Cry the Beloved Country – the big is in the small

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CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, Richard Harris, James Earl Jones, 1995

 

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of being at Stormont Presbyterian church to introduce Cry the Beloved Country. You can read my introduction in relation to cinema and justice here.

Cry the Beloved Country is set in South Africa church minister Steven Kumalo is summoned from his village to Johannesburg. He finds is son has been jailed in connection with the robbery and consequential death of a white man. The father of the deceased is an apartheid supporter. When they encounter each other they come to the unexpected realisation not only about their sons but their own humanity.

The film had many emotional moments, many scenes that moved me as I watched the various injustices suffered by many of the characters portrayed. There was one moment however that stood out above the others.

When Richard Harris goes to visit the club that his son provided for local ‘native’ boys he is approached by the club manager. Harris portrays a man who supports apartheid and even at his son’s funeral refuses to shake the hand of a black mourner. His son knew no such prejudice. He saw past skin tone, past societal class and saw humanity. He also saw a gap in society, a lack of provision and in founding this club plugged a hole others ignored in order to prevent boys in the area from getting involved in many of the dangers on the Johannesburg streets.

The