Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Win Win -- mistakes, deception and second chances

Director: Thomas McCarthy, 2011. (R)

Cross coming-of-age with mid-life crisis, throw in sports and you get this comic drama. Never quite fitting into a single genre neatly, it nevertheless hits the high notes of all the above.

Director McCarthy has shown himself to be a promising up-and-comer in his first two films, The Station Agent and The Visitor. Here, producing and directing from his own screenplay, he raises the bar. This indie movie is heart-warming without being melodramatic. Entertaining while communicating themes and morals that align with the Christian faith, this is a win-win movie.

One reason the film is so good is the acting. Paul Giamatti (Sideways, The Ides of March) stars as Mike Flaherty, a down-on-his-luck attorney and family man. Giamatti is the homely everyman that we might find living next-door to us: no airs or good looks, just ordinary humanity. Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) plays his wife, Jackie, a woman struggling to raise her kids in a middle-class home depending on her husband to bring home the bacon. Together they bring a reality to this family. Then there’s Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) as Mike’s friend Terry, a man-child whose wife has left him and who seems to have no control over his tongue even if his heart is in the right place. Jeffrey Tambor (The Invention of Lying) is quirky as Mike’s side-kick wrestling coach. But stealing the show is Alex Shaffer as teen-age Kyle. His performance is spot-on; he totally embodies a teen-age boy, speaking in mono-tones and single syllables, he is the heart of the movie and its focus.

As we meet Mike, we discover he is low on clients and working as a high-school wrestling coach to make ends meet. His team has lost all their matches, he is losing business, but as the tag-line says, “In the game of life, you can’t lose ‘em all?” Or can you? He is disheartened, suffering from panic attacks and is perhaps a payday away from losing it all.

When he represents elderly Leo (Burt Young) in court, where Leo is being declared mentally incompetent, an opportunity falls into Mike’s lap. Leo wants to live at home, but the court wants to send him off to a retirement home where he can be cared for by nurses. Instead, Mike volunteers to be Leo’s guardian, thereby allowing him to remain in his own home. Of course, such philanthropism is spurred by the monthly $1500 paycheck that accompanies guardianship. And then Mike carts Leo off to the retirement home anyway!

When Jackie finds out about their new dependent, she questions Mike’s reasons but he keeps the money a secret. But when Leo’s out-of-state grandson Kyle shows up on his doorstep Mike and Jackie have no choice but to take him in. When he turns out to be a star wrestler, Mike’s fortunes seem to be on the rise. Then his junkie mom arrives to claim him . . . or at least to claim the guardianship and the money that goes with it, and things get complicated fast.

Win Win is surprisingly full of redemptive themes: love, forgiveness, humanity. It shows a family under strain and depicts its strengthening to overcome such obstacles. When Mike and Jackie work together they do gain small and bigger victories. The strains of life are normal. We all face them. But it is how we react to them and handle them that cause us to grow in character or not. With Kyle as a catalyst, they have something to rally around.

The real moral dilemma in the film, though, is in the deception that Mike creates and continues to walk in. There are always consequences to such deception. In the film, Mike seems to be serving Leo, sacrificing his own time for a good cause. But his apparent selflessness is in reality selfishness. His lie is eventually discovered. When we lie, and we all do this, we hope to get away with it. But God sees all things. He knows what we do. The writer of Proverbs said, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free” (Prov. 19:5). Lying and dishonesty lead to inevitable doom.

In contrast, when times get tough, honesty is always the best policy. It may cause hardship and may cost us some sacrifice, but such consequences promote right relationship. An unselfish act, even when done for the wrong reasons, can touch multiple lives, changing them for the better, as it did here.

Indeed, one of the messages of Win Win is that everyone makes mistakes. But it is how you deal with them that show who you are. Mike made a huge mistake. Kyle made some mistakes. Each had at least one second chance and chose a path that was bordered with forgiveness, at least in the long run. We make mistakes. When we do, we get to choose: will we cover them up, minimize them, or even blame others? Or will we man up and accept responsibility and take what is coming to us?

When we think of our sin in this context, whether it is lying, cheating, stealing or something even worse, we have the same choice. We can blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden (Gen. 3:12-13). Or we can confess it to God and claim the forgiveness that comes from Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:9). If we place our faith in him who has paid the price for our sin already, we will find that God himself is ready to give us a second chance. This time, we will have true life in Christ (Jn. 10:10)! This is a win-win situation.

