Thursday, July 30, 2009

Young Frankenstein -- reviving the dead

Director: Mel Brooks, 1974.

What a great year for Mel Brooks 1974 was. He had two hit comedies. It was on the set of Blazing Saddles that Gene Wilder convinced Brooks to do Young Frankenstein next. And together they co-wrote the screenplay.

This is an hilarious parody of the Frankenstein horror movies of the 1930s. The whole mood and tone of the film, including its black-and-white print, and actual sets and props from the 1931 original, give it a creepily realistic atmosphere. Its only drawback is that it wanes towards the end. By the time the credits roll, the jokes and humor have all been wrung out of this horror-spoof.

Gene Wilder plays Dr Frederick Frankenstein, a young neurosurgeon and grandson of the infamous Victor von Frankenstein. But he is so ashamed of his ancestor that he changes the pronunciation of his name. When, at the start, he concludes a medical lecture, one obnoxious student showers him with pointed questions, culminating with: "But as a Fronkensteen, aren't you the least bit curious about it? Doesn't bringing back to life what was once dead hold any intrigue to you?" That was too much. Young Frankenstein, yells out, "You are talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind! Dead is dead!" Of course, he will change his mind as the movie progresses.

Young Frankenstein has a naturalistic philosophy. He sees nothing beyond this life. Dead is dead because physical life is all there is. And so, to him and to many others today, you go around once and then you're done. There is nothing more. But this is antithetical to biblical and theological truth. This life is the prelude to what will come later. We are creatures with body, soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12). We will live on in spirit even when our bodies die and decay. Where we live, with God or apart from God, is determined by choices and lifestyles in this physical life (Matt. 25:31-46).

When young Frankenstein is informed that he has inherited his grandfather's castle in Transylvania, he determines to go there but remain aloof from the family "tradition". Leaving his fiancee Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) in the States, he arrives in Transylvania and meets Igor (the bug-eyed and oh-so-funny Marty Feldman) and his lab assistant, Inga (Teri Garr). Their meeting and ride to the castle, where they meet the sinister house-keeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), is replete with one-liners and sight jokes that get the audience rolling.

Once into the castle Frankenstein discovers his grandfather's lab notes and finally gives into the curse of the family tendencies. He wants to bring the dead back to life. Robbing the grave of a giant of a man, he is one step away. He sends Igor to steal a brain, but Igor returns with the wfong brain, an abnormal one. When the experiment is ready, at the peak of the lightning storm, young Frankenstein cries out in desperation, "LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION . . . LIFE!"

The irony is that the scientist who sees no life beyond death is calling out to something beyond himself. Who is out there to hear him? Certainly not the lightning or the storm. No, it must be something with will and personality and power. He may not realize it but he is calling out to the creator of the universe.

There is only one true creator, and that is God (Gen. 1:1; Acts 17:24-25). The Lord created the universe out of nothing and all that was first formed, ex nihilo (Heb. 11:3). He now sustains his creation moment to moment (Col. 1:17). Like God, we are creators, having been made in his image (Gen. 1:26). But not in the sense of having the power to form life as he did, or even give life. We cannot play God.

Indeed, there is a huge difference between reanimating or reviving the dead and resurrecting the dead. Jesus, when he walked the earth 2000 years ago, raised several people from the dead. The most famous of these was his friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:43-44). But this revival was not permanent. It was not a means to immortality. Lazarus died again, later. He who had tasted death and knew what was beyond the grave came back for an extension of life, not for eternal life. The monster, too, would die once more. But we have immortality. As humans this is part of our spiritual genetic make-up. We will die. But we will live again in an eternal home of our choosing. Better to focus on getting this future location right than on trying to defeat or avoid death. Death and taxes will get to all of us. Heaven will escape us if we avoid Jesus in this life.

Naturally, Frankenstein succeeds in reanimating the monster (Peter Boyle). Mayhem ensues as the monster escapes and the villagers fear for their lives. There are some terrific scenes, but two stand out. One is where the monster finds his way to the humble home of a lonely blind man (Gene Hackman in an uncredited role) who mistakes him for God's answer to his prayers. The other scene is where Frankenstein and his monster perform a song-and-dance routine on stage. Who can forget the monster in top hat and tails "crooning" the lines to "Putting on the Ritz"?

Despite this being a horror-spoof, love rears its head. Frankenstein realizes love is the key to life for the monster: "Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature, and I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life." This is analagous to the heart of the gospel, where the love of God is the only thing that saves us (Jn. 3:16). God wants to convince us, even while we are his enemies, that he loves us (Col. 1:21). And it did cost him his life (Col. 1:22). He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, bearing our sins and iniquities, all the things that separated us from him. We can now experience true life, being saved by Jesus' love. And when we do, we are choosing genuine life now (Jn. 10:10), and future life in heaven with the Father (Jn. 14:2). What a powerful truth Young Frankenstein leaves us with.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre) -- authenticity and acceptance

Director: Pedro Almodóvar, 1999.

As an openly gay film-maker, Spanish director Almodóvar creates provocative and colorful movies. All About My Mother is no exception and is centered around characters that might be offensive to some: lesbians, transsexuals, prostitutes and a pregnant nun. Yet, his film is a compassionate melodrama that depicts these characters as real people experiencing love and grief, acceptance and rejection.

Women dominate Almodóvar's films, unlike any produced in Hollywood. In his later film, the terrific Talk to Her, the shadows of the two comatose women cover the film and eclipse the two male leads. The silence of the women shouts volumes to these men who can only listen and learn. Likewise, he fills All About My Mother with strong female roles. Yet there is no corresponding man to act as counterpoint. The only male role of depth is Esteban (Eloy Azorín), the 17-year-old son of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), and he dies in the first act.

Manuela is center stage in this movie. She is a single mother living in Madrid on the eve of her son's birthday. Having fled Barcelona while pregnant, she has raised Esteban alone without reference to his father. Even her photos have been torn in two to remove all trace of the man. We see mother and son watching TV, the old Hollywood classic, All About Eve. And in some ways, this presages Manuela's immediate future, as she becomes something like Eve Harrington from that film.

When Esteban is killed in a freak accident after watching Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes) and her lesbian lover Nina (Candela Peña) in the play, "Streetcar Named Desire," Manuela reads his private notebook. What he really wanted, more than anything, was to know all about his father.

