Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Artist (2011)

     Usually I write this blog on the weekends (you know, when I actually have time to) and set it to post on Wednesday mornings. So I wrote today's article only on an assumption that "The Artist" would win the Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday night. Good thing it did, or else I'd feel a little dumb. Whatever. “The Artist”, as you may have heard, is a new mostly silent movie in black-and-white made by a French filmmaker named Michel Hazanavicius (good thing I don’t have to pronounce that name here) with an international cast and crew. And I mean it, it’s one of the best movies I saw last year (second to “The Tree of Life”), and I hope you get a chance to see it soon, if even on DVD.

     But about the movie: the main character is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a Hollywood silent movie actor in the late 1920’s, before the Depression and before “talking pictures”. The first time we see George is when his latest movie is being premiered, in which his heroic character is being tortured in a laboratory run by a maniacal villain. The character is shouting: “I won’t talk! I’ll never say a word!” (Hooray for foreshadowing!) But his character gets away with the woman of his dreams, and the movie ends with applause throughout the theater. George walks onto the stage and takes a bow, stealing the show from his co-star with his trained dog.

     As he exits the theater to find people begging for his autograph, one woman runs into him: Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, Hazanavicius’ wife), an up-and-coming actress who gets her picture with George in the newspaper. The next day, George’s wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) starts getting frustrated with carefree George. But little does he know, George’s career is about to spiral downward out of control—and Peppy’s is about to take off. As Peppy gets a job as an extra in George’s new movie, George’s producer, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), shows him a new film test: a clip of his co-star singing—and she can actually be heard! George shrugs this off as a mere gimmick, but that night, he has a dream… or rather, a nightmare. And in an extremely creative sequence, George starts hearing things. His dog barks; people around him laugh; his footsteps make noise. But when George tries to speak, nothing is heard. Even when he tries to scream, he is silent. George wakes up and starts considering what may become of his career.

     By the way, a little movie history: when movies started using sound in the late 1920’s, many movie stars and filmmakers were able to continue their careers and use the new technology to their advantage. But other actors, because of the way they talked (like Lina Lamont in “Singin’ In the Rain”), saw their careers fall to stars with better voices. We don’t find out until the very end of the movie that this was George’s problem—he has a thick French accent that would have interfered with his ability to speak in movies, unless he got a coach. So basically, this is why George’s career is seriously in jeopardy at this point—he can’t talk correctly, and when you’re a movie star, it becomes a problem when your movies start having sound in them.

     However, at the same that, Peppy Miller is becoming a big star. As George leaves his studio and funds and stars in his own directorial debut, Peppy starts her career from being a supporting actress to a lead character. And the crowds love her—so much so that when she and George have movies premiering on the same night, Peppy’s film is a huge hit while George’s flops. However, Peppy, who has become good friends with George while at the studio, tries to comfort him, but George feels that he should just be left alone.

     And this is when George’s life starts taking a turn for the worse. Doris leaves him—or rather, she kicks him out of the house—and George finally loses his job at the studio, forcing him to sell the collectibles from his films that he has kept and even fire his loyal chauffer Clifton (James Cromwell) in order to survive. And one night, as he is drinking and looking through his old film reels, he sets fire to them and almost burns his house down. George is taken to the hospital, and there a friend finds him—Peppy, who later takes him to stay at her place.

     But George’s pride starts to become even more wounded there. He finds that Clifton is now working for Peppy as her chauffer, and he finds in a room downstairs all the collectibles that he had previously sold (bought by Peppy’s butler and maid). George runs out of the house and back to his abandoned apartment, where he finds his old pistol. He is about to shoot himself when all of a sudden, he hears a crash outside—Peppy has been driving as fast as she can to find him, and she has crashed into a tree in George’s front yard. And in complete silence, George and Peppy find each other and embrace. And Peppy tells George that she knows a way to get George back into the business.

     And George and Peppy partake in one of the most popular forms of movies in the early 1930’s: musicals. As they film a tap-dancing number under Al’s supervision, they finish, and the crew starts talking. And as Al asks for another take, George responds: “With pleasure.”

     There are two ideas in “The Artist” that I want to talk about today. The first one is the more prominent idea of George Valentin’s pride. We are introduced to George at the top of his game, successful and loved by all. But when his movie studio starts making the transition from silent movies to talkies, George is too full of himself to think that any new technology will take down his career. And when it does, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

     The idea of pride is warned about in several places in the Bible. The Apostle John writes in his first letter, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (2:15-17) As a follower of Jesus, I need to remember to keep my focus away from worldly things and to focus on how God wants me to serve others. If I don’t, I will be let down by the world—those desires may last for a little while, but only God is eternal.

     But the other idea is one that resonates more with me. George’s biggest challenge other than his pride is adjusting to a changing world. Only when his friend finds him at the end of his rope does he finally decide to find new ways to work. I can really relate to this because of coming to a college in another state a year and a half ago. I moved from Ohio to Kentucky in 2010, knowing very few people at school and living hours away from all my family. But if I was going to continue to follow Jesus, I needed to find new ways to do so—I could no longer rely only on the church environment or the family I had back home.

     Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Live in the world, not of it.” I haven’t been able to find a specific verse from which this saying comes (if it does come from Scripture at all), but the closest I could find was when Jesus is praying for his disciples in John 15: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (15:19) God has called us to be in the world to serve others, but this is not where we belong—our real home is in Heaven, and until we get there, we need to live in the world, not of it.

     My prayer for you is that whatever you may be going through this week, that you would find ways to serve God through it all, and that you would overcome the desires of the world because Jesus has overcome the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doubt (2008)

     This semester, I’m taking a television production class for my media communications major, and in the class, we have three projects. The first was a three-minute picture slideshow. The second was a four-minute interview. And the third, which I will be shooting in about a month and a half, can be whatever we want. I’ve decided to shoot a scene from a play, since I’m drawn to more narrative media (that’s why I do this blog, isn’t it?). And when I was thinking about what play I could do, my first choice was my only choice: “Doubt”.

     This was originally a stage play by John Patrick Shanley, and four years ago, he turned his play into a movie that he even got to direct, and “Doubt” the movie has without a doubt (no pun intended) the best performances of that year. Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and a breakthrough performance by Viola Davis (who will be competing with Streep this weekend for the Best Actress Academy Award—mark my words, one of them will get it) made this probably the most well acted film of 2008. And while it’s not a perfect movie, I can still say that it’s definitely worth watching. And best of all, there’s some spiritual lessons that I can take from it as well.

     Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier (have fun pronouncing that one), the widowed principal of St. Nicholas Catholic Church and School in the Bronx in the mid-1960’s. She’s a very strict woman, as evidenced often by the way she interacts with a young teacher at the school, Sister James (Adams). James is one of the more innocent nuns at St. Nicholas, and Aloysius warns her to be on the lookout for trouble at the school: trouble in the form of Father Brendan Flynn (Hoffman). Flynn hasn’t been a priest at St. Nicholas long, but to Aloysius, he doesn’t seem strict enough. He almost seems… too friendly.

     Aloysius’ suspicions are confirmed when James tells her what happened to Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). Miller, the first African-American student at the school, is an altar boy who looks up to Flynn as a sort of father figure. But one day, in James’ history class, Miller is called down to visit Flynn in the rectory. When he comes back, James is confused. Miller looks as though he has been crying. And worse still, she smells alcohol on his breath. James is quick to believe that this is not what it seems, but Aloysius, claiming she has “experience” with these situations, knows that something must be done, and since the men higher up in the church will probably not believe that Flynn has done something wrong to Miller, she says that she and James has to bring him down themselves.

     So one day, the two nuns get Flynn to come to Aloysius’ office to discuss something, only for that conversation to slowly turn to what happened in the rectory. Flynn is reluctant to talk, but eventually he realizes that Aloysius will not let him go without an answer, and so he tells her: Donald was caught drinking altar wine, and Flynn told him that if no one else found out, he would be let off the hook. Now that the secret is out, Flynn has to remove him, and after he expresses his displeasure with the two nuns, he leaves. Aloysius is not satisfied. James starts to believe that Aloysius is just trying to bring him down because he’s too different, because she doesn’t like him. And eventually, after a talk with him, James believes Flynn’s story.

     Soon after that, Aloysius talks with Donald’s mother (Davis), holding with her a conversation that leaves her more confused than satisfied. Mrs. Miller ultimately tells her that whatever Flynn has done, he is showing love to her boy, a boy who she knows would get killed in a public school because of his race, and she becomes even more troubled than she already was. And when Aloysius goes back to her office that day, she is confronted once and for all by Flynn, and the two of them partake in a shouting match that serves as basically the climax of the film. Aloysius will not believe Flynn, and Flynn will not give Aloysius any other answer, so Aloysius leaves her office and calls the monsignor.

     However, Flynn ends up leaving the church, most likely to prevent a bigger scandal, and Donald Miller is heartbroken. After James talks with Aloysius about what happened, she learns that Aloysius never had any proof that Flynn did what he did to Donald Miller—but he must have proved it when he left St. Nicholas. And as the movie ends, Aloysius becomes more vulnerable than ever before, tears coming down her face as she confesses:

ALOYSIUS: Oh, Sister James…

JAMES: What is it, Sister?

ALOYSIUS: I have doubts… I have such doubts!

     In “Doubt”, we never find out whether or not Flynn really abused Donald Miller. But that’s good! We don’t need to know. That’s not the point of the movie. The point of the movie is that we can’t let our own biases and suspicions of other people get in the way of what is really true. And for all we know, Flynn may indeed be guilty of a great sin. But if Aloysius was to confront Flynn about it, she couldn’t go to him biased—that would be her own sin!

     A few times on this blog, I’ve cited Jesus’ analogy about hypocrisy that can be found in Luke 6:41-42: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This passage definitely applies here. If we do not check ourselves and our own sin before confronting others about theirs, are we not hypocrites? As Jesus says a couple verses earlier in verse 39, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

     My prayer for you today is that if you see trouble, or if you see someone struggling and you want to help them along through it, check yourself first. Get yourself right with God, and get rid of your own sin before you confront someone else about his or hers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Up (2009)

     Happy belated Valentine’s Day, readers! In honor of this “holiday”, I’ve decided to talk today about a movie with a love story. And as I was thinking of which movie to share with you, I realized: I don’t see a lot of romantic movies. I have all the movies I own stacked across a shelf above my desk, and looking through them, I realized that most of the potential romantic movies were either not really romantic movies, or I had talked about them already—or I’m waiting until the opportune time to talk about them.

     But in the end, I decided on “Up”. Recently there’s been a picture going around Facebook with a picture of Carl and Ellie, the couple in the movie, with a caption underneath that goes something like this: “‘Up’ created a better love story in ten minutes than ‘Twilight’ created in four books.” I can’t attest to that, because thankfully, I haven’t had to watch the “Twilight” movies for any reason yet. But still, “Up” is a sweet part-romantic, part-adventure, and all-emotional film that I continue to think was the best film of 2009. (Even better than “The Hurt Locker” from a few weeks ago!)

     “Up”, as you may know, was created by Pixar Animation Studios, the same geniuses who made “Toy Story”, “A Bug’s Life”, and “WALL•E”, all of which I’ve talked about on “Reel Christianity”. And the movie starts with young Carl Frederickson, a boy inspired by legendary explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who has devoted his life to exploring Paradise Falls in South America for a rare bird. One day, as Carl is playing, he meets a girl in the neighborhood who is as adventurous as he. Her name is Ellie, and as children, they make a promise to one day go to Paradise Falls together.

     And through a five-minute silent montage, we see one of the most beautiful movie love stories of this century as Carl and Ellie grow up, get married, buy the old house that they met in, get ready to have children, discover that they cannot have children, work at a zoo where Carl makes balloons, get flat tires, break bones, have a tree fall on their roof, and all the while collect money for Paradise Falls someday. But soon, both Carl and Ellie have grown old, and Ellie eventually develops a condition where she has to be hospitalized. And before she finally passes away, she gives Carl the scrapbook she made as a girl of the plans she has for Paradise Falls.

     Some time later, we see Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) alone as his neighborhood is being developed by construction workers into a city, but Carl is stubborn. He talks to Ellie all the time (looking up at the sky or at her picture in his house), tries to drive kids like Russell (Jordan Nagai) away when they try to interact with him, and refuses to move from his house to a retirement community. But after some trouble, Carl is forced by the construction workers to finally move away. And he does. But not to the retirement home. Still committed to going to South America, he decides to tie what I guess is a few hundred balloons to his furnace, sticking out the chimney and eventually lifting his house off the ground and into the air!

     But Carl’s plan immediately goes different than expected when he discovers Russell, the local Boy Scout trying to get his “assisting-the-elderly” merit badge, on his porch. He reluctantly lets Russell in (because, you know, what else is he supposed to do?), and after the two of them drive the house through a bad storm, they find themselves on one side of a canyon. And on the other side? Paradise Falls, of course! So Carl and Russell start their journey to take the house across the canyon to Paradise Falls, just as Carl promised Ellie so long ago.

     But on the way, of course, they run into problems. Russell goes off on his own at one point to find a very tall bird which he names Kevin, and the bird continues to follow the two around. As they go on, they also run into Dug, a dog with a speaking collar so that Dug can communicate. It turns out that Dug is one of many talking dogs on the island that are looking for Kevin (who is, of course, that rare bird that Charles Muntz was looking for all those years). But Russell convinces Carl that Kevin needs to return to her babies (yeah, they realize later that Kevin is actually a female bird…), so they decide to do that before more talking dogs find Dug and the humans and take them to their leader: Charles Muntz.

     And at first, Muntz is welcoming to them, seeing how they couldn’t be out to find the bird before he. But when Russell accidentally mentions that they found Kevin, Muntz starts to suspect, and the two of them have to escape Muntz’s hiding place with the help of Kevin and Dug. Eventually, before Kevin can get back to her babies, Muntz captures her and plans to take her back to America. He does this by beginning to set Carl’s house on fire, and while Carl puts out the fire, Muntz captures her. Because of this, Russell and Carl develop more tension than ever before, and even though Carl eventually gets his house to Paradise Falls, Russell refuses to associate with him.

     So Carl is left sitting in his house, finally at Paradise Falls, but he is not happy. And to cheer up a little, he takes out Ellie’s scrapbook of pictures of Paradise Falls. But before he closes the book, he notices: there’s more in the book that he hasn’t seen before. So he keeps flipping through the pages and sees that Ellie had put in pictures of their marriage over the years. At the end, she has written: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one!”

     Carl reads this and decides: he has to go get Kevin. So after Russell goes off by himself with the help of some balloons to find Muntz in his blimp on his way back to America, Carl goes after his new friends, joined by Dug, and long story short, Muntz falls off his blimp, and Kevin and Russell are rescued. When they return home, Carl starts to become more of the father figure that Russell never had, and Carl’s house has a permanent place right next to Paradise Falls.

     What I really want to focus on after all of that is when Carl finally gets to Paradise Falls and is looking through Ellie’s scrapbook. I think this scene really brings the love story full-circle, and heck, I picked this movie for Valentine’s Day, so I better focus on that. The way I see it, when Ellie has written, “Go have a new adventure”, it’s her reassuring Carl to move on, that they had their time together. And ultimately, that’s what Carl does, as he goes to save his new companions. In the end, this love story doesn’t end with “happily-ever-after”. It ends with the lovers letting go, and perhaps that’s the truest form of love that there is: being able to let go.

     Jesus definitely talks about that when he says that we need to let go of the things of this world, including our own relationships. I’ve often cited Luke 14:26 on this site when talking about these sacrifices, where Jesus tells us: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” He later says in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Jesus is telling us that even if we love another person, we have to be willing to let go of that as believers in Christ, so that nothing holds us back from doing what God calls us to do.

     My prayer for you today is that whatever loves you have—for your hobbies, for your friendships, even for a significant other—you would be willing to put God before all of those, so that you may be able to serve Him wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ed Wood (1994)

     In 2011, two of the year’s best movies were actually about movies: “The Artist” and “Hugo”. There have been a lot of great movies in the past several years that actually go into the stories of filmmakers: “Singin’ In the Rain”, “Sullivan’s Travels” (sort of), “The Aviator”, and today’s movie, “Ed Wood”, probably one of the best movies about movies ever made. It’s one of the several movies teaming actor Johnny Depp with director Tim Burton, who worked together in “Edward Scissorhands”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and other films. I hate to say I haven’t seen a lot of them, but so far, “Ed Wood” is the best that I’ve seen.

     Depp plays the title character, filmmaker Ed Wood, now said to be the worst movie director of all time. The film opens to show his early career in show business, writing and staging numerous low-budget and low-quality plays with his actress girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), homosexual actor Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), and others. Wood is also a part-time worker at a movie studio in Los Angeles, but his dream is to write and direct. His biggest inspiration is filmmaker Orson Welles, the actor/co-writer/director of “Citizen Kane”, which ironically has been called the best film of all time. But one day, he hears that the studio has picked up the rights to a story about a transsexual, and Wood tells the producer that he has just the qualifications to direct it. Why?

     “I like to wear women’s clothing.” That’s literally what Ed tells the producer. Ed’s big secret is that he likes to cross-dress, something he’s done since he was a child (since his mother, who had wanted a girl, dressed him up that way). The producer caves and lets Wood make the movie on a limited schedule. But that’s okay, because Ed Wood is an efficient director, taking only one take of each shot without hassling over getting another, thus shooting dozens of scenes in one day. Yeah. Real efficient.

     Anyway, one day, Wood is walking down the street when he sees someone who he’s looked up to for years: screen legend Bela Lugosi (played by a phenomenal Martin Landau). Lugosi, formerly the star of the old “Dracula” movies, now lives in Los Angeles, abandoned by his wife and addicted to morphine. Wood befriends Lugosi and eventually gets him to play a part in his film. That sex-change film, “Glen or Glenda”, does a few things for Wood. He uses it to reveal his secret to Dolores, who is incredibly distraught about it and the film. The poor success of the film gets Wood kicked out of the studio. And because other studios hated the film and don’t want to finance Wood’s next movie, Wood decides to raise the money himself for his next film, “Bride of the Atom”.

     Through the next year or so, Wood and his friends start raising money for the film and come across several people in the process. Wood is forced to make rash casting decisions in order to get the money he needs, and eventually, wrestler Tor Johnson (George Steele) and late-night TV host Vampira (Lisa Marie Smith) join the regular cast of Ed Wood’s movies. Even Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), who was apparently a TV psychic personality before my parents were born, joins Wood’s team to help make “Bride of the Atom”. And soon, the movie, later re-titled “Bride of the Monster” by the studio, is released—and booed at its premiere.

     The next few years are full of ups and downs for Ed Wood. After the movie’s release, Dolores leaves him. And one night, Lugosi calls him for after almost committing suicide, and Wood helps him check into rehab. But at the clinic, he meets another girl, Kathy (Patricia Arquette), whom he falls in love with and who actually accepts his secret as a cross-dresser. But soon after Lugosi is checked out of (or, rather, removed from) rehab, and after he and Wood shoot some material for another film, Lugosi passes away, and Wood is left with the last film footage of Bela Lugosi. And he starts creating his next movie, “Grave Robbers From Outer Space”, and whom does he get to finance it?

     A Baptist church. No kidding. But because of this, the pastors, not knowing that they as producers cannot do much with the creative vision of a film, are constantly telling Wood what to do. At one point, Wood gets so stressed that he dresses in women’s clothing to feel calmer. But when the pastors immediately blast him for it, Wood heads for the nearest bar (still in women’s clothes) to drink it off. And at the bar, he meets, of all people, Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio). And while talking to Welles about his problems, Welles gives Wood advice that changes his attitude:

WELLES: You know, the one film of mine where I had total control—“Kane”—the studio hated it, but they didn’t get to touch a frame. Ed, visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?

     And that encourages Wood not to compromise anymore. He goes back to the studio and takes control of his movie, later titled “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, and when it is finally released, Wood is able to say: “This is the one. This is the one I’ll be remembered for.”

     Today, Ed Wood is considered the worst movie director of all time, his movies only standing the test of time because of their cult statuses as bad movies. But as “Ed Wood” the movie shows, Wood is a great example of what happens when a vision, no matter how good or bad, is fought for without compromise. As a Christian, one of the hardest things to do is to live a life without compromises. There are so many areas in my life where I will stumble in sin, but I have to learn to pick myself up from them instead of just continuing to sin, compromising my Christian lifestyle.

     The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourselves to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (6:1-2, 12-13) As Christians, we cannot compromise any area of our life to sin—we have to continue seeking the way that God wants us to live.

     My prayer for you today is that you would never compromise—that you would continuously seek God’s face and walk in His ways.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Hurt Locker (2009)

     Maybe in a couple decades, there will be more movies made about the Iraq War. But for right now, there are so few probably because the war is too recent. The only movie made about the Iraq War that has actually gotten a lot of critical acclaim—and Academy Awards—is 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”. Directed by action director Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar), “The Hurt Locker” focuses on a bomb squad in 2004 Baghdad and their new leader, seemingly obsessed with his job. A lot of people are divided about this film, mostly because… well, it’s an Iraq War action movie, but for me, this is one of the most powerful war films in recent years.

     The movie starts with a team of soldiers in Baghdad made up of Sergeants J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), Private Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), and Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce). As they try to dismantle a bomb, Eldridge is too late to stop a local from setting it off, and Thompson is killed. So Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is sent in to take charge of the team. From the start, Sanborn sees that James is committed to doing what he was sent to do, but at the same time, James is almost laid back about it because he has been in the Army for a while, having already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     But on the team’s first mission together, James seems a little too laid back for Sanborn and Eldridge to handle. He refuses to answer his radio when Sanborn tries to communicate with him, and when he approaches a civilian driving towards him, he comes very close to shooting him down. But he is able to dismantle the bomb, and another colonel praises James for his bravery. Sanborn and Eldridge, however, are a little worried, and their nerves get even higher on their next mission, when James goes to dismantle a car bomb without his bomb suit to protect him and throws his radio out the car window so he can work without hearing Sanborn. He again succeeds, but Sanborn gets angry with him.

     The risks James takes only grow more and more while the soldiers work together. They meet up with some British soldiers who end up fighting with them against snipers in the desert. Many of the British soldiers are killed, but James and Sanborn are able to kill the snipers. The next day, the team finds the body of what James thinks is a local boy who recently sold him DVDs. The boy’s body is bloody, beaten, and filled with explosives. James is so scarred after taking out the explosives, he goes that night to find out who killed the boy. But his drawn-out search, which almost gets more civilians killed, is in vain, and it doesn’t help when James finds the actual boy he knew later on.

     But after James forces Sanborn and Eldridge to go find the culprits of a suicide bombing one night, and Eldridge is shot in the leg and sent away to rehab, Eldridge lets James have it. In a profanity-laced rant before he flies off, Eldridge tells James that the only reason he was shot was because James sent him on that mission “to get his adrenaline fixed”. James seems to acknowledge this, and later that day, when he has to remove a bomb off a civilian’s chest, he is unable to do so and gets the civilian blown to pieces.

     Months later, when James is sent home on leave, he tries to connect again with his wife and infant son but has a hard time adjusting back to that life. And near the end of the movie, when he sees his son playing with his baby toys, he reflects on what he’s become as he talks to his son:

JAMES: You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your mommy, your daddy. …You love everything, don’t you? But you know what, buddy? As you get older... some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. …And the older you get, the fewer things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it's only one or two things. With me, I think it's one.

     William James has become so obsessed with the rush of war and the intensity of dismantling bombs that the sensation has become the only thing that he cares about anymore. And when he goes back to Iraq to serve for another year, it’s almost as if that’s all that he will ever be able to do that can satisfy him. And even that won’t.

     As a believer in Christ, I should always remember that God is the only One who can truly satisfy me. But as a sinful human being, I know that I am not at all perfect and can be led astray. And when I focus on devoting myself, or my day, or even one minute of my time, to something other than God, I become distracted from what truly matters. James, in the same way, was distracted by the sensation he got from doing his duty, to the point that it put his friends in danger.

     But Jesus has the solution for people like him: in Matthew 11, he tells a crowd of people after he has denounced cities for their unbelief: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30) Jesus is the only One who can bring me rest from the things that trouble my heart.

     And my prayer for you today is that whatever may be distracting you from what God has called you to do, you would put that aside and let Him give you the rest that only He can give.