Here, for anyone interested, is the top 10 films I have seen this year. As always the list includes any film that I have seen for the first time (even if they weren’t released this year).
Films that may have made the list if I’d seen them are Liberal Arts, The Master. The Hobbit, Life of Pi and Seven Psychopaths.
The films that almost made this list were Dredd, Skin I Live In, Berberian Sound Studio, Once, Chronicle, Cell 211, I Love You Philip Morris, Tyrannosaur and Kill List.
So here is my top 10 of 2012:
1) Dark Knight Rises
3) Perks of Being a Wallflower
5) Tucker and Dale vs Evil
6) The Avengers
7) Beasts of the Southern Wild
9) Killer Joe
“Entrance” is not for everyone. It is a low-budget horror movie that is literal definition of ‘slow burn’. Very little appears to happen in the movie for most of its running time. I know some people who will be bored to tears by it. Happily, I’m not one of them.
The film follows ‘Suziey’, a young twenty-something living in LA as she goes about her normal life. When she mysteriously loses her beloved dog, a creeping anxiety begins to set in and she decides shes had enough of L.A. But on the night of her going-away party, Suziey finds out that leaving might not be so easy.
The film ultimately speaks about lonliness and isolation and the extremes some people will go to have a ‘connection’ with someone. As a Christian, I believe we live in a fallen, fractured world. As a consequence of our own selfish choices, and the choices those before us have made, we live isolated from everything.
The story of ‘The Fall’ in Genesis represents many things. When ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ chose their own wisdom, rather than Gods’, a number of things happened. The ‘sin’ they committed fractured the relationships of everyone involved. The relationship between Adam and Eve broke down because they blamed each other for the mess they were now in. Both of them chose to hide from God and so the relationship between mankind and God was broken and the relationship between Adam and the ground was also fractured.
Alienation is at the heart of ‘The Fall’ narrative. When we choose sin, when we choose selfishness, we become isolated from ourselves, each other, God and creation. Most of the atrocities committed in this world can be attributed to this idea. In the Genesis story we see ourselves mirrored in the figures of Adam and Eve.
As human beings we long for connection. We need to be connected with other people. On a trip to Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of a “Ubuntu“. It is a South African word meaning, “You are only a human through other humans …through your relations to other humans.”
Our humanity is defined solely by our relationships with others. When we are isolated, we become less than human. The gospel, as I see it, is about the reclaiming of our humanity. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can enter into a new humanity. Through Jesus, the fractured relationships can be restored.
“Entrance” is about what happens when we people try to find that connection themselves. It is about the distorted ways people try to meet those needs. The film is a reminder of the consequences of our sin. It a reminder of the world that we have created through our actions. The film paints a bleak picture of humanity; a bleak picture of the modern city.
But there is another story. There is another city. A city where God dwells with his people. A city where everything has been renewed and restored.
Let us live as citizens of that city and tell others about it.
What do we do when the system fails us?
I believe it’s a question that is at the heart of the Nolans’ Dark Knight trilogy but one that the films fail to answer.
For Bruce Wayne, the system that is set up to protect the people of Gotham has failed and he becomes Batman to rectify that. He removes himself from the system and becomes a vigilante. But as I’ve discussed in my previous post, he doesn’t succeed. Batman is part of the problem. It is because of him that the violence escalates. Gotham is worse off because of Batman.
Raz A’Ghul in Batman Begins also believes that the system has failed but his response is to burn Gotham to the ground and start over. He believes that a fresh start is the answer. But we can all hopefully agree that this is not the way to do it.
At the end of The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILER) John Blake also believes that the system has failed and takes the drastic step to follow in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.
The films are full of people for whom the system has failed. But what is their response? Work outside the system? Destroy the system? None of these ultimately work.
So what’s the alternative?
It’s a question I’m not sure I have the answer to yet but I want to continue the discussion. As a youth worker, I feel these are important questions to chat through with young people.
We live in a corrupted world in which the system has failed us. MPs, police officers, bankers and the church have all let us down. How do we respond?
How do you respond? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I know a number of people who were disappointed with the character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Some had issues with his voice but many felt he had no presence and paled in comparison with the Joker.
One reviewer complained that Bane was too similar to Batman.
I think that was the point. I believe that Bane is the yang to Batmans ying (just as the Joker was). Bane is what Batman could have been had he chosen to follow the league of shadows.
Film critic, Mark Kermode made this interesting comparsion. Batman wears a mask and has his mouth in his full view but Bane has his mouth covered and his face in full view. They are opposites. They are versions of each other.
I think that’s the great thing about the villains in these Batman films. Each of them are versions of Batman. Each of them are what Batman could have been.
