Friday, January 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- loneliness and unforgivable sins

Director: Mike Newell, 2005.

With the series' first British director (Newell, Love in the Time of Cholera) at the helm, Goblet of Fire carries us into the fourth year of Harry Potter's education at Hogwarts. With the series fully developed, there is no need for introductions or recaps. Indeed, there is no mention of the Dursleys, so prominent in the early parts of the first two films. This is a movie focused on wizards and the darkening gloom descending on the wizarding world. Even the opening scene is dark, showing a secret meeting between Voldemort and his closest followers. The tone is set.

After this pre-credit sequence, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) join the Weasley family at the Quidditch World Cup Final, arriving by portkey, a new plot device that has two key roles here. This is the only portrayal of quidditch in this movie, another sign that Harry's days of fun are starting to wind down. And we don't actually see any quidditch. It does, however, introduce Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), the world-famous Hungarian seeker. the match, and while wizards are reliving the exploits of the players, Death Eaters descend on the scene and set ablaze the host of tents where the visitors are camped. With flaming fields and chaos as people are running scared, the "Dark Mark" is seen in the sky. This is Voldemort's symbol and a sign that his power is returning, a sign the Ministry of Magic wants to ignore, even forget.

With this as an introduction and dire backdrop, the new year at Hogwarts is enhanced by the presence of pupils from two other schools: the beautiful young woman of Beauxbatons and the strong young men, including Krum, of Durmstrang. They are staying the year at Hogwarts since the school is hosting the famous Triwizard Tournament."Eternal glory! That's what awaits the student who wins The Triwizard Tournament, but to accomplish this that student must survive three tasks. Three EXTREMELY DANGEROUS tasks," says Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). It is assumed that the reward of eternal glory is a huge motivation for these adolescents and almost-adults. Transient glory often accompanies victory at events, such as sporting competitions. But that glory fades as quickly as the morning mist, so that we can barely remember who won a year later, let alone decades or centuries after the fact. Eternal glory would remain, extending past death. But eternal glory is due to God alone: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!" (Rev. 5:13) Such eternal glory is not ours to strive for nor to receive. We are not worthy and will never merit such honor. We are, instead, to offer such praise to Jesus and the Father who alone are worthy.

The Triwizard tournament is open to three wizards, one from each school, who are over the age of 17. But when the goblet of fire kicks out a fourth name, that of underage Harry Potter, something wicked is afoot. Harry claims his innocence, "I didn't put my name in that cup! I don't want eternal glory, just wanna be . . . " normal. Harry has already had his fill of notoriety and the visibility and responsibility that ensue. Against his wishes he must take part in the tournament. However, he is suspected by almost everyone of magically cheating to make this happen.

This brings up one of the early issues in the Goblet of Fire -- loneliness. Virtually the whole school turns away from Harry. Even his closest friends Ron and Hermione disbelieve him and abandon him. He is isolated. And he cannot forget it since most of the students sport "Potter Stinks" badges. Knowing he is innocent, Harry still has to endure almost a third of the year friendless. Only Dumbledore and Sirius Black, his godfather, believe him but they are not in positions to overtly do much. This is a difficult situation for a teenager, who feeds off peers. It can be so for us, if we are abandoned unfairly. It was infinitely so for Jesus, the Lord of all. Isaiah prophetically describes Jesus, the suffering servant: "He was despised and rejected by men." (Isa. 53:3). Loneliness can be traumatic, leaving a hole in the heart. Triwizard tournament becomes the stage for the rest of the film. The three challenges, involving dragons, lake-creatures and mazes, focus the narrative. Brendan Gleason plays Mad Eye Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who is pivotal in helping Harry. Mysterious and reckless, Moody appears more related to the students than the faculty.

In one of his lessons, he gives demonstrations of the three unforgivable curses. These are curses that are never to be used, but were employed by Voldemort and his henchmen in his earlier drive for power. Against the students' wishes, and probably violating school regulations and even ministry law (that's the whole point of being unforgivable), he does them.

Unforgivable actions is another ethical issue. Jesus tells us there is an unforgivable sin. "I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." (Matt. 12:31). The generally accepted interpretation in Christan thought is that this is focusing on apostasy. According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, this "is best viewed as a total and persistent denial of the presence of God in Christ. It reflects a complete recalcitrance of the heart. Rather than a particular act, it is a disposition of the will." Defying and resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in the mission of Jesus over time causes a hardening of heart, and this resultant hardness leads to the unforgiveable sin. climax is powerful and thrilling. Bringing closure to the earlier graveyard scene, Harry witnesses the rise of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). "He-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named" becomes "He-Who-Has-Now-Been-Seen" with a new body and a snake-like face. With the re-embodiment of evil, everything is likely to change. This is a portent of things to come in future installments. But, even in reality, the introduction of evil and sin into the world in the Garden of Eden caused everything to change (Gen. 3). Innocence was eradicated, paradise lost. The quiet shameless walks with God was replaced with guilty hiding from him. Sin found its place in the human heart and has not been removed since. The human story changed, although there is a future hope of victory (Rev. 19-21).

Afterwards, in the denouement, Dumbledore tells Harry, "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." Choice, an overarching theme in this film series, shows up once again. As the Sorting Hat chose Harry for Gryfindor in The Sorcerer's Stone, so the Goblet of Fire chose Harry as a Triwizard champion here. And as Harry had to make choices, of friends and of actions, in the first two movies, so the scene is set for future choices: right or easy. Life is full of such choices, even for us. To take the easy road or the path less traveled which harbors snares and dangers. It may not be easy but it is the right path, the moral choice. As Jesus said, "narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt. 7:14)

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) -- fighting enemes or saving friends?

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007.

The opening scene of The Counterfeiters shows a disheveled man in a scruffy suit sitting on a riviera beach. It's Monte Carlo and the man enters the finest hotel and pays with a wad of cash taken from a briefcase packed with money. It's 1945 and the war is over. Something is afoot. The rest of the film takes us back to 1936 where the story starts before leading us through the Holocaust years.

