Review: Silence – Speaks Volumes


Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Many will categorize Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence as a faith film; it is better described as a film about faith. While “Faith Films” have been in vogue in the last four years or so, many of those films are so categorized because the subject matter has something to do with the Bible, church, or can in some way be described as spiritual. Silence is a film about faith because it examines what is it to live in, by, and even in spite of faith. Silence is also a film about faith because it is realistic in its portrayal about what it is to live by faith when faith is tested and the test results could be described as inconclusive. Faith by its very nature is ambiguous. Faith stands opposed to that which is known, proven, and definitively experienced. If it did not it would be fact instead of faith. In the “real world,” living by faith means living with ambiguity, wonder, and questions since the world of faith, regardless of what faith one lives by, is often opposed to the world of experience.


There is much ambiguity in Silence. There is also much suffering, and there is not a tidy bow at the end. While modern audiences of film are conditioned to expect happy endings, or at least happiness in the endings, in the real world, even the real world informed or lived through faith, happiness is usually encountered or experienced through the filter or veil of sadness and despair. Such is the experience of watching Silence.

silence-8Silence is based on the Shusaku Endo, 1966 historical novel of the same name. In the novel and film the main character is the Portuguese Jesuit missionary priest Fr. Sebastiao Rodrigues ( Andrew Garfield), a character Endo based on the 17th century Italian Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Chiara. Fr Rodrigues and another priest, Fr Francisco Garupe ( Adam Driver) insist to their superior Fr. Alessandro Valignano ( Cerian Hinds) they be allowed to travel to Japan to find their teacher and mentor Fr. Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) after they have received reports that after being tortured he committed apostasy during persecutions of Christians in Japan.

Though both priests have all the faith imaginable, neither of these the last two priests in Japan is prepared for what they encounter and experience after their arrival. Through their training and ministry, the priests have never experienced a realized, or lived faith such as silence-13that of the surviving, “hidden Christians” living on the islands of Japan. Although the priests  bring tangible reminders of God and the Church, crosses, Scripture, rosaries, and the Mass, in the eyes of the villagers they have brought God. The priests who wonder about God’s silence, are themselves God’s answering the prayers of the Japanese Christians. Yet even as they bring reminders of salvation in Christ, the priests, by their presence on any island or any village, bring danger to the Christians near them.

To fulfill their mission to find their mentor and teacher, the priests will eventually need to follow clues that lead them into the heart of Japan, and in so doing encounter the darkness that is the persecution of the Buddhist Inquisitor as well as their own fears, doubts and perceived silence of God.

The title of the film and novel refers to the silence Fr. Rodrigues observes and experiences God offers in light and of and response to suffering, even suffering for one’s faith. Most Christians accept that God speaks in some fashion to believers. If not a burning bush, believers may sense God communicating, either in real time, or after looking back on a time in life.  What is hardest is when God speaks, as God spoke to Elijah, in the sheer silence.

Watching in the enlightened and protected comfort of 21st century America, it might be difficult to understand the power of apostasy. After seeing persons suffer and die for not stepping on a small wooden carving of Christ the viewer may think to themselves, just step on the thing, its only a piece of wood; step on it and live to worship another day. These reactions intensify when stepping will save the life of others.  Seeing the agony many faced regardless of their decision to step or not, the viewer may wonder about the nature of apostasy.  What is it to commit apostasy? How does one commit apostasy? Is stepping on an image of Jesus, or spitting on a crucifix apostasy? How and why? Is rejecting the teaching of Jesus, not following the commandment of Jesus to love neighbors / enemies as one loves oneself likewise an apostasy? When one lives out of fear rather than faith and rejects an “other,” when one does not hunger and thirst for righteousness, or seeks to make peace, are they committing apostasy?  When one does not turn the other cheek, or give their cloak, or carry a persecutor’s sword an extra mile, are they committing apostasy?

silence-4Viewing Silence is a humbling experience. One is humbled by the faith of those depicted on the screen who have suffered beyond measure. One is then humbled by the reminder of all the millions through the centuries who suffered and were martyred for their faith.  I was humbled because prior to the screening I spoke with a clergy colleague and we discussed the challenges and difficulties of ministry today, where there is a rise in apathy and commitment within congregations and bureaucratic challenges and frustrations at the denominational level. Two minutes into the film, I felt shame at what I had just voiced. Were laity to watch the film, they may feel humbled at complaints and conversations they have had regarding worship wars, the color of carpeting, or not “being fed.”

Included in this film about faith is the question of pride and faith. The Priests are called to consider how pride in themselves could be a part of their faith. Is there a point where their actions cease being acts of faith to Christ and become acts of pride in themselves and their faith. At one point while torturing some villagers the Inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata) in an effort to coax Fr. Rodrigues tells him that “the price of your glory is their suffering.” Does, and if so at what point, pride in one’s faith tarnish or even dissolve one’s faith?

silence-3Some viewers may choose not to attend because of the heaviness of the film. It is heavy and while few would describe the film as escapist, if viewed with keen eyes and an open mind and spirit, Silence offers the opportunity for true escape. For the majority of viewers, the film will allow them to escape their troubles with the realization that what they currently consider suffering is perhaps more an inconvenience or disappointment. And if one is truly suffering, there can be comfort in knowing they are not alone, now nor through the ages, in their struggles.

silence-15Persons of faith who choose not to see the film will miss an opportunity to reflect upon what faith, suffering and apostasy is, and what they are not. They will also miss out on the reminder that the times they step on Christ or reject God, there is grace to hold them and for them to hold on to. As the final scene in the film indicates; like faith, grace, even the size of a mustard seed, is all that is needed.

Silence is a beautifully shot and powerfully acted film. The performances of each of the characters are beyond compelling. Scorsese masterfully integrates the natural elements of the story most notably the humbling power of the ocean, the cleansing and muddying effect of the rain, the cover and mystery fog and mist provide and inflict.  In every element of filmmaking, Martin Scorsese’s Silence speaks volumes.

Silence is rated PG-13

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Film Review: Fences



Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Fences is the long awaited screen adaptation of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning play. After decades of rumors, and starts and stops, the African-American family drama set in the 1950’s and 60’s finally made its film debut this Christmas. Denzel Washington directs and stars as Troy Maxson, a “garbage man” who fought to make a life for his wife and son all the while struggling against the ghosts in his life, ghosts that made life so difficult for many or most African American males in the early twentieth century.


Troy Maxson is one of those characters that takes command of every scene as he depicts a man who by his personality and presence would be described as bigger than life. Were he in a different demographic, he would be the life of every party; as it is Troy is the center of every discussion of which he is a part. By sheer force of spirit, personality, or anger fueled resentment in response to the hand life has dealt Troy imposes himself as well as his thoughts and beliefs on those with whom he interacts.

fences-14Troy shines the brightest light or casts the darkest shadow to every gathering and conversation. Troy is known for his gift of gab and storytelling as well as his passion for baseball. His good, and perhaps only friend Bono tells Troy he “has some Uncle Remus in him,” as he has the ability and seeming compulsion to mythologize and spin any life event or experience. While blessed with talent reserved for only the best of the best baseball players of his time, Troy had the misfortune of barely missing out on the integration of the major leagues. The result of this loss for Troy (and so many others black baseball stars who never made the majors) is that the game that defines his life no longer brings joy, but rather renewed resentment. Each season, if not every game in each season, when he sees much lesser players succeed he is reminded of what could have been as well as what should have been.

fences-7As Troy often says, the finest woman he knows is his wife Rose (Viola Davis) who requires all the strength of the “steel magnolia” she is so as to stand with, and when necessary, up to the force that is Troy. Because of her relationship with and proximity to Troy, Rose, more than anyone including Troy himself, must live out Maxson’s maxim for baseball, which provides Troy the setting and secrets to understanding life itself; “you got to take the crookeds with the straights.” When Troy is a “straight,” no one makes life more alive, and when he is a crooked, no one makes life more delicate or complicated. Throughout the film, Rose enjoys more “straights” as well as endures more “crookeds” than most persons would ever hope or expect.

In addition to opening a window into the lives of working-class African American families in the first half of the twentieth century, Fences also presents the contrasting choices everyone has to life’s challenges. Troy is never able to move past the hurt and pain he received from life. Whether it is abuse directed at him by his father or the racist society he grew up in, Troy lives by the survival lessons learned from those times, even though the times have changed. fences-3Troy believes it is his “duty” as a father to prepare his younger son Cory for life in the same world in which he grew up. Even though the world in the mid-1950’s to early 1960’s, far from perfect, it had and was continuing to change from Troy’s world in the 1920’s to 1940’s. In addition to what could be considered emotional abuse toward his son and wife, Troy believes his life challenges have entitled him to selfish indulgences. Though he knows his action is a betrayal, he also believes he is owed something in life, and when offered, he accepts it without ambivalence.

fences-5On the other end of the spectrum of choices in response to life’s challenges are Rose’s choices. Rather than responding to pain and anger by inflicting pain onto others and living off anger, Rose responds with grace and hope. As with Troy, Rose has had challenges and disappointments in life. Rose has fears associated with living continually on the financial edge. She worries about the world her son is about to face on his own.Yet, Rose chooses to look and live for the positives and possibilities in people and situations. Even when betrayed and asked to do the unimaginable, Rose seeks to find and model grace so as to bring beauty even into ugly circumstances. Rose matches and exceeds the selfishness of Troy with a selflessness that brings light into the darkest shadow cast by her husband.

In his ethical teachings, most notably his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks to these two ways of living. Rose’s actions are the epitome of the Kingdom of God and those who living blessed lives. She does hunger and suffers for righteousness, she is perpetually a peacemaker, she demonstrates to others what it is to be pure in heart, she is poor in the spirit that is ego and anger, and she is merciful. In life and in these and other ways of faithfulness, Rose is blessed. Some today might be critical of her decision not to leave her husband and thereby continue to expose herself and her son to the emotional abuse of Troy. However, the prospects of being able to provide a better life in that day and age would have been doubtful.

With the vast majority of the film taking place in and around the Maxson house, as well asFENCES the manner and delivery of the dialogue, Fences has the feel of a play rather than a film which suits this material very well. August Wilson is indeed credited as the screenwriter as Denzel Washington used a screenplay Wilson had written before his death in 2005. The setting, script, staging and performances allow viewers to fully experience the transformational arcs of Troy, whose decline and weakness emerge from his demonstrations of strength, and Rose whose growth and strength are unveiled through her Kingdom living by grace and meekness.
In addition to Washington and Davis, Stephen Henderson (Bono,) Russell Hornsby (Lyons,) and Mykelty Williamson (Gabriel) reprised their roles from the 2010 Broadway production. While the entire cast offers superb performances, Viola Davis provides a performance for the ages that is powerfully profound and vulnerable.

Fences is a powerful film that speaks to life; to the joys of friendship and family as well as living through disappointment, conflict, and the broken places in life. The intensity of the film, however, is well managed with depictions of humor and times of happiness and joy. Fences is rated PG-13 for language.

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Film Review: Collateral Beauty

imageOne can describe Collateral Beauty as a film that is powerful cubed.  It has powerful performances of a powerful subject that can have a powerful impact on viewers.  Collateral Beauty is a film about profound loss, pain, and the restorative power of love.  Viewers may have the temptation to skip the film so as not to be reminded of the pain that is a part of life. For some, it may take them back to a time and place of loss, or it may speak to those who, as of yet, have not experienced tragedy but realize and fear their vulnerability to being caught in its wake.  For those who have been through the tunnel that is tragedy and come out on the other side, the film offers reminders of the struggle as well as the reality that wholeness can be achieved even in the most broken of situations. For those still in the tunnel, the film offers hope that though not the same, a new life with joy and happiness is possible.

imageWill Smith stars as Howard, a founder, and CEO of a successful advertising firm who suffers perhaps the most feared and painful loss imaginable. Set three years following his loss, Howard is paralyzed by his mourning and is in danger of now losing his business. In the years since his loss, his only contribution to his firm is his spending days and weeks setting up elaborate domino designs which he then knocks over with but a push. Howard has stopped building and maintaining relationships in a business built on his talent and magnetism. While initially patient, clients are now moving on to other firms and the only out is a buyout offered by a larger agency.

imageThe only true connection to life Howard has is through his writing letters to those whom he believes are responsible for his pain, Love, Time, and Death. Howard’s friends and co-workers, Whit (Edward Norton,) Claire (Kate Winslet,) and Simon (Michael Pena) seek to reach Howard before it is too late by employing actors to personify these characters and connect with him so Howard can confront those whom he blames. The hope is that he will either snap out of his condition so he can close on the sale of his company or have him declared incompetent and be able to finish the buyout and avoid everyone losing everything.

imageAfter accepting the gig, Brigitte/Death (Helen Mirren,) Amy/Love (Keira Knightley,) and Raffi/Time (Jacob Latimor) read the letters Howard has written. After further debriefing from one of the friends, each approach Howard allowing him to confront them as well as hear from them about the full nature of the characters they are playing. As it turns out, Howard is not the only character who is experiencing trials of life. Because of some comedic moments and a broadening of focus, Collateral Beauty is not as intense, burdensome, or heavy as other films addressing loss. Will Smith’s 2006 The Pursuit of Happiness was much heavier and more difficult to watch.

In some ways, the film echoes Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by the presentation of the power of loss to change people and morph into anger which not only prohibits healing and becoming whole again, albeit with scars but also impacts and damages the lives of others.

Before the visitation of the three Christmas ghosts, Scrooge’s grief-fueled anger brought collateral damage to everyone with whom he had relationships or contact with, as well as those he did not. While not expressing the bitterness and mean-spiritedness of Ebeneezer, Howard’s failure to move through his mourning and his becoming paralyzed in his life and relationships had collateral damage to those with whom he had personal and business collateralrelationships. Howard’s preoccupation with the domino structures is symbolic of his life. With one action, an entire chain reaction of collateral destruction occurs. For Howard, this chain reaction following his loss is now taking down his business and impacting the lives of everyone in his life and business.

imageReversing the concept of collateral damage, damage or destruction that is beyond the intended target, is the complex idea that the film’s title and story lift up in a direct and powerful way. The idea that there can be beauty that comes out of loss and tragedy is central to Christian theology and experience of God.  The Apostle Paul teaches the Christians in Rome that in all things God works for good for those who love God, and that nothing in all creation, not even death, has more power than the power of God to love and for that love to be experienced. The collateral damage of humanity not trusting and turning away from God as illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve was that all creation was impacted and separated from God by sin.  The collateral beauty of that loss was the opportunity for God to demonstrate the unimaginable depth of God’s love for humanity and creation. The damage of the cross was the suffering and death of Jesus. The collateral beauty was the defeat of mortality, the offering, on an individual level, of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and life everlasting in God’s Kingdom.

As with almost every film, there are some things I would change in Collateral Beauty. However, it is a film that is worthy of viewing on both the level of entertainment as well as the message of hope and the power of love and life.

Collateral Beauty is rated PG-13.

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Review “Rules Don’t Apply”


Photos Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

As an Academy Award-winning director (Reds), film actor and auteur, and since it has been 16 years since he made a film, a new film by Warren Beatty is important. Rules Don’t Apply is a good romantic comedy and dramatic film with solid writing and direction by Beatty. Also, there are outstanding performances by a strong cast, with the best-known members, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, and Alec Baldwin, playing supporting or having cameo roles. In addition to the solid script, direction, and cast, Rules Don’t Apply, as other Beatty films is a multifaceted, nuanced film. Not only does it have layers of meaning supporting the comedic elements, but it presents Beatty’s world view in a semi-fictional, semi-biographical way.


While the first subject layer is the eccentricity of a legendary American industrialist and filmmaker, Howard Hughes, the second is the power the Church, Mainline Protestantism, had over much of American society through the first three-quarters of the Twentieth Century. Presented through the two starring characters who portray young employees of Mr. Hughes’s film company, starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), the film explores the place and impact of rules. Specifically, Beatty’s script connects the arbitrary rules Hughes had that strictly forbid fraternization between drivers and starlets, and the Church’s teaching and prohibition against sex outside of marriage. rulesdontapply-collins-ehrenreich-car-700x300Both Collins and Ehrenreich give impressive performances that range from vulnerable, wide-eyed young people who suddenly find themselves in the glamor, the hustle and bustle of Hollywood and working for Howard Hughes. Through the film, both characters change subtly as they experience firsthand the cost that comes with such glamor, and must decide whether they will pay it.

Surprisingly to some, the Church plays an important part in the first half of the film. As a Southern Baptist, Marla Mabrey had grown up being taught that sex outside of marriage was sinful and, if not a ticket to hell, was certainly one of the early steps. Having grown up Methodist, Frank Forbes had a slightly more generous understanding that if one had sex before marriage, one was not necessarily going to hell, but one was, in the eyes of God, married to that person. Both the rules of Mr. Hughes and Marla’s and Frank’s reluctant adherence to their faith backgrounds served as a barrier to them acting on their attraction to one another and their developing a relationship.  The same also damaged if not prevented a relationship between Mabrey and Hughes.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-10-00-36-amA second storyline is the famous eccentricity of Mr. Hughes. While it is not necessary for viewers to know the history of Howard Hughes, some familiarity with his story and his eventual becoming a recluse, helps follow and appreciate the film which is set in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Throughout the film, Hughes’s emotional state seems to falter as he thinks bankers and others are out to take TWA away from him by accusing him of being of unsound mind. The more Hughes seeks to avoid communicating with them, and making himself vulnerable to being judged incompetent, the greater the suspicions about him and the demands that he appear in public grow.

beatty-6Warren Beatty is believable as Howard Hughes even though he is considerably younger than Hughes was during the film’s setting. Back is Beatty’s energetic and disarming delivery that seems to speak through other characters and to each audience member.

Beatty’s script shows Hughes’s eccentricities growing through the film; however, there seems to be toward the end, an opening onto another path and life trajectory. Such a change, and perhaps salvation from being a recluse, appears to be possible through relationships that his suspicions and rules worked against. The ending of the film speaks to the redemptive and salvific power of relationships and comments that societal attempts to control behavior can do more harm when relationships are prevented or damaged than the perceived threat the rules are supposed to protect society or individuals from.


Rules Don’t Apply is rated PG-13 for Language


For more information regarding the film’s themes, theological implications, and Warren Beatty’s thoughts and motivations behind the making of the film, please see my interview with Mr. Beatty on this website.

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Rules Don’t Apply and Conversation with Warren Beatty

There is a running joke among clergy that when people find you in unusual situations or doing very ordinary things such as taking a pie in the face for a charity or stacking chairs, they ask you if they taught classes in that, or if you ever imagined yourself doing that when you were in seminary? I have had my share of these questions or reflections during my ministry. The latest is perhaps the most surreal. Never in my imagination did I think I would one day be interviewing Warren Beatty about sexual mores through the years and Judeo and Christian theology. While one of the great joys of ministry is the unexpected, my recent interview with Mr. Beatty was most unexpected and a great pleasure and privilege.

beatty-rules-07oct16-02I spoke with Warren Beatty during a press junket in support of the release of Rules Don’t Apply, his first film in sixteen years. As organizers of the tour had told us before we met with him, Warren certainly enjoyed talking with and learning about those he talked to. I had the pleasure of visiting with him for 45 minutes in a spacious suite in an upscale Dallas hotel. Throughout the interview, Warren was very charming gracious, and inviting which immediately put me at ease.

As a former film student I was certainly familiar with the importance of Warren Beatty’s work, however, in preparing for the interview, I was struck at his place in film and cultural history beyond his filmography.  Warren Beatty’s arrival in Hollywood in the late 1950’s coincided with the transition from the early days and ways of Hollywood where the studios and studio heads ruled, to the “New Hollywood” and the rise of stars and star power. As an up and coming Actor who had proved his actingwarren-beatty-17 chops on Broadway and had a critically acclaimed film, Splendor in the Grass, to his name, the strikingly handsome Beatty quickly became a fixture in popular and political culture. In the “Degree of Separations Game,” I was excited that in meeting Mr. Beatty, my separation from Charles Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, John Kennedy, just to name a few, was now one.

In the conversation with Mr. Beatty, we discussed extensively his being raised in the Baptist church in Richmond Virginia, and the impact it had on him. Given that Warren Beatty had a 30-year reputation as an ultimate Hollywood playboy, many are surprised to hear the seriousness of which he has considered sexuality and relationships through those years. Beatty has been open in recent interviews to talking about his dating history and how the church influenced his views on sexuality.  Certainly Warren Beatty dated many of the most successful and beautiful women in the world and in Hollywood, though he states that most of what was written about him were heavily exaggerated, yet it took him some time to assuage his guilt toward sex.

In addition to his reputation of dating famous, beautiful women, Beatty was also famous for his refusal to get married. While other famous leading men would marry, more often than not divorce, then often repeat the process, Beatty stood alone in his refusal, for the first 30 years of his life as a movie star, to get married. While most assumed this was the result of his not wanting to give up the playboy life and settle down, in reality, it was out of beatty-2his respect for the institution of marriage.  He would rather have not married then get married and then get divorced, as so many in his circle did. In short Warren Beatty waited until he knew it was time, and that Annette Bening, his wife of 25 years, was the person he was to live the rest of his life with.  As a clergyperson, I have known many who succumbed to the pressure of family, friends, and or society to get married rather than waiting for the right time and or person they were to marry. All too often this resulted in divorce or difficult marriages.

In preparing for my interview after screening the film, I thought about the place of rules in the film and the connection between the rules of Howard Hughes for his employees and those of the Church, and why Beatty was making them a central focus of his film. Through this process, I had a-ha moment that I shared with Warren who graciously listened and discussed my thoughts with me.

It is no surprise that rules and laws play a big part of scripture, theology, and the history of the people of God. Yet, what was their purpose? When considering from a Judeo/ Christian perspective, a major, perhaps the primary purpose of the Law was to establish, foster, and protect relationships. The first objective of the Ten Commandments was to set the relationship between God and Israel. The next was to strengthen this relationship further by developing guidelines for how people were to relate and treat one another in ways that would make Israel stronger. Eventually however the number of Laws increased from 10 to over 600, many of which had little to do with and actually negatively impacted relationships.

In the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled the Law and condensed them into his double commandment, to love God with all one’s being, and then, also love all others as one loves themselves. In doing these two things, all of the Law would be fulfilled. Again, the center of the two commandments of Jesus is relationship. When rules are added that negatively impact relationships, such rules too often become tools by one group to control behavior and in doing so, control people, rather than foster and protect relationships.

Such questioning of the efficacy of rules regarding sexuality does not include laws aimed at preventing sexual abuse of children or persons who in other ways are not able to offer consent. Sexual relations in these circumstances threaten the physical and emotional health of the persons unable to give consent. Also, promiscuity is something that should be counseled against as it almost always damages current or future relationships. Lastly, it is true that sex complicates relationships and often sabotages them if entered into too early.

After filtering out the above circumstances, a question played out in the film is whether blanket rules against sex between consenting adults are efficacious or even plausible? And, if or when they aren’t, how does the resulting guilt or shame associated with sex impact the individuals and their current or future relationships? Do such rules protect or harm?

Theological reflection regarding the purpose and consequences of societal rules regarding sexuality between consenting adults should include reflection on same-sex relationships. If fostering relationship is a, if not the primary purpose of scriptural and religious institutional law and teaching, how do church or societal laws that bar relationships reflect the desire of God? If relationships are a gift from God to be protected and nurtured, and entering into such relationships through marriage is a natural desire for most people, how does denying to some people what others have speak to the importance God places on relationships, and the command of Jesus to love others as one loves oneself?  beatty-4ln the film, relationship is presented as a saving grace and avenue to a fulfilled life. If relationships are such, how can such an instrument of life and grace be denied persons seeking such? These were some of the questions Warren Beatty’s film brought to my mind after my viewing. I think he was surprised when I told him that, in addition to sharing with the audience the impact growing up in the Church had on him, he offered a surprisingly nuanced theological statement into the nature and purpose of God’s Law in light of, and at times in contrast to, Church teaching and expectations.

Depth is always a sign of a good film and conversations are always an indication of depth. While Rules Don’t Apply is a well-made, funny and entertaining film, it is also a film of nuance that can lead viewers to consider and discuss elements of society and life beyond the screen. As is often the case, the answers one has to the issues or questions brought out in this film regarding the nature and place of rules in society and the impact they have on relationships, are less important than the process of true discernment.

Rules Don’t Apply is rated PG-13 for some adult content and language.

Please see my review of Rules Don’t Apply on this website.

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Film Review: Tower

I thought I would reblog my review of this extraordinary film now that it is in release, though unfortunately very limited cities and dates. Below us s list of cities, dates and theaters.

CrossRoads Faith and Film

One of the joys of attending film festivals is seeing independent films that oftentimes do not get a wide distribution if they are distributed at all. Unfortunately documentaries are among the most overlooked film genres when it comes to theatrical distribution. One of the other joys of film festivals is the access to filmmakers through Q&A’s that often follow the screening. Among the many jewels that were a part of the Dallas International Film Festival, as well as SXSW festival in Austin, was the film Tower, by Keith Maitland. Tower is a documentary about the 1966 mass shooting from the Tower on the University of Texas campus, in which 14 people were killed on the campus and 2 others off campus. This shooting was at the time, and for many years following, the worst mass murder in the history of the United States.

Tower focuses on the stories of…

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Film Review: The Birth of a Nation


Photos Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in The Birth of a Nation, a well written, directed and powerfully acted film that depicts the 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion. Nat Turner was born into slavery in Virginia and after learning to read the Bible and preach, primarily to other slaves, felt called by God to lead a violent uprising against slave owners and other white people. Turner believed this would be the catalyst for a rebellion of slaves throughout the South and the ending the horrific institution. The Birth of a Nation is also one of the most important films of the year. Following the 2013 Oscar winning film for best picture 12 Years A Slave, another historically based film that addressed and depicted slavery in the United States, The Birth of A Nation allows viewers to experience, if only in the slightest way, the utter horror and indignity of the evil institution.  Unlike 12 Years, there is no reunion or anything approaching a happy ending.


birth-3The Nat Turner rebellion lasted 48 hours and resulted in the deaths of between 55 and 65 slave owners, their families, and others in August of 1831. Though the rebellion only lasted 48 hours, it led to panic on the part of slave owners and white citizens throughout the south. In retaliation for the killings, southern militias and mobs killed over 200 slaves in addition to those who participated in the rebellion. Nat Turner was able to elude capture for 2 months before he was finally caught and hung. The rebellion also resulted in greater restrictions on slaves and free blacks including prohibiting education, the ability to assemble, and the possession of firearms.

As important as the film is in instilling awareness of the history and horrific reality of slavery, I cannot recall a time when I have felt as much ambivalence after watching a film. Following the screening of the film, the distributor asked for comments from press and bloggers.  As one who was there to watch and review the film from a faith perspective, the first thought I had was the shortest verse in The Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Watching the film, one feels rage at the brutally cruel and inhuman treatment inflicted on persons. Also, as a United Methodist pastor, I felt anger and rage at toward the clergyman who sought to profit from slavery, specifically from assisting birth-5Nat Turner’s owner in leasing him out to other slave owners to preach compliance to and instill the fear of God into, their slaves. It is no secret that Scripture has long been used to justify unrighteous actions of persons and nations toward others. And, although I have known most southern Churches or denominations, including Methodism, allowed or endorsed slavery, seeing the impact such support had on the enslaved individuals, disturbs the soul in addition to informing the mind. That clergy and others so distorted and misused the Gospel of Christ for such gain, or whatever reason, deepens even further the sadness and anger.

After viewing, I tried not to judge the character of Turner as presented in the film. Though I believe he was wrong to kill the slave owners, their families, and others, and in doing so went against the teaching and life example of Christ, I cannot say that I would not resort to similar violence were I in the same circumstance. After exposure to such horror and indignity, anger and a desire for vengeance can take over even the strongest resolve to resist resorting to violence and retaliation.  Yet, the killings of the slave owners and others, even as they oppressed and enslaved fellow children of God, saddened Christ as did the enslavement and inhumane treatment of other humans by those same slave owners.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught followers to resist the natural human urge to seek revenge or strike out against even one’s enemies or oppressors. Not only is such human instinct contrary to the way of the Kingdom of God, but it also destroys the one seeking revenge. Forgiveness is not only, or even primarily, for the perpetrator of an offense, it is the first and foremost instrument of healing for the victim.

Parker has stated that he chose to title the film The Birth of A Nation as a way to rbirth-8edress the false, racist presentation of African Americans, and the righteously heroic depiction of the Ku Klux Klan by D.W. Griffith in his technically groundbreaking, 1915 film The Birth of A Nation. While such presentations are in need of correction, Parker ironically follows in the footsteps of Griffith in misrepresentation; in this case, the teachings of Jesus and the expectations of discipleship. Parker has talked openly about his faith in Christ and his identity as a Christian.  He has also stated he considers Nat Turner to be a hero for being the spark that would culminate in, through the Civil War and the ending of slavery, the birth of a new nation.

As stated earlier it is hard to condemn Turner for turning to violence in the face of such oppressive and brutal treatment put upon him, his family, and millions of other slaves.  It misrepresents, however, the teachings of Christ and is contrary to the call of discipleship to countenance Turner’s actions, even against his oppressors. The call of Jesus to Nate Parker, myself, and all disciples is not to seek or celebrate the birth of a new nation through violence or any other means. It is instead to seek through Christ-like living, the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, where revenge has no place and one has access only by the grace and forgiveness of God.

Even in the midst of the ambiguity residing within the historically based story, and the opinions of Nate Parker, The Birth of A Nation is an important film to watch because of the insight into the reality of the institution of slavery and what it was to be enslaved. While it is important to know and remember history, it is also, if not more important to understand history. Experiencing in even the mildest way the horror of slavery is vital to understanding the profound impact it had and still has on this nation, and prevent even wisps of such thinking and actions from rekindling.

The Birth of a Nation is rated R for violent content and brief nudity.

In writing the review of the film, I chose not to address in the body of the review the controversy regarding Nate Parker and his acquittal of a charge of sexual assault in 1999 while he was a student at Penn State. Click link for coverage of the incident, trial, and aftermath.

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