Though Esteban wanted to find out all about his father, this movie is really all about his mother.

Grief-stricken, she determines to give up her job and return to Barcelona looking for her long-lost lover and father of Esteban. Arriving in Barcelona at night, she dramatically reunites with Agrado (Antonio San Juan), a she-male prostitute: a man with breasts, who lives as a woman. With Agrado, she visits Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a nun who ministers to the hookers. However, she finds Rosa is pregnant and needs someone to take care of her. Manuela needs a job and lands one working as personal assistant to Huma. As the movie plays out, Manuela finds herself as the mother figure in the middle of these three flamboyant females.

One of the implicit themes of All About My Mother is authenticity. Toward the end of the film, when Huma and Nina cannot perform in "Streetcar Named Desire," the producer is ready to cancel the show and give the audience their money back. Instead, Agrado persuades him to let her go on stage and offer to tell her story, explaining from her perspective what it takes to be real. Most of the audience are willing to listen instead of getting a refund. She tells them, "Well, as I was saying, it costs a lot to be authentic, ma'am. And one can't be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you've dreamed of being."

Authenticity is a critical theme biblically, too. We are called to live out our faith in honesty and genuineness. We are commanded not to lie to one another (Col. 3:9). Indeed, it shows up as one of the Ten Commandments ("You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor", Ex. 20:16) and is repeated numerous times in the New Testament. Biblical living is authentic living, showing who we are to those around us. It means not covering up our faults but working to change in life transformation. It means not hiding our sins, but confessing them (Jas. 5:16) and receiving forgiveness from our heavenly father (1 Jn. 1:9).

But in Almodóvar's eyes, authenticity includes acting. When Huma asks Manuela if she can act, she replies, "I can lie very well, and I'm used to improvising." Acting is the cover that frees people to be who they want to be. And in so doing, they become authentic people, the people they always wanted to be. In this sense, by acting we can change who we are, our very nature, our gender. His becomes a very elastic definition of gender and womanhood.

This view is counter to biblical truth and is morally wrong. Certainly we can change. Indeed, God calls us to change, to be transformed (Rom. 12:). But such change is in turning from our old selves and habits to Jesus and hence become more and more Christ-like (Col. 3:5-10). If we act our way into a persona and lie to convince others that we are someone that we are not, we are living inauthentically, not authentically. One of the sins most condemned by Jesus was hypocrisy. The religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, part on a religious mask that hid their dark hearts. In his words, they were "whitewashed tombs" (Matt. 23:27). In fact, the term hypocrisy comes from the greek word meaning to "actor." Such living is duplicitous. Almodóvar's bias becomes clear here.

If authenticity is the first theme, acceptance is the other. While Rosa's parents cannot accept Manuela, thinking she is a hooker, Manuela is accepting of those around her, even those who are diseased, disabled or disturbed by their natal sexuality. Their bigotry and prejudice is in sharp contrast with Manuela's compassion and care.

What a contrast this is with many traditional churches, who make it difficult for the marginalized to enter their doors. But just as Jesus ministered to the outcasts of society, so we also are commanded to do likewise. Today's outcasts are the prostitutes and lesbians, drug addicts and AIDS sufferers. Rosa gives a picture of a saint who cares but who falls into sin. We must care, like her and like Manuela. Will we put our faith into action even if it means rubbing shoulders with people who are transgendered? Will we love the lesbian while gently decrying the lifestyle? This seems to be a hard issue for the church today. Yet we must not and cannot simply ignore such men and women whose hearts cry out for love and acceptance and whose souls Jesus died for. Does he love us any more than he loves them? Absolutely not.

As All About My Mother comes to a conclusion, Manuela commits several striking acts of kindness to those who have been circling around her like planets around the sun. Her love transcends any sin or hurt that she has experienced. She looks beyond to offer grace to those in need. This is a fitting picture to end a poignant movie.

Some may write this film off as morally repugnant, supportive of gay and alternative lifestyles. But the movie is deeper than that. To appreciate it and be moved by it is to see the characters as real people craving acceptance. That's how God looks at all of us!

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Station Agent -- Dealing with loneliness

Director: Thomas McCarthy, 2003.

When was the last time you saw a film whose lead character was a dwarf? Other than Snow White (although there the dwarves were supporting characters)? It may be hard to remember. But Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral) does so here as the dwarf Finbar McBride and gives an outstanding performance.

Fin is a reserved man who loves trains and works with his friend Henry in a model train store. His life is quiet and ordered. But when Henry dies unexpectedly one day, Fin's life is thrust into change. His job is gone and he inherits a train depot in rural Newfoundland, New Jersey, a place not far from the middle of nowhere. This is fine since Fin wants to be alone, living a life of solitude.

His desire for isolation is not surprising. He is visibly different from those around due to his height. And he feels the brunt of the prying eyes and the barbed comments, the references to Snow White. In one tender and sensitive scene, Fin is getting drunk on his own in a tavern when he stands on the bar, drawing everyone's attention to himself, and tells them to take a good look at him.

Fin says to another character, "It's funny how people see me and treat me, since I'm really just a simple, boring person." This raises the issue of how we view people who are different from us. Do we see the appearance or the substance? Are we looking at a person, the human inside the skin, or at a perception? Too often, we see others who stand out as different and then put them down, ridiculing or mocking them. It may make us feel bigger or better than them, but it does not treat them with the love or respect they deserve. And it actually makes us smaller and uglier people.

Fin may have been small of stature but he was a real person with genuine feelings. He distanced himself from others who only saw his height and did not seek to know the person within. Having lost perhaps his only true friend, Fin came to Newfoundland to escape the looks and stares. He thinks he does not need a friend. He doesn't know he is actually lonely and in need of a genuine relationship.

However, Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a garrulous Cuban parks his father's vending van outside the train depot each day to sell coffee and food. Joe is lonely, too, and he is ready to push himself into Fin's life. He wants to talk to, even walk with him, and won't take no for an answer. He is like a puppy dog that keeps coming back to his owner even when he is not wanted. He simply cannot understand why Fin would want to be a recluse. this mix, McCarthy adds Olivia (Patrica Clarkson, Lars and the Real Girl), a clumsy artist who is separated from a controlling husband and who has secrets that keep her from opening up in friendship. This weird and quirky trio who have nothing in common become friends, drawn to Fin and his love of trains even though Fin wants no one around.