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tower Heist -- deceiver vs servant-leader

Director: Brett Ratner, 2011. (R)

Occupy Wall Street, even Occupy Portland, has been center stage over the last few weeks. Clearly the idea of the 1% owning so much of the country’s wealth while most are swamped in debt with no job to provide any income, is anathema to many people. It is all those people, except the 1%, who will enjoy this film. It is timely comedy for this era.

Don’t expect too much though, it is full of plot holes large enough to drive a Ferrari through. It is mostly mindless entertainment, a screwball comedy that disengages the mind. Yet a study of the two main characters will bring some payoff from this heist.

Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) lives in a penthouse apartment atop the grandiose apartment building called The Tower in the heart of New York. A suave and sophisticated financier, he is nonetheless a Ponzi schemer in the mold of Bernie Madoff. He lives like a king looking down on the minions whose money has made him a success.

The simple Joes who work at the Tower are unaware that Josh (Ben Stiller), their manager, has invested all their pension money with Shaw, who has promised to triple their portfolios. When Shaw is arrested on securities fraud, all his money is frozen by the FBI, and it is likely that their pensions have vanished with the wind.

Tower Heist Stars Eddie Murphy and Ben StillerRattner takes the first half hour to build his array of characters. He has some excellent comedy stars, many making comebacks of sorts, to work with. Alongside Stiller, who is excellent marshaling his troops, is Eddie Murphy as Slide, an ex-con thief, Matthew Broderick as Fitzhugh, an evicted tenant, Michael Pena as Enrique, a new employee, Casey Afleck is Charlie, Josh's brother-in-law, and Gabourey Sidibe, as a Jamaican maid who possesses safe-cracking talents. These form the gang who will plan the caper. And there is Tea Leoni, as FBI agent Denham whose sentiments lie with Josh, even though she is sworn to uphold the law. Leoni shows that her comic talents are an underrated strength.

Once it is clear that the hotel employees have lost their pensions, and in some cases their life-savings, the film kicks into gear. When Agent Denham mentions to Josh over drinks that Shaw must have $20M stored secretly somewhere in the apartment, the plot is set. Josh decides to steal this from Shaw to return the pensions to the employees. He is a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts.

Josh is the leader, pulling each player into the gang. Where other caper movies, like the Oceans trio, focus on the capabilities of each of the members, here the gang are all incompetents. Even Slide is no real thief: he steals small satellite dishes from balconies to avoid felony convictions. What is endearing is the loose banter that develops between the gang as they plan the heist. This off-the-wall and tangential dialog is a hoot.

It is interesting to contrast the two main characters. Shaw is smooth and suave and totally heartless. He appears earnest and genuine, caring for those who serve him. But when the chips are down, he makes it clear that there is a gulf a mile-wide between him and the hired help. He cares more for his treasured car, a vintage Ferrari, than for the servants. They can be replaced, the car can’t. Moreover, his merciful offer to Josh turns out to be a mockery. Not only does he want to humiliate Josh, he plans to break his pledge to him and punish him mercilessly.

Shaw is a satanesque figure, a god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). With so much wealth, he controls much in this world and curries favor with the influencers. People see him as one of the good guys, a winner who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps, a true American hero. We love people like this, because we dream we can be like them. But would we be as heartless? Satan seeks to deceive, as he did from the beginning (Gen. 3:13), and destroy (Jn. 10:10). Would we be like that if we rose to a position like Shaw had? We hope not, but can we be sure? Appearances can be deceiving.

Josh, on the other hand, is a hard-worker, almost a work-aholic, who lives to serve and cares about those under him. He rises early to prepare himself for his work. He sets the bar high and expects his staff to follow his example. He is a little like Jesus, the greatest servant-leader who ever lived. Jesus cared, and cares, about those around him. In fact, he came as a person so that he could save us from our sins. Jesus existed in the trinity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:1) in the highest penthouse ever, overlooking all of creation! He had that position, not by screwing others but by dint of relationship. But he cared more for us than for his position. And so he humbled himself and took on flesh for us (Phil. 2:5-9).

The end, which I won’t reveal, underscores Josh’s commitment to his gang and to his staff and his willingness to serve them. He was not in it for himself, to become rich. He wanted to see justice served. Sometimes we must take justice into our own hands to do this, but when we do we must be ready to count the cost.