The man is Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics). A Jew in Berlin, he was the "King of the Counterfeiters," a swindler and a crook. Though he had tremendous artistic ability he found it was "easier to make money making money." A life of toil was anathema to him. His was a life of easy (fake) money, wine and women. That is, until CID Superintendent Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow) breaks into Sally's secret workroom where he is "working" with a beautiful woman. to a concentration camp rather than a prison, his artistic skills draw attention to him and soon Sally is given better treatment than the other prisoners. Of course, better treatment means no forced labor and a little food. But even the Germans in their vanity want someone to paint portraits of themselves. Ultimately, his skills cause him to be moved to Sachsenhausen, another concentration camp.

It is at Sachsenhausen that Sally comes face to face once again with Herzog, the leader of Operation Bernhard, a German counterfeiting plot. Sally is forced to use his skills to enable the Germans to counterfeit the British pound. Since the Germans were close to being bankrupt, flooding the allies with fake money could damage their economies. If the counterfeits were good enough, the Germans could use them to bankroll their war efforts.

Sally and the others in the group of prisoners have been hand-picked for their skills in art, photography and counterfeiting. In return for working for this operation, they get "luxury accommodations," an actual bed and enough food to survive without becoming skeletal. Yet, they can hear the screams of the other prisoners being tortured and murdered. If they failed or refused, they would be back in the regular concentration camp barracks where death was an ever-present reality. Counterfeiters is the true story of this economic warfare strategy of the Germans during WW2. It is the first Austrian movie to win an Oscar for foreign film. Despite the unique narrative premise and attention to period detail, the movie ebbs somewhat. Perhaps there have been too many Holocaust movies and they have cauterized our sensitivities. The main characters are too distant to evoke emotional identification. We watch the film but don't get caught up in a real care for them. Herzog is too nice as a Nazi leader, perhaps trying to motivate these men to quality work. Sally is caught between his criminal character and the moral dilemma he faces.

The dilemma comes from Sally's leadership position. He is able to pick those who work with him. In doing so, he is "playing God" since those not working or pulling their weight could either be shot by the guards immediately or be put back into the camp where death is deferred but still likely. Sally carries the burden of life and death even while himself a prisoner under the weight of possible death. Does he care about others to save them? Or is he doing his work simply to save himself? contrast comes in the person of Adolf Berger (August Diehl), an idealistic prisoner working in the dark room, who has lost his family in other concentration camps. He wants to fight back in any way possible. And the best way he can is to sabotage the negatives of the fake pounds. By stalling these counterfeiting efforts he is fighting the enemy. So while Sally is actively working with the Germans to keep his life, Berger is only ostensibly working with them while actually working against them. When Herzog realizes things are not on track he makes it clear: produce results or targeted men will die. Herein is Sally's specific dilemma: does he force Berger to work and produce or does he let "his" men be executed?

Salomon's dilemma is a little like that of Mladen in the recent Serbian film The Trap. Whereas Mladen faced the choice of killing a man or letting his son die, Sally must choose to help the enemy possibly win the war (whereupon he and his team would very likely be executed) or see his team (and possibly him) be killed.

This raises the question: what is the ethically appropriate response? What is the right thing to do to survive? As we see others being cruelly executed by the enemy, should we help that very enemy if it means we might live a little longer? What if the choice is such that a friend will die if we cannot produce results? One of the characters in a smaller role makes the point that he was a banker who did no wrong and now he is being forced into criminal work. When faced with our own mortality it would take a strong person to refuse to do what is required. The human instinct for survival is strong. Choosing to work to spare a friend's life seems to be choosing the lesser of two evils. Yet, what if the work caused the enemy to prevail and result in all the people being killed? What would have been gained under these circumstances? Only a prolongation of life for some, and a major loss of life for many. So, this is indeed a difficult question.

Most of us, thankfully, do not find ourselves in the midst of incarceration and coercion. Yet, for followers of Jesus we are in a spiritual war (Eph. 6:12). And when we sin we are being coerced, by Satan or by our own fleshly desires, to aid the enemy in his attempts to defeat Christ. We may do this for pleasure or for economic gain, for sensual or financial survival. Yet the truth is, we are not in the dilemma Sally faced. We have life (Jn 10:10). We don't need to look elsewhere for life or joy or satisfaction. Our truest satisfaction is found in God, and in glorifying him. We should cast out anything that is counterfeit and let our faith and our life be authentic.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Monday, January 26, 2009

Burn After Reading -- changing our person

Directors: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008.

In 2007, the Coen brothers hit the apex, the pinnacle of success, with their crime drama, No Country for Old Men. That movie won Oscars in four of the eight categories it was nominated for, including best actor (Jarvier Bardem), best director and best picture. This is their follow-on. Where No Country was a cold dark drama, set in the bleak Texan landscape, Burn After Reading is is a furry comedy set in the political landscape of Washington DC and its environs. What they have in common is a lack of redemptive focus. And while No Country was gripping, Burn is a slow burn, fizzling out. To paraphrase another critic, here the Coen brothers seem to be tired, on auto-pilot, basking in the afterglow of their golden statuettes.

As in many of their other movies, the brothers Coen populate this film with quality actors some of whom they have worked with before. George Clooney (O Brother Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty) plays Harry Pfarrer, a State department Marshall with a big gun and a bigger libido. Richard Jenkins (The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty) is Ted Treffon, manager at Hardbodies gym. Joel's wife, Frances (Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, Miller's Crossing), has a central role as Linda Litzke, a supervisor at the gym. She is a lonely woman, searching the on-line dating agencies for a date or a mate. Then there's John Malkovich playing foul-mouthed CIA analyst Osbourne Cox. Tilda Swinton is his wife, Katie Cox, a cold-hearted self-centered pediatrician with the bedside manner of a witch. Come to think of it, she played this role in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, although not married there. But the creme-de-la-creme is Brad Pitt, in an outrageous hairdo, as Chad Feldheimer, a personal trainer at the gym and friend to Linda. He is fabulously funny as a person who simply does not know how stupid he is. With the exception of Swinton, the writer-directors had all these particular actors in mind for the lead characters as they were developing their script. And it shows, in how well they work together.

When Osbourne is demoted and reassigned from the Balkan desk he takes it like a man -- he curses outrageously and quits unceremoniously. This does not endear him to his wife. But then again, she is sleeping with Harry and is ready to divorce Osbourne. Cox does what any suddenly unemployed man would do, he slobs out. But he can only take so much trash TV, and so starts his memoir. This memoir becomes the focal point for the movie. inadvertently copies parts of this memoir, along with Osbourne's financial portfolio, onto a CD, and this enigmatic CD is found in the locker room at Hardbodies. Chad sees it as "sigint," signals intelligence, the kind of espionage material that you must "burn after reading." He and Linda see it as their meal ticket.

When we first meet Linda, the Coens employ camera-work that lets us see her doctor but not her. She is consulting him for cosmetic surgery: not one, but four different procedures. She is "rebuilding herself". Whereas her employer rebuild bodies into hard bodies the old fashioned way, she wants to rebuild her body the quick way, with a nip here and a tuck there. But these surgeries are elective, and costly, and she does not have the money.

Chad and Linda are classic morons. They think they can blackmail the owner of the disc, Osbourne, for the money she needs for her surgeries. Their knowledge of the CIA and blackmail is what they've seen on TV. Osbourne, on the other hand, is a cynical and upset man who is not going to fork over cash to dopes, especially when the information is trivial. What ensues is a classic farce with everyone sleeping with someone else and not knowing what is going on; and with all roads leading to Osbourne.

The problem with Burn is that despite its plot complexity nothing really happens. It is simple nonsense. It could have been titled "Much Ado About Nothing" but that title was claimed by an Englishman several centuries ago. When it is over, there is a sense of emptiness. If this was an older movie on VHS, my recommendation for Burn After Reading would be to erase after viewing.

In fact, the Coen brothers seem to be almost self-deprecatory with some self-commentary on the narrative. Midway through the film Chad says, "Appearances can be deceptive." The film looks good but has no substance. Then an unnamed CIA superior (J.K. Simmons, the dad from Juno), whose room is in the carpeted corridors not the echoing linoleum hallways implying more intelligence, says to an underling, "Report back to me when it makes sense." But Burn After Reading never really makes much sense. Then at the end, he asks, "What did we learn?" And then, when this same underling is dumbstruck, he answers his own question, "Not to do it again." There is nothing to learn here. Not to watch it again, perhaps. of the plot motifs is idiocy. (The tag-line is: Intelligence is relative.) The two main "heroes," Chad and Linda, are morons. Their minds are simply too small to comprehend what they are doing and getting themselves into. Yet, the "intelligence officers" of the CIA, along with Harry, the State Department Marshall, are dimwitted. They do not know what is going on. These are the people we rely on to provide intelligence to the President and they are unknowing fools. The only two characters with any form of intelligence are Osbourne and Ted. Yet, Osbourne, catching Ted in an unwise act, tells him, "You represent the idiocy of today . . . You are part of a league of morons. Oh, yes. You see you're one of the morons I've been fighting my whole life." He mistakes an act of love for an act of lunacy.

Ted, a support part, is an interesting if ironical character. A former priest, he is a broken man surviving as manager of the gym. He who was formerly in the soul-building business, preaching the religion of orthodoxy, now works in body-building, preaching the religion of beautification. The soul has given way to the physical. Perhaps this is a deliberate allusion to the primacy of body over spirit. And from afar, Ted pines for Linda. Yet, she cannot see his attraction, she is blind to this person who might be perfect for her. She is focused on the physical, her body, as a means of attracting a partner.

Despite the shallowness of the film, this is perhaps the central ethical issue: who are we? Is it the soul or the body that defines who we are, our identity? Linda focused on the body, the shell that she inhabits. Her worth was proportional to her sex appeal. Until she could change her shape, her exterior, she was dissatisfied. She saw only defects and deficiencies. She could not believe anyone would really want her as she was, even though Ted clearly did. She wanted to become someone different, someone better. And she needed money, lots of it, to make this happen.

Biblically, it is not the physical that defines our identity. The holistic summation of body, soul and spirit is the composition of a person (Heb. 4:12). The body will die but the soul will live on (Matt. 10:28). Changing the body does not change the inner person. In fact, it is inevitable that the passage of time will ravage the body, and we can expect the physical to fail as we age. Yet, in contrast, we can see the inner person, the soul or spirit, grow and bloom in beauty with age. It is not guaranteed, though it can happen if our character develops. Like Linda, we may crave to be someone new, someone different, someone better. Yet God has given us a way to become a new person: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17)

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Friday, January 23, 2009

Life of Brian -- crucifixion but no resurrection

Director: Terry Jones, 1979.

I first saw Life of Brian in England when it was released. That was before I was a Christian. It had drawn accusations of blasphemy from some denominations. It was even banned in some countries. I thought it was hysterically funny back then. Seeing it again, now as a follower of the Christ, I still think it funny, though not quite as hilarious as I did 30 years ago.

This is Monty Python's sequel to The Holy Grail. Irreverent, it is a parody of life in first-century Judea. Of course it is a send-up of the life of Jesus, but in the silly Pythonesque way. If you like British comedy, and Monty Python in particular, you will think this funny, albeit full of profanity and even full-frontal nudity. If not, you might find it offensive and would do well to avoid it. are the whole gang, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman. Each plays multiple roles, including female characters. In particular, Chapman stars as Brian Cohen and Jones plays his mom, the non-virgin Mandy.

The film starts like a Christmas story, with three wise men following the star to Bethlehem. There they find a new-born baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. But the baby is Brian, not Jesus. They have mistaken their final destination by 20 yards, a normal mistake even with a gps receiver. Discovering their mistake, they hastily take back their gifts and withdraw to the correct stable. This is the story of Brian's life. Mistaken identity will be the death of him.

As a man Brian resents the Romans. But then his mom lets him into a secret. He is half-Roman. She is a Jewish prostitute and his father was a centurion. Such revelations can cause havoc with a psyche, and Brian is no exception. He resorts to joining a terrorist organization, the Judean People's Front.