This is McCarthy's first film. He wrote and directed it on a shoe-string budget yet crafted a poignant and nuanced character study. He develops a wonderfully subdued tone and mood, not worrying much about the plot. The film is centered on these three characters, and it works thanks to their marvellous performances. Dinklage, especially, does excellent work with so few lines that must rely on facial expressions and mannerisms, his later film, The Visitor, McCarthy focuses on loneliness and relationships. At first Fin wants no one. He wants his books, his trains, and to be left alone. But humans are social creatures, needing interactions with others (Gen. 2:18). We were made to be with people, to be relational. The Bible tells us that friends stick closer than brothers (Prov. 18:24) and love us at all times (Prov. 17:17).

Even when the friendship breaks and Fin returns to his solitude, McCarthy shows us how it has changed Fin. He no longer can live without people. He is troubled by the pain experienced by his friend, Olivia. When he is rebuffed by her, as he had rebuffed others earlier, he begins to feel the loneliness that he had lived with.

Indeed, loneliness is the central theme that ties this film together. Each of the three characters has their own experience of loneliness, dealing with it differently. Fin protects his heart from hurt by shutting it away and then resigns himself to this self-imposed loneliness. No pain but no relationship. No opportunity for real growth. Joe's overly friendly approach to others has pushed them away from him, causing him to lose what he so desperately wants. A friendly man, he remains friendless. And Olivia is struggling with loss and her broken marital relationship has her questioning herself. She retreats into her art, not letting anyone in.

McCarthy makes it clear that relationships are what paint color into life and bring vibrancy to lives. Olivia's paintings were colorful but slightly askew, not enough to be considered surreal or symbolic but enough to be odd and awkward. Lives can be like that, too, when friendships and relationships are missing.

Two minor characters exemplify the power of friendships. Cleo (Raven Goodwin), a black elementary schoolkid who loves trains, befriends Fin and invites him to speak in front of her class. This invitation is akin to being given a death warrant, it sparks that kind of fear in Fin's heart. It would open him up to children, who say the funniest and meanest things. Then there is the librarian, Emily (Michelle Williams), who has a secret of her own and no friend to help her. As Fin warms up and opens his heart to others, we see the influence that others have on him and he on them. We grow in personal development and character as we allow others to share our lives.

There are times for retreat from others. Fin shows us the restorative power of being alone, walking and meditating on life. But these allow us to return to our relationships empowered and refreshed, ready to enjoy them more. McCarthy's debut film is a worthy award-winner and joyous tale of intersecting lives becoming transformative friends.

Copyright 2009, Martin Baggs

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Memento -- the danger of self-deception

Director: Christopher Nolan, 2000.

Memento started out as an idea for a short story that Jonathan Nolan, Christopher's brother, was developing. When they discussed it on a road trip together, Christopher decided to create a screenplay for the film at the same time as his brother was writing his story, a story originally called "Memento Mori" -- which means remember death. That is perhaps a better title, as the story is about a man's attempt to remember his wife's death and then seek vengeance on the killer.

Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) has created a complicated but highly intelligent and original brain teaser that keeps the viewer wondering what happened even as it ends. To do this, he interweaves two plotlines. The first is in color working backwards from the end. The other is in black and white in the present moving forwards .

The film opens with a scene of a man being killed at point blank range in an abandoned building. Leonard (Guy Pierce) is the killer but who has he killed and why? The opening tracks backward as the Polaroid photo he takes of his victim slowly fades and disappears. This is symbolic of Leonard's memories.

Leonard was an insurance investigator whose wife was raped and murdered during a burglary. He himself sustained a head injury that left him unable to make new memories. This is a real condition called anterograde amnesia occurring when the brain's hippocampus is damaged. Without short-term memory the sense of time disappears and the timing of events become indeterminate.

As he acts as his own private investigator, knowing little and remembering nothing, he comments: "Facts, not memories. That's how you investigate." He cannot rely on his memories as these are gone within minutes. Instead, he must rely on the "facts" and captures them with Polaroid photographs that he annotates or phrases he tatoos on his body.

So how do memories differ from facts? Leonard himself tells us, "Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation. They're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts." It certainly is true that memory can alter perception. Take any two witnesses of an event and their account will not agree with each other 100%. Indeed, eye witness accounts are often the least reliable in a court of law due to this fact. Yet, in questioning the reliability of memory Nolan raises the topic of hermeneutics, or interpretation.

We try to remain objective in interpreting events (or books, even films). But subjectivity creeps in. We cannot keep it out. The worse our memory the more questionable our account of the event and hence our interpretation of it. This is clear in Memento. Even though Leonard records facts to help him remember, are these facts true or twisted? How much self-deception is there? This is a key theme in Memento and we will return to it later.

Nolan builds a sense of desperation into this psychological thriller. The viewer sees everything from Leonard's perspective. He puts us in his head and in so doing gives us a subjective and distorted point of view. He is trying to make the audience question their own process of memory. This becomes as confusing for us as it is for Leonard. Yet, all the true facts are there for all to see.

Memento includes the classic tropes of film noir: voice-over narration from the protagonist; a seductive and dangerous femme fatale Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss, Trinity in The Matrix); a mysterious low-life/underworld character Teddy (Joe Pantoliano); several villains; and run-down locations. Yet this is clearly a postmodern film, one that could not have been made in the heyday of film noir. It has been described as nonlinear for its forward-backward scene interchanges, but Nolan argues that it is very linear, since each scene depends implicitly on its predecessor for the narrative to make sense. But for the plot to be understood, the whole must be seen and not just the parts. Memories and facts, seen out of context and disconnected, can lead to incorrect and deceptive conclusions.

And that brings us back to self-deception. Talking to Teddy, he says, "Will I lie to myself to be happy? . . . Yes, I will." Leonard knows his memory will fade and he will only remember the "facts" that he tatoos or photographs. He can easily deceive himself. Teddy retorts, "There's nothing wrong with that. We all do it." How true this is! We all do it to some degree or another. We deceive ourselves so we might ignore the truth. We pull the blinders over the eyes of our alleged objectivity and live in specious subjectivity.

Craig Detweiler, in his book "Into the Dark," devotes the bulk of a chapter to analyzing this movie. In an honest and self-revealing comment, he agrees, "Don't I filter out selective memories in creating my own personal history? Don't I choose which facts to inscribe on my heart and mind (if not my body)?"

This self-deception is an attempt to recreate identity. Teddy tells Leonard, "You don't know who you are anymore," to which Leonard replies, "Of course I do." "No, that's who you were. Maybe it's time you started investigating yourself." There is a gap between who Leonard was and who he is. His identity has undergone a transformation. His self definition is dependent on his memory.

Like Leonard we use our memories to define ourselves. When we alter our memories in self-deception we are seeking to redefine who we are. But this does not change the essence of our being. So, who can we trust, if not ourselves? Friends like Teddy or Natalie? We need a community of close friends to reflect our personas to our eyes. Yet, even such a community can only offer us a clouded mirror (1 Cor. 13:12).

What we really need is a totally trustworthy and reliable narrator who can speak truth to us. Where can we find such a person, an objective source? In Jesus. The Bible speaks to us honestly and bluntly. It is sharper than a sword (Heb. 4:12) and able to penetrate into the deepest recesses of our hearts. We are made in God's image (Gen. 1:26). Even if our memory fails, we still possess inherent dignity from this imago dei. Marred by the fall, we are remade by the sacrifice of Christ, who will help uncloud the darkness of our minds. Following him, we can begin to see clearly and avoid the dangers of self-deception.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Monday, July 20, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic -- Credit Cards, Addictions, and Identity

Director: P. J. Hogan, 2009.

With my son away, the girls got to pick the movie: a chick flick. Surrounded by the four fabulous females in my life, we watched this movie about shopping, the only all-female sport. Surprisingly, this rom-com was bright and funny and enjoyable. Hogan, with a good credit rating from directing Muriel's Wedding and My Best Friend's Wedding, fills this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's book of the same name with top-name acting talent and it more or less pays off.

"When I was 7 most of my friends stopped believing in magic. That's when I first started. They were beautfiul, they were happy. They didn't even need money. They had magic cards." Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher, Definitely Maybe) narrates this at the start of the film. These magic cards, of course, are credit cards.

According to Lowell Bergman, in a PBS investigative report, there are more than 641 million credit cards in circulation with an estimated spending of $1.5 trillion on them. Moreover, the average American household owes roughly $8000 in credit card debt. The apostle Paul turns this upside down when he says, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another" (Rom. 13:8). Even many Christians are trapped in this dark pit, perhaps having not read this verse.

This is clearly a cultural epidemic, and Bloomwood, a single woman sharing a New York apartment with her best friend Suze (Krysten Ritter), is twice the norm. She has numerous credit cards, a shopaholic desire to buy clothes and fashion accessories, and a resulting $16,000 in debt. Worse yet, the magazine she writes for folds and she is left with no job and no income. Through a confusion of two letters, ironically she is hired as a financial writer offering down-home financial advice at a sister magazine to Alette, the Vogue-like magazine she dreams of working at. And here she meets Luke (Hugh Dancey), the managing editor and workaholic British hunk. Cue Eros' love arrows.

But love is secondary to shopping for Rebecca, at least at first, as she compares the two: "You know that thing when you see someone cute and he smiles and your heart kind of goes like warm butter sliding down hot toast? Well that's what it's like when I see a store. Only it's better." But shopping is her addiction, like drinking is for some, and drugs for others. She paints the picture perfectly: "When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it's not, and I need to do it again." Addictions the world over, regardless of the focus, always demand another hit. They hold out the promise of escape, of glamour and pleasure, but leave the addict with more pain, trapped worse than before. Classic bait and switch.

Shopaholism is fueled by the culture of greed. We cannot escape it in 21st century America. Greed pursues us tirelessly. It is an attacker coming to destroy all in its path. But when we place our security in things or money life falls apart, as it did for Rebecca. At its heart is a deep discontentment and dissatisfaction with what we have. The apostle Paul, 2000 years ago, faced this demon and won. "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13). The secret was living in and for Jesus.

Greed is attitudinal and parasitic. It teaches us that we can change reality by owning stuff now. It seeks to changes our self-identity by surrounding us with nice stuff. Greed seeks to own us by making us own things.

Tim Osborn, lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Portland, gave three strategies to combat greed in a recent talk. First and foremost is to take an inventory of what you have and then thank God for all that he has blessed you with. Rebecca had closets full of clothes and shoes, and she had close friends and family that loved her. The latter were better than the former, nevertheless she could be thankful for all. Second, give. This is saying "Thank you" in action, putting shoe leather on our thanksgiving. And last but not least, look down at those less fortunate than ourselves instead of looking up at the wealthy (or looking in, as Rebecca did all the time as she looked into the store windows and saw things she simply had to have). There are poor people all around us who could use some help.

We are more than the things we own. Rebecca's parents are played by the marvelous but under-rated John Goodman (Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski) and Joan Cusack (Arlington Road, My Sister's Keeper). When they unknowingly take her advice and sell their savings to buy an RV, she tells them this vehicle defines them. But her dad denies this, "You and your mother define me." In contrast, Luke says his family doesn't define him. Self-identity becomes a key theme in Confessions.

We are. We exist. Family does provide some definition, even if some, like Luke, choose to deny. We spend our formative years in our parents' family then we often form our own families. We do become like those we are part of. We inherit their traits, genetically. We pick up their mannerisms, behaviorally. Rebecca's dad was closer to the mark.

For followers of Jesus, our identity is found in him. We are adopted into the family of God through him (Jn. 1:12). We have every spiritual blessing in him (Eph. 1:3). Jesus defines us. As we grow in him, we become more like him behaviorally. This is the doctrine of sanctification, becoming more and more like Christ in this life.

The next time you open your wallets or purses and see a full-house of credit cards it is time to reflect upon their hold on you. Do they define you? Do they control you? Or have you found your identity in someone bigger?

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Music Man - Selling Hope

Director: Jeff Bleckner, 2003.

Con-man movies can be a lot of fun. Think of the classic 1974 Best Picture, The Sting. Or more recently Confidence. Combining comedy and suspense they keep us engaged with divided loyalties, wanting the con to be successful while remembering in the back of our minds that these are criminal activities. Yet, The Music Man adds two new elements to the traditional con movie: romance and music.

I don't normally watch or review made-for-TV movies. For that matter, I don't normally watch musicals. But I planned a vacation trip to Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, to see a play and it turned out to be The Music Man. Since other family members had seen this, I needed to at least be familiar with the themes and songs, so chose this version over the 1962 original, which was not available in time.

Most of us have heard the song "76 Trombones" (76 trombones in the grand parade, with a 110 cornets close at hand). This is the film's signature song. (The 1962 version won an Oscar for best music.) It recurs throughout, and underscores the theme of the con itself.

Prof. Harold Hill (Matthew Broderick, the grown up Ferris Buehler) arrives in River City, Iowa by train at the turn of the 20th century. Apparently a travelling salesman, he is actually a con-man planning to play one on these staid and stoic midwesterners. His con is simple. He will make the townsfolk want a boys' marching band to counteract the "immoral" attraction of the new pool hall. Of course, he is ready to create this band, selling instruments and uniforms which he doesn't have and teaching what he doesn't know.

Hill has a problem though. Two actually: the mayor and Marian. Neither are mesmerized by his patter and pitch that leaves the rest of River City following him like the Pied Piper. Mayor Shinn (Victor Garber) smells a rat and seeks to discover more about Hill. Marian Paroo (Kristin Chenoweth) is the local librarian and music teacher, a beautiful but lonely "old maid," still living with her mother and younger brother. She suspects Hill has no education or knowledge in music. He only has his revolutionary new "think" technique.

Marian is a picture of procrastination. She has put off love, waiting for the right man who might come tomorrow. But Hill tells her, "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you've collected a lot of empty yesterdays." If we live for tomorrow we lose sight of the wonders of today. The psalmist wrote a lyric in one of his songs, "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psa. 118:24). God made each day to be enjoyed, even seized. Only as we fill each day with joy, love and gladness will we have a legacy of overflowing yesterdays to look back on. Hill is right about that.

At the start it seems Broderick might have been miscast, as he chants rather than sings his songs. But as the film progresses the chemistry between him and Chenoweth emerges as a strong element, and he holds his own in duets with her and her powerful voice. His boyish charm wins over the town and the audience.

When Hill initially makes his proposal to the town in their assembly, the general populace is divided. The councilmen are at odds with one another, The women are estranged from Marian. And the mayor's family is dysfunctional. But Hill causes immediate transformation with his brand of magic and music. The four councilmen become an instant barbershop quartet that are inseparable and always ready to break into song given an opening line.

Hill is selling a con, but he is selling hope to a town in need of hope. Rather than playing on greed or ambition, he chooses to focus on the empowerment of music. Though his motives are immoral, his message is not.

The Music Man makes us think about what we are selling. We are all salesman, in one way or another. We sell our ideas, our opinions, to others, trying to influence them to our way of thinking. But what is our product? Are we selling hope? Are we helping others to find that precious commodity that will enable them to survive, even thrive, for another day? Hope brings a smile to the face of a boy who dreams of being in a band even when the instrument is not in his hand. Hope brings laughter to a woman who sees the vision of her white knight appear when he is an ordinary clerk. Hope brings comfort to a child whose father has died and whose grieving heart has seen no light for months.

So, as you interact with your family, friends, coworkers and strangers, what are you selling? Is it something worth buying?

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- Unbreakable vows

Director: David Yates, 2009.

The Harry Potter phenomenon is back with this sixth installment of the series.Yates, who directed the last one (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is back at the helm, and will bring this epic to a close directing the remaining two films.

Prince picks up where Phoenix left off, without need for re-introductions. We know who the characters are. We remember the gripping conclusion of the fifth film: Voldemort is back, Death Eaters are on the prowl, evil is raising its ugly head. The effects are even being felt in the world of muggles. The opening scene here offers a dazzling display of special effects, following several death eaters on their whirlwind flight above and through the streets and alleys of London.

The series has come a long way. The CGI is impressive and believable. The acting has matured as the young actors have developed. Of course, surrounding them with the best of British thespians and leaving them there for almost a decade obviously has had an impact.

When Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emily Watson) return to Hogwarts, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). He has moved from Potions, and Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) has been enticed by Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to return as Potions Teacher. Joining Slughorn's potions class, Harry gets an old textbook with the inscription, "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince." Hence the film title. Prince details Harry's twofold mission: to find out who this Half-Blood Prince is, and to recover a memory.

Now that this trio of wizards is beyond puberty, romance is in the air in a strong way. This is one of the downfalls of this film. After the terrific start that is dark and dizzying, the movie turns light and comic, a mood that seems out of place given the circumstances. The first hour is focused on love interests that slow the plot down. Several of the scenes seem unnecessary and don't add much to the narrative development. What makes good reading in the book does not always make good viewing at the cineplex. However, the final half-hour is exciting and emotional, with a shocking ending.

Despite these criticisms, the film has some strong scenes. Most of these involve either Bellatrix Lestrange or the interchange between Dumbledore and Harry. Helena Bonham Carter brings a seductive malevolence to Lestrange which makes her perhaps the best wicked woman in recent movie history.

One particular scene has Harry and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) running through rippling fields of wheat in pursuit of Lestrange only to find themselves enticed in a trap. With more than a nod to Signs, this is one of the creepiest moments, and involves one of the few fight scenes in this film.

For all that, good versus evil is the recurring theme weaving its way through Prince. Harry Potter stands for good; Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) represents evil. Both these characters seem to pull away from their two close friends (Ron and Hermione, Crabbe and Goyle), so that they are much more isolated than in previous films. It is almost a classic mano-a-mano for these two teens.

As in earlier Potter films, choice is a key issue. Here, though, it is choice in the passive sense of being chosen. In response to a comment from Hermione, Harry says, "But I am the Chosen One." He has a sense of his role in the impending confrontation. If Harry is chosen on the side of good, Draco is the flip-side of the coin: "Voldemort has chosen Draco Malfoy for a mission." Both are chosen.

This sense of chosen-ness illustrates the imagery of Harry as a Christ-figure and Draco (and later Voldemort) as an anti-Christ figure. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate chosen one (Lk. 23:35). He fought the battle of good vs evil at the cross, where evil appeared to gain victory on "Good Friday" only to be conquered on Easter Sunday (resurrection day). Though the final battle is yet to come, good has triumphed thanks to this chosen one. He, in turn, has chosen us to follow him in this life (Jn. 15:19), experiencing victory even when circumstances make it look like defeat. In submitting to Jesus, trusting him and obeying his will, we can experience the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).

Speaking of obedience and trust, the best scene in the movie comes close to the start when trust is required. When Bellatrix Lestrange brings Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), Draco's mother, to see Snape, she slithers around him like a femme fatale, whispering "sweet" words in his ear until she finally commands, "Make the unbreakable vow." And this vow looks much like a wedding vow, with the couple standing hand in hand.

This raises the topic of "unbreakable vows" for us. In pledging ourselves in marriage, a pre-Fall biblical institution (Gen. 2:23-24), we commit to live as husband and wife until death. This is our unbreakable vow. Yet, how often is this vow broken, leaving a trail of heart-ache and devastation in its wake? Like Snape, we must enter into such vows with a sense of trepidation and holiness. As followers of Jesus, we stand on hallowed ground when we say our wedding vows "before God". To break the unbreakable should be unthinkable.

The unbreakable vow also makes us think about the promises of God which are his unbreakable vows. He has promised sinners a forgiveness that heals and purifies (1 Jn. 1:9). To all who would receive him and trust him, He has promised a place in his family as children of God (Jn. 1:12). He has promised these followers a love that is unbreakable (Jn. 3:16). He promised that nothing could separate them from this love (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, the Bible has a plethora of promises from the God of creation. But perhaps the most surprising and incredible promise is that he would be with us forever (Matt. 28:20), puttnig himself in us ("Christ in you, the hope of glory", Col. 1:27), giving us the very fullness of his being (Col. 2:9-10). He who could not be contained by space is now contained in these fragile and earthy clay jars of ours (2 Cor. 4:7).

Our job, in this life, is to obey what Dumbledore commanded Harry and Jesus commands us: "Trust me!"

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Munyurangabo -- Memories, Intolerance and Reconciliation

Director: Lee Isaac Chung, 2007.

Munyurangabo is a tough title. What is it? What does it mean? How do you pronounce it? It's a hard sell for an American audience wanting a catchy title and a fast-moving story.

Munyurangabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) is one of the two main characters. He and his friend Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) take a long, slow walk across Rwanda with mixed motives after stealing a machete from a town marketplace.

This is the first film by Korean American Chung, and it is the first film in the Kinyarwanda language. Chung, a Christian, went to Rwanda to teach Rwandans to make film, and he chose to do so by taking about 15 students and having them make this film with him. Using people with no acting experience as cast and crew, he let them become part of the whole process and shot the film in 11 days. Much of the dialog and details were shaped by these locals as the scenes were shot. This is an organic and unpretentious film. A risky movie, it is minimal and understated. It is a film for Rwanda by Rwandans. Slow but intimate, it shows their daily struggles. With little musical score, it leaves interpretation of the lean and anecdotal narrative to the viewer.

Chung opens the film with a quote from Isa. 51:19-20:
19 These double calamities have come upon you—
who can comfort you?—
ruin and destruction, famine and sword—
who can console you?

20 Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street,
like antelope caught in a net.
They are filled with the wrath of the LORD
and the rebuke of your God.
This sets the scene for the film -- the ravages, by famine and sword, of the land and people of Rwanda by the 1994 genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis.

The two teens on this journey set out for a common cause but end up divided by racial intolerance and hatred. 'Ngabo, a Tutsi, is on a mission of revenge, looking to kill the man who murdered his father. Sangwa, on the other hand, has his mission changed when he reunites with his family.

Stopping at his home village after 3 years away, Sangwa is like the prodigal son come home. Getting back into his family environment reminds him of all he left behind.

The middle section of the film focuses on this village life and there are some beautiful scenes of labor in the fields. My favorite scene shows Sangwa (and 'Ngabo) working to rebuild the wall of the family home with freshly made mud. He is doing this to gain his father's approval.

How true that we seek approval from our earthly fathers. When it is absent we feel an emptiness, a void. Lack of parental approval can be debilitating in many cases. As fathers, it is our responsibilty to pour out love and acceptance on our children, especially our sons. Disapproval can tear down a teen's fledgling self-esteem and leave him adrift in a sea of cultural and peer negativity. Yet, as Christians we need to look beyond our flawed earthly fathers to our perfect heavenly Father for approval. He is ultimately the one we should be striving to please. His is the "Well done!" (Matt. 25:21) we need to hear.

It is at Sangwa's home village that the tensions of racial division surface. Sangwa and his family are Hutus. Even after a decade the memories of the genocidal violence remain fresh, and the feelings of Sangwa's family, especially his father, fester like a weeping sore. This poison of racial intolerance not only impacts the hospitality received by 'Ngabo but damages the friendship between him and Sangwa.

Intolerance in any shape is sinful and evil. God has made humans in his image (Gen. 1:26). Whether male or female, black or white, African or Korean, Hutu or Tutsi, we are all the same in essence and have an innate worth and dignity due to the imago dei present yet distorted (Gal. 3:28). To do violence against or ill-treat anyone based on race, sex, color or religion is to harm a person that God loves as much as he loves you. Intolerance was at the heart of the Rwandan genocide and continues to be the root cause of many oppressions globally. Only with love and sacrifice can we rise above this.

As 'Ngabo goes on with his journey he is more rooted in his hatred of Hutus and out for justice. Then he meets a poet who has written a beautiful and moving memorial to the genocide and its after-effects. As the poet speaks directly into the camera in a lilting voice with rhythmic musicality, he focuses on more than the war. True justice includes things like poverty and disease and hardship. He asks the question, how can liberation come while we are still struggling with these. What a question!

Justice includes social justice. Followers of Christ look to bring hope in Christ as well as help in Christ. Chung himself went to Rwanda with YWAM (Youth With a Mission), but since Rwanda is 80% Christian, their need was not for evangelism but for aid.

Weaved throughout the film is the concept of memorials and memories. The poem that is so affective is remembering the war but not dwelling on it. The scenes of family life with Sangwa highlight the art of oral storytelling, which relies on memories. Memory is crucial in Rwandan life. Yet, memory is also what continues to create tension and trouble. As 'Ngabo moves forward with his mission he is motivated by his constant reflection on the memory of evil.

Paul addresses this in Philippians 4:8 -- "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Where we set our mind often defines how we use our body -- for good or evil. In 'Ngabo's case, he dwelled on hatred and became hateful. Only love can penetrate the hardness of heart that results. And love can beget love. Reconciliation starts with one heart that is changed.

As Munyurangabo ends, Chung leaves us with an image that depicts the desire for reconciliation, not necessarily giving us the answer for how to effect that reconciliation. Life is like that. We must desire something before we can attain it. Reconciliation requires hard work, but it is worth it. The alternative is too costly to consider.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jet Lag (Décalage horaire) -- connections and relationships

Director: Danièle Thompson, 2002.

Jet Lag is about connections and relationships. Not surprisingly two cell phones function as key props to propel the story.

The story is set in Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris and the airport Hilton hotel. Felix (Jean Reno), a chef and frozen food business owner, is arriving on a plane en route to Munich. He is jet lagged and grumpy. Rose (Juliette Binoche), a beautician, is departing for Acapulco. But labor strikes and bad weather shut the airport down.

Rose retreats to a bathroom while talking on her cell phone and accidentally flushes it away. Needing to complete her conversation, she asks to borrow a cell phone from a stranger, none other than Felix. Fate and lost cell phones brings them together in this French rom-com.

Ironically, Rose speaks a voice-over the begining of the movie as we see Felix sleeping in his first-class seat. She comments on how life is not like Hollywood films, and puts down these films. Life is not even like Andy Warhol's vision, where everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. The irony is that Thompson originally wrote this film for Hollywood, but then retooled it to direct itself her as a French film. Yet, it is more like a Hollywood rom-com than a Parisian love story.

Thompson brings together two fine European actors. Binoche is one of the greatest female actors alive. An Oscar-winner for her supporting role in The English Patient, her best work is in her French films such as Blue and The Flight of the Red Balloon. Moroccan Reno, has been a stock actor in many Hollywood films, such as Mission Impossible and The Pink Panther. Yet, somehow Reno seems too old for Binoche here, and their chemistry is subdued.

When Felix is offered a free room at the Hilton because of the inconvenience of the strike, he kindly offers to share it with Rose, with no hidden agenda since there are two beds. Indeed, as with most films in this genre, they begin with an indifference to one another than turns hostile before it can get through the masks that each wear.

Rose has a physical mask -- her make-up. As a beautician, she puts on the products of her trade and looks stunning. Yet, it is only when she takes off this mask that Felix begins to see her, to take notice of the beautiful woman who is sharing his room.

Felix' mask is his work. He is constantly working, trying to prove himself through his culinary creations. Yet, he is as frozen as the frozen dinners he concocts.

In their conversation over room-service dinner, it becomes clear that what they have in common is their misery. They are both miserable in their lonely lives. Rose has stayed in an abusive relationship with Sergio (Sergi Lopez), fearing escape. Felix simply cannot sustain a relationship. He now connects only through his cell phone, which goes off even at the most inopportune times.

Jet Lag is mostly superficial, an unthinking fun French frolic. Yet it does remind us that we need to remove our masks and face our fears if we are to move beyond loneliness into real and healthy relationships. Like Man on the Train, these two strangers have more honesty in their dinner dialog than most married couples, probably because they expect not to see each other again. True relationship is built on authenticity and transparency.

How often do we remain in a rut because we are afraid to move on? How often do we lose ourselves in our work because we are afraid of commitment to a partner or spouse? When he made humanity, God said "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). We are very blessed if we find a soul-mate who completes us as Eve did for Adam. If you have that person, put the cell phone down, take your mask off and talk to her with heart-felt honesty. If you don't have that person, pray and ponder. Don't settle for empty relationship or abusive ones. Look for the real thing!

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lake Tahoe -- helpless becomes helper

Director: Fernando Eimbcke, 2008.

There are slow films and there are SLOW films. Lake Tahoe, a Mexican film, is certainly one of the latter.

Juan (Diego Catano) crashes his red Nissan against a pole and spends the rest of the film searching for a way to get it fixed so he can drive it home. Along the way he interacts with several people in the old and dusty, semi-abandoned Mexican town he calls home.

Eimbcke frequently uses long-take shots where the camera doesn't move but the actors do. We see Juan walk slowly from one side of the screen to the other. And the camera stays on the take even after he has exited the shot. Add to this the long blackouts, that last several seconds with sound still playing and bring us to a new scene. This is a most atypical movie.

Juan's crash occurs during one of the blackouts so it is unclear what caused the crash. But he takes it stoically. Indeed, Juan seems to be a young man devoid of emotion. As he walks the streets looking for an auto-shop, he is searching for something more than just the distributor harness. He is searching for meaning to make sense of what has happened in his life.

In some ways Juan is a metaphor for all of us. We are all searching for something. We all want to discover meaning, to make sense of life. We don't always find the answer. When we do, it is cathartic. It is like finding the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. But for some, that piece proves elusive.

Juan passes a number of closed auto-repair shops before he comes to Don Heber's (Hector Herrera). But walking in, he comes face to face with Sica, a huge golden boxer dog. Don Heber tells Juan what the problem is but does not have the part, so Juan has to find a parts store. That is where he meets David (Juan Carlos Lara II) and Lucia (Daniela Valentine), two more offbeat characters. Lucia is a young, single mom while David is a mechanic by trade and a Bruce Lee fan and Shaolin acolyte by choice.

When David takes Juan to his home for the part, his mother prepares breakfast. David offers Juan a Shaolin book, but his mom offers him the gospel. As she preaches on the resurrection out of 1 Cor 15, David tells her to leave Juan in peace. "In peace, that's how I want him to leave," she retorts. But Juan simply leaves. Juan does not find meaning in Buddhism or Christianity.