We cannot change many of the situations and events that we encounter in our lives. Both Batman and Bane ended up in the pit. But we can change how we react to those events. Batman chose one path and Bane chose a different one.
How will you deal with the situations that you come face to face with today?
It’s always the same.
Every time an atrocious incident takes place (eg the Colorado shootings) films are blamed. Many people have come out to complain about “The Dark Knight Rises” and how it is responsible for corrupting minds with its violence.
On the website, “red letter christians” there is an article about the link between the shootings and the film and towards the end of the article, the writer says this:
“It is truly a tragedy when 12 people are killed by a deeply senseless act of violence. It is also a tragedy when the human mind is molded to enjoy and celebrate similar acts of violence on the big screen.”
What the writer seems completely unaware of is that in Nolans’ series of Batman films, the filmmakers are keen to state that it is because of Batmans violence that more violence takes place. The violence in the Dark Knight series escalates because of Batman himself.
If there were no Batman there would be no Joker, there would be no Bane and there would be no (spoiler) Talia Al’Ghul. These people exist because of Batman. The Joker strikes Gotham to show Batman that every one of us will be come a blood thirsty murderer if pushed far enough. Bane and Talia want to destroy Gotham because Batman killed Raz Al’Ghul.
These films demonstrate the circular nature of violence. These films are not pro-violence.
This is a great message to discuss with young people.
Where does violence take us? Does it really get us anywhere?
In fact, the only way that evil is dealt with in these films is through sacrifice. It is Harvey Dents supposed sacrifice (really Batmans) in the Dark Knight that leads to the Dent Act that removes criminals from the streets and it is Batmans sacrifice at the end of the Dark Knight Rises that brings victory.
The Batman films, rather than promote violence, shine a light on its fallacy and show that the myth of redemptive violence leads us straight to the pits of Bane’s hell.
I watched the film ‘Humpday‘ this afternoon and it got me thinking.
“Humpday” is about two guys, who, high on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, decide to take part in an erotic art project and have sex with each other.
It’s a sweet indie film about friendship, marriage and the need to grow up. (I know it doesn’t sound like it)
As I said, I watched it this afternoon and it got me thinking.
The married guy tries to explain to his wife why this is a good idea. He tells her that there are many sides to him and that he doesn’t want marriage (and the prospect of being a dad) to flatten him into one personae. He’s scared about losing who he is.
I’ve been there.
I got married when I was 21. As the big day got closer, I went through a crisis of identity. I was worried that I wouldn’t be ‘me’ anymore. That I’d be known simply as a ‘husband’. That I would have to be with my wife 24/7 and I would lose my identity. I’m glad my (now) wife stuck by me and didn’t walk away from that insecure boy.
Eight years into marriage and I can look back and laugh at that naive boy. I haven’t lost who I am rather, I have added to that identity. I am now also a husband and a father (although I did go through a smaller version of that crisis when our son was born).
That’s what committing to someone is about. It’s not about losing a part of you, it’s about gaining something else.
I am the man I am today because of my marriage. I think I am a better man for it.
I just wanted to share that.
Here’s a post I wrote for the website “reel faith”
We all love a good ending don’t we?
The problem is, Hollywood (and every other network) does not seem to want to give us one.
And it’s not just films that are guilty of this.
I enjoyed the six part ‘Hit and Miss’ drama on Sky Atlantic a couple of months back until the last episode which refused to tie up any plot strands and left us instead with a “second series cliffhanger”. Can’t we just have a TV series that ends well and doesn’t force us to watch the next series in the hope of some resolution?
The truth is, this is nothing new. Films and TV shows have been doing this for years. I gave up on ‘Lost’ a number of years ago after failing to resolve any plot strands after two seasons.
This probably all sounds like I’m against ‘cliffhangers’ in TV shows and films but I’m really not. There are plenty of TV shows and films that weave it in successfully. I enjoy ‘Fringe’, ‘Dexter’ and ‘Breaking Bad‘ and they all tease another series in each of their season finales.
Films like ‘Batman Begins‘, ‘X-men 2’ ‘Spiderman’ (admittedly all super hero films) all end with a sequel tease and, in my opinion, pull it off well. In fact, I think these examples make the film better.
So why do some work and others don’t?
Films and TV shows need to be able to stand alone. If I choose not to watch the next series or the sequel, I need to feel like that film or series’ main plot strands have been wrapped up. Let’s use ‘Batman Begins’ as an example.
At the end of the film, Bruce Wayne has become Batman and the villain (Raz Al’Ghul) has been defeated. The films’ main plot has been resolved. Yes it then sets up the introduction of The Joker but if I decided never to see ‘The Dark Knight‘ I’d be happy that the film delivered what it set out to accomplish.
The problem comes when a TV show or film fails to tie up its main plot strands and expects the audience to tune in to the next series or sequel to find resolution. That’s not right. I’ve spent my money; I’ve sat through a series; I expect a conclusion.
For me, I have similar ideas when it comes to my Christian faith. I like doubt. I like questions. I like the grey areas of faith.
As a youth worker, I walk the fine line between answering all of the young peoples’ questions and leaving room for ambiguity. Faith shouldn’t be wrapped up in a neat little box. We shouldn’t be able to answer all of the questions. We need to leave room for the ‘what ifs’. We need to need to help young people find some answers but also leave them wanting more.
It’s okay not to resolve all the ‘plot strands’ of the christian faith but we need to be sensitive to the young people we work with in order to know which ones to resolve and which ones to leave open ended.
As I said yesterday, Marc Williamson and I spoke at a national youth work event, “The Youthwork Summit” in London on Saturday around the issue of film and youthwork. You can read the transcript here.
The feedback from our talk has been brilliant and I have had the opportunity to engage with people through twitter and face-to-face about some of the concerns or issues they have surrounding it.
What I’d like to do now is to respond to some of the general queries people have had about what we said so that dialogue can continue. That is the main reason we want to explore films. We want to engage in conversation and I am only too happy to talk to those who agree or disagree with what we have to say.
Let me say first of all that we were not endorsing any of the films that we spoke about. I do not agree that we should be endorsing any film over another regardless of what we think of it. Rather, I am keen to see dialogue with films that young people are watching. We may disagree with what they watch, and there are times when we should say that, but what I want to see more of is youth workers talking about those films with their young people. There were a couple of people who said they didn’t pick up on that aspect so I wanted to state that before I go any further.
Where are the other themes?
We only had ten minutes to try and communicate kingdom themes in five films. Everyone has a different opinion of what the Kingdom is and its values. But we had a limited time to speak of what we say as the overarching narratives: return from exile, reconciliation, incarnation, identity and sacrifice. There are many more and a longer presentation would have allowed us to tease out more of these concepts.
We shouldn’t be encouraging young people to watch horrible films
One of the films we discussed during the talk was “Saw 3D”. I knew that picking this film would cause an issue. Some others also disagreed with our choices of “Twilight” and “Bridesmaids”. I understand that. People have very strong opinions to films; whether it be ones they like or dislike. There are many reasons why we may dislike certain films. We may find them offensive or sick or whatever but we have to be aware of our own preferences and not try to push them them on to others.
I understand that many people will consider “Saw” and other horror films sinful and corrupt and that we should not be encouraging our young people to watch them. I have no issue with that. But in my experience simply telling young people not to watch something often results in them watching it. What I’d rather see is that if you’re young people are watching films like this, rather than simply ignore it or give them a lecture, engage with them. That doesn’t mean you need to watch the film but find out about its theme so that you can discuss it. Talk to them about the good and the bad things about it and help the young people make informative choices.
You won’t be able to work with them all their lives and it is better to give them the tools to critically watch all kinds of films so that they will do this long after they’ve left the youth group.
Suitability of films
This sort of ties in with the last point but I think its slightly nuanced. What are suitable movies? That’s a good question. Those that had issue with some of the films we talked about said that they weren’t ‘suitable’. Either because of violence, or the oppression of women etc. Again, I understand that. But again I ask, what is suitable? If our young people are all over 18, can we not show them an 18 rated film just because it has violence and sex? Is it wrong to show them these kinds of film? Who decides that?
My problem is that in most christian films discussion resources, the only films that are used are ‘safe’ films. Ones that have positive themes and are rated for children. But is this healthy? What is that telling our young people? Now I’m not saying that just because a horror film is really big at the time, that we show that to them. But if they have all seen it then it might be worth discussing it. We too easily put culture into good and bad categories. But that’s not good practice.
I hope this has been helpful and please feel free to comment and keep the discussion going.
- Youth Work Summit Talk (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 1 (smoorns.wordpress.com)
Last weekend I, along with my colleague Marc Williamson, spoke at the Youthwork Summit in London on “The Kingdom of God in 5 films”. I really enjoyed the talk and speaking to folks afterwards (those who agreed and disagreed). I’ll be blogging about the whole event soon and also replying to a few of the comments that people share about our talk specifically.
We are keen for dialogue in film. We want to discuss and explore ideas together. Both with those who agree and disagree with our opinions.
A full transcript of our talk (including the bits we had to cut out for time) is now up online on our film site. please take a look at it here and let me know what you think.