The film is a series of skits loosely connected together. Several are unforgettable. There is the scene of political fomentation, initiated with the question, what have the Romans ever done for us? Or the ex-leper scene, where a leper cured by Jesus is complaining of his lost livelihood. There is the stoning of a blasphemer skit, where the women, dressed as men, buy hand-crafted stones but are over-anxious to indulge in this Saturday afternoon entertainment. Then there is the weird space-ship animated/live-action sequence, thrown in apparently as a way to save Brian's life.

As much as this is a comedy, it is also a send-up of religion and religious intolerance. The multiple revolutionary organizations opposing the Roman rule parody the schisms and denominations in the church. They won't even work together and when caught trying to execute identical plots, they argue over whose idea it was and then fight each other rather than join forces. Sadly, we sometimes even see arguments within the Church as denominations fight other denominations over doctrinal disagreements. Jesus commanded his followers to love one another (John 13:34). By doing this, the world would know who we are (John 13:35). We are to give a witness to the world of the love of Jesus not the anger of humanity.

Another spoof is targeted against biblical interpretation. When the real Jesus is preaching his sermon on the mount, those at the back of his audience cannot hear well and wonder what he said. "I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.' " One spectator replies, "Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?" And another comments, "Well obviously, it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." Too often arguments have ensued about how to interpret the Bible. Conservatives support a grammatical-historical interpretation, focusing on the literal meaning as understood by contextual analysis. Liberals have tended towards non-literal even allegorical interpretations. I approach the Bible as I would other texts, although of course this is holy scripture. Some portions of the Bible are poetic, others apocalyptic, others epistolary, and still others parabolic. Each genre requires us to approach it on its own terms. of Brian, shot on the some of the same sets as Zeferelli's Jesus of Nazareth, does give a picture of what life might have been like for followers of Jesus. As Brian inadvertently was seen as the Savior, people flocked to him. "I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen to me? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!" But even against his wishes, they said, "Only the true Messiah denies His divinity." And Brian is put into a quandary. Even his mother says, "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!" The film makes it clear that Brian is not the Savior. He does not want to be followed by these folks. Even when he accidentally loses a sandal, they think he has given them a sign, like foot-washing (John 13:17).

In this humorous way, we get a glimpse of what Jesus experienced. Many, looking for rescue from Roman rule, wanted to follow a messiah. There had been others claiming to be from God, but Jesus was (and is) the only true Messiah. And He didn't turn people away. He gave them signs, miracles, but even these followers were fickle. When they heard Jesus tell them to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:66), pointing to the sacrament of communion, they turned away in disgust. Like the crowds following Brian, many who followed Jesus were not true believers and when trouble or undesirable teaching came they left. of Brian falters a little toward the end, with some extended skits. But it closes with a bang. With over 100 criminals crucified on Passover, one (Eric Idle) leads them in a song, encouraging the dying to "always look on the bright side of life." Whistling while dying, they all join in on this finale. And it is good advice, even biblical advice (Phil. 4:8). As followers of Jesus, we are to be optimistic, even in the face of death. Death can kill our physical bodies but not our souls. Whether on the cross or on our life's course, our attitude will determine our response to circumstances. Maintaining a good attitude, focusing on what is good and right, and looking on the bright side of life will help us stay the course.

Although irreverent, it is not sacrilegious or blasphemous. The Life of Brian focuses on his birth, life and death. Pointedly absent is resurrection. Brian was a man and he did not rise from the dead. He whistled off into the sunset. Jesus, on the other hand, was Messiah. He died but he rose again (1 Cor. 15:20). And being resurrected he lives now. His resurrection allows us, his followers, to gain victory over sin and death even in our own lives (Rom. 6:8, Phil. 3:10).

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Noise -- sympathetic listening, empathetic suffering

Director: Matthew Saville, 2007.

This debut full length feature by Australian writer-director Saville is a complex psychological thriller. It starts with a bang, ends with a bang, and in between plays off the character of Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell).

A young woman, Lavinia Smart (Maia Thomas), carrying a large photo boards a subway train. As the train starts moving, a woman sitting near her slowly falls to the ground. Going to help, Lavinia discovers the shocking truth. The woman and other occupants of this carriage are dead, murdered in a heinous criminal act.
A second heinous crime has left another corpse in this town, linked somehow to the subway slaughter. The police are under pressure and a caravan (trailer) is set up near the second crime scene to allow witnesses to easily come in and give interviews to the police. to Constable McGahan. Disoriented, he collapses at the foot of an escalator, dizzy from a hearing problem. Diagnosed to be tinnitus, he is given a doctor's note and expects to be put on medical leave. But he is sorely disappointed. His superior ignores the note and instead of sick leave McGahan is sent to serve caravan duty.

Noise interweaves the stories of McGahan and Smart until their final intersection. Smart is scared. She is the lone survivor of the massacre, and the murderer somehow made off with the photo which has her name. Of the two detectives assigned to the case, one is blatantly unsympathetic while the other is more relational. But Smart thinks it is a case of good-cop, bad-cop.

McGahan, on the other hand, has his own problems. Tinnitus could be caused by a tumor. He has fears of cancer. Even the thought of it causes problems with his policewoman girlfriend.

Saville brings a discordant score to Noise that is uncomfortable. Yet this puts the viewer in McGahan's shoes, or rather his ears. At one point, he comes home with a loud ringing in his ears. So loud is it, that he turns on anything and everything, hi-fi, TV, faucet, radio, just so this other noise might drown out his inner noise. We get a real sense of how much noise, both external and internal, can affect a person.

But this noise problem has an impact on McGahan. He becomes a more sympathetic listener. As different people come into the caravan at night, he grows more patient in listening to them. Lavinia's photo turns up with a slogan spray-painted on it, the detectives won't tell her what it says. They are simply focused on the case, not worrying about the impacts on the victim. As the two narrative stories reach confluence, she asks McGahan to tell her what it says. She wants the truth, not some cockamamie platitude. Sensing her pain, he goes against police protocol and tells her.

