- Ordet. First is a film that I am convinced is the greatest film ever made. From my knowledge of film history, which is admittedly flawed but I have seen a film or two, no film even comes close. The film is formally perfect. The more I see it, the more I want to see it. I've seen it satisfy the highest demands of high art as well as the movie-going needs of those who are still wary of subtitles. I don't want to paint Ordet to be something it's not because it is it's subtlety that gives it its grandeur. It has more to say about the conflict between churches, faith, miracles, and the meaning of Christ than anything else I know of. In my opinion, it is the alpha and omega of films concerning doubt. There is no longer a reason to question God's existence in film. This film said everything that needed to be said on the topic. (I haven't yet seen Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas, an homage to Ordet set in a Mexican Mennonite community, but I suspect that it would have a place on this list if I had.)
- Stalker. Tarkovsky's 1979 adaptation of Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem's book is set in a post nuclear present. This film is also on my list of '10 bests.' The complexity of the poetry and metaphor is new and fresh every time I view it. I'm currently reading the biography of Henry Eyring, the scientist, and I can't help but think that he may appreciate if not enjoy this film. The conflict between religion, science, and art has yielded such fruitful ponderings for me. In the end, it is the divine, the controller of both time and space, and the desires of men's hearts that resolve this conflict. In my opinion, it is the only excuse for science fiction as a genre.
- The Matrix trilogy. Many may scoff an the inclusion of this on my list, but I am fascinated at how complex the metaphor becomes. The fact that Christianity is tied thoroughly (and love/hatingly) to technology and filtered through a working definition of reality is fascinating to me. I'll admit that the majority of the fight sequences are gratuitous, though I'm still dazzled at many points. But the mention of sexuality (though also fascinating in its relation to technology vs. anti-technology) is obscene and frivolous, not to mention hedonistic and degrading (even as an expression of anti-technologicality). In every sense, it is pleasure-seeking rather than intimate — the difference between which the film is oblivious to. Regardless, I find the expression moving and multi-faceted. For all its profanity, I find it trying harder to say something than almost anything in current 'pop' culture. Two articles I've recently come across show the thoughts of Slavoj Zizek and Jean Baudrillard (!) on The Matrix.
- The Decalogue. Kieslowski and his lawyer-turned-screenwriter partner Piesiewicz made ten one-hour films for ten commandments that all took place in the same group of apartment buildings in Warsaw during communist rule. Just as there are no easy answers for any of the moral dilemmas presented, there are no direct links between each one of the films and each one of the commandments. The stories come from Piesiewicz's experiences as a lawyer. But the moral complexity requires the viewers to reconsider their conception of the ten commandments.
- Dogville and Manderlay. The world's most anti-Christian living filmmaker (for his sadism, misogyny, control, and outright abuse —formal and otherwise—of his actresses) has perhaps more to say about Christianity than any other living filmmaker. These first two parts of his "American Trilogy" will most likely not see a third, as his abuse of his three consecutive leading ladies, Björk, Nicole Kidman, and Bryce Dallas Howard, should leave no room for question in anyone's mind as to how far away from this man actresses should stay. However, the fragmentation of Lars Von Trier's Christ figure is a powerful lens through which to view modern Christianity, and I must say it has moved me deeply. Nicole Kidman's patience, humility, wisdom, love, and unending "turning of the other cheek" is inspiring. Yet according to this film, it is only half of what Christ embodies. James Caan brings justice to her mercy and "overturns the money changers' tables" to her "turning the other cheek." Christianity is only one lens through which to view these films. Both are powerful political-, economic-, and historic-conundrum readings of America. They can also be viewed in terms of the meaning of art. Both have strong nudity, Manderlay being more vile than Dogville. As a sidenote, Von Trier also understand Brecht far more than any playwright I know of.
- Dancer in the Dark. Christ as an eccentric foreign woman, a single mother no less, in 20th-century, working-class America is an audacious casting, to say the least. But the moral dilemma which this Christ figure, played by Björk, is faced with is the thing that most makes me reconsider and reframe the canonical gospels.
- Magnolia. For all its crassness, its vile abundance of "f-words," and references to Altman's Nashville, it truly is a wonder to behold. It is a modern recasting and meditation on Israel and the hand of the Lord. The film is "embedded with 8s and 2s," according to Gary Tooze's DVDBeaver, in reference to Exodus 8:2, speaking of the plagues in Egypt. A former bishop of mine, though he had never seen the film, quoted a story from the prologue.
- Junebug. Though this film also contains nudity, I find it wrought with tenderness and a film that, over and over, I wish Mormon filmmakers would study. Director Phil Morrison, whom I am familiar with because of his earlier ties to Sonic Youth, directs his first feature as a blatant and consistent homage to the domestic dramas of Yasujiro Ozu. He gives more complexity and reverence to our view of protestant middle America and to the act of believing than all these straight "Mormon" features (which would exclude New York Doll) that I've seen (which, by all means, is not everything).
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Modern Christianity Through Film
I have decided to share a list, which most definitely you will be able to add to, of films that take modern Christianity as their subject. I like to have them all on the same list to show how versatile the topic can be and how much there is to say about it, whereas Latter-day Saint films have said very little on the topic. This list will exclude films like New York Doll, which discusses one man's conversion but doesn't talk about Christianity as a whole. It will also exclude films like Spiderman, whose "Christian" element is tacked on rather than being inherent to the foundation.