1 million will still be around. My gut says not many.

The History Channel Bible

I heard about the History Channel’s broadcast of a Bible mini-series through predictable channels – the buzz through evangelical church culture that we should all watch this so that major media outlets would produce more like it.

I’m not moved by such marketing ploys. I did feel some sense that I SHOULD watch the first installment so as to be able to responsibly review what I believed others would be watching. But I didn’t even do that.

However, my friend Bill is a much more fair and honest critic of culture and of the contemporary religious scene than I. He has done us a favor and issued a generally favorable review of the first segment of this series. Bill has the background and grace to do this well. His wisest point was his reminder that we live in a biblically illiterate age, so that ANYTHING that in a reasonably accurate way tells the bible’s stories is going to be a helpful thing.

Much more critical was a review published in the NY Times. Interesting to me was that this review did not, as we might expect, take shots at the series’ attempt to be biblically faithful. Rather, the reviewer felt that the series falls short of really capturing the grand flow and passion of the whole bible. The series gives snapshots of biblically reported events but fails to root them in an overall narrative. That seems like a fair critique, as Bill as well compares the series to the bible story books of our collective youth.

The NY Times reviewer notes that

By taking on the entire Bible, even at 10 hours in length, Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey force themselves into a clumsy “Bible’s greatest hits” approach. This doesn’t serve the source material — so rich in interconnections across time — very well, and it doesn’t make for very involving television.

and then suggests

Those looking for something that makes them feel the power of the Bible would do better to find a good production of “Godspell” or “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Well, in my mind, perhaps not. Rather those looking for something that makes them feel the power of the bible arising from is marvelous interconnections across time would do better to find a good church and a faithful pastor/preacher whose goal it is to do just that.

The Trilogized Hobbit

Hobbit Movie Poster BilboWe were glad when The Hobbit was rescued from the hands of Guillermo del Toro and returned safely to the trustworthy Peter Jackson.

We were glad when we learned that our favorites from The Lord of the Rings movies would be returning to play Gandalf and Gollum and even Frodo.

And we were delighted to make the acquaintance of Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson… I mean Bilbo Baggins. A perfect hobbit he seems to be.

But we were stunned to hear that the story would be spread over three films, and further surprised to see that the first, no doubt foretelling the whole, was to be nearly three hours long.

Nevertheless, we dutifully bought our tickets and watched the movie, and indeed we were entertained. Freeman’s Bilbo is perfect. The fairy-tale and comic opening scenes delightful. The dark brooding and therefore foreshadowing of Thorin’s passion proper. I sat through a three hour movie and only a time or two wondered how much time was left. And I’ll most likely suck it up (and cave into Jackson’s money grab) and pay to see the remaining two films.

But I am begrudgingly saying that the movie was good. Much of it was very good. And yet I often thought during the movie of the advice to writers (which I first read from Stephen King): “kill your darlings”. Just because you have a great idea or a great line or a great turn of phrase, or in this case, a great scene or a great visual effect, does not mean you should use it. However, in King’s case, and now in Jackson’s, they are both so big and their resumes so overwhelming that no editor has the courage to make them kill their darlings. So everything goes in and it is not all good.

In the case of The Hobbit, all the essential encounters of the first three books – oops, I mean book – are there. But they are too much there. The scenes of peril are so contrived that even our fantasy-softened reality expectations are shattered. That a group of 14 could battle their way through a goblin infested mountain, falling multiple times many stories, and all of them emerge unscathed makes a Mission Impossible movie look believable.

A wee bit of restraint would have made the movie far better. We hope for better. As Bilbo says at the end of this installment, “Well, I think the worst is behind us.” Yes, Bilbo, I hope you are right.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

HedgesI’m a huge fan of the movies of Peter Hedges (About a Boy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life). I’m not sure what I’ll think of his new offering. Reviewers don’t quite know what to do with it. But this interview hints at why his films are so meaningful. Families and stories about families, and ordinary people capable of extraordinary moments. Good stuff.

Eleven Updated

I meant to add yesterday the name of the store which was carrying this cultural and technological wonder. It is Broadway Music Academy in Oviedo.

I’m hoping today to walk into Goodwill or some other surprising place and find a 21″ model of Stonehenge. Anything can happen.


Those of us willing to admit that we have seen and even enjoyed the “mockumentary” This is Spinal Tap® will affectionately recall the following bit of dialogue:

If you don’t have the 52 seconds to watch, you can read the dialogue here, from

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Today, I stopped by a small music store to pick up something and glanced at their selection of guitar amps. I jokingly asked the owner if he had any that went up to eleven.

He said that, in fact, he did. Incredulous, I looked at the one he showed me, and sure enough, he did.

He said, “I’ve thought about charging more for that one.”

“Because it goes louder?” I asked.


We shared a laugh. But this is for real:

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The Gamemaker

The Hunger Games trilogy dips in and out of ‘arenas’ in which deadly games are played. These are not arenas as we would picture them, but large modeled environments in which arbitrarily selected youth fight to the death in contests controlled and manipulated by remote ‘gamemakers’. The games are continuously filmed and broadcast as each contestant, one by one, is killed, until only one victor is left.

The chief gamemaker in the games is a producer who manipulates the environments and situations faced by the contestants in order to provide maximum entertainment for the audience. The games are brutal, and the gamemakers are heartless.

The movie version of The Hunger Games had at the end of April grossed nearly $375,000,000 in the USA alone. Less viewed (in the same period grossing 1/10 of that of The Hunger Games) is a film called The Cabin in the Woods. (Before seeing this one, the closest I had ever come to watching a film listed as ‘horror’ was Zombieland, and that hardly counts.)

The Cabin In The Woods PosterThis movie concerns five college students who head to an isolated cabin for a weekend getaway. They have no idea how isolated it really is. As evening sets on their perfect getaway, strange events begin to suggest that all is not as was advertised. One learns that they, too, have entered unawares into an arena of sorts where remote ‘puppeteers’ are manipulating their environment in a way designed to lead to the deaths of four of the five, each in a particular order.

Their deaths are intended to fulfill an ancient ritual designed to placate a mysterious deity whose unhappiness could lead to the destruction of the entire world. What was once accomplished by tossing humans into volcanos is given a modern and high tech twist.

The controllers in this movie, like those in The Hunger Games, play god to those in the arena, allowing the illusion of free will while at the same time manipulating events to their own seemingly trivial or arbitrary ends. When the goal of the four deaths is reached, a party complete with dance music and drinks all around erupts in the control room while on the screens the one remaining character engages in a life or death battle with a zombie. It is a surreal image. None of the ‘gods’ in the control room care about the life struggling for survival behind them. They have achieved their goal, the gods are having their fun, and the life of the person under their thumb does not matter.

Whereas The Hunger Games seems only interested in revealing the cruelty of which people are capable, clearly in the absence of the divine, The Cabin in the Woods seems self-consciously bent on suggesting a view of the gods, or God, in which they or He are unconcerned for human pain and suffering.

Is there hope in either vision? The only hope is centered in the strength of the human spirit (mixed with a bit of marijuana in the latter). But The Cabin in the Woods may be suggesting that in the face of an all powerful deity, the human spirit, though noble, is powerless.

The Cabin in the Woods in the end was more brutal, more gory, more over-the-top and even more funny, than The Hunger Games. But it was more thoughtful as well. It left me longing for a God whose power is matched by his love. And perhaps that is what these films always long for. That there is brutality and suffering in the world does not and cannot imply that the God who rules is insensitive and uncaring. Instead of partying while we die, he is the only gamemaker to enter the arena himself to die not as the victor, but as the one who would bring the games to an end.

In the meantime, we are going to go see The Avengers so we can see evil get its butt seriously whooped.

Redeeming Harry Potter

Jerram Barrs is the wise and reflective professor of apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He was drawing attention to redemptive themes in the Harry Potter books when it was more fashionable to condemn them for their witchcraft.

Recently Covenant Seminary posted a video of Professor Barrs talking about the redemptive themes in the final book. Interesting to those who are fans of the books and instructive to us all in making us sensitive to such themes. This does contain spoilers, so if you have NOT read the seventh book, read that first!

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