Noise highlights this sense of empathetic sharing of suffering. Without his hearing problem, McGahan would not have been in this post. And it would have been unlikely that he would have resonated with Lavinia in her pain. In some ways, this illustrates the biblical idea of comfort arising from the ashes of suffering. Paul tells us "we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1:4). God will comfort his children in their hour of suffering. In turn, when we see others in trouble, we can proffer the hand of comfort. Having experienced it ourselves, we can empathize with others.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Monday, January 19, 2009

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- fruits of stealing

Director: George Roy Hill, 1969.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were two real outlaws, depicted in this film as likable rogues, a sort of western Robin Hood and his merry men. In real life they led a gang called "The Wild Bunch." But The Wild Bunch was a Sam Peckinpah film also released in 1969 so their gang is renamed as "The Hole in the Wall Gang."

Paul Newman plays Butch and Robert Redford is Sundance. They are salt and pepper. As Sundance says to Butch, "You just keep thinkin' Butch. That's what you're good at." And Butch replies, "I have vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals." Butch is the ideas man in the gang, while Sundance is the gunslinger, the skilled shooter. The film is really about them, their friendship and joint adventures.

The gang has been robbing banks and trains for long enough to make the news and become wanted men. Unlike some thieves, they treat the people kindly, trying not to hurt or kill. But when they rob one too many trains, a special posse is hired to find them. This posse is led by an expert Indian tracker. When the gang splits up to escape, Butch and Sundance are the ones the posse follows. And this posse won't give up. Too much of the film is given over to this chase.

Butch Cassidy is not as much fun as I remembered, when I saw it decades ago for the first time. It certainly has great chemistry between the two stars. Indeed, this was the first of only two films featuring Newman and Redford. (The second, The Sting, was a better film with a superior screenplay and plot.) But it is drawn out and gets slow and tedious towards the end. Even the banter between Butch and Sundance, along with their female friend, Etta Place (Katherine Ross), gets tiresome.

What makes Butch Cassidy less compelling is its ambiguous genre. It is a western that morphs into a "Thelma and Louise"-like road movie. Throw in an Oscar-winning Bacharach song, "Raindrops keep falling on my head," and some comedy, and you have this genre-mosaic.

Set around the turn of century, the times were changing. The West was being tamed. Horses were being replaced by motor cars and even bicycles. When the bicycle shows up Butch buys one to show Etta, and takes her for a ride around her farm to the Bacharach tune. Quite why this song or this scene is in the movie is unclear. But it is there. Butch, Sundance and Etts sail for Bolivia in South America, they think they are leaving behind all their problems. But new ones emerge and old ones pursue. The langauage is a barrier and it is fun to see Etta teach the two scoundrels "robbing-bank" phrases in Spanish. As they return to their old ways, they start to build up a notorious reputation as the "Yanqui Bandidos". The leader of the posse, too, shows up, still looking for Butch and Sundance.

Deciding to go straight has its problems, too. Ironically, they are given the job of protecting the payroll from robbers. Strother Man, who appeared with Newman in Cool Hand Luke as the prison captain, plays Percy Garris, the American miner in Bolivia eking out a living. He gives them an economics and an ethics lesson. If the payroll is stolen by bandits then the workers, including them, will not get paid. Money does not grow on trees. If it is stolen, this hurts the common workforce. Without pay they will struggle to surivive. Stealing may profit the thieves but will leave the poor peons pained and distressed.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid look like simple scallywags with cheerful chitchat. But they are really criminals, outlaws. And unlike Robin Hood, they did not give their loot to the poor. They splurged or spent it on themselves, drinking, partying, and gambling. They were really not role-models or heroes. A sheriff friend tells them the truth, straight,-up no holds-barred:
You know, you should have let yourself get killed a long time ago when you had the chance. See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you're still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you're still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It's over, don't you get that? Your time is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.

Whatever they thought of themselves, they were anachronistic law-breakers. Their crimes would catch up with them. They would pay with their lives.

The main ethical issue with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is it glamorizes stealing and living the outlaw life. Stealing is wrong. It is a sin. Both stealing and murder are listed in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20). In the end, they got what they deserved. They reaped the fruit of their choices.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cool Hand Luke -- anti-authority antiheroes

Director: Stuart Rosenberg, 1967.

"What we got here is . . . failure to communicate." So says the captain of the prison camp (Strother Martin) to Luke (the late great Paul Newman). This famous line epitomizes this film, which underscores the chasm between authority figures and iconoclastic loners.

We meet Luke at the start, a free man. But he's drunk and taking heads off parking meters for the fun of it. For this misdemeanor he is sentenced to jail time. He will be working a Southern chain gang. Though not a prison, there are rules and regulations. Any infraction earns the prisoner a night in "the box," a wooden pillbox-like structure with no windows and no room to lie down. Even from the start, it is clear that Luke plays by his own rules. to himself, he quickly runs up against Dragline (George Kennedy), the unofficial leader of the chain gang. Determined to teach him a lesson, Dragline takes him on in the Saturday boxing fight. Beaten senseless, Luke keeps on getting up. What started as entertainment for the men and a form of humiliation for Luke, winds up being painful for everyone. They all want the beating to end. Even Dragline tells Luke, "Stay down. You're beat." But Luke responds, "You're gonna hafta kill me." Dragline leaves him punch-drunk, wandering on legs of jelly. Yet, this kind of determination earns a prisoner respect. And in a poker game later, Luke earns the friendship of Dragline and his prison moniker: "Cool Hand Luke."

George Kennedy won a best-supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Dragline. He shows him change from gang leader to a "puppy" that follows Luke everywhere, idolizing him. Even at the end, he preaches the legend of Luke. Newman, too, was up for an Oscar for this poignant performance, one of his finest and definitive, of a free-spirited man crushed by society's rules; but he lost out to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night. (Nominated 9 times, Newman won only one Oscar, for The Color of Money.) the men of the prison camp Luke is a leader, "a natural-born world shaker." But he does not want to be a leader. He has no plans, he lives moment to moment. He just wants to serve his time. He brings the unconventional to these men and gains their respect. But he also earns the eye of the bosses, the prison wardens, to whom he is a trouble-maker.

When his mother dies, the bosses preemptively put him in the box until the funeral is over, to stop him from running. This pushes his buttons. When he gets out he does run. But he can't outrun the baying dogs and the pursuing police. He is caught and given leg irons.

Luke was a symbol of hope to Dragline and the other men in the prison camp. They had their rituals but were following the rules and regulations imposed upon them. Luke brought a sense of freshness to this incarceration. We all need hope. We all need a breath of fresh air when our lives get stale. Jesus can offer us that hope (2 Thess. 2:16). He gives us that freshness that energizes and motivates us to keep going even in the monotony of life. Luke was an antihero. His was a life of breaking the rules, of doing what he felt like doing regardless of the cost. And this cost him his freedom. Jesus, on the other hand, is our true hero. He has given us some rules to follow. The two greatest commandments, he tells us, are to love our God and to love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). The rest of the Law, the Old Testament, can be summed up in these two (Matt. 22:40). He also gives us a new commandment, to love one another (John 13:34). The life Jesus wants us to live is not one that is overly constrained by a list of dos and don'ts. He wants us to be free, but within the constraints of love. We still need to live within society's rules. We cannot become anarchists or even iconoclasts like Luke. Instead, to live like Jesus is to experience real life, life to the full (John 10:10).

Luke could not be held back by a simple set of chains. It is as if he relishes the opportunity to challenge authority. Or perhaps he simply wanted to savor the freedom he once tasted. Regardless, he ran again, knowing that this third time would be his last. When he finds himself trapped in an abandoned church, he finally offers up a prayer to God: "Anybody here? Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can you spare a minute. It's about time we had a little talk." It's said that there are no foxhole atheists. And Luke, an atheist, exemplifies this. Surrounded by police and the bosses wanting to gun him down, he finally turns to God. Although acknowledging his existence, Luke clearly has a distorted theology. He sees God as the old man in the sky.

His prayer continues: "You've got to admit You ain't dealt me no cards in a long time. It's beginning to look like You got things fixed so I can't never win out. Inside, outside, all of them . . . rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am." Luke knows he is in trouble, yet he blames God for his problems. Like Adam in the garden who, when confronted by God with his sin, shifts the blame to Eve and God (Gen. 3:12), who gave him the woman, so Luke will not accept responsibility for his own actions. Most of us are like Luke and Adam. We want to find someone to blame for our problems, our predicaments. But we must play the hand we are dealt, whether it is a cool hand or not. God will give us fresh grace for each day; his mercies are new each morning (Lam. 3:22-23).

Luke closes his prayer. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I guess I'm pretty tough to deal with, huh? A hard case. . . . Yeah. I guess I gotta find my own way." After all his praying he is no better off than when he started. He ends the movie as he begins, not listening to authority. Ironically, his prison number, 37, is a reference to Luke 1:37: "For nothing is impossible with God." It takes faith to believe in the God of the impossible. Luke was a loner whose faith was in himself alone. He had no time or room for faith in others, even God. Loners may be heroes (or antiheroes) in the movies but not in real life. We need God.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Transsiberian -- lenses and lies

Director: Brad Anderson, 2008.

"Kill off all my demons, Roy, and my angels might die, too," says Jessie to her husband Roy near the start of the movie. We get the sense that her character is multifaceted in contrast to Roy. Indeed, Transsiberian is built around her character and her ever-present camera.

Roy and Jesse are returning from a two-week missions trip in Beijing through their church. She has been taking photos of children, her pictures showing something of God's grace in the lives of these little ones. But it is clear that it is Roy's church and his faith, not so much theirs. Woody Harrelson gives Roy a naive, almost childlike faith, in God and people. He is the small-town store owner from the mid-West. In contrast, Jessie has a dark past. The trans-Siberian train ride to Moscow is Roy's idea of adventure for them, an opportunity to patch some marital problems.

When handsome but suspicious couple Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), English teachers overseas, join them as their cabin-mates their compartment feels claustrophobic. How can they reestablish their marriage with these strangers merely feet away?
The movie opens with a scene from a Russian port. A boat deck with a body, the frozen corpse still sitting at his dinner table. A knife is buried in his neck up to the hilt. Russian Narcotics Detective Grinko (Ben Kingsley) quietly observes and discovers a drug smuggling compartment that is missing the drugs. Picking up the phone left on the table, he walks away from the scene. This short prolog sets the scene for the story -- it is one of drugs stolen, of cruel Russian police pursuing barbaric criminals. It is not for the faint of heart. carefully builds the tension slowly. The first act introduces the main characters. When Roy goes off with Carlos and never reboards the train there is an air of mystery; something sinister is afoot. This continues as Grinko embarks on the lookout for students or young people who are mules, running drugs for the Russian mob. When Carlos and Abby fail to get back on the train, Grinko becomes their new compartment occupant. He is the last person Jessie wants in her cabin. This deepens the plot and adds a further threatening element to her demons.

Who is good and who is bad? As Jessie says at the start, we all have our demons as well as our angels. We are more than one-dimensional. Jessie is a great example of this, but it is true in reality. Biblically, we are touched by sin (Jer. 17:9). This has impacted all of our being, our mind, emotions, will, motivations, etc. We may have good qualities but even these are marred so that, as Isaiah puts it, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isa. 64:6). Paul echoes this when he says, "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10). We are complex characters with our fair share of both good and bad.

It is implied, here, that we can change another person. Of course, that is wrong. The only person we can change is ourself. It is implied, too, that in making someone better we will destroy their good qualities as well; we might make them boring, mundane, a kind of Roy-like figure. Anderson seems to suggest that only by having some demons, some dark past, can we have a bright present. This is like those in the church that wish they had a "powerful testimony," perhaps a drug or criminal past from which they have been saved. A person from a Christian home who came to follow Jesus as a child would have no striking story. But this is errant thought. A person does not have to have a full set of demons to have an angelic future. Indeed, Jesus lived a sinless life, no demons, no dark secrets, no skeletons in the closet (1 Pet. 2:23). Yet, his is the purest, most perfect life; his is the most beautiful character of anyone who has ever lived. problem with Transsiberian is that it becomes contrived, even preposterous, as it moves towards its climax. And Jessie's character crumbles under pressure. Yet, the tension keeps us engaged. There is a scene of gruesome torture that is hard to watch, but conveys the seriousness of the situation that Jessie finds herself in. And it is her camera that plays a key role in bringing resolution to the film. As she hid behind her camera, seeing the world through its lens, so the world can see what she sees. And captured on digital film, it provides evidence for and against her.

Emily Mortimer, the sister-in-law in Lars and the Real Girl, gives another superb performance showing the fragility of a woman caught up in a past that had its problems and a present full of lies. She holds her ground against Oscar-winner Kingsley. Indeed, Jessie's character exposure and dissolution are the highlight of this film. When she faces Grinko, and he is questioning her, he knows she is lying and hiding something. He says: "In Russia, we have expression. 'With lies, you may go ahead in the world, but you may never go back.' Do you understand this, Jessie?" A crucial moment in the plot, Jessie must make a decision: to tell the truth and face the consequences, or to lie and live with its web of deceit. This becomes the pivotal moment.

Transsiberian reminds me of Wolves in the Snow. Both films are layered thrillers. Both films are set in snow-covered locales. Both films are centered around a woman who must make a decision, and in choosing the path of deceit find circumstances spiral out of her control. In both films the message is clear. Lies will catch you out. You can't escape them.

Ethically, we know this is true. A lie might seem easy at the time. But once spoken, it must be remembered and all evidence that would refute it must be hidden or destroyed. Such subterfuge takes an enormous toll, on the character as well as on the pscyhe. This is seen in the face of Jessie, as her easy smile becomes a permanent frown. Would we be more like Roy, child-like and open-faced, smiling, or like Jessie, layered and hidden, frowning? Don't make the mistake of seeking to go ahead in the world through the little white lie. You will regret it.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Incredible Hulk -- being god-like

The Incredible Hulk Artwork

Director: Louis Leterrier, 2008.

Last year (2008) was a great year for superhero movies. Arguably the best film of the year reprised Christian Bale's Batman as The Dark Knight and had a career-defining performance by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. We also saw Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, a role perfect for his deeply flawed yet sardonically wise-cracking character. Where Dark Knight was dark and moodily philosophical, Iron Man was light and fun. Also from Marvel comics comes The Incredible Hulk. This is no Iron Man. It's all action but nothing deeper than that.

The plot is familiar to readers of the comic book or the old TV series. (And Lou Ferrigno, the Hulk in the TV series, has a cameo as a security guard and also provides the voice for the Hulk here, an enormous total of 6 words.) Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has been contaminated in a freak laboratory experiment. His blood has been changed by the gamma radiation and whenever he gets excited and his pulse rate increases too much, he transforms into the Hulk, the big green monster. General Ross (William Hurt) is looking for him, since this discovery has tremendous military potential. But Banner has gone into hiding, leaving his girlfriend Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), Gen. Ross' daughter, behind to find a new life.

The Incredible Hulk Movie StillAt the start of the film, Banner is working in Brazil. When Gen. Ross finds evidence of him there, he sends a team of soldiers to capture him led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). Of course, things go awry in the carefully planned take-down. The night-time chase sequence across the roof-tops and into the deserted bottling plant is a action-packed opening. But when Banner is trapped his pulse rises and the Hulk comes alive.

In an interchange with Blonsky, Gen. Ross tells him, "Banner's work was very early-phase. It wasn't even weapons application, he thought he was working on radiation resistance. I would never have told him what it was really for, but he was so sure about what he was doing he tested it on himself. And something went very wrong . . . or it went very right." This raises the ethical issue of informed consent. Banner was deceived in the work he was doing and so was ignorant of the risk and potential consequences. This was not even unplanned. Ross knew exactly what was going on. He was exploiting Banner for his own purposes. Even within government or military research, misinforming a civilian is improper, unethical and possibly illegal.

The Incredible Hulk Movie StillWhen Banner returns to the US to seek out a cure he returns to the university where Betty works. Of course, he is reunited to her, his one true love. But this sets the scene for the second Hulk sequence, when Gen. Ross once again sends in Blonsky and men to capture him. This time, Blonsky has had some modifications of his own to become stronger. But he is still not strong enough. Again, the Hulk escapes, this time with Betty who sees Banner's alter ego up close and personal.

The Incredible Hulk Movie StillThe scenes of Banner changing into the Hulk are clever, particularly showing the painful inner metamorphosis. Norton communicates the pain, both physical and emotional, in this transformation, but the resultant character is disappointing. He just looks too fake.

Banner finally meets up with a scientist helping him find a cure, Dr Stearns (Tim Blake Nelson) in New York. When Banner is captured, Blonsky tells Stearns: "I want more. You've seen what he becomes, right?" Stearns replies, "I have. And it's beautiful. Godlike." The aggressive Blonsky comes back, "Well, I want that. I need that. Make me that." And Stearns does. But what he creates is not another Hulk, but The Abomination, a larger, meaner, more aggressive creature. The finale sets up an extended fight sequence between The Abomination and The Hulk. the climax to Iron Man, we see two larger than life characters duking it out while a frightened populace runs and hides. However, in Iron Man Stark is fighting Stane in a conscious battle of good versus evil. Here, the Hulk has very limited mental ability. Banner's thoughts and memories are clouded by the anger and fury. So in this final fight, it is more one of might vs more might than good vs evil.

Moreover, another comparison with Iron Man is worth mentioning. The supporting characters surrounding Downey Jr, with the exception of Rhoades, are first-rate, making full use of the strength of that cast. They have depth and feel real. Here, the characters mostly feel one-dimensional. Gen. Ross and Blonsky are caricatures that could have been played by most actors in Hollywood. Norton does well as a convincingly conflicted Banner, but he seems to be working alone.

