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By In Culture, Film

Fargo Movie Review: Lady Justice is Pregnant

A while ago I wrote a post about strong female characters in movies comparing Wonder Woman and Elastigirl. A reader of the Kuyperian blog, Anthony, responded and asked if I had seen Fargo. He suggested Margie as an interesting female character. So I watched the movie over Christmas break. Here are some of my thoughts on the movie in general and on the question of Margie as a strong female character.

Whenever I watch a Coen brothers’ film, I always feel like I am walking into the book of Judges. The world is a little tilted and the hero is always a surprise because he or she is never who you thought it was going to be. Fargo is like this in many ways. The story starts with a strange and dark premise that is also a bit humorous: a man wants two thugs to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom so he can extort money out of his wealthy father-in-law who will pay the ransom.

This setup presents the sharp reality that even a family man can embrace terrible darkness. But the humor of this beginning also suggests the deeper justice at work in the story. While evil is a dreadful force to be reckoned with in the world, it is never out of control. There is always a deeper truth at work which is controlling everything so that even the darkness serves the purpose of the comical ending.

On the technical side of things, the Coen brothers are masters of creating a specific region. As I watched the movie, I thought of a comment from Flannery O’Conner: “Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know one’s region” (The Fiction Writer and His Country). The Coens ensure that the location of the story, dark, cold North Dakota, becomes a character in the story. The cold biting edge of the world is inside most characters in the story. It is only Margie and her husband Norm who do not give into this cold world. They share a joy and love that pushes back against the cold.

Into this dense setting, the Coens place characters who are equally thick. No one is extra. Even small side characters, like the old friend from high school, are full real characters. This also grounds the story in a deep reality.

Before moving onto the meaning of the story, I do have to acknowledge one huge flaw in the storytelling abilities of the Coens: the two sex scenes. It is really too bad that such a rich story with such rich characters falls into this kind of cartoony story telling. A sure sign that a story teller has fallen asleep at the wheel is a sex scene. It takes no brains or talent to pull one off. The reality is that the movie would have been a far better story if the Coens had left these things as suggested actions off stage. If they had done that, it would indicate that they trust their audience to put the pieces together and it would also add greater depth to the story. I am not against a character going to a prostitute; I am against a director trying to use sex to sell his story. If he wants to do that, he should go join the porn industry.

Now to the meaning of the story.

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By In Culture, Film, Interviews, Politics, Theology, Worship

Top Ten KC Posts for 2017

Here is a list of the most popular articles from Kuyperian Commentary in 2017.

We will begin with a few honorable mentions that we thought were important to our vision.

In June, there was a broad discussion on how to teach Christian Worldview that Dustin Messer was part of. He wrote A Few Cheers for Worldview Education interacting with a number of bloggers on the issue and in particular Rod Dreher’s critique. There were two posts in this series with Dustin defending the purpose and goal of worldview discussions. Here is the second part which lists out several of the key bloggers in the discussion.

A second honorable mention goes to David Koyzis. He joined the Kuyperian team this year and he had a series in August on Abraham Kuyper and Pluralism: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and  Part 4. In these pieces, he sketches the pluralism we find in our world and suggests a way forward by looking at how Kuyper would view this issue.

Now to the countdown:

10 Uri Brito, our founder, wrote a post titled 10 Ways to Keep Easter this Easter Season. Lots of good practical ideas here for that season of the year.

9 Steve Macias wrote a post about The Prayer of Humble Access. This is a discussion on one of the prayers for communion that is found in the Book of Common Prayer.

8 Steve had another popular post on The Unlikely Ascension of Jesus. This article unpacks the significance of this moment in Jesus’ life and how the message of the gospel is that Jesus is seated as king right now.

7 Steve also took a swing at Feminism arguing that it is a Self-Defeating Movement. Feminists have sought to throw off submission to particular men and have looked to the state to give them this freedom. The result is that they now find themselves in subjection to “The Man”.

6 Dustin Messer wrote a piece connecting the Disney musical from this year and Revelation: Beauty and the Mark of the Beast. In this piece, he argues that the movie emphasizes the importance of waiting on redemption just as the Beast lets Belle go even though she is his last hope.

5 Uri was back with a post on Musical Segregation. In this post, he makes the claim: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.”

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By In Culture, Family and Children, Film, Humor, Wisdom

On Crude Humor

Author Remy Wilkins is a teacher at Geneva Academy.
His first novel Strays is available from Canon Press

“You wouldn’t hit a man with glasses would ya?”
“No, of course not. I’d hit him with a bat.”

In our culture of frivolity it is tempting for Christians to think that solemnity should be our defining attribute. The coarseness of the world impedes us from enjoying an y sort of sexual or bodily function jokes because we do not want to be guilty of approving that which is sinful. Even though we know that the bed is undefiled and the body is good, and are therefore free to enjoy those aspects of life in humor, we are stunted in our ability to appreciate them due to the folly and poor taste of our age.

So while we are not to be characterized by coarse jesting, we must learn to distinguish jokes that laud wickedness (the ribaldry forbidden in Ephesians) from those jokes that merely highlight the glorious and comedic world. We cannot merely clam up and play it safe, throwing out the good jokes with the bad. If we are to be characterized by joy then we must be leaders in laughter, but Humor is not a tame lion. It is invasive, subversive and mysterious. It is hard to determine where it is anchored, whether it mocks or praises, and what it is standing with or against.

For this reason many hedge their laughter, guard their mirth like an untrustworthy servant. There is a temerity that would rather not laugh at something funny than to laugh at something sinful. So how can we train our minds to laugh wisely? (more…)

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By In Culture, Family and Children, Film, Politics, Wisdom

Bombadil at Home

When it comes to what the Bible means by taking dominion Tom Bombadil comes to mind for me; but I think what comes to mind for most people looks a lot more like Saruman.

If you’re a reader of Lord of the Rings, you understand those references. But if you’ve only seen the films, you probably didn’t–at least not the reference to Bombadil.

Poor Bombadil, what’s he in the story for anyway? (Peter Jackson, the director of the films thought he was expendable.) That whole episode in the Old Forest before the hobbits get to Bree seems like a senseless detour. Was Tolkien dallying? Was it just a bit of comic relief?

I don’t think so. Tolkien worked with texts professionally and he doesn’t strike me as the sort of person to do something on a whim. He was fussy.

I’m a writer in my own small way, and even I know that something that can’t be made to fit should be thrown out.

Either that, or you leave it in because it is somehow a way to underscore the point if the thing.

What’s the point?

There are many things like this in the world: the Sabbath, (what’s the point?), beauty, (what’s the point?), higher education, (what’s the point?).

When it comes to those things some people edit them right out of their lives. Or perhaps worse, they repurpose them to make them fit our restless, ugly, and benighted lives.

I think Saruman missed the point of life in Middle Earth. That’s why he tried to repurpose what he found there.

This was the reason he was interested in the lore of Middle Earth. He wanted power, ostensibly to save Middle Earth from Sauron. But in the process he became Sauron’s slave.

In order to acquire this lore, many eggs had to be cracked and his interrogations were torturous. That’s why Gandalf said to him, “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

Saruman thought he could save Middle Earth by dominating it.

But Bombadil just lived there. That’s why he was truly the master.

The word dominion has a fascinating provenance. It’s from the Latin, domus, for house. It is where were get the words: domestic and domicile. And those words never alarm people. But say, dominion, and your mind immediately runs on to domination.

But really, should it?

And this brings me to Bombadil. Just who is this guy? Tolkien didn’t say.

But in The Fellowship of the Ring, in chapter a chapter entitled: In the House of Tom Bombadil (the seventh chapter, by the way), we have Frodo, and the other hobbits wondering the same thing.

And Frodo asks, “Who is Tom Bombadil?” And this is the answer he receives:

“He is, “ said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.

Frodo looked at her questioningly.

“He is as you have seen him,” she said in answer to his look. “He is the master of wood, water and hill.”

“Then this strange land belongs to him?”

“No indeed!” she answered, and her smile faded. “That would indeed be a burden,” she added in a low voice, as if to herself. “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has caught old Tom…. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”

Goldberry is Tom’s fairy-like wife that he received as a gift from the Withywindle–like a similar gift received my another man, long ago.

But unlike that man, or Saruman for that matter, Tom’s mastery is of a different kind than the kind sought by those men. We’re told that he knows the songs. I think that means he knows the natures of things. And his mastery preserves those natures. I think that can be seen in Tom’s rescues of the hobbits. And each time he comes singing the songs that set things right, not as a conqueror. (I’ve written more about that here.)

That’s real dominion for you. It is a very different sort of dominion we see in other deliverers. Whether the deliverer goes by the name Adam, or Bacon, or Saruman, we can know one thing, the sort of dominion they seek is unnatural.

But Bombadil, the funny fellow with the nonsense songs and the yellow boots, we can be sure that he’s on our side. And even though he looks clumsy, he’s graceful enough to flick individual raindrops away from his head in a downpour. He’s the master.

Fathers, when it comes to dominion in your houses be like Bombadil.

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By In Books, Culture, Film, Interviews, Wisdom

Author Interview: Steven R Turley, PhD

Dr. Steve Turley teaches Theology, Greek, and Rhetoric at Tall Oaks Classical School, and he also is a professor of Aesthetics, Music and World Cultures at Eastern University, a co-educational, comprehensive Christian university in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, fifteen miles northwest of Philadelphia. He also writes and hosts the Turley Talks podcast and is an accomplished classical guitarist.

Dr. Turley has a recent publication available that posits the question: What if, instead of watching Christian movies, we cultivated the practice of learning to recognize biblical themes and symbology in films in general? (more…)

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By In Film, Theology

Scripture Things in ‘Stranger Things’

When Stranger Things Season 1 debuted last year, it was an instant viral sensation. Set in the 1980s, the show masterfully tugs on the nostalgic heartstrings of all those who love coming-of-age, science fiction, adventure dramas. Those of us who loathe contemporary sci-fi — for its substance-less story lines and cartoony CGI — found refuge in Stranger Things‘ mere 8 episodes. They took us back to a simpler yet more mysterious time. The show took many of us back to our childhood, right back to E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me, and more. Its synth-based score only added to the nostalgia, captivating our imaginations with every sound.

It was only natural that fan-theories would develop around the show. Countless blogs and comment boxes have been filled with questions, predictions, and debate. A small portion of these theories involve biblical imagery and theology. Some are quite good; others are quite a stretch. In anticipation for the release of Season 2, I decided to re-watch Season 1 and try my hand. Below are my thoughts and observations from a biblical perspective. You may think some of them are quite a stretch, but hopefully some of them are quite good.

Before we begin, a disclaimer. I’m in no way presuming to know the intentions of the writers or directors. I suspect most of my observations are purely coincidental. We all exegete content from a particular lens and it may not be the same lens worn by the writers. Still, that doesn’t stop us from seeing what we want to see. If your imagination is shaped by the Bible, you’ll see traces of it everywhere. (more…)

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By In Culture, Film, Theology

Wonder Woman vs Elastigirl: What is the Ideal Female Superhero?

In a recent interview, director James Cameron criticized the movie Wonder Woman as hindering the conversation about what a female main character should be like. He accused the movie of taking a step backward. He suggested that all the praise for the movie was just “self-congratulatory back-patting” because the movie had both a female lead and a female director. People were so tied up in the genders of the people behind the story that they didn’t really give much thought to the story itself.

But while Cameron might have brought up a possible problem with the hype around the movie, he didn’t have much to offer when the interviewer asked, “So then why are movies still so bad when it comes to depicting truly powerful women?” Cameron’s response was telling: “I don’t know.” He tried to point to his own work, Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, as an example of a strong woman: “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.” In Cameron’s eyes, Diana—Wonder Woman—didn’t have any of those qualities and so fell far short of this bar.

While I take issue with Cameron’s ideas (and his suggestion about Sarah Connor), I think this interview provokes important questions about what the ideal female superhero is. Does she have to be a troubled, terrible mother? Or can she be a noble and virtuous goddess? Also, what is the place of weakness in a female superhero?

Alastair Roberts has argued that we should jettison the “strong female character” and instead look to the multiple examples of women in the Bible and how they impacted the world. Roberts writes:

“The dawn of the great new movements of God repeatedly occurs in women’s spaces. The choice of Jacob over Esau occurs in Rebekah’s womb and Rebekah is the one who ensures that God’s choice is honoured. The births of the twelve children of Jacob—who would become the twelve tribes of Israel—are narrated in terms of God’s dealings with and remembering of the wives of Jacob. The story of the Exodus begins with the heroism of women in bearing and rescuing Moses and other Hebrew boys.”

Roberts is onto something important here. God begins new movements in places where women dominate, like birth and childbearing. This is something that Christians seem to have a hard time catching on to. If nothing else, we should be telling more stories that imitate God’s story. And it would also be great to see more movies doing that as well. A few good examples come to mind: Children of Men (2006) and Arrival (2016). Childbirth plays a central focus in these films which were both very successful.

But is childbirth the only female dominated space? Surely that is not the only feminine setting or quality to focus on, is it?

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