“No Country for Old Men” – a movie review

If Tommy Lee Jones is in a movie, I am a fan.

No Country for Old Menis a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film features Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem (just have to love Bardem’s haircut for the movie). No Country for Old Mendraws heavily on the themes of chance and fate. It tells the story of a drug deal gone very wrong and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as three men crisscross each other’s paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas – a man who found money in a drug deal gone bad he happened to come across and took, the man who is being paid to get that money back into bad hands, and the sheriff who is trying to protect the man who found the money in the first place (By the way just looking at the film made me feel good that there is one place I do not live – West Texas).

The reality is that the sheriff finds that he is getting too old to fight evil, hence the title, No Country for Old Men. Evil is clever, relentless, and in its own way principled. The man paid to get the money back into the bad hands of those doing the deal does one thing – get the money back, whatever it takes. What he promises he will do, he does, and no amount of pain or gore will keep him from doing what he says he will do. The sheriff is always trying to catch up and finds that evil outruns him.

Cinderella Man it is not. At the end the good man fatigues and retires. There is no sweet ending. The battle simply goes on.

At first my impression of the movie is that it is slow. A morning later I want to see it again and really listen to the dialogue. It is a movie that focuses more on a character study than stimulating plot line as three men coming from very different places end up getting to know one another if only from a distance.

For Christians who love resolution this won’t be your movie. But perhaps us Christians need to sing more than praise songs and learn to sing the laments and mournings of the psalms as well.

Charlie Wilson’s War

My boys are home for Christmas, so it is movie time!!!!  Last night we went to see Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie Wilson was a US Representative who saw to the funding of the largest covert US operation in United States history, funding the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan in their war against the Soviets. He took the $5 million in funds and eventually oversaw its expansion to $500 million US dollars without any leakage to the press. Of course, this led to the only military defeat of the Soviets in their history and opened the way to the eventual collapse of the Soviet empire. It’s quite a story.

Charlie Wilson was a hard drinking, womanizing, fast living congressman from a no account district in Texas who got hold of an idea and was positioned to see it through. And he did. Some observations:

1. Wilson was no saint in his personal life and yet he did the US a great good and the people of Afghanistan a greater good. I have always wondered at the observations that you can’t trust a man in politics who will cheat on his wife (a phrase often thrown at Bill Clinton). The truth: that’s not true. It seems as if the role of religion in the Republican primaries is becoming an acid test for electability. If Huckabee says Jesus enough, then perhaps he is the one people should vote for. The reality is much different. Religious men like Jimmy Carter can be abysmal failures in the Presidency and rather religiously indifferent men like Ronald Reagan can do great things.

2. One person can do a great deal of good.

3. One person can see what so many others do not see.

4. All the great things Charlie Wilson did merely paved the way for a greater good that was waiting to be done – rebuild Afghanistan with schools, infrastructure, etc., to give that society a chance at modernity and progressiveness.  These are the things that no one was interested in. Stay through the movie and see the quote on the screen by Charlie Wilson at movie’s end. It’s worth the price of the ticket.

There are people who are doing real hard work behind the scenes who are changing history without applause simply because there are right things to do. You know some of those things to do. Do them.

I Am Legend

My boys and I went to see Will Smith in “I Am Legend.” Great movie. You won’t drift during this one. It’s one of those movies when everything is very quiet and then all hell breaks lose making people all over the theatre spill their drinks. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when.

This is the story of a killer virus at work that is the result of biotech engineering gone wrong. A few are immune to it, and Will Smith is one of those. Rather than fleeing the scene of its outbreak in NYC, he stays (as far as he knows the only one in NYC still alive) to do experimentation to find the cure. He is in constant dangerous from the remaining infected ones who have been turned into those who hunt by night and like vampires must avoid the light of day.

Will Smith carries the movie since he is essentially the only actor. He pulls it off.

The bottom line is that he finds the cure which is his own blood. That blood will save the few who have fled to far away Vermont where the zombies cannot find them. Let me see, a single hero whose own blood will save those who receive it!! Where have I heard this before?

This reminds me of GK Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man. Chesterton makes the point that before Christ the myths of the world pointed to something that would one day come true, a Savior who redeem the world. Then Christ came and became what CS Lewis called a True Myth, the fulfillment of all myths. All the world’s stories were a preparation for The Story.

“I Am Legend” is a myth that is in us. We don’t make it up. It comes out of us. We are all infected. We are creatures who live by night and dread the light. There is one who walks in the light and his blood will save us.

Who is a Christian anway?

Some thoughts from CS Lewis

In the first place the situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 per cent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name; some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it….Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth many have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking of real people whom we know at all, but only two vague ideas which we have got reading novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 10, “Nice People or New Men.”

Ben can rest!

Our youngest son, Ben, is home from the University of California Santa Barbara where he is doing his PhD work in Material Science Engineering. While he has enjoyed the West coast weather (yea, dad, it’s just another warm day here in Santa Barbara–how’s the snow storm in Boston?) the challenge of graduate studies his first quarter was straining beyond imagining. I think he was shocked at the speed and the degree of self-dependency that was expected. He studied like never before – and he is a man who has been faithful to his studies. But the grades are in and found that the first quarter was a success. This Christmas is one for relaxing!!!!  Good job, Ben. You faced the giants. The fell. Now eat, drink, sleep for a while. There are other giants to go face again soon.

CS Lewis on Old Books

There is a strange notion abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books…This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology…Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read on the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old…It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones…We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century…lies where we have never suspected it…The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.   CS Lewis

Beowulf – a tale that keeps being told and a movie worth seeing

Remember reading Beowulf in high school English? I don’t ask if you remember the story but the actual experience of having to read it. For most students it’s not the highlight of their studies. It’s just something you get through. The kids at Master’s Academy where I teach are reading it now.

But now there is the movie. It’s quite the show. The animation is worth the see. And animating real life actors like Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone is a unique twist. (I guess the director found a way to make even great bodies look greater!!!)

The epic poem depicts the age old theme that heroes who risk all to do and dare are rewarded with the unique temptations of power, sex and money. And they all fall and live out haunted lives. Such a story can’t be told often enough. You would think we would get it. But we don’t.  Beowulf rescues a king whose town is haunted by the demon who is actually the offspring of the king’s lustful moment with the demon’s mother. As a reward for his victory the king give to Beowulf the crown and then commits suicide, glad to be rid of the burden of defending a town that has been haunted by the very acts of the king who now must defend it. Beowulf destroys the demon Grendel only to be seduced by the demon’s mother as the previous king also had been. He, too, produces an offspring that will haunt the town and brings Beowulf to an ultimate battle with the results of his on ambition, lusts and greed. In fact, the demon we face is the product of our own doing. What we face is “us.”  Once Beowulf dies in battle, the demon’s mother appears to seduce the next king – the cycle goes on.

 All heroes fall. This is the lesson of the Old Testament. The five big men of the Old Testament – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David – all fall. Blessed and given all, they end up seeking self and losing all. The Old Testament leaves us with the question: is there a hero who does not fail us? Will there be one man who will face the demon and live?

And that is the story of the New Testament. One hero refused the temptations of lust, money and power. Led to the wilderness to face the demone he emerges in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the will of God. He will live forever and rescue the city of the world. The demon will be cast in hell forever.

Christianity is the myth of Beowulf come true. It is a true myth as CS Lewis comments. Christ is the greater Beowulf.

 Go see the movie and think. And then worship. A true hero has come.