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turkey Films

No, I don't mean films that are real turkeys. I am referring to the game my family plays every Thanksgiving. We substitute the word "turkey" for a word in a movie title and come up with a turkey film. It always brings a laugh as we get into the spirit of the game and the spirit of the holiday.

Here is my list of top ten "turkey films" in ascending order:

10. Turkey Wars
9. Turkey Driver
8. The Dark Turkey
7. Turkeyblanca
6. The Turkeyfather
5. The Turkeys of March
4. Bottle Turkeys
3. Hannah and her Turkeys
2. The Turkey of Oz
1. Gone with the Turkey (or Turkey with the Wind)

Why not give it a shot. Make a turkey of yourself! Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bridesmaids -- raunchy, riotous and redemption-free

Director: Paul Feig, 2011. (R)

No one can mistake Bridesmaids for My Best Friend's Wedding, or even The Father of the Bride, yet they all revolve around an upcoming wedding. All are comedies, but Bridesmaids is raunchy and raw, certainly not for anyone easily offended. Given that this was produced by Judd Apatow (The Hangover), this should not be a surprise. It is like a female version of his over-the-top brom-com movies.

The opening scene sets the tone for the film. Annie (Kristen Wiig, Paul) indulges in lengthy, multiple position sex with her on-again, off-again boyfriend at his apartment. She cannot satisfy him but tries. But afterwards, he simply wants to be friends and she accepts this, though she hates herself for doing so. This is a friendship she does not need.

When Lilian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged she asks Annie to be her maid of honor alongside several bridesmaids. But Annie's life is collapsing and she has little money to afford the wedding acoutrements and the kind of bachelorette party that Helen (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later), a recent and rich friend and bridesmaid, wants to throw. And the film develops this competition between Annie and Helen for Liliam's friendship. Both want to be her "bff." But who really is? And do they lose their perspective on the wedding in the process?

Byrne and Wiig offer some solid comic acting as feuding bridesmaids. But it may be best remembered as the last movie Jill Claybergh made before her death in 2010. She plays Annie's mom. It's also fun to see Chris O'Dowd (who plays Roy in the British sitcom, "The IT Crowd"). As an Irish State Trooper, he is the love interest that Annie needs, though she can't see it. Here is another inversion on the typical guy-girl rom-com. The good guy is waiting for the bad girl to come to her senses. It is Melissa McCarthy, as another bridesmaid, Megan, who steals the show. She uses her comic timing and improv skills to a tee and makes us wish we could see more of her character.

There are some riotous scenes. One involves Annie and Helen trying to outdo each other's speeches at the engagement party. Another involves food poisoning during the bridesmaid dress fittin. The resulting bodily emissions in a one-stall bathroom with three women trying to relieve themselves is both disgusting and hilarious.

For all this, there is little of redemptive value in Bridesmaids. The closest it comes is underscoring the value of friends. Both Annie and Helen want to be best friends, or maids of honor, for Lilian. Is it for the friendship? Or is it for the spotlight? Regardless, friendships should bring strength and love when family can't. Proverbs has it right: "A friend loves at all times" (Prov. 17:17). Friends add color to our worlds. They are there when we need them. But Proverbs also warns: "The righteous choose their friends carefully" (Prov. 12:26).

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) -- mission, meditation and martyrdom

Director:  Xavier Beauvois, 2010 (R)

Would we face danger, even death, in service of our God? For most of us, even devout followers of Jesus, this question is academic, one we might debate over coffee. For a group of Trappist monks living in a rural part of Algeria, this was an authentic and concrete question that they faced and had to wrestle with.

The film opens with a quote from Psalm 82:6-7: ““I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” This underscores the impending doom of the story. But then, the film is based on a true account, and for those who remember the events of 1996 the end is pre-ordained.

Like most French films, the plot is slow. Indeed, the first half hour focuses on the ordinary lives of this group of monks, showing them in their monastery praying, eating, chanting, and in their interactions with the Muslim villagers. They may live simple lives in their Catholic community but many of the villagers are even poorer.

The first section of the film is important to set the context and the tone. These men love God. That is clear from their worship and devotion in the monastery. But they also love their neighbors, even when these neighbors are Muslim. This neighborly love is demonstrated in the free medical clinic they offer, manned by Luc (Michael Lonsdal), the medic, and in the time they spend in the Muslim community with these people. They present a picture of what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 2:7-8: “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Yet their focus is not evangelistic. They are satisfied to coexist with these Muslims. The leader of the monastery, brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) even studies the Koran as a means to understand and love them more deeply.

Once the context is set, writer-director Beauvois introduces the dramatic tension. A fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group murders some foreign workers. This scene is graphic and shocking, but communicates the dangers facing those living in Algeria. The Algerian government offers protection, at first, to the monks, but they want none. Christian points out, “We were called to live here, in this country, with this people, who are also afraid.” So they stand firm in their faith; yet the seed of doubt is sown. The question now faces them: to stay and minister and possibly die, or to retreat and live.

With danger hanging over them, discord grows and even tempers flare. Christian wants to stay but others have differing opinions. “I didn’t come here to commit collective suicide,” says one. Another adds, “I became a monk to live, not to sit back and have my throat slit.”

Of Gods and Men offers a view into the doubt that even deep men of faith face. We would think that such monks would embrace this danger like the apostles, being ready to live or die for the Lord. Yet, they are as human as we are, and they struggle with these fears. One cannot sleep, but lies in his bed undergoing a crisis of faith, praying: “As a kid I dreamed of becoming a missionary. Dying for my faith shouldn’t keep me up at nights.”

But in the midst of all this, the film shows how these monks handle such danger and despair: they go on with their lives, seeking God in the midst of it all. Whether seeking solitude in the fields or by a lake to ponder God’s small voice, or in the collective community of praying and chanting, they look to God to influence their decisions. And hear him they do.

The beauty of the film is in its depiction of these meditations. Beauvois eschews a musical soundtrack in favor of a quietness expected of monks. There is little dialog and virtually no music. Instead, we hear the monks chanting hymns in French and following their rituals of prayer and genuflection. The French actors did their own singing and they are surprisingly good. Olivier Rabourdin, who plays Brother Christophe, spoke about this: “To chant Psalms is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life.” Isn’t this one aspect of the Word of God that happens as we meditate on it?

When the terrorists visit the monastery the tension increases. And as they later return with a wounded member, the monks demonstrate a Christ-like love. Jesus commanded us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk. 6:27). Knowing they would be serving those who could be their killers, Luc and his friends treat the Muslims as fellow humans who need help. They showed practical love regardless of the cost.

The most powerful scene occurs late in the film when the men have made their decision and are enjoying a supper together. One turns on some music: Swan Lake. As the strains of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet plays over them, the men enjoy their last supper. Like Christ’s last supper, this one is full of powerful but unspoken emotion. There are no need for words.

Of Gods and Men was France’s official submission to the Academy Awards. Though it never won there, it picked up the Grand Prix prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, the second highest award. It seeks not to explain this historical event. Instead it ends abruptly, leaving a profound meditation on missionaries and martyrdom. The tag line declared, “In the face of terror, their greatest weapon was faith.” For them it was. How about for us? Hopefully, we never face this situation, but whatever trials or terrors we face, will we approach them in faith, praying, singing and chanting psalms? If so, we will be victorious whether we live or die.

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November Movie Group: Tower Heist, Sat 11/19/11 at Century 16 Eastport Plaza, 4:45pm

OK folks, slight change of plan for this Saturday’s movie group. We are moving the location since we can catch a matinee if we go to Century Eastport and save $3.25 per ticket (which is the cost of the latte you’ll want after the show for discussion at Starbucks!).

  • What: Tower Heist (rated PG-13)
  • Where: Century 16 Eastport Plaza
            (4040 SE 82nd Ave, Portland, OR 97266)
  • When: 4:45 pm showtime
  • Date: Saturday 11/19/11
  • Cost: $7.25 adult (matinee price!)
  • Meet: theater lobby about 20 minutes before showtime
  • Who: movie-lovers from Mosaic Church and friends
  • Discussion: Starbucks Coffee Eastport Plaza
         (4328 SE 82nd Ave, Building H, Portland, OR 97266;
           corner of SE 82nd and Holgate)

This is getting reasonable reviews and is a timely comedy for the 99%, featuring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Afleck, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. Check out the trailer:

We'd love to see you there. If you are running late, don't worry. Come grab a seat and find us in the lobby after the show. Look for the "Mosaic Faith and Film Connect Group" sign. We'll wait for a few minutes after the film before moving to Starbucks for discussion.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: "The Grace Effect" -- Adoption as answer to atheist debate

Author: Larry Taunton, 2011. (Thomas Nelson Publishers)

How do you debate a polemic atheist? Most of us probably don't do this often, but Larry Taunton, apologist and executive director of Fixed Point Foundation, does. He opens this book with a prologue focusing on his debate and subsequent dinner with Christopher Hitchens, Oxford scholar and one of the new atheists. Ultimately, though, he doesn't win the debate by making stronger arguments; he wins the debate through his process of adoption of a 12 year-old Ukrainian orphan named Sasha.

Taunton points out, "There is a simple means for determing the goodness of any society, and it is not found in economic or political terms. It is in this: how do they treat their poor, their widowed, and their orphaned?" (page 89). This book is the Taunton family's journey to adopt Sasha, and along the way he points out the dismal moral state of former communist countries. And "when atheism is adopted as a worldview at a societal level, be it passively or actively, its effects on that society is detrimental." (page 34)

"The Grace Effect" is no theological treatise. It is a memoir of this adoption process. I don't usually read or enjoy memoirs, but this one engages early and becomes compelling reading. A quick read, it is as much a page-turner as the latest James Patterson novel.

Taunton alternates pages of history with pages from his story. He took his wife and two of his three sons to Ukraine to complete the adoption begun a year earlier. But what we would expect to take days here in the United States took weeks in that eastern bloc country. Fraught with bribery and corruption, Taunton's frustrations come across clearly. The "gifts" that grease the palms of the officials, even judges, do not often speed the process. But they prevent the process from stalling. There is a clear contrast of cultures.

Indeed, Taunton establishes this purpose right up front, in the foreword:
It is rather, my purpose to make a case for society's need of Christianity's gentling, inspiring, and culturally transforming power. I hope that through the narrative of our experience, readers will be given a glimpse into a world without faith in Jesus Christ and, as a consequence, have greater appreciation for what Christianity has given, is giving, and may give us still if we mine the vast richness of it. (page xii.)
He goes on in chapter one to outline his view of grace, explaining the book's title:
As one experiences grace in his own life, he extends grace to others. Through the inward transformation of the individual, there is a correspoding outward transformation of society. That is what I call the 'grace effect'. Simpy defined, it is an observable phenomenon -- that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes. (page 22)
Sasha is his reality check. Sasha is his demonstration of the grace effect. Having been abandoned at birth and moved from orphanage to orphanage, she met Larry's wife and sons when they were on a short-term mission to the Ukraine. God moved their hearts to consider adoption and then provided the funds needed through individuals and supporters. Not a Christian, Sasha is moved by the grace and love that she experiences from a family, having never known a family before. This grace transforms her as she becomes a daugher and a sister and ultimately a follower of Jesus.

Sasha's redemption is a powerful story of grace at work. Though atheists will consider it just a humanistic effort springing from the goodwill of man, the contrast between the non-Christian and Christian cultures is evidence enough of the failures of man apart from grace.

"The Grace Effect" is an inspiring book. It may not move you to adopt another Sasha. But it will move you to thank God that we live in a country that still bears the imprint of its Christian beginnings. And it will likely cause you to pray for the leaders in our country, that we can continue to live "quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:3).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Group for November: Tower Heist Saturday 11/19/11 at Lloyd Center

We're changing up genres for November, lightening the mood in preparation for the holidays. This month it's a comedy.

•What: Tower Heist (rated PG-13)

•Where: Lloyd Cinemas (not sure yet if in the mall or outside)

•When: TBA (around 4:45 pm showtime)

•Meet: at the theater lobby about 20 minutes before showtime

•Who: movie-lovers from Mosaic Church and friends

•Discussion: Peet's Coffee on Broadway

This is getting reasonable reviews and is a timely comedy for the 99%. The comedic cast looks to be stellar with Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Afleck, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. Check out the trailer:

So, if you're not "Occupying Portland" we'd love to see you there. If you are running late, don't worry. Come grab a seat and find us in the lobby after the show. Look for the "Mosaic Faith and Film Connect Group" sign. We'll wait for a few minutes after the film before moving to the coffee shop for discussion.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Take Shelter -- fear, anxiety and insanity

Director: Jeff Nichols, 2011. (R)

“Sleep well in your beds. Cause if this thing comes true, there ain’t gonna be any more.” Protagonist Curtis (Michael Shannon, Shotgun Stories) yells this, referring to the coming storm, to a group of onlookers in the most powerful scene of the film. Is he insane or prophetic?

Nichols, using lesser known actors and working with a small budget, focuses on Curtis and his family and how they are impacted by a series of dreams that plague Curtis. He works as a foreman for a sand-mining company in Ohio to provide for his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life) and daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). Hannah’s deafness brings stress onto the relationships and pressure on his paycheck.

When Curtis starts having dreams of an apocalyptic storm, bringing rain like motor oil, things become weird. Odd bird flock formations appear. His dog seems rabid. Strangers become violent. Is he seeing reality or is he losing his connection to reality? Curtis decides he needs to protect his family, and so begins to construct a storm shelter. But is he protecting them from the coming storm or from himself?

TAKE SHELTER movie poster imageLike his stunning debut film, Shotgun Stories, Nichols brings the story along at a slow pace, allowing the viewer the time to see inside these characters’ lives. But he doesn’t show us too much of what is happening, so we feel confused, like the main character. We can appreciate and feel what Curtis is experiencing. And with an eerie score, the anxiety is palpable.

Moreover, the acting is stellar. Shannon brings Curtis' fears to life. His craggy features and his lazy eye contribute to a stunning performance. More of a character actor than leading man, his less than handsome features play well here. And Chastain fills the shoes and skirts of his wife in much the same way that she did against Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life. She is believable as a woman trying to keep her family together alongside a husband that she begins to question. Her fears come across in the little things of life, like her daughter playing outside apart from the other kids.

Anxiety and fear are two themes woven into the thread of this story. Having written this in 2008 when he was a newlywed, Nichols commented on these themes: “Although both my career and personal life were on a positive track, I had a nagging feeling that the world at large was heading for harder times. This free-floating anxiety was part economic, part just growing up, but it mainly came from the fact that I finally had things in my life that I didn’t want to lose. All of these feelings filtered directly into the characters of the film.”

The last decade has brought enormous anxiety and fear to the world. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001 set the stage, and we have seen ever-increasing threat alerts. Bombings in cities, wars in the middle east, gang violence in inner-city ghettoes bring unease and uncertainty to many. Then there are the housing and financial meltdowns we have seen in the last couple of years that have resulted in government buy-outs of staggering proportions. Such economic woes bring financial fears to families whose plans are dissolved and lost in a day, leaving unemployment and insecurity as the only apparent future. It is no surprise that Take Shelter captures the spirit of the moment. Many of us would want to build a shelter of our own to protect our families from whatever storm is coming.

Anxiety is born out of having something to lose. When we have a family and possessions we feel a need to protect. Having nothing to lose, we can fend off anxiety. But there is another way to avoid anxiety. The apostle Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). Regardless of the context, if we look to God and bring our worries to him, he will handle them. Jesus himself told his disciples, and hence us, “in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

Take Shelter sets us the challenge of determining if Curtis is crazy. This is one of his fears, that he would inherit a legacy of insanity. Even Samantha begins to wonder, and in another of the film’s powerful moments she challenges Curtis to unlock the shelter and confront reality. He wants her to do it, but she insists. He must do it himself if he wishes to protect his family and face his fear.

Although some critics found the film slow, the pacing seems perfect: not too fast, but not too slow. There is enough tension to engage and enough suspense to bring us to the conclusion wondering about Curtis and his family and the storm.

The end itself has drawn differing responses. What happened? Why?

I found myself seeing in Curtis a modern-day Noah. Somehow he has been given a gift of seeing prophetically the coming storm. In Noah’s day (Gen. 6-7), God commanded the prophet to build an arc despite the fact that he lived inland and had never seen rain. His neighbors probably mocked and scorned him, thinking him crazy. But the storm was coming, and when it came he took shelter in the boat he had made. Insane or prophetic, it depends on context.

One thing is sure. The storm will come. No matter what storm it is, we can be confident if we take shelter in the right place. David tells us, “I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm” (Psa. 55:8). And where is that shelter? David tells us in another of his psalms, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psa. 61:4). There is only one true shelter and it is in the Lord: “in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling” (Psa. 27:5). Are you ready for the coming storm?

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs