Wednesday, December 26, 2012

End of the Year Recap

     So once again on “Reel Christianity”, at the end of the year, I want to just look over all the ideas that we’ve looked at together through the movies.

     Through “Citizen Kane”, we were reminded of Jesus’ famous words about gaining the whole world and yet losing your soul. (Matthew 16, Mark 8)

     Through “Life is Beautiful”, we learned about how through the fall of man, we lost our innocence as children as God and need a way to be brought back to that. (Genesis 2, 3)

     Through “The Dark Knight”, we could see Batman as representing Jesus taking our sins upon himself. (1 Peter 2)

     Through “The Big Lebowski”, we were reminded that “sometimes, there’s a man…” And God can use us to accomplish anything, no matter how strange. (Ephesians 2)

     Through “The Hurt Locker”, we learned that only Jesus can bring peace to our souls and take away our burdens. (Matthew 11)

     Through “Ed Wood”, we learned that we can never compromise when we are doing work for the Lord. (Romans 6)

     Through “Up”, we were reminded that sometimes we have to let go of the things—or people—we love, in order for them to be free. (Luke 14, 21)

     Through “Doubt”, we were reminded to not judge others and always fix the sin issues in ourselves before calling them out in others. (Luke 6)

     Through “The Artist”, we learned that this world shouldn’t be the focus in what we do—we need to put away our pride and be in the world, not of it. (John 15, 1 John 2)

     Through “Modern Times”, we were reminded to have hope even through tough times, and to trust in God always. (Psalm 39, Proverbs 3)

     In “It Happened One Night”, we saw a love story that, though it didn’t start out that way, was eventually driven by love and not by any gain one person could receive from it. (Ecclesiastes 5)

     Through “Michael Clayton”, we were reminded not to be lukewarm about what we do, and certainly not to be lukewarm in our faith. (Revelation 3)

     Through “Rope”, we were reminded that though we are born into sin, we long for righteousness and will receive it when we meet Jesus. (Psalm 51, Romans 5, 1 John 1)

     In the first “Chronicles of Narnia” movie, Lucy and Aslan acted as metaphors for the faithful follower of Jesus, and Jesus himself who gave His life to save his friends. (Luke 18, Romans 5)

     Through “Sergeant York”, we learned about authority and how God asks us to follow authority on Earth, whatever that may look like. (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 20)

     In “The New World”, we looked again at this idea of marriage and what a pure union looks like. (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5)

     Through “Paths of Glory”, we learned a little more about the idea of fairness and how God, in fact, is not fair, but He blesses us anyway. (Matthew 20)

     In our “Running the Race” series, we learned a lot about serving God in everything we do, in the context of sports films. (Luke 10, 2 Corinthians 9, Ephesians 2, 2 Timothy 4)

     In “Intolerance”, we saw some New Testament stories re-created as Jesus loved sinners in a way that the Pharisees did not. (Luke 18, John 8)

     Through “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, we were reminded of Jesus’ command to follow Him and put everything else aside. (Mark 8)

     Through “Babe”, we were reminded again that God has a specific plan for us to glorify Him. (Ephesians 2)

     In “The Dark Knight Rises”, we saw Bruce Wayne again deny his identity and become Batman once again to save Gotham City from their own apocalypse. (Matthew 16)

     In “Shadowlands”, we learned that the pain we experience today will one day be replaced by joy that can only come from Jesus. (Romans 8)

     Through “Vertigo”, we were reminded not to dwell on the past—on past success, on past sins, or past loves—and focus only on God. (Isaiah 43)

     Through “Tootsie”, we learned about unconditional love, a love for someone based on who they are rather than how they will benefit us. (Matthew 5)

     Through “Lost in Translation”, we were reminded again about the love a man and a woman should have for each other, a sacrificial love. (Ephesians 5)

     Through “Shadow of a Doubt”, a story of what seems to be an ordinary American family, we learned that God’s plans for us are indeed extraordinary. (Romans 12)

     In “Badlands”, we were reminded of King David and his prayer to the Lord in confession of sin, similar to that of the characters. (Psalm 51)

     Through “We Bought a Zoo”, we were reminded to be bold for Christ and say “yes” to His will for us. (Isaiah 6)

     Through “Marty”, we were reminded that even when we feel unlovable, we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made”. (Psalm 139)

     Through “A Clockwork Orange”, and the “Choose Life” series, we talked a lot about the idea of free will and whether or not God chooses who His followers will be ahead of time, and whether or not we can indeed choose to follow God on our own. (Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 13)

     Through “Spartacus”, we learned about brotherly love, and how even through the darkest of circumstances, we can learn to love our brother. (John 15-17)

     In “Through a Glass Darkly”, we were reminded of this great idea that God is love, and when we love each other, God is there. (1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4)

     Through “Groundhog Day”, we were reminded not to focus on the things of the world that we should gain for ourselves, but we should rather focus on the needs of others and help those around us. (Matthew 6)

     Through “In the Mood for Love”, we learned to be content where God has placed us in life, and to serve Him well wherever we are. (1 Corinthians 7)

     Through “The Polar Express” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, we were reminded to have a childlike faith in God even when it seems He is not there. (Hebrews 11)

     In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we saw a great example of a man pouring his life out to the people around him, as we need to do for those around us. (Philippians 2)

     And in addition to all this, I had a great experience in June while on my missions trip to Peru and Ecuador, learning a lot about trusting God and being submissive to His will for me instead of worrying about my own plans. I look at all this and I realize, we’ve learned a lot this year about God, even though some of it was through hard circumstances.

     But maybe that’s the amazing thing: God revealed Himself to us through the tough times as well as the good! I personally am thankful for that, and I’m thankful to all of you who continue to read this and pray that we will continue to grow together in seeing God in the movies. God bless, have a great start to 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

     Funny how this movie is almost the iconic Christmas movie, even though only a portion of it takes place at Christmastime. But I always like to watch this movie around this time of the year if I get the chance, and even in different parts of the year, because it’s a message that people can take away at any time. Even though, in 1946 when “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released, audiences didn’t really like it. They thought it was too dark, especially after World War Two, so it made little money at the box office and received no Academy Awards. (They all went to “The Best Years of Our Lives” instead, which I look forward to sharing with you sometime in 2013.)

     But the story of George Bailey has stood the test of time and is now more loved than ever. James Stewart plays the role of George, a man growing up in the small suburban Bedford Falls with a very eventful life. As a child, he saved his brother from drowning and his drug-store boss from going to jail. As a young man, he contributed to his high school, supported his brother as he went through high school as a talented athlete, and stayed friends with his childhood buddies. Eventually, he even rediscovers the girl of his dreams: Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who always had a thing for George as a girl even though he never saw it.

     However, the night before George is to leave to go traveling around the world, one of the things he’s always wanted to do, his life starts to get out of control. His father has a stroke and passes away, and his business, the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan company, is left almost without a future, forcing George to reluctantly step in to control and let brother Harry (Todd Karns) go to college instead of him. Throughout his business, George and his uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) are pestered by the rich, mean Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who wants to control their business and thus everything in Bedford Falls.

     Slowly but surely, George starts to gain control again. He falls in love with Mary and they are wed. He saves the Building and Loan from bankruptcy by helping pay debt out of his own pocket. He builds houses for people under foreclosure. He has four wonderful children. And when World War Two comes, he is one of the few who stay in Bedford Falls to keep the home front, as it were, running as usual.

     But Christmas Eve, Uncle Billy misplaces—or Mr. Potter steals—a large sum of money to be given to the bank examiner. No one can find it, and George realizes this will probably mean jail time for him. He goes home that night, is irritated by little things at home, and after a fit of rage, he sadly leaves home while Mary and the kids pray and try to find out what’s wrong. George comes to a place on a bridge in Bedford Falls, on this cold and snowy Christmas Eve, where he feels jumping off to his death would be beneficial to everyone around him.

     If you’ve seen the movie, you know that George Bailey’s biography is told to us through angels. And one of them is sent down to help George: Clarence (Henry Travers) jumps into the bridge, sending George to snap out of it and go get him. Clarence claims that by doing this, he saved George, even though it seems the other way around. And Clarence, after hearing George’s lament, grants him a wish: to see the world if he had never been before.

     And boy, does it get dark here. Bedford Falls, in this alternate reality, is now Pottersville, with the wholesomeness that was once George Bailey’s hometown has been replaced by the consumerism of Mr. Potter, with many of George’s friends—or all of them—worse off than they are in terms of their attitude and outlook on life. And long story short, George realizes what he’s done and goes back to the bridge and prays earnestly: “I want to live again! Please, God, let me live again.”

     George then comes back to Bedford Falls, where the townspeople have all gotten together and donated some of their money to replace the sum that was lost, and helping George realize that his relationships with the people of Bedford Falls were worthwhile after all. Yes, this is an inspirational story, one of the most moving films ever made, in my opinion. But I have to be honest, I thought for a while about what Scripture there might be to connect to the film. But I remembered a few verses that have been on my heart and mind for a while, in Philippians 2, where Paul writes about the humility Christ showed:

     In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:5-8)

     In a way, George Bailey represented Christ in Bedford Falls for much of his life. Even though at times he had no other choice, he chose nonetheless to make himself less than the people around him, and providing for others’ needs rather than just his own. And when George forgets the fruits of his labor, Clarence is able to remind him:

CLARENCE: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? …You see, George? You really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?

     And praise God that he didn’t throw his life away. And my prayer for you this Christmas is that whatever hardships you may be facing, you remember to lessen yourself for the good of people around you, no matter how much it may hurt. I hope you have a blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

     Would you believe that until recently, I never saw the original “Miracle on 34th Street”? Seriously. I remember seeing parts of the Mara Wilson remake (but I’m glad I never sat through the whole thing), and I also found some knock-off remake from the 1950’s, but never the original. If you can watch any version of the film, watch the one from 1947: it has an earnest message, some great acting, and a pretty awesome Santa Claus. Or is he?

     Many of the characters in the film are wondering just that. At the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade one year, a man that could be a spot-on look-alike of Santa himself is quickly brought in to fill the position of the Santa in the parade. But as his boss, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), discovers, he could very well be Santa himself. The man’s real name is Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), whose original residence is the North Pole, and Doris is obviously very puzzled by all this. She is the kind of mother who long ago dismissed the idea of Santa Claus from the mind of her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood), even though other adults like lawyer neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) try to get her to “play along”. But when Doris, Fred, and other Macy’s workers are confronted with the notion that their Santa Claus may be the real thing, and claims to be the real thing, who knows what could happen?

     Who knows, indeed. Kringle acts as the Macy’s Santa assuring children that they will get whatever they wish for Christmas and then directing parents to where to purchase those gifts—even if those gifts are at another store! It’s confusing at first, but Macy’s soon embraces the idea of putting the spirit of Christmas before competition, which boosts sales. Things seem to be going well for the new Macy’s until Kringle gets in a little trouble, when he confronts the company psychiatrist about maltreatment of some other employees. The psychiatrist takes Kringle to court, but Fred decides to defend Kringle and the fact that he may be—no, is the real Santa Claus.

     Meanwhile, Susan is having her own Santa crisis. One night she talks to Kringle and tells him the one thing she wants for Christmas: a new house for her and her mother, instead of the apartment they’re living in right now.

SUSAN: If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can't, you're only a nice man with a white beard like Mother says.

KRINGLE: Now wait a minute, Susie. Just because every child can't get his wish, doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus.

     Yeah, Susan, read Luke 4:12 and Deuteronomy 6:16. Anyway, Susan starts to believe gradually that Kringle maybe is the real Santa Claus after all, because of not only his looks but also his attitude and his heart. And after Fred defends Kringle in court and wins the case, Susan believes there may be hope after all.

     However, Christmas morning comes, and there is no sign of a new house. Susan is heartbroken. But Doris, who has found her faith in Christmas renewed after meeting Kris Kringle, tells her something Fred told her earlier: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.” And reluctantly, Susan starts repeating to herself: “I believe. I believe.” Not unlike the “hero boy” from “The Polar Express” last week.

     And wouldn’t you know it, Christmas Day they drive around a neighborhood and come across a house: the same kind of house Susan described to Kringle. The house is empty and for sale, and the only sign of someone being there is a cane propped up against the hearth… a cane similar to the one Kringle had.

     “Miracle on 34th Street” is another Christmas story about faith to believe in things that don’t seem like they could be real. Doris Walker certainly had to find that, looking through the consumerism of Christmas to see the heart that Kris Kringle had to show. And Susan had to, in a sense, find her childhood again, and the faith to maybe even believe in Santa Claus.

     Hebrews 11:1 could be a theme verse for these past couple weeks: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I guess Christmastime may be a season of faith for a lot of people who think: How can we celebrate a time of giving and a time of thanks (heck, maybe they think that at Thanksgiving, too…) when there’s so much pain and hardship in the world? And how in the world can anyone believe in something as ridiculous as Santa Claus—or better still, Jesus Christ?

     Well, again, the biggest way I can testify to the healing power of Jesus is by telling my testimony—He did a work in my life, and I believe He can reveal Himself to you if you let Him in. That continues to be my prayer for you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Polar Express (2004)

     Well, it’s December, and we all know what that means: CHRISTMAS! So this month on Reel Christianity, I’ve decided to talk about three Christmas movies (or, at least, movies that are usually watched most at Christmas), and to start off, I’d like to share with you “The Polar Express”—which is, ironically, one of my least favorite Christmas movies. I guess it’s not that bad, I just wasn’t that interested in most of that movie, especially after reading the book and realizing how much filler they put in the film to make it longer. But there’s still a pretty cool message in it that is a nice reminder for us at Christmastime.

     Tom Hanks, who worked with director Robert Zemeckis before on “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away”, plays several different characters in the film, as the movie is done in all motion-capture animation. (Don’t know what it is? Look it up.) The main characters are a boy, whose name we never hear, and the conductor of an express train called The Polar Express. On Christmas Eve, the boy falls asleep with little Christmas spirit, figuring that Santa Claus isn’t real and that there’s nothing really special about the holiday season.

     But then, out of nowhere, the Polar Express pulls up into the boy’s front yard. The conductor encourages the boy to come aboard the train, and the boy, after refusing at first, decides to hop on and join lots of other children aboard the train. Two other children he meets are a girl (also without a name) and a lonely boy named Billy who always keeps to himself. While on board the train, a bunch of stuff happens that I won’t tell you about to save time. But among those events, the main boy meets a hobo on top of the train who basically serves as a conscience for him telling him not to doubt.

     Through everything that happens, these three children start to bond and discover that maybe they shouldn’t be so uptight about the holiday season and be a little more cheery. Eventually, the Polar Express arrives at its destination: none other than the North Pole, where the kids will get to be in the town square with some creepy-looking elves, if I do say so myself, to see Santa give a select child the first gift of Christmas and then fly off with his reindeer to deliver presents to children all around the world.

     Long story short, Santa picks our “hero boy” (as he is billed, mind you) to receive the first gift. And the boy picks a rather strange gift, but a significant one. As he and the other children were preparing to see Santa, elves came into the square with the reindeer jingling bells on their harnesses. But to the boy’s ears, there was no jingling sound. Other children heard it, but the boy did not, and he could not take it any longer. When a bell fell off one of the harnesses, the boy picked up and said: “Okay. I believe. I believe.” And when he really believed in the spirit of Christmas (and the person of Santa Claus), he could hear the sound of the jingling bell.

     So Santa lets the boy have the bell and takes off to deliver presents. And the next morning, the boy enjoys Christmas morning with his family, holding a bell from Santa Claus that only he and his sister (a young girl who also believes) can hear.

     Now, to automatically say that this whole story might be an analogy for faith in Jesus Christ would be… well, probably right. But it’s one thing to realize this and then to actually find inside ourselves that we have doubts too. Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t actually believe in God or Jesus—people around you do, but you don’t have the same hope that they might have. It’s hard for me to explain proof for God because I’m not that smart when it comes to that. But all I can say is, God did a work in my life, and He revealed Himself to me in a way that made me believe, and I’m not looking back.

     Maybe God wants to do a work in your life, and you can’t find the strength, or the faith, to let Him in. But that’s what it takes for Him to work: your faith. One of the most quoted verses in the book of Hebrews is in chapter eleven, verse one: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It seems really simple when we write it out or say it out loud, but actually having faith that a God who we can’t see is actually there is really hard sometimes, especially in the face of hardship.

     But the conductor tells the children something in the movie that sums up this idea of faith pretty well:

CONDUCTOR: Sometimes seeing is believing… and sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.

     If we have faith to believe in Santa—err, God, we will find Him, and my prayer for you this Christmas (and for always) is that you would. Keep following “Reel Christianity” as we see more examples of faith in Christmas movies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the Mood for Love (2000)

     Well, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you another foreign film. This one’s from Hong Kong, “In the Mood for Love”, made in 2000 by a guy named Wong Kar-wai, who is apparently a groundbreaking director that I never heard of until recently. But this film, which is I guess his best film, made it to spot number twenty-four on the latest British Film Institute Sight and Sound poll, the one that claimed “Vertigo” the greatest film of all time.

     The film takes place in Hong Kong in the 1960’s and spans across a couple years. We first meet two young people, a man named Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and a woman named Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man yuk). Chow finds a room in an apartment for him and his wife right after Su gets the room next door for her and her husband. As they move in their furniture on the same day, they seem to start off on a chaotic start, but eventually they start talking to each other and asking where the other’s spouse is, which is usually overtime at work.

     But soon, the two of them are consumed by a terrible feeling: that their spouses are seeing each other. What makes it worse (and at the same time very interesting to watch in the film) is that the spouses’ faces never appear on-screen: we hear their voices in phone conversations occasionally, but we never see them. And because of this, there’s even more uncertainty that the viewer feels as well as Chow and Su.

     Through this situation, however, Chow and Su seem to start bonding as they start spending more time together. And at one point, they have a short conversation reflecting on what they do with themselves both alone and with their spouse:

CHOW: On your own, you are free to do lots of things. Everything changes when you marry. It must be decided together. Right? I sometimes wonder what I’d be if I hadn’t married. Have you ever thought of that?

SU: Maybe happier! I didn’t know married life would be so complicated! When you’re single, you are only responsible to yourself. Once you’re married, doing well on your own is not enough.

CHOW: Don’t brood on it. Maybe he’ll be back soon.

SU: What about you?

CHOW: Actually, we’re in the same boat. But I don’t brood on it. It’s not my fault. I can’t waste time wondering if I made mistakes. Life’s too short for that. Something must change.

     And this decision to change results in an increasing relationship between Chow and Su… which the neighbors start to notice, unfortunately for the worse. Eventually, to make a long story short (ironically, since this film is under two hours long), Chow and Su start parting their ways, to get rid of feelings that they are going in the same direction as their cheating spouses. Within a couple years, Chow goes from Hong Kong to Singapore and back, with Su trying to go with him but just barely connecting with him in time.

     The film ends on a very ambiguous—and, in my opinion, unsatisfying note… though that’s probably what Kar-wai was intending. Chow, in an earlier scene at a restaurant with a friend, talked about how people in the old days, if they had a secret they could not share, went up to the mountains, made a hollow in a tree, whispered their secret into the hollow, and covered it up with mud. And so, a little time after Chow returns shortly to his old apartment (and just misses seeing Su there with her son), he goes to the mountains of Cambodia and whispers a secret into a hollow, where it remains till who knows when.

     I’ll be honest with you guys about a topic that I’ve been thinking about on and off this semester: marriage. Not that I’m about to propose or anything, mind you, I’m not even dating anyone. But I have been wondering a lot about when that might happen, and whether or not that ever will. But whatever situation I find myself in, in a relationship or not, will I still follow the Lord’s commands for my life? An interesting passage of Scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 7, where the apostle Paul talks about marriage based a lot on his own convictions: as he says, “I, not the Lord” (7:12). He goes so far as to say that being single is better than being married!

     Paul writes, “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (7:32-35)

     The conversation I quoted between Chow and Su reminded me of this passage: marriage is hard work. It takes the constant effort of both the man and the woman involved. And sometimes, as Chow and Su have found, things can fall apart. Su was right: doing well on your own is not enough. But that’s what Paul talks about here: being married can cause a division between your interests. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but if not treated the right way, it can take away your devotion to God, and if that’s gone, so is your marriage.

     So my prayer for you is that whatever situation you find yourself in, married or single, dating or waiting, that you will glorify God in everything you do and be grateful regardless of how alone you might feel sometimes. Because He is always there for us, especially in the tough times.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Groundhog Day (1993)

     Earlier last month, something happened on my school’s campus that affected a lot of us. One of our students, after playing a game of rugby outside and suffering an asthma attack, passed away suddenly, and a lot of us (especially guys like me who were in his dorm) were taken aback. Personally, I had seen the guy the night before and had talked to him for a very short amount of time, and I never thought for a second that he’d be gone the next day. It really made me think about how we need to make every day count and be a blessing to whoever we come across everyday.

     Perhaps that is the moral of “Groundhog Day”, which takes that idea in a much lighter direction, which makes for an incredibly funny, incredibly entertaining, and often very moving film. Bill Murray plays a Pittsburgh weatherman named Phil Connors, one of the most sarcastic and self-centered people anyone might have to deal with. In early February, he and two other news workers, Rita (Andie MacDowell) and Larry (Chris Elliott), travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the town’s most celebrated event: the Groundhog Day celebration, where Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog comes out to see or not see his shadow. However, this is the last place Phil Connors wants to be, declaring this is the last time he will cover Groundhog Day before leaving the news station. After a long, hectic day, Phil goes back to his motel room in Punxsutawney.

     But the next morning, Phil wakes up with déjà vu. The radio, just like the morning before, announces it’s Groundhog Day, and Phil goes to work the same way he did yesterday. It seems he is once again living in Groundhog Day. And he goes through the day, and wakes up the next morning to find it’s February 2 again. And he starts thinking: I’m living the same day over and over again. That means I can do whatever I want, and the next day I won’t have to face the consequences.

     So at first, Phil takes advantage of this. He meets a beautiful woman and basically has a one-night stand. He spends money on whatever he wants, since the next day he’ll have the same amount of money. He even goes driving half-drunk one night with some other guys, destroys a bunch of property, and gets thrown in jail. But at 6:00 A.M. the next morning, he wakes up in his bed in Punxsutawney at the start of a new Groundhog Day.

     Eventually, though, Phil gets tired of doing whatever he wants. Now he just wants this day to be over. So he repeatedly attempts suicide: driving over a cliff, jumping off a building, anything to get this curse over with. But even when he is dead, he wakes up to Groundhog Day. And one day, having coffee with Rita, he tells her what’s he experiencing. And amazed as she is, the two of them start to hit it off. It takes Phil several days of doing this to actually have a successful date with her, but soon he starts falling for her.

     But one night, Phil sees a homeless man on the street. He has seen this man every “day” in the morning on his way to work, but tonight he takes him to a shelter where he can be warm. But once he takes the man there, he finds out he is dead. He has been dying all this time. So the next day, another Groundhog Day, Phil takes the man to a diner to have a nice hot meal. And after spending the day with this guy (and failing to resuscitate him at night), Phil decides to spend the rest of his Groundhog Days helping people. He saves a kid from falling out of a tree. He fixes an old lady’s tire. He saves a man from choking on food at a restaurant.

     Phil even learns to do other things. He starts taking piano lessons. He takes up ice sculpting. He learns French. And he builds more and more on his relationship with Rita. And after a great Groundhog Day, with a great news story in the morning, an afternoon of helping the neighborhood, and an evening of fun with Rita, Phil and Rita stand in the snowy park as Phil reveals to her an ice sculpture of her face that he has done.

PHIL: I know your face so well, I could have done it with my eyes closed.

RITA: It’s lovely. I don’t know what to say.

PHIL: I do. No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now. Because I love you.

     They kiss and go back to Phil’s room (which I do not approve of, but whatever), and wake up the next morning: February 3. Time has moved on, and Phil Connors has become a better man.

     I guess the moral I got out of “Groundhog Day” was the idea of making everyday count. Because what if there is no tomorrow? Or in Phil’s case, what if tomorrow is today? What will you do to reach somebody else? Are you willing to sacrifice your own pleasure today for someone else’s?

     In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells that as long as we focus on Him and His plan for us, all our own needs will be provided: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) That’s often hard for me to do, but I need to remember that whatever I do to further the kingdom of God will be worth it in the end. My prayer for you is that you will live that same way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

     You know who I haven’t talked about on “Reel Christianity” yet? Ingmar Bergman. I haven’t mentioned him or his work yet because up until August, I hadn’t seen any of his films. And then once school started, and I took advantage of the free time I had, I was able to get introduced to Bergman’s work. Bergman was a pioneering Swedish filmmaker about fifty years ago whose films often contained a lot of spiritual themes and questions, films ranging from “The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries” to “Cries and Whispers” and “Fanny and Alexander”. As the years went on, his work got more colorful, more sensual, and even more personal.

     But today, I’d like to share with you an Ingmar Bergman film that sticks out in my mind from 1961, “Through a Glass Darkly”. Featuring a musical score consisting of a single movement from one of J.S. Bach’s cello suites, “Through a Glass Darkly” indeed takes its title from 1 Corinthians 13. But we’ll talk about that later.

     The movie is centered on four individuals: Karin (Harriet Andersson), her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), her teenage brother Minus (Lars Passgård), and her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand). Karin is suffering from schizophrenia and has just been released from an asylum, but Martin tells his father-in-law that her disease is incurable. The four of them are together vacationing on an island somewhere in… well, Sweden, I guess, and since they are together for the first time in a while, they get each other gifts, which from David seem like they were pretty last-minute.

     It’s easy to tell early on that this family is a little dysfunctional. Minus makes it known to Karin that he and his father have not really talked for quite some time, and Minus even starts to come on to his sister a little bit—a theme that is not verbalized in the film. Also, Karin starts hearing strange sounds and voices that prompt her to eventually find David’s diary, where it is written that her disease is incurable. And on top of all that, David, a writer who acknowledges he has sacrificed time with his children for his work on many occasions, feels distraught that he cannot stay on the island with them for long.

     Through all of this, there are two very important (and, in my opinion, very cool) conversations in the second half of the film. One takes place between David and Martin as they are fishing on a boat. Martin accuses David of neglecting his daughter in the past, but David tells him a very personal story.

DAVID: When I was in Switzerland, I decided to kill myself. I hired a car and found a cliff. …I was empty. No fear, no regrets, no expectations. I aimed the car at the cliff, stepped on the gas… and stalled, stopping dead. The transmission went out, you see. The car slid on the gravel and came to a halt, front wheels over the edge. I crawled out of the car, trembling. I leaned against a rock across the road. I sat gasping for breath for hours.

MARTIN: Why are you telling me this?

DAVID: To tell you I no longer have any pretense to keep up. …From the void within me something was born that I can’t touch, or name. A love. For Karin, for Minus… and you.

     David talks about this love he has realized later on in the film, after Karin has had an episode and a helicopter ambulance comes to pick up her and Martin. This leaves David and son Minus alone at the home on the island, where they finally have a real conversation.

MINUS: I’m scared, Papa. …Anything can happen. Anything. …I can’t live in this new world.

DAVID: Yes, you can, but you must have something to hold onto.

MINUS: What would that be? A god? Give me some proof of God. You can’t.

DAVID: Yes, I can. …I can only give you a hint of my own hope. It’s knowing that love exists for real in the human world. …I don’t know if love is proof of God’s existence, or if love is God himself.

MINUS: For you, love and God are the same.

     And the film basically—after a final line from Minus: “Papa spoke to me”—ends, pondering this idea that God is love, and if one is surrounded by love, he or she is surrounded by God.

     I mentioned that “Through a Glass Darkly” takes its title from 1 Corinthians 13:12, which some translations such as the New International Version (which I use in this blog) read: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” The idea that we cannot fully see God until we see him face-to-face is something that I feel as hinted at in several of Bergman’s films. But in this life, perhaps the strongest way we can see God at work in and through us is through His love.

     In 1 John 4:8, we read that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So maybe in order to really see God around us, we need to love others—turn the other cheek, sacrifice our time, whatever it might look like. My prayer for you today is that wherever you are, whoever you work with, that you may be willing to love others, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.