Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- love and control

Director: Jon Turteltaub, 2010. (PG)

The Sorceror's Apprentice is a reunion of sort. Disney brings back National Treasure director Turteltaub and star Nicolas Cage for another live-action family-friendly frolic. But something is amiss. There is less magic and more formula in this; the treasure is missing.

The film opens with a rapid-fire sequence introducing three apprentices to the sorcerer Merlin. Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) and his love interest Veronica (Monica Bellucci, Mary Magdalene in The Passion of the Christ) stand on the side of good, while turn-coat apprentice Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina, An Education) sides with evil Morgana (Alice Krige). After the dust of wand-fighting dissipates, Veronica and Morgana are imprisoned together with Maxim in a magical doll leaving Balthazar alone. The dying Merlin commanded him to search for the coming Prime Merlinian, the young child who can save the world if Morgana is ever released. The quest undertaken: to find the Savior. We see Balthazar search long and wide, across centuries and continents, without success.

Before moving to the body of the film, this points out a universal human quest -- to find the Savior. In this Christmas season, most of us hear the songs proclaiming the birth of the baby Jesus so long ago. But do we believe and accept that this Christ-child was the Savior of the world? Our quest can end today: today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6;2). And this could be the beginning of a life following the King. Unlike Balthazar, we might not need to search for years to find this Savior.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Publicity StillAfter the frantic opening, the movie moves to modern day New York city and a group of grade-school kids on a field trip. Young Dave's crush on young Becky causes him to follow a yellow sticky note, wafted by the wind, straight into Balthazar's dusty antique store. Coincidence? Not at all. Dave is the long-awaited Prime Merlinian, but he doesn't know it. When Balthazar, realizing coincidence has no place in affairs of wizardry, places a dragon ring on Dave's finger, this ring comes to life and Dave becomes empowered. But like any boy he begins to explore and inadvertently releases Maxim. In the ensuing cgi-enhanced magical duel, Maxim and Balthazar become trapped in a magic vase, sentenced to a decade-long isolation from the real world.

When his teacher and the rest of the class find the lost Dave, he is ridiculed by them for his "fanciful" story of the two magicians. Such mockery, and his persistent dreams over the next 10 years, causes Dave to grow up with psychological problems and a loss of confidence. He retreats into the fact-filled world of physics, becoming a science nerd.

Cut ahead 10 years. Maxim and Balthazar are released from their vase-prison. Maxim goes searching for the doll that Dave casually tossed into the street years ago; Balthazar goes looking for Dave. Both find what they seek.

Balthazar reintroduces himself to the college-student Dave (Jay Baruchel), who has tried to suppress the memories of that day 10 years earlier. He is the true sorcerer's apprentice. He wants nothing to do with Balthazar but he is indeed no ordinary student.

This highlights one of the film's themes: who is special? Dave seems less than special: clumsy and quite ordinary in fact. But appearances can be deceiving, both in Hollywood and in real life. Most of us would claim to be ordinary, simple people living somewhat banal lives. But we are also special to God. He loves us individually with an undying and infinite love that we cannot fathom (Rom. 8:38). This makes us potential children of God (Jn. 1:12) and potential joint heirs to the kingdom (Rom. 8:17). The marked and the mundane co-exist in all of us, like it or not.

Dave's focus is on the beautiful Becky (Teresa Palmer), coincidentally reacquainted with her. While Balthazar tries to teach his young apprentice the ins and outs of wizardry, Dave just wants to spend time with Becky. Frustrated, Balthazar tells him, "Love is a distraction. Sorcery requires complete focus."

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Publicity StillIs this so? Is love ever a distraction? Certainly it can distract us from other tasks. But love is central to life. It fills our heart, it powers our will, it drives our actions. And God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). He lies at the heart of it all. As the apostle Paul once said, "Christ's love compels us" (2 Cor. 5:14). We can never dismiss love as a distraction in this sense.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice follows a fairly formulaic route to its climax. Along the way, Maxim teams up with a dandy apprentice of his own, Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), who provides some additional comic relief, including a nod to the original Star Wars. The action is fast, including a car chase involving a Pinto, but much of it is noticeably computer generated. Despite the lack of chemistry between the two young leads, it provides a couple of hours of entertainment that we can control.

Control. That underscores the final issue of the film. Balthazar tells Dave at one point, "I am your master not your mentor." Apprentices have masters. But Dave wants more control than an apprentice. What about us? Are we willing to be apprentices to Jesus? Apprentices learn from one who has mastered the art. Will we learn from Jesus how to live? Or do we bristle at the thought of relinquishing control, even if it is to the one who is Lord of the universe (Col. 1:16)? Generally, we don't want to be apprentices. We would rather be the masters of our own fate. We want control. In reality, we don't have it. Our future lies in becoming the Savior's apprentice.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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