Because the Other Guys Needed Him

“Private Carlson felt a sudden blow and sharp pain in his right knee. It felt like someone had taken a knife and held it to his knee and then driven it in with a sledgehammer. He glanced down to see blood rapidly staining his pants. He said a prayer and kept shooting. He had been wildly scared for longer than he had ever felt that way in his life, and now he thought he might literally die of fright. His heart banged in his chest and he found it hard to breathe. His head was filled with the sounds of shooting and explosions and visions of his friends, one by one, going down, and blood splashed everywhere oily and sticky with its dank, coppery smell and he figured, This is it for me. And then, at that moment of maximum terror, he felt it all abruptly, inexplicably fall away. One second he was paralyzed with fear and pain and the next… he had stopped caring about himself.

He would think about this a lot later, and the best he could explain it was, his own life no longer mattered. All that did matter were his buddies, his brothers, that they not get hurt, that they not get killed. These men around him, some of whom he had only known for months, were more important to him than life itself. It was like when Telscher ran out on the road to pull Joyce back in. Carlson understood that now, and it was heroic, but it also wasn’t heroic. At a certain level he knew Telscher had made no choice, just as he was not choosing to be unafraid. It just happened to him, like he passed through a barrier. He had to keep fighting, because the other guys needed him.”

~ Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (p. 120)

Alive in Joburg (Short Film)

Alive in Joburg (2005) is a sci-fi short film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was filmed in Johannesburg, South Africa, and over the course of its six minute running time, explores apartheid. The visual effects are nifty, and the faux-documentary approach adds another an interesting twist.

The coolest thing about it, however, is that it served as the basis for Blomkamp’s 2009 feature film District 9 – which is quite simply one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. You can watch the official trailer here.

A Cheap, Easy Christianity

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33)

What does it cost to be a Christian?

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week–and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work – it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity and will take us to Heaven when we die – we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to Heaven!”

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible.

There are…
enemies to be overcome,
battles to be fought,
sacrifices to be made,
an Egypt to be forsaken,
a wilderness to be passed through,
a cross to be carried,
a race to be run.

Conversion is not putting a man in a soft armchair, and taking him pleasantly to Heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.”

True Christianity will cost a man…
his self-righteousness,
his sins,
his love of ease, and
the favor of the world.

A religion which costs nothing – is worth nothing!

A cheap, easy Christianity, without a cross – will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown!”

~ J.C. Ryle, The Cost

HT Grace Gems

Book Review: Frankenstein

In 1816, Mary and Percy Shelley travelled to the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, to spend the summer with several writer-colleagues – Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori. On a whim, the friends decided to have contest to see who among them could devise the best ghost story. Drawing on one of her dreams, as well as her knowledge of medical experimentation, Mary Shelley wrote about a scientist who created life and was horrified by it. And thus Frankenstein was born.

This renowned gothic tale, for which Shelley is most famous, follows young Victor Frankenstein, a student of natural philosophy, who learns how to impart life to a body built from the relics of the dead. Resolved to test his newfound knowledge, Frankenstein conducts an experiment and is successful. However, instead of finding joy in his accomplishment, the he feels only revulsion when he sees the creature he has made.

I had worked for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart… Oh! no mortal can support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as Dante could not have conceived. (pp. 39-40)

Published in 1818, Frankenstein is both a classic monster story and a seminal work of modern science fiction. It is even regarded as a “horror” novel, but I think “gothic” is a more fitting description – especially considering the book’s emphasis on the grotesque and mysterious, rather than the overtly horrific. One could argue that the themes of the story are far more unsettling than the story itself.

Shelley’s prose is not particularly remarkable – at least, in my humble opinion – but it suits the story well. And what it might lack in elegance, it readily makes up for in forcefulness. The writing is packed with bleak, hypnagogic imagery, and considering the nature of the story, it’s most appropriate.

It’s worth noting that Frankenstein’s monster is not a gray-green giant with lifeless eyes, a small vocabulary, and bolts in his head. According to Shelley’s description, he is large and strong and hideous, but he’s also athletic and remarkably intelligent. It is his character, in fact, which provides some of the most eloquent dialogue of the entire story.

Frankenstein concerns itself with several weighty themes and ideas, two of which particularly bear mentioning.

The first and most recognizable theme points to the dangers of man trying to play God – a warning which is even more applicable today than it was 200 years ago. Frankenstein basks in the glory of his newfound knowledge with little thought to its perils. Later in life, he laments,

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. (p. 35)

The second theme is less often acknowledged, but equally important: “What is the nature of man?” It is in answering this question that the novel more fully reflects the pagan worldview of its author.

When Frankenstein’s monster is first given life, he is a pure being, untainted and guileless. He cannot conceive why it is necessary for men to have laws and governments, because he cannot conceive why men should do evil. But the monster’s purity is only temporary. Although he does nothing wrong, men loathe and reject him. At one point in the story, he saves the life of a young woman. What does he get in return? Gunfire.

Outraged by this ingratitude, he exclaims,

This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shatter the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind. (p. 116)

Violently detested by society, the monster responds in kind. “I am malicious because I am miserable,” he argues, in excuse for his crimes. “Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?”

Thus the blame is shifted. The monster’s basically good nature has been twisted by a bad environment and turned to evil. He is not ultimately responsible for his actions; the world that rejected him is.

Frankenstein’s monster is a work of fiction, but his words reflect the philosophy of Shelley and other humanists: the philosophy that man is essentially a good creature. He just needs the right environmental influences to get in touch with his basic goodness.

Such an idea is, of course, diametrically opposed to Christian doctrine of total depravity. Man is conceived in sin. His emotions, his will, his intellect – all is corrupted, and naturally inclined to wickedness. Does this mean he is as desperately and utterly depraved as he possibly could be? Not at all. But it does mean that he is incapable of saving himself. Short of divine intervention, he is doomed – entirely and utterly doomed.

Thanks be to God He didn’t leave us that way.

Is Frankenstein still worth reading, then? Yes. There are benefits to be gained from acquainting oneself with classics such as this. But don’t just swallow everything that is handed to you. Examine it. Consider what you’re being told. And above all, see how it fares in the light of Scripture.

The 5 Most Overrated Films I’ve Ever Seen

Braveheart (1995), [R]
I know, right? You’d think a historical epic like Braveheart would be on my list of favorites. Well, it would be – except Mel Gibson and Co. concentrated so intensely on making things “epic”, that they all but forgot the “historical” part.
Not that I should be surprised. After all, this is Hollywood we’re talking about here.
Scottish history has always interested me a great deal. I may not have a PhD or some fancy diploma to prove it, but I do know a few things. And I know enough to recognize that the history in Braveheart is ludicrously inaccurate. From its suggestion that Wallace and Isabella of France were romantically involved, to its sorely lacking recreation of the Battle of Stirling Bridge – the historical errors abound.
If you happen to be a fan of the film, you’re probably crying foul at this point: “Oh, come on. It’s entertainment, for goodness sake! You want a history lesson, go somewhere else. Besides, the story isn’t supposed to be based on fact: it’s based on legend, and should be taken as such.”
I understand the argument; I even agree with it to a certain extent. In fact, I might be able to look past the glaring flaws and just enjoy the (admittedly rousing) tale of valiant men fighting against tyranny. All this I could do, and more. But ultimately, what I find hardest to swallow about this movie is its warped depiction of Wallace’s character.
The William Wallace of history was a remarkably noble man; a dedicated warrior who was also a devout Christian. The William Wallace of Braveheart differs from this model in many respects. His faith is all but non-existent. He moons his enemies on the battlefield. He seeks ruthless vengeance against the noblemen who have forsaken his cause. And he fathers a child by a woman who is not his wife. In short, his character is closer that of a vulgar savage than to that of a God-fearing knight. Seriously?
I wonder what Wallace would have to say about that.

Fiddler On the Roof (1971), [G]
The music is fabulous. The filmmaking is stellar. And the story demonstrates the necessity of passing on to our children, not merely traditions, but also the reasons behind those traditions.  So what’s not to like? Several things, actually.
Fiddler On the Roof makes a mockery of fatherhood and winks at the rebellion of a younger generation against an older one. Overstatement? I think not. Take, for example, the marrying off of Tevye’s three daughters.
The eldest girl pledges to wed a devout Jew, but goes about it in a less-then-honorable fashion. After some flustered frustration, Tevye backs down and consents to the marriage. This sets a precedent.
The second girl becomes engaged to a radical Jew, making it clear to her father that she does not desire his permission, only his blessing. And once again, Tevye relents.
The youngest follows the rebellion of her sisters with the boldest move of all: she marries outside the faith. Elopes, in fact. For a while, Tevye stands firm by his convictions and refuses to bless the match. Of course, by the end of the film, he’s relented there, too.
What sort of message does this send? That if you truly love someone, you will give them what they want. That the dishonoring of parents is something to be laughed at, even admired. That a father’s role as head of the home counts for nothing.
Stop being so “old fashioned”. The times are changing. Roll with it.

Bambi (1942), [G]
Where do I even begin with this one? It’s a children’s film of course. The hand-drawn animation is delightful (especially in this age of CGI overkill) and the songs are fun. The story follows the life of Bambi the deer and his friends, Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk.
Such a whimsical set-up is obviously appealing to small children. Not only that, but parents can feel safely confident that their youngsters won’t be exposed to sex, foul language, or graphic violence over the course of the film’s 70 min. running time.
Yes, yes, Bambi is remarkably clean when it comes to such content issues. But is that really all that matters? How often do we get so caught up in counting the number of curse words in a film that we almost completely forget about the worldview?
The prevailing worldview in Bambi is environmentalism. And it’s about as subtle as a smack upside the head. The forest animals – including carnivorous ones, like “Friend Owl” – are depicted as a big happy family where everybody gets along just fine “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” they chortle in their joy.
Drumroll please. Enter that despicable intruder, “Man”. We never actually see him, but he lurks about the periphery, like a fiend from a monster movie. He roams the forest with his hunting buddies: shooting his terrible gun, killing poor, helpless animals, and setting the woods ablaze by leaving his campfire unattended. Is he not detestable and cruel?
There’s a fancy word for that sort of heavy-handed propaganda: it’s called crud.

Casablanca (1942), [PG]
I know I’m running afoul of many movie critics by adding Michael Curtiz’ masterpiece to this list. It’s generally considered one of the greatest films in history. And I would agree, but only to a certain extent.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that, artistically-speaking, Casablanca is incredibly well-done: it has a great script, exceptional cinematography, and top-notch acting from a top-notch cast. Also worth noting is the fact that several well-known expressions we use today – such as “Play it again, Sam” or “A penny for your thoughts” – are derived from it. In these respects, Casablanca is rightfully regarded as a classic piece of cinema.
Story-wise, though, I’m not completely sure I get it.
Consider: it revolves around a love-triangle; the affection of two men for one woman. And even though the men are decent enough fellows, the woman, Ilsa, clearly treats her marriage vows lightly (at one point in the movie, she brazenly determines to leave her husband in favor of a past lover). The movie doesn’t treat this as morally wrong in the slightest, and further, seems to suggest that the audience should have sympathy for Ilsa and her self-imposed woes.
Excuse me?
Casablanca may be one of the greats of Hollywood history, and well worth the time of every movie enthusiast. But that doesn’t mean it should be viewed without discernment.

Facing the Giants (2006), [PG]
A good effort, to be sure, but I don’t understand the large amounts of praise that so many Christians lavish on this movie. Sure, the quality of the filmmaking was above-average  – as far as independent Christian movies go – but once again, the story makes me pause and scratch my head.
Author Ted Kluck more or less sums up my own opinion when he writes,
I took a surprising amount of flack on my blog for ripping Facing the Giants, a movie I thought, and still think, was famously bad, even by famously-bad Christian movie standards. I think this not because it wasn’t a great effort on the part of some earnest, good-hearted actors and writers (it was); rather, because it really encouraged a sort of prosperity-centered “God as a cosmic vending machine” theology, where one begins to pray, and then in the case of Coach, one receives a state championship team, a new truck, and a fetus. This just isn’t, in my experience or understanding of Scripture, how God works most of the time. Which raises a greater question: Are we required to “like” or “support” something like this just because it’s “Christian”? (Why We Love the Church, p. 112)
It is because of this that I much prefer Sherwood Pictures’ first film, Flywheel (2003). It may be artistically rough around the edges, but the message is a far sounder one.

There you have it: the 5 most overrated films I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t necessarily mean I regret watching them, but I do think the “veneration” they receive is a bit much. Feel free to agree or disagree with me down in the comments section. Better yet, share some of your own “overrated film experiences”. I’d love to hear about ’em.