The key theological theme here is the desire to be godlike. Blonsky sees beauty in the raw power and aggression that Banner displays when he becomes Hulk. To him, godlike equates to power and strength. Certainly, God is almighty, all powerful (Jer. 32:7). But there is so much more to God than simply brute strength. He is multi-faceted, more than we can know. But we do know, from biblical self-revelation, than God is all-love (1 Jn 4:8), all-holy (Isa. 6:3), pure and perfect beyond comprehension (Matt. 5:48). He is all-knowing (1 Jn. 3:2), all-wise (Rom. 16:27). Like Hulk, he is wild and dangerous, untame. But where Hulk, or even the Abomination, could destroy cars and choppers, city buildings, God can destroy whole planets. These are the planets and galaxies that he has created (Gen. 1:1). God is not safe, but he is good.

Further, like Blonksy, mankind wants to be like God. Satan's first interaction with humanity in the Garden of Eve was to offer a tempting but deceptive promise to Adam and Eve: "For God knows that when you eat of it [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). This initial temptation led to original sin, and it continues today. We might want to be like God, but we are not God and we will never be God. Only in following Jesus can we become like God as we become Christ-like. And this is not a one-time event, via some form of injection. Rather, it is a life-long process as the indwelling Holy Spirit changes us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18. Rom. 8:29).

We can become a "holy Hulk," morphing from the old person into the new creation, if we let the Holy Spirit have his way in our lives.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Trap (Klopka) -- a moral dilemma

Director: Srdan Golubovic, 2007.

Parenting is a tough and often thankless vocation. It can be painful, even sacrificial. More painful, though, is to watch a son or daughter suffer helplessly. What would we do, what lengths would we go to, what would we give, to save one of our children? That is the question that we face in this movie.

Set in modern Belgrade, The Trap is a strong atmospheric Serbian drama focusing on a moral dilemma. When his son, Nemanja (Marko Djurovic), comes down with a serious heart condition causing seizures and risk of imminent death, only surgery can save him. But this surgery must be done in Berlin and is expensive. It is more money than Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac) and his wife Marija (Natasa Ninkovic) can come up with. When all else fails, Marija takes out an ad in the paper begging for help. The shocking answer to this ad, and to Mladen's need, comes in a cell phone call. A man offers to pay the entire amount plus expenses if Mladen will kill a businessman in return. So, here is the dilemma. If Mladen refuses this offer his boy will inevitably die; but if he accepts this offer he will become a murderer, saving his son but losing his soul. Trap shows the huge divide between the wealthy and the workers in Serbia, a country in transition, struggling to find itself. Mladen is one of the workers. When Marija, a teacher, agrees to privately tutor one of her students, she sees the divide first-hand. The student's home has a picture frame that costs more than the surgery her son needs. Literally, this frame is worth more than his life. Post-war Belgrade is filled with such paradoxes.

Two scenes epitomize the sense of helplessness and despair. In the first, we see Mladen rush Nemanja to the hospital unconscious. As his son is wheeled away on a gurney, the camera moves with it leaving Mladen at the end of a long corridor looking on, shrinking in perspective. There is nothing he can do. His son is leaving him. He stands forlorn, a picture of impotence. second scene has Mladen and Marija sitting in their old Renault at a red light in the pouring rain. As the wipers swish back and forth, the couple sit there silently. The traffic light, reflected in the surface water on the road, slowly turns from red to yellow to green and back to red. They are in no hurry. There is nowhere for them to go or to turn. They are in a sea of despair, alone yet together.

Golubovic uses close-up shots of Mladen's and Marija's faces to show the inner turmoil and emotions. He also has Mladen talk directly to the camera, almost an act of religious confession, even from the start. He wants to do the right thing. But what is the right thing to do in these circumstances?

In a film like this, it is clear that there will be no happy ending. This will end in tragedy, though it is unclear who will die or how. It is apparent that Mladen, in sheer desperation, will accept the offer since there is no other option. But making a deal with the devil is indeed a terrible thing. The devil is a liar (John 8:44) and does not always make good on his promises. The trap is set and ready to be sprung.

The Trap in some ways reminds us of the Hollywood Indecent Proposal. There, millionaire Robert Redford was attracted to Demi Moore and wanted to sleep with her. He offered her and her husband $1M for one-night of sex with Moore. That indecent proposal was itself a moral dilemma. But in that case both parties could walk away the next day. Sin might occur, guilt would still result, but no one was left dead on the floor. Here the dilemma is much more deadly. Trap has some intriguing twists and turns along the way, especially as the victim's wife Jelena (Anica Dobra) comes onto the scene. Murdering a businessman is one thing. But he also has a wife and a child. Killing him leaves a widow and an orphan. Mladen can see the devastation that one bullet could cause.

The Trap paints a picture of a father in pain. Fathers are supposed to be strong, able to provide for their children in times of need. Fathers are supposed to make things better. When they cannot, something is wrong. When it is a matter of money, there is a sense of social injustice. When the rich can buy baubles to beautify their homes while beautiful boys lie dying in hospitals needing these baubles to buy their lives, something is indeed amiss. The wilderness of the cityscape has invaded the souls of its inhabitants.

What would we do? If this were your son, laying amidst the tubes and monitors in a hospital bed, would you commit the unthinkable to save his life? If it cost you imprisonment or death would it be worth it? If you got away with it but lived a guilt-racked life, would it be worth it? On the other hand, how painful would it be to sit with your son and watch him die slowly in front of you. Moreover, would his death haunt you, change you, perhaps even bringing on separation and divorce? Ethically, the solution is clear. It is a sin to commit murder (Exod. 20:13). Accepting the proposal would be unbiblical and unethical; the resulting guilt could be soul-consuming. But denying the proposal would be killing off a part of yourself. Ultimately, life lies in the hands of a good God. He can work miracles. He can provide when provision is impossible. But he does not always do so. Perhaps the right thing to do would be to trust and pray that God would work his will in his way. Do you have the faith for such a prayer?

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs