October 16, 2014


Do NOT see "Men, Women and Children" unless you are inured to today's porn and sex and sex and porn everywhere. The language and visuals are graphic and explicit and involve teens (and remember, today's sex is degraded), but after a few seconds of getting into it each time, the camera mercifully cuts away. But it's constant. I went to see this film because the write-ups highlighted the fact that it deals with technology and relationships, and in this, it doesn't disappoint.

If this was just an easy-sleazy-oh-boy!-tech&sex-is-a-vast-new-area-to-mine! kinda film, I wouldn't even bother reviewing it. But I do think it's something more than that.


The film begins in outer space with Emma Thompson's voiceover, so we know this is going to have some big, philosophical resonance. The narration is clinical, dry humor that becomes very detailed once we situate ourselves on Earth with certain families. Families with teens. Since there is no God, Carl Sagan--in the voiceover and in the body of the film--becomes our guru because he, at least, can explain something of "the universe" to us. (But of course, in this film and IRL, did you ever notice how humans keep using personification regarding the universe? "The universe doesn't care." And trying to personify evolution? "Evolution tells us that monogamy is unnatural." Clearly, the human being is looking for the Personal. The human being is looking to be cared about by Someone and even to obey Someone wiser than ourselves.)

We get deeply into the lives of these families, their habits, their tragedies, their mistakes. There is father and son internet porn, digitally-assisted infidelity, pro-anorexia websites, a stage-mother inappropriately photographing her own daughter, videogame isolationism. At first we might think that this Smalltown, USA, is hypersexual, but we really know our whole culture is (see the older but still very relevant book "Porn Nation" http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2009/03/books-porn-nation.html#.VEAoD_nF-jk). Without getting too spoiler-y, the point is made loud and clear (albeit at the very end) that sex is great, but most of us really want the intimate relationship--proper to marriage--that is supposed to come with it.


The heart of the film is a teenage couple who use media fairly well and forego sex for a deep, romantic friendship.

Is degraded sex treated trivially or as a joke? No. It's treated as a kind of sad, pathetic addiction. It would seem that the director (Jason Reitman: "Juno," "Up in the Air") might be sex-obsessed, but I think he simply sees our world as sex-obsessed. This interview with Reitman reveals what he was trying to accomplish in the film: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/09/29/talk_dont_tweet_about_my_movies_jason_reitman_says.html and even his genuine personal distancing from the ubiquitous porn phenomenon is telling. In MW&C, Reitman painstakingly shows us computer porn EMASCULATING men so they can no longer respond to real, live women. This film in no way condones any kind of online or offline sexual shenanigans, but rather stares them down and shows them up for the sham and shame they are, with a such a masterful touch that things don't get too heavy, and we are entertained and not preached to. Reitman is an unflinching but not sadistic director.

The fact that uncommitted "love" and sex is deeply unsatisfying is plain to see in MW&C. But, as Fr. Thomas Loya--a Theology of the Body teacher--always says: "No matter how intelligent and well-meaning we are, we will often utterly ruin our lives grasping at what looks like true love and true sex because these desires are so strong in us."


I really do believe we need more films like these--a lot less graphic, please? We get it, we get it, thanks--that examine our brave new cyborg world. The fact that this film portrays still-searching-for-themselves-crazy-mixed-up-parents along with their almost-adult-teens (and no "children") is significant, because in today's world there often seems to be hardly any difference between adults and teens; the adults acting regressively and the teens acting beyond their years.

Unfortunately, the one lone parent (Jennifer Garner) who actually seems to be concerned about her daughter's media use, does not trust her (trustworthy) daughter at all and goes way overboard tracking her every digital move. She even hosts a meeting for parents about their teens' media use. I think I'm going to use this scene as an example of "Media Literacy & E-Parenting Done Very Badly."

"Men, Women & Children" is an extremely contemporary film, but of course, will be outdated in approximately six months.


--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Indubitably.

--Being a strong Adam Sandler non-fan, I am grateful that he just listlessly says his lines and doesn't destroy the film.

--Every kind of pervasive media gadget imaginable in this film. Wow. Is that what we look like?

--1930's music at film's opening an homage to Woody Allen?

--Hilarious plot point: 9/11 = ancient history to today's teens. 

--Sex without a real relationship? It's just self-centeredly (even if mutually) having "needs met." Almost like infants. And it's playing with fire.

--At one point, there's an intercut sequence of three dating and/or copulating couples, and no one is with their spouse.

--There's even a hint that the obsessive, all-consuming world of sports (here, high school football) can be as addictive and escapist as our technology use.

--"Men, Women & Children" features possibly the longest, most original pickup-line ever. (Except that it is philosophically and theologically null.)

--A good point here about married couples not always having to talk EVERYTHING out (not the same as keeping secrets or poor communication).

--Teens' online lives are so real that if you kill that life? You might kill them.

--This film is coming out at the perfect time: The #Synod14 on the Family. If this is a snapshot of American and/or First World families today? Yeah, we need a Synod.

--How is it that a film by a Canadian director and starring Jennifer Garner is only playing in one theater in Toronto?

--The tired, tired argument about our planet being so small in the scheme of things, that humans are really not the center of the universe--yadda, yadda, yadda--features prominently. I'm sorry. This silly, silly argument/premise/theorem ("The smaller something is, the less it matters" or "Size is all the matters") is just the ramblings of a small, small male mind. I just don't know how else to say it. It also relieves us of all responsibility (a particularly male temptation). The conclusion to this argument in the film (which is a TOTAL NON SEQUITUR) is that, therefore, we must be kind and love one another. WHA???? If nothing and nobody matters? I say the conclusion should be TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Or as it says on my young cousin's bumper sticker: GET WHAT YOU WANT. Or how about EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY FOR TOMORROW WE DIE or JUST DO IT or as the Satanic Bible says: DO WHAT THOU WILT.

Besides, if it is true that the tinier something is, the less important it is, please explain atoms to me. Or deadly viruses. Or the myriads of teeny little insects that keep the ecosystem in balance.

The above ludicrous and fallacious premise is bad science, bad philosophy, bad theology, bad anthropology and just bad, wrongheaded thinking.

--Like so many other movies surprisingly and hearteningly portray: one CORRECT conclusion of this film is that the bedrock of our lives must be based on a technology-free ethos, ultimately, the spousal meaning of our bodies, the male-female relationship. Technology (however helpful) is not essential to our life. Love and unmediated bodily human interaction is.

--The film is not really about the "secret lives" of those we think we know. Because in the end "everything that is hidden will come to light" and God can bring good out of evil, even in a film.


October 3, 2014


I did not want to see "The Good Lie." It was assigned to me by my boss at LifeTeen, Christina Mead (benign dictator). I thought: I already know all about the "Lost Boys of Sudan" (young men who were forced to be child soldiers when their parents were murdered during the civil war). Many sad but touching and hopeful memoirs about these events have been written. Many wonderful projects have been instituted to assist refugees in establishing a new life in the United States. It wasn't "compassion fatigue" for me (after all, what have I done to help?), I just thought I knew this story. Boy, was I wrong.

I thought: Why can't we just see the Sudanese themselves? Why can't this be an African film? Why do we need Reese Witherspoon's star power (as good an idea as it is to get people watching the film)? I thought I had seen the film by watching the trailer and that there would be no surprises. I thought all the good laughs were in the trailer. I thought, I thought, I thought. But again, I was wrong.


"The Good Lie" IS an African film. The first half of the film is the main characters as children in Africa. The horrors are not graphic (more like "the banality of evil") but not downplayed either. This film is more interested in what their experiences have done to these "average" young people. Although there is a kind of ensemble cast, we manage to get into each one's psyche and the drama of their lives quite well. We become African with Mamere, Paul, Jeremiah and Abital, journey to the United States with them AND get a good look at our serious ridiculousness through African eyes.

It's the little every day adjusting to survival and displacement that makes up the bulk of the film. Actually, when the tension heightens, we almost want to go back to the little things, the mundane beauty of what it means to be human, which is the most enjoyable part of this unique film that employs so much realism that sometimes it feels like a documentary.


These kids are Christian, carry a Bible with them everywhere they go and talk about Moses and the Bible stories, as well as pray in a very organic and natural way. God is so deeply embedded in African culture that  it would have been a "bad lie" to leave Him out! Not only that, these children are upright, truthful, fiercely loyal to each other, and kind to others they meet along the way. Forgiveness of the murderous attackers/soldiers is not mentioned in the film. It almost feels irrelevant. The kids somehow accept that it just happened. They are more concerned about the future--now what are they doing to do?--and their own interactions and pardons among themselves.


This is a fine, fine film in every way. The soundtrack is exquisite:  not minimalistic and not bombastic. An elegant alternate mix of piano, strings and what sounds like African instruments, as well as a few sung songs (only three, which is two too many in my book) round out the score.


A word about Reese Witherspoon. Reese plays a tough Southern-belle-but-almost-a-redneck-woman, at first uncaring and just "doing her job" as she helps the refugees become acclimated to Kansas City, Missouri. But as she experiences their sincere friendship, guilelessness and true gentlemanliness of these strangers, she begins to soften and enter more deeply into their plight. Reese is just perfect. She does not steal a single scene, and although she's Hollywood royalty, she makes us believe without even trying that she is Carrie, the jaded country girl with the heart of gold who knows that all men are alike and doesn't think life has anything new to show her. Bravo, Reese. Such a classy not classy act!


There is a fabulous (first time I've ever seen this kind of) minor character in "The Good Lie." A sugary-sweet young Christian woman who, unlike Carrie, has no problem stretching to accommodate the newcomers, totally gets what the refugees are going through, and knows how to explain everything to them. You can tell that charity and goodness is just a heartfelt way of life for her. Later in the film she and Carrie bond over shots of Tequila. Yes. There are Christians like this. Real flesh and blood. Not pathological. Not self-righteous. No hidden agendas.


This is a great film for kids, too. Really? Yup. To see how kids on the other side of the world live. How they think. The choices they make. Their heroism.

Why should we watch this film? First of all, in order to "go through" something of the refugee experience. Just think of Iraq and Syria and so many other places in the world where millions have been driven from their homes and their countries, cannot go back and are in limbo in every way imaginable. Second, you WILL be able to relate--at least analagously to these young people. Third, I think the world has some big lessons to learn from African culture: family, joy, heritage, sacrifice, discipline, order, worship, humility, priorities, honor, gratitude, contentment, camaraderie. But we also see the virtuous in our own bonkers American culture. There is African generosity and there is American generosity. Two different brands. African? What you do with a little. American? What you do with a lot.


--I was heartily and loudly chuckling once the little band hits the United States. I mean, it's such a crazy meeting of cultures (with most of the crazy on the U.S. side). It's not about big, dumb, simplistic cultural differences, but deep, subtle and significant ones. It's about getting to the simple truth of everyday things. It was such a swipe upside the head to realize how convolutedly we habitually go about things in our daily lives, rather far from the unadorned truth.

--I wondered at the title and theme of "The Good Lie." Certain lies are told to save lives. Is that really even a question/problem in war time? At the very end of the film, the title will make even more sense, but I still question if this is the theme and proper title.

--There's nothing cliché in this film.

--I never lost interest despite the easy pacing.

--The PTSD comes later. We aren't told/shown everything the kids endured till later. Intermittent reveals. Good storytelling.

--Is there anything as joyful as African singing, dancing and laughter?

--Female screenwriter! Female screenwriter!

--This film made me think about how American women are used to being used in one way and American men in another and we just accept it all now. When the Americans meet the Africans' gentility, their first reaction is: Are you guys for real? And then they have to answer, pleasantly surprised: Yes.  Another way of doing things--perhaps a better way of doing things--is possible.

--The three young adults didn't care about the prosperity of America and don't get sucked up in pleasure and consumerism. They only care about being together.

--Fact: You will get in trouble at work if you are too good and honest.

--You are going to love Theo.

--The chicken joke.

--"Let us give thanks for this miracle food pizza."

--"May we visit your cow?"

--An INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE answer to relativism is in this film:
Boss: "What are you doing?" (to refugee working at supermarket who is giving day-old food to a homeless woman at the dumpster--when he was told not to)
Refugee: "It's a sin not to help those in need."
Boss: "Says who?"
Refugee: "Jeremiah."
Boss: "Who's Jeremiah?"
Refugee: "I am."

--I do so want this big-little film to win some Oscars.

--Why do we not see Corey Stoll in, like, every other film that gets made? #underratedactors

--DO stay for the stylish, creative credits and you will find out who these actors really are.

--Daughters of St. Paul (my congregation) are in South Sudan.

--"What does it mean to be human? It means we take care of each other." --Pope Francis

--"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." --African proverb