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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?

(more…)

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By In Film, Podcast

Episode 10: A Review of the Movie Dunkirk

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Andrew Isker and Sean Johnson offer a review of  “Dunkirk” – a 2017 war film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Dunkirk is set in May of 1940, when Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.

Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post described Dunkirk as uncomfortable to watch, “it never relents or relaxes. At the same time, it’s impossible to look away from it.”

Sean Johnson also offered a written review of Dunkirk for FilmFisher.

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By In Film

Wall-E and the New Creation

Guest Post by Remy Wilkins

In an inverse Eden, a land laid waste, one works alone tending the trash. There are none like him in all the earth, inquisitive, playful and most drawn to those mysterious, dancing bipedal creatures who lost earth and left it to go wandering the vast wilderness of space. Humans have been driven from the earth by a flood of garbage, leaving in an ark designed not to keep them safe, but to keep them away. Only Wall-E remains the last Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class.

As he navigates past derelict robots we realize that what separates him from the rest is his ingenuity and love of the earth. He has made a home, adopting the practices of humanity, he takes off his shoes, collects parts so that he may service himself and, most importantly, he rests. His rests are not the pragmatic powering-down kind, though he does that as well, his rest is in play. He collects doodads and thingamabobs and practices his dance moves, but he also takes time to study the numinous.

I was introduced to the numinous secondhand by the intellectual spendthrift C.S. Lewis, but the word was popularized by the German theologian Rudolf Otto. He defined the numinous experience as having in addition to the tremendum, the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, a quality of fascinans, the tendency to fascinate and compel. This numinous experience, however, is not impersonal, but there is a feeling of communion with a wholly other.

Wall-E demonstrates this yearning for the numinous in his nightly examination of Hello, Dolly, particularly that most visually ephemeral emotion of Love. He sees hand-holding, he fiddles with his own clunky hands, he records Cornelius and Mrs. Molloy singing:

It only takes a moment
To be loved a whole life long.

Later he plays a snippet of the song as he stares into the night sky. Clearly, he is looking for someone. He has friendship in the form of Hal the roach, but he has yet to discover that divine spark of love. (more…)

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By In Culture, Film

Beauty and the Mark of the Beast

beast

“Winter turns to spring / Famine turns to feast / Nature points the way / Nothing left to say / Beauty and the Beast.” -Mrs. Potts

 

“Sleep is an image of death that is repeated every night. So the morning is the image of the resurrection. So the spring of the year is an image of the resurrection.” –Jonathan Edwards

How will the dark curse be broken? Sacrificial love. In the stunning new remake of Beauty and the Beast, Disney stayed true to this central theme. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s a “tale as old as time.” It’s the epical story of resurrection and the path thereunto. Indeed, the curse being broken by love is the story of all time, true as it can be.

The curse leveled by the beggar-woman in the opening scene is death, but not an immediately obvious sort of death. Those under the curse, while turned to dishware and furniture, can still move, speak, etc. Yet, they are somehow not themselves. The longer they live under the curse, the less themselves they become. It’s hard to hear Mr. Clocksworth lament, “I feel myself becoming less human” without being aware of one’s own inhumanity. Who hasn’t felt like a shadow of who they’re created to be? On a heart level, even if one doesn’t believe in the deep magic found in Scripture, who hasn’t nevertheless longed for the spell under which we live to be broken?

The only path back to life is love, and Belle—the stranger held captive in the castle—is lovely. Naturally, the creatures of the house seek to charm Belle into love. Likewise, the Beast bangs on the door, demanding a romantic dinner. Yet, their salvation can’t be secured by such measures.

Ironically, love comes when Belle is released from captivity, as she runs away from the property back to her father. In a beautiful scene on the castle’s balcony, Belle asks the Beast, “Can anyone truly love who isn’t free?” At that, the Beast turns Belle away. By the end of the movie, the Beast and the entire castle-staff die. And Belle weeps.

While Belle is good, she’s not the Beast’s good, not yet. Taking her life giving kiss—which she only offers at the end of the movie—without first sending her away would have been temporary security, but a final sort of death ultimately. On the balcony, the Beast understands a deep mystery; love will come through loneliness, Spring through Winter, feast through famine. So he sends Belle away and walks into the darkness.

In Scripture, life always comes through first choosing death. The way up is down. Commenting on Revelation, Peter Leithart makes the easily missed point that seal and mark are juxtaposed from one another. Those 144,000 people sealed by God in chapter 7 are set-aside for death. Those with the mark of the beast in chapter 13, however, are free to buy and sell goods—they feast, they live. Says Leithart:

“Those who do not receive the mark of the beast do die, but their death is a passage to renewed life. The unmarked, those sealed for death, rise again and reign with Christ. The mark of the beast rescued from immediate death, but the important things don’t happen at the beginning. We only know what the marks and the seals mean when we get to the end of things.”

It’s obvious why the mark of the beast is so attractive; it offers immediate salvation. That is, it gives one the sustenance and safety needed to see another day. To be clear, the things the mark of the beast allows one to obtain aren’t bad in and of themselves. On the contrary: food, drink, life—these are good, but they are by nature gifts, and gifts aren’t gifts if ripped from the giver’s hand. They must be received, not taken. Love requires as much. In the end, there is a feast for those who refuse the mark of the beast, but only through famine. There is resurrection, but only through death. Seeking the Kingdom apart from the cross is not only counterproductive; it’s satanic (Mat 4:8). So, we seek the seal of God, not the mark of the beast, come what may.

Upon her return, Belle brings more than tears to the ransacked castle; she brings new life. From her lips comes resurrection, breaking the curse once and for all. In a grand celebratory feast, she dances with her lover who is now, at long last, transformed into who he was always supposed to be. When the Beast sent Belle away, he planted the painful seed of death. At the dance, we see the fruit: life.

Beauty and the Beast and Revelation have the same counterintuitive message: if you want to save your life, lose your life. Don’t choose a forced, immediate redemption. Instead, wait for the day the Savior will return from the Father’s house to defeat the persecutors at the door. Because on that day, we will all be raised back to ourselves again—humanity fully restored. At that grand banquette, there will be no doubt: the dark curse is broken under the foot of sacrificial love.

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By In Culture, Film

The absurdity of sin in ‘Fargo’ Season 2

The Coen brothers have a reputation for exploring biblical morality in many of their movies, Hail, Caesar!  being their most religious yet. The writers of the Fargo television series have remained faithful to the Coen tradition. Seasons 1 & 2 serve as a cautionary tale of how belief fundamentally shapes moral behavior. This review focuses on Season 2 and concludes with a summary of both seasons. The review for Season 1 can be found here.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Season 2

Season 2 is a prequel to Season 1, set in 1979. Lou Solverson is our hero, a young cop with a wife named Betsy and a daughter named Molly. Other than these characters, a connection to Season 1 isn’t immediately discerned. Many have said that the series could be watched in reverse without giving away spoilers. This much is true and will prove relevant to our conclusion.

In episode one, Waiting for Dutch, we catch a glimpse of Ed and Peggy Blumquist holding hands to pray before a meal. The Blumquists are religious to some extent, though we learn that it has no root in their lives. Ed has big dreams of owning a butcher shop and raising children, but he is oblivious to his wife’s needs and desires. Peggy is plagued with stress and anxiety. She’s a compulsive hoarder who yearns for satisfaction in what she perceives to be an unsatisfactory life. She isn’t happy at home, at work, or in Luverne, Minnesota.

fargo-prayer-1024x591 (more…)

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By In Culture, Film

The consequence of evolution in ‘Fargo’ Season 1

Religion and philosophy are common themes on FX’s Fargo series. Seasons 1 & 2 serve as a cautionary tale of how belief fundamentally shapes moral behavior. Together the seasons offer a grim analysis of our cultural landscape, but one that doesn’t leave us without hope. This review focuses on Season 1 only. Click here for Season 2 and series summary.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Season 1

The year is 2006 and Lorne Malvo is a professional killer with no conscience. He is presented as a master of manipulation and intimidation. Malvo kills who he wants, when he wants – and with great ease. When he finds himself confronted by law enforcement, Malvo always manages to get free. Magically so, seemingly able to escape enclosed basements, control minds, and create fake identities ex nihilo.

(more…)

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