David's mom gives an illustration of Paul's admonition to "make the most of every opportunity" (Col. 4:5). This was her one and only interaction with Juan and she seized the moment. However, she had no relational connection to him, and this overt evangelizing (by both her and her son) was enough to drive Juan away. We need to pay attention to the first part of this verse: "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders." We cannot simply throw the gospel into the faces of unbelievers; this is akin to casting pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:6). We need to be sensitive and selective.

As Juan seeks help from Don Heber, Lucia and David, they in turn ask him for help. Don Heber wants him to walk Sica and Lucia wants him to watch her child. Neither works out the way they think. Isn't this just like life!

While Juan is in need of help, he finds the opportunity to help others. And he does not refuse. This is the essence of ministry -- serving others. While David's mom sought to impose her beliefs on Juan without invitation, service often provides openings for the gospel. Even if it doesn't, serving others is the essence of the gospel. As Jesus said of himself, "Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28).

When Juan later takes Don Heber in search of Sica, they find the dog. Lost no more, but this loss was perhaps for the best. Juan, too, seems to find something that makes sense of his situation enabling him to emerge from his emotionless state. Like his car, brokeness can be repaired. Like his car, it might take patience to work through. There is hope even when all seems grim and depressing.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

Friday, July 3, 2009

Definitely, Maybe -- the complexities of life and love

Director: Adam Brooks, 2008.

Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds, The Proposal), a successful advertising executive in New York receives a letter at his office. Divorce papers. His marriage is finally over. What a way to start a romantic comedy. With such a downer of an opening, is it worth watching the rest of the film? Definitely. Maybe.

When Will picks up his 10 year-old daughter Maya (the amazingly cute and precocious Abigail Breslin) from school, he, like the other parents, is in for a shock. She had sex ed and learned the names of the anatomical parts of adult bodies. Not what he expected. So, is this movie fit for a grade-schooler? Definitely . . . not. Unless you want them to hear all the reproductive body parts casually spoken numerous times.

Definitely, Maybe Publicity StillThat night bedtime stories take a twist. Maya wants to hear about how she came into being. "Tell me how it happened. And the real story, not the 'Oh we met, we fell in love, and we decided to take all that love and make a family, and that's how we made you.' " This from a 10 year-old! Will reluctantly agrees, and so begins the rom-com, in flashback-mode. The catch is, Will had three major loves and he won't say which one was Maya's mom, his soon-to-be ex-wife. For Maya, this is a terrific idea: "It's like a love story mystery."

Definitely, Maybe Publicity StillAll three women are vastly different in character and appearance. Emily (Elizabeth Banks) is Will's college sweetheart back in the sticks of Wisconsin. She is sweet and cloying, a dependable girl-next-door type. Blonde and beautiful, she seems perfect for the young Will who is a naive and starry-eyed aspiring politician. But when he moves to New York to serve as an intern for the local Clinton campaign, she stays behind in the mid-west.

The Big Apple is miles away from Wisconsin physically and culturally, a fact that young Will soon discovers. His work at the campaign is not the glory-seeking speech-writing he envisioned. Rather, he is toilet paper man! But in being a gopher, he meets copy girl April (Isla Fisher). She is a ginger (no disrespect to red-heads, I was one once). Free-spirited she is college-educated but an underachiever not really knowing what she wants. She is drifting along in life, needing friendship.

Definitely, Maybe Publicity StillThrough another errand, Will meets Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline), a drunken and debaucherous writer, and his current paramour is Summer (Rachel Weisz). She is the brunette, sophisticated and ambitious, a budding journalist who wants to learn what she can from her sexuagenarian lover.

In recounting this story to Maya Will makes it clear that love is not simple, certainly not as simple as Hollywood often portrays. No, love is complex. As these three women interweave themselves in Will's story over the course of a decade, his affections change with the times. But there is a truism in the complexity of love. Love takes work, it takes giving. Love takes sacrifice. Biblically love can be traced to its source -- God. God is love (1 Jn. 4:16), and the love we have to share with others comes from him (1 Jn. 4:19).

We think love is something we get, but more often it is reciprocated when we first give. And like a red rose it grows and blooms as we continue to nurture it. A typical Hollywood rom-com ends with the "happy couple" finally getting together, but that is just the start. Unless there is commitment to sustain the relationship, the romance will fade and the love will languish and be lost. Love is more than a feeling. It is an action. We can act our way into feeling, but we cannot feel our way into acting. How many times have we woken up next to a loved one and not felt particularly loving toward them? But when we bring her breakfast in bed, and her eyes sparkle with gratitude that loving feeling is suddenly rekindled.

Definitely, Maybe Publicity StillIf love is complex, so too is happiness. Will plans a number of marriage proposals. In one scene, he is practicing his proposal speech: "So, will you, um, marry me?" Clearly he needs practice as she answers him, "Definitely. Maybe." Hence the title. But how many proposals must he express before he finds happiness?

The context of the 90s backdrop paints a picture of Will's loss of innocence and descent into cynicism and unhappiness. The political babe from Wisconsin grows up amidst the scandal of Clinton's affair with Gennifer Flowers. As Clinton's later news of his sordid encounters with Monica Lewinsky and the ensuing impeachment attempts progresses, Will's cynicism becomes depression.

As he tells his story, Will does not even realize how unhappy he is. What to Maya is self-evident is a mystery to him. What may have started as an attempt to reconcile her dad and mom, becomes a mission to see her dad happy: "I want you to be happy. . . . Trust me, dad. You're not happy." Happiness involves pleasure, contentment and joy. These were all missing in his life. Several times Will cries out in despair, "What am I doing here?" In a subconsciously philosophical way, he puts his finger on one of his problems. He has no purpose. His life has no meaning.

Without purpose, life becomes drab and dull. We lose zest. We become unhappy. When we discover our purpose, our raison d'etre, we often rediscover contentment and joy. As children of God made in his image (Gen. 1:26), our purpose is integrally linked to him. Apart from him, we will never know true joy. Only in Christ can we find our joy made full (Jn. 15:11).

Writer-director Brooks does a fair job of keeping the mystery of Will's wife hidden for most of the movie. He also keeps the source of his happiness a surprise until the climax. In contrast, the writer-director of the story of our lives, of history, has revealed the mystery which allows us to find happiness (Col. 1:27). Let's hope we discover this truth before the climax of our lives!

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs