Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is known for movies like Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar, but while Dunkirk holds true to Nolan’s bold style unlike the aforementioned films it is based on actual historical events. The Battle of Dunkirk was a retreat for the Allied forces (the majority of which were British and French troops) who were being driven towards the English Channel by the German forces. The Allied forces were failing to defend France against Nazi Germany, and the only alternative to surrender was to die fighting or escape to the British mainland.

Nolan’s Dunkirk focuses on snapshots of the evacuation, making the evacuation Dunkirk feel more like one day rather than ten days. While Nolan delivers his typical high octane action through dogfights and bombings he also highlights the humanity of soldiers and citizens through displaying a range of heroism and cowardice, sometimes presenting itself in the same character. This contrast of courage and fear is fitting considering the heritage of Dunkirk remains one of victory and defeat.

Another thing to note about the film is that Nolan focuses almost entirely on the British. There is recognition of the French and at least one Belgian makes an appearance, but besides their war machines, the Germans are silent. Nolan is telling a story about the resilience of the British and Allied forces in what would be a loss crucial to eventual victory for the allied forces. The movie avoids dehumanizing German soldiers while remaining entirely uninterested in the antagonist that is Nazi Germany.

The film displays star actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance, but also sports breakout performances from Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles. The actors fit their roles well, and the quality costume design and cinematography creates a believable cinematic experience. The stubborn pride of the British shines through the film.

Dunkirk rightly highlights fear alongside courage, but the sweetness of this film is displayed in its summation. The audience is left with the words of Winston Churchill as the fate of the film’s characters is left hanging in the balance. That’s exactly where Britain and the whole of Europe was left in 1940. With the United States remaining uncommitted to the War and the Soviet Union maintaining its Non-aggression Pact, Britain, France, and the rebel forces of other European nations were abandoned, caged with the monstrosity of Nazi Germany.

The righteous rebellion of the Allied forces in the face of failure and defeat lights a fire of emotion and ignites endurance and hope within the human spirit. Though no war is black and white in its justifications and no person is entirely pure, World War II may be the best example of a just war. The struggles of the Allied forces at Dunkirk are amazing not only for the overwhelming obstacles faced, collective heroism displayed, and divine grace received but also for the moral argument fueling the British zeitgeist to “never surrender”.

Mud

Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray Mckinnon, and Sarah Paulson take up most of the screen time in Mud. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and directed Loving, Mud is a well-paced and well-acted film that steadily builds to its climax. Mud‘s characters are so well-developed that supporting actors feel more intimately understood, and the film seems to use its characters full potential.

McConaughey’s performance is raw and authentic. His slow, rumbling voice and southern accent match his character’s unkempt appearance, and McConaughey appears to play a difficult role with ease. In 2012 McConaughey was no newcomer to Hollywood as he has had been headlining blockbuster films since the 1990’s. But, blockbuster films are typically bypassed by the Academy Awards.

Mud was overlooked at the 2013 Academy Awards, but McConaughey would not be overlooked in 2014 when he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dallas Buyer’s Club. Mud seemed to set off a new chapter in McConaughey’s career as the actor seemed to gravitate towards more complicated character roles like Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Mark Hanna in Wolf of Wall Street, and Rust Cohle in the True Detective series. In addition, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland give convincing performances in Mud, and the film uses its dialogue efficiently.

Besides its main theme of love, Mud explores life in rural Arkansas and vigilante justice. The movie captures beautiful shots of river life while subtlety questioning the righteousness of its characters. The crime of murder is juxtaposed with a case domestic violence. The audience is treated to visuals of Arkansas country and rural river culture while grappling with their attitudes toward the films protagonists.

Mud seems to do its best work exploring romantic love across a spectrum of ages and situations. Young teenagers, married parents, adult singles, and an old widower all share their stories of love. Wisdom and foolishness mingle as the lines between right and wrong decisions seem to blur. Love itself is called into question.

Humans are social animals with the ability to shower or shatter one another with love. Reopening the wounds of a broken heart may develop deep scars that suppress the pulse of romantic feelings, but acts of kindness and words of encouragement can heal the naive hopes and vulnerable boldness of persistent affection. Mud gives the audience a good glimpse of the complexities of life and love.

True concern for another’s well-being more than one’s own often means being willing to stay or leave – to hold tight or to let go. That means that true endearment frequently involves sacrificing one’s own desires. It also means that long-term romantic relationships can be often untidy and downright difficult. In a selfish world it may be futile to struggle for lasting love, but Mud advocates for endurance in the effort.

Silence

Directed by Martin Scorsese and staring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, Silence is a film about 17th century Jesuit Priests seeking to spread their faith in Japan. The film depicts their persecution and struggles as the Japanese hierarchy sought to uproot Christianity in Japan.

Japan’s resistance to foreign influence was strong, and Christianity was no exception. The story of Silence centers around two Priests who set out to find one of their mentors after his letters from Japan cease and rumor is heard of his denial of Christianity. The Priests seek to spread their faith and find their lost mentor while hiding from Japanese authorities. A story of loyalty and betrayal, belief and unbelief, and faithfulness and unfaithfulness follows.

Silence is a deep and heavy film to watch. It explores cultural conflict, compares and contrasts faiths, poses deep theological and philosophical questions, and challenges the definition of truth. Is truth universal, international, national, cultural, or personal? Is truth dependent upon the circumstances that surround the truth seeker? Is it permissible for a person to repeatedly publicly deny his or her faith while privately believing that faith to be right and true?

Silence is a great precursor to the philosophical question – Is it right or permissible to lie in defense of self or others? Lying for protection from injustice and oppression is often considered an okay if not right thing to do. Modern Biblical theologians might argue the forgivable nature of denying one’s faith, but modern theologians did not have to be faced with the challenges of these 17th century Jesuit Priests.

Silence also has a lot to say about belief in a higher power in general. As the title suggests, God does not rise to the defense of the people being oppressed by the Japanese rulers. There are rare suggestions of God’s presence, but the Priests mostly pray and suffer in silence. This leads to questioning the existence of God along with the reasoning behind unwavering profession of faith.

Though much can be said about the disturbing behavior and reasoning of the persecutors, Silence is about the persecuted. Did the people these priests were ministering to even understand what the priests were endeavoring to teach them? Were the priests accurately communicating and the people adequately interpreting the priests’ conception of God? Were the people dying for God or for paradise? If the priests beliefs were true but the peoples’ faith was flawed, were the priests simply hastening these peoples’ path to hell?

Silence is about the thin line between faithfulness and apostasy, and what it takes to reach and cross that line. Why should these Priests have died for a silent God? What is the promise of a paradise never physically experienced when compared to the tangible stuff of life and the relief of pain? If God exists, Who is God, and is God worth our lives? If a person decides God is not worth her or his life, is God merciful enough to accept that person back?

Those may be some of the questions that Silence leaves with its audience, and especially for people of faith, those may be some important questions to consider.

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, depicts the story of  how U.S. soldier/medic Desmond Doss became a conscientious objector serving in World War II. Doss is portrayed by actor Andrew Garfield who was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In the movie, Doss endures criticism from his fellow soldiers for avoiding what they perceive as justified and necessary violence.

The cast of Hacksaw Ridge includes Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn, and Sam Worthington, and though the film’s battle scenes are less grandiose than the ones in Braveheart the film tells its story well. Hugo Weaving plays the role of a war-torn father, Luke Bracey portrays a soldier embracing his job as a warrior, Teresa Palmer plays the love of Desmond’s life, and Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn act as Doss’s superiors. What the film lacks in majestic cinematography it makes up for in character development and raw depictions of combat. Nothing is lost in the storytelling.

Initially the movie relies heavily on storytelling and the plot surrounding Doss’s upbringing and journey to becoming a conscientious objector, but as seems to be Director Mel Gibson’s style, the eventual battle scenes are gruesome and uncensored. When Doss finally reaches the battle at Okinawa, the shock of war mixes with his determination find and save wounded soldiers. The endurance of this man’s faith fuels his heroic actions on the battlefield.

The movie’s events are based upon the true story of Desmond Doss. Doss was a part of a group tasked with scaling a steep-faced ridge to drive Japanese soldiers out of their positions. Following a day in which the group suffered many fallen soldiers and were forced to retreat down the ridge, Doss remained and searched for those soldiers who were left behind.

In the film, Doss despairs and complains that he cannot hear the voice of his God. One can imagine this was a common feeling among soldiers serving in World War II. In this dramatic moment, Doss (Garfield) hears and responds to the voices of injured soldiers crying out for help.

This film provides a good basis for the discussion of the justification of war and a persons role in it. Murder is among the most consequential crimes imaginable, but warriors are celebrated for their killings and often garner more attention for a higher tally of kills. Some people may despise this film for its passivity while admiring a film like American Sniper for its decisiveness. Others may despise all war, and take a position of pacifism. Questions of the feasibility of avoiding all war or the implications of embracing its role in the world may arise. Regardless of one’s position in the discussion it’s clear that there is something valuable to be learned from these debates.

Hacksaw Ridge is a story of a man holding to his convictions. The man endured hard circumstances, hurting no one through his direct actions while achieving something great in the process. Everyone should be able to celebrate that.

 

Blood Diamond

 

BloodDiamond

 

Blood Diamond is one of those beautiful movies that can be hard to watch. As a fictional story centered based on true events of exploitation of people for the sake of finding and selling diamonds, the film is often uncomfortable. It’s a reminder of where selfishness, greed, and a capitalism-at-any-cost ideology can lead a person or organization. It’s a reminder of racism, fear, and abuse of power. It’s a reminder of the world’s sins.

Diamonds are only one of the many resources exploited from developing nations in recent history, and in the materialistic cultures of many European and North American nations, films like Blood Diamond can make viewers feel cornered and uncomfortable. Awareness without opportunities for action can turn a temporary sense of consumer guilt into numbness. The tradition of a diamond engagement ring remains, but rings do not typically reveal if  they originated from a nation in conflict bolstered by diamond-trade. The attractiveness of a chocolate bar or cheap t-shirt might be lessened if it included a label stating “made with child-labor”, but though “fair-trade” products are available, there are no such negative labels revealing the problem-products. Gas stations are unlikely to label their petrol with a list of values or policies of the leaders or nations that furnished the oil, and the latest cell phone typically does not come with an update on the company’s sources of coltan or other minerals.

It’s a familiar story in Africa – a European nation steeped in a history of exploitation of people and/or resources grants self-government to a former colony or protectorate, and that colony or protectorate descends into a civil war in which people are dismembered, raped, murdered, &/or enslaved as soldiers, workers, or sex slaves. All-the-while developing nations knowingly or unknowingly fund the conflicts through buying products (e.g. diamonds, oil, tires, cell-phone parts, etc.) from and selling weapons to the warring nation. This “familiar story” is painting with a broad brush, and should not be taken as a simple narrative applying to most African nations. The intricacies of these conflicts are accompanied by the complexities of their causes, and it can be difficult to tease out the influence of imperialism and colonialism on these conflicts. However, to deny the historical context and continuing influence of colonialism and imperialism on these conflicts is naive.

Blood Diamond portrays characters that are not naive to the wrongs of their environments. A man seeking to unite his family, a smuggler seeking to utilize his environment to his advantage, and a reporter seeking to expose corruption all come to witness the terrible atrocities and injustices of their surroundings. Familial love, wealth and safety/stability, and the beneficence of humanity are some of the different motivators at play in the film’s characters. As these characters collide the audience is treated to background details of each character that help explain their motives. Like their environment, these characters are complicated and not easy to understand at first glance.

It’s a theme of the film that some of the characters are trying to escape the troubles of the continent. Sometimes called “the dark continent”, the people of Africa continue to deal with a history of oppression at hands of richer nations and more powerful people. But, with good character development, quality acting, and beautifully orchestrated scores this film packs a redemptive message for its characters and its continent.

Like the history of Africa, the history of an individual is complex. To create the best understanding of a person, one must dig into the messy experiences, perceptions, and events of the person’s past. True understanding of a situation reveals a history of fear provoking violence, whether or not that fear is justified. Ethnic, tribal, and general societal relationships can be so continuously flawed that people are tempted to surrender to despair, harden their hearts, and accept the narrative of racism, social injustice, and abuse of power.

But, reconciliation and redemption can change the course of a life, a people, or a nation. The fight for peace, solidarity, and justice may never be completed. One of the beautiful burdens of life is that there’s always something to work towards. Reconciliation and redemption are constant goals, and it’s lovely to see them reflected in Zwick’s Blood Diamond.

Pride and Prejudice

 

 

 

There have been many film adaptations of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. The 2005 version was directed by Joe Wright and stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen among other notable actors (e.g. Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland, and Carey Mulligan). The cinematography, like the dialogue, is detailed in its depth and storytelling. The camera captures scenery both broadly and narrowly. Whether shooting in a small room or seeking to capture a rolling landscape, the camera shots provide plenty of beauty and detail to keep the viewer engaged.

The dialogue is rich. The quips and quick-witted conversations can be difficult to keep up with at times, but the words that each character speaks are not spent idly. An overbearing mother, overwhelmed father, and underwhelming minister complement the storytelling with their humor and drama while the main characters fight their battles for love.

This movie has little to say about the excessive economic inequality evident throughout the film, but it does have something to say about relationships. In a world that approaches romantic relationships much differently based upon the culture that one is born into, it’s refreshing to see a movie that mixes the restraint of some cultures that practice arranged marriages with the openness of other cultures that encourage exploration prior to commitment. In Pride and Prejudice, there is more focus on the intellectual and emotional dynamics rather than the physical affection between the characters. This makes for a movie more concerned with character and kindness and less concerned with the erotic side of love.

This is not to say that the movie neglects the importance of physical love. There are points in the film where the gravity of the absence or presence of touch is aptly displayed. A touch of the hand under the right circumstances, like a well-taken picture or a memorable smell, can communicate a message with more clarity and feeling than a well-written letter. Similarly, the absence of touch under the right circumstances can create more longing than there would be if that touch had been given.

Messages and moments like those make this version of Pride and Prejudice worth more than one viewing. The movie holds within it reminders to be gentle, kind, and considerate. There are lessons in pursuing humility while being wary of first impressions. All-the-while the viewer is treated to melodious scores and well-crafted cinematography. While viewers craving a less conservative love story may be disappointed by the old-English romance, those who appreciate the subtle words and actions that catalyze the beginnings of a committed relationship are likely to enjoy this film.