Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Toy Story 3 (2010)

     The last two weeks, I’ve reviewed the first two “Toy Story” movies. Today, here is “Toy Story 3”, the first movie in almost ten years to make me cry. Chances are, you’ve seen this movie, because it ended up being the highest-grossing movie of 2010, and so you can guess why it would make me, someone who graduated from high school and started college in 2010, start to choke up. Unfortunately, the Christian themes of the first “Toy Story” aren’t as prevalent in the third movie, but they’re there as long as you can look for them—which I will now attempt to do.

     Andy (John Morris) is now off to college, just as was anticipated after “Toy Story 2”, and Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the other toys have been put away for years. However, as Andy is cleaning his room to figure out what to take to college, he takes out his toys and decides to take Woody with him. And in another series of events that are too complicated to explain here (yeah, just watch the movie), all the toys, including Woody, end up at Sunnyside Day Care, where all the children’s toys are run by a teddy bear named Lotso-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty). Woody, convinced that he needs to get back home to Andy, leaves the day care but ends up in the hands of Bonnie, a little girl who loves to play with her toys just like Andy did when he was her age. There, he finds out from Bonnie’s other toys that Lotso has forced Buzz, Jessie, and the gang to be played with by the really little kids that basically abuse the toys (paint on them, stick parts up their noses, etc.), while Lotso, the Ken doll (Michael Keaton), and other older toys take it easy in the room with more mature children that aren’t nearly as abusive. So Woody goes back to Sunnyside, helps the toys escape, and they all go back to… Bonnie. Andy decides to give his toys to Bonnie. And Woody, Buzz, and the toys are in the safe hands of a child, where they belong.

      In the first half of the film, the toys are very uncertain of what’s going to happen to them once Andy leaves. Woody tells them they’ll all be safe in the attic, but even he isn’t sure. Isn’t that true of us? Going back to the idea of “Toy Story 2”, we don’t know how things will turn out in the end. We don’t even know how WE will end! But for the Christian, the end shouldn’t matter. Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Every day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) Our lives are ultimately not about ourselves—the life of a Christian should be about serving our Lord! And the allegory in “Toy Story” is that the toys’ purpose is to be there for Andy. And at first, before they’re… well, tortured, the toys are eager to stay at Sunnyside. They even try to convince Woody to stay and be played with by the new children. But Woody tells them:

WOODY: I have a kid. YOU have a kid: Andy! And if he wants us at college or in the attic, our job is to be there for him!

     Funny how in the last movie, Woody was the one who lost sight of how Andy loved him, and all the other toys were trying to convince him to go back home. Here, it’s the opposite! Woody is determined to go back to Andy, and all the other toys (who, by the way, don’t believe that Andy really wanted to put them all in the attic, which he did), they’ve lost sight of who their owner is. As Christians that believe in an invisible God, we can lose sight of who He is pretty easily. But just like Joshua commanded the Israelites, we need to “be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (1:9). We need to keep firmly our belief in God and how He forgives us, so that when we come to the end, we won’t have to worry.

     When Woody, Buzz, and the toys come to the end (at least, the end of their life with Andy and the beginning of a new life with Bonnie), they’re not only ready for a new home, but they’re grateful for the time they had with Andy, and they don’t fear the future. My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will go through the rest of this week not worrying about tomorrow and relying on God for your strength.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Toy Story 2 (1999)

     Last week, I started my reviews on the three “Toy Story” movies. This week comes “Toy Story 2”, which turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. I have never seen a theater so full and laughing so hard, before or since. “Toy Story 2” is, in my opinion, the funniest of the three movies, and on top of its humor, it also contains spiritual themes that started with the first “Toy Story”.

     Tom Hanks again voices Woody, Andy’s favorite toy (along with, of course, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen), and the two of them are getting ready to go to camp when Woody’s arm rips. Through a series of events that are too irrelevant to put in this blog (yeah, just watch the movie), Woody is in a sense “kidnapped” by a toy collector named Al (Wayne Knight). It turns out that Woody actually had a 1950’s TV show called “Woody’s Roundup”, alongside Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), and Bullseye the horse. Al has added Woody to his collection of the show’s merchandise that is soon to go to a Japanese museum on display. Buzz, Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), and Slinky (Jim Varney) go after Woody to find him, but as they are on their way, Woody starts believing that going to the museum is better than going back home to Andy—after all, Andy is growing up, and pretty soon, he’ll be too old to play with any of his toys.

    There are three elements to this movie that I want to mention that relate to my faith. First: Buzz going to look for Woody after he’s kidnapped. Though Woody has been taken far away (at least, from a toy’s perspective), Buzz is determined to find his friend. “Woody once risked his life to save me,” he says. “I couldn’t call myself his friend if I weren’t willing to do the same.” As a Christian, the purpose of my life is to serve and glorify God because of what He’s done for me—he sent his son Jesus to die on a cross bearing the world’s sin. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Because Jesus died for me, I need to die to self—that is, put away the desires of my heart and surrender to God’s will—and humble myself before God just as Jesus humbled Himself on the cross.

     Second: Woody starting to believe he shouldn’t go back to Andy. Remember what he told Buzz in the first movie? He tells Buzz, “Over in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest. And it’s not because you’re a space ranger, pal! It’s because you’re a toy! You are his toy!” Woody believed in Andy like a firm Christian believes in God—no matter what happens, God loves us for who we are, because He made us. In “Toy Story 2,” you could say that Woody, in his own way, is straying away from the faith. He’s forgotten what life with Andy was like, and he’s starting to believe that life in the museum will be better: as Stinky Pete tells him, “It’s your choice, Woody. You can go back… or you can stay with us and last forever. You’ll be adored by children for generations.” Don’t Christians think like this sometimes? We are distracted by a lifestyle that seems better than the one we’re living in Christ, and we start to abandon our faith—even though, in those terms, I might sound extreme. But one Biblical example of this is in Galatians, where Paul is writing to a people who are “turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. …But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (1:6b-7a, 8) When Woody is finally found, Buzz tries to bring Woody back in the same way that Paul brought back the Galatians.

WOODY: I don’t have a choice, Buzz. This is my only chance.

BUZZ: To do what, Woody? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again? Some life.

     Eventually, Woody realizes he has to get back to Andy, and even though he can’t stop Andy from growing up, he “wouldn’t miss it for the world.” As Christians, we need to live this life without thinking about the end or about death, because God has a paradise in Heaven waiting for us in the next life.

     This leads us to the third element: Andy growing up. Pretty soon, Andy will be at an age where he won’t play with Woody, Buzz, or any of his toys anymore. But should that stop the toys from being optimistic about the future? Woody’s ready to face it: “It’ll be fun while it lasts. Besides, when it all ends, I’ll have old Buzz Lightyear to keep me company—for infinity and beyond.” As a Christian, I need to be optimistic about the future, because as He says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Whatever God has planned for me, even though it may not seem to make sense right now, it will turn out for my good and His—even after this life! My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will never lose sight of what God has in store for your life, and that you would live this life with the knowledge that what is ahead of you is not only for your good, but also for the glory of God.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Toy Story (1995)

     Chances are, you’ve seen all three “Toy Story” movies, and so I’m going to take the next couple weeks to talk about them. And first is the 1995 masterpiece, “Toy Story” itself. I was three years old when “Toy Story” was released, and it may well have been the first movie I ever saw, and I love it to this day. The characters are unforgettable, the music is incredible, the story is even almost compelling—and there are a lot of themes in this movie that Christians can apply to themselves.

     Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is a toy cowboy that belongs to a boy named Andy (John Morris), and Woody encourages all of Andy’s other toys, like Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenburger), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), that even while Andy’s family is getting ready to move, they don’t have to worry, because that’s not what being a toy is about. “It doesn’t matter how much we’re played with,” Woody tells them. “What matters is that we’re here for Andy when he needs us. That’s what we’re made for, right?”

     But on Andy’s birthday, in walks the new Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) space ranger toy, stealing Woody’s spot on Andy’s bed along with the admiration of all the other toys—except Woody. He tries to tell the other toys that Buzz’s laser is just a light bulb, and that Buzz cannot fly even with his plastic wings, but Buzz becomes popular nonetheless. Buzz himself cannot even see that he is just a toy—he really thinks he’s a space ranger. And in an attempt to knock Buzz under Andy’s desk to get rid of him, Woody ends up accidentally “pushing” Buzz out the window, and soon, they both end up in the dangerous hands of Sid (Erik von Detten), the kid next door who “tortures” toys for fun—like replacing body parts with other toys, giving them to his dog Scud to chew to his heart’s content, or sticking them to an explosive device, such as the case with Buzz. Soon, Buzz is stuck to a rocket awaiting his fate the next morning, with Woody trapped under a cart sitting next to him. Buzz has found out that he really is just a toy, and he doesn’t find any more purpose in his existence. Then comes the coolest conversation in the movie, when Woody is trying to encourage Buzz.

WOODY: Look, over in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest. And it’s not because you’re a space ranger, pal! It’s because you’re a toy. You are his toy!

BUZZ: But why would Andy want me?

WOODY: Why would Andy want you? Look at you! You’re a Buzz Lightyear! Any other toy would give up his moving parts just to be you. You’ve got wings! You glow in the dark! You talk! You are a cool toy!

     Psalm 139 is an encouragement to anyone who doesn’t find purpose in his existence. The psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” (139:14-16a) When I read that, I can’t believe that God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, would take time to create me specifically. He created each one of us specifically! What an encouragement!

     Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story” is going through the same struggle. He tells himself, “I’m just a toy. A stupid, little, insignificant toy.” But Woody reminds him (and ultimately convinces him) that as long as he is Andy’s toy, he has a purpose. That’s the same for the Christian believer—as long as he is trusting in and living for God, he has a purpose. My prayer for you, the reader, is that you always remember that as long as there is a God, you have a purpose, and in order to know that purpose, you need to follow Him.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Inception (2010)

     I hope you don't think it's too cliched to make my first review about one of 2010's most popular movies. But I figure it's a good start, because you've probably seen it. And I also want to start off with this because Christopher Nolan, to me, is an outstanding filmmaker not only because of his quick writing and editing, but because he hides Christian themes inside most of his films.

     In the futuristic "Inception," Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an engineer who steals confidential information with others like Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) by using equipment to put people to sleep and thus going through their dreams. As Cobb puts it, "it's not strictly-speaking legal," but it's such an important task to be done that if an assignment fails, Cobb's and Arthur's life could be at risk. But one day, they're hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to go into the dreams of the son (Cillian Murphy) of an ailing entrepreneur (the late Pete Postlethwaite) and make him decide to give up the empire that his father started building for total energy dominance. To do this, Cobb and Arthur hire others to go with them into the dream (make that dreams, for they end up going into four layers of dreaming... it's complicated), including a young architect named Ariadne (Ellen Page), a forger (someone who can pretend to be someone else in a dream) named Eames (an outstanding Tom Hardy), and a chemist who makes the sedatives that put the dreamers to sleep named Yusuf (Dileep Rao).

     But Cobb has a little problem. A while back, he and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) were experimenting with the concept of dreams within dreams, and they ended up in "limbo", unconstructed dream space. There, they could create anything they wanted. But Cobb knew that this wasn't their real life, so in limbo, he and Mal killed themselves in order to wake up and come back to reality. When awake, however, Mal was not convinced that she really was back in reality--she thought she was still in a dream, as if Cobb and their two children were "projections", people created in a dream by the dreamer's subconscious. So one night, Mal kills herself, but not before accusing Cobb of killing her first. Therefore, Cobb has to flee the United States where they lived, and ever since, he has been trying to find jobs to buy his way back home. However, even though Mal is dead, she haunts his subconscious--whenever Cobb and Arthur are doing a job, Mal shows up and often sabotages the operation. But on the mission with Robert Fischer (Murphy), Cobb realizes he has to let her go. Thus, the mission succeeds, and Cobb goes home.

     Or does he? See, the whole controversy surrounding the film's ending is one question: Is Cobb dreaming, or is he not? Because Cobb ends up going back into limbo, where his wife is, confronting her and then saving two men that died in a dream that ended up down there. However, everybody else wakes up from the dream before Cobb does, and if Cobb comes back to reality, it happens off-screen. Then the film ends with Cobb spinning a top on his kitchen table, then he goes off to see his children, and it keeps spinning. Now, in a dream, the top would spin forever, but in real life, of course, it would fall. But the film cuts to black before the top gets a chance to fall, and the audience has to figure out for themselves whether this is all a dream. But that's where the point of the movie comes in: what is the audience going to believe?

     Writer/director Christopher Nolan has successfully made a drama about faith cleverly disguised as a futuristic action movie. I mean, read part of this conversation between Cobb and Saito when Cobb is offered the job:

COBB: If I were to do this job--if I even could do it, I'd need a guarantee. How do I know you can deliver?

SAITO: You don't! But I can. So, do you want to take a leap of faith, or do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?

     Look, Cobb, Saito is saying. Do you want to do this mission that is almost impossible, and have a chance to go back to your children? Or do you want to give up and keep chasing after a way home? Because I have the power to send you back to America safely. Isn't that what God sometimes says to us? We can be challenged to do something that could risk everything: our friendships, our job, our reputation. But if we don't do it, we'll regret it in the end. Cobb knows this, and so he accomplishes inception, and goes back home.

     Now, when he goes home, his future is uncertain. The viewer thinks, Is this real life or is it a dream? And I've had friends watch the movie over and over for details that will tell them specifically how the film ends. But at one point in the film, Mal tells Cobb: "You keep telling yourself what you know. But what do you believe?" And after watching the film, I realized: I need to take a leap of faith. From the start, I thought Cobb went home in real life, but there are so many details in this movie that could prove otherwise.

     But here's my opinion. Cobb and Mal have been in limbo before. And they got back to reality before. So why can't Cobb do it again? Maybe you've heard the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish. But did you know there were other times that he did it in the Gospels? In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds five thousand men, much to the surprise of his disciples; yet in Matthew 15, He feeds four thousand men, and the disciples are still surprised. Jesus did a miracle twice, and they couldn't believe He could do it. But He did! This is the same thing: if Cobb could get out of limbo, why can't he do it again? Ariadne was convinced at the end of the film that Cobb could get out, and if we all had her faith, we would all be convinced that Cobb would be saved.

     There's another passage of Scripture that this leads into: Philippians 1:21-24. There, Paul is in prison but he writes that whether he lives or dies, it's a win-win scenario. If Paul were to die, he would be with God in Heaven, which is "better by far"; and if he lives, he could stay on Earth and do ministry. This is the same concept! Even if Cobb is still in a dream, it's ultimately a win-win scenario! If he's in real life, he's going to be with his family safely in America, and if he's in a dream, one day's he going to wake up (wherever that is), but Mal will still be gone from his subconscious, and he'll be able to find another way back to America. (Unless he goes to jail or something, which could be possible. But oh well. Mal's gone.)

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you would find a time this year to take a leap of faith, wherever you are in your life. You may be reading this as a Christian, maybe a non-Christian. But I hope you will not just look for specific details to direct your life, but that you would find a conviction in your heart that gives you that direction. And for me, that's Jesus.

Welcome to My Blog!

     Hey everyone! Thanks for taking the time to read this. I'm new to making blogs, so I'm just going to introduce myself. My name's Sean, and I am an aspiring filmmaker currently studying at a Christian university in Kentucky. That's right, Kentucky. Anyway, the last few weeks, I've been on Christmas break, and I've seen a ton of movies. And in several of them, I've noticed parallels to their plots and my faith. I'm a Christian, and as someone who wants to make films based off of my own faith, I love to find examples on how to do that.

     That being said, I'm going to try once a week to post a "review" of a film I've seen and how it reveals a little about Christianity. And I'm not just talking about movies that have characters who are preachers or religious settings--I'm talking about movies that contain the very morals that Christians (should) believe in. If you look really closely, you can see those kinds of parallels in tons of movies, even recent ones.

     However, I want to point out that this blog is not a frame-by-frame review of content to avoid in movies. If you want something like that, I recommend, Focus on the Family's website for reviewing media and its content. What I want to try to do in this blog is to study the plots and themes of movies and analyze them from a Christian perspective. That way, I hope that maybe you, the reader, will be able to look at popular movies in a different light.

     Hope you'll be on the lookout for my posts! Wish me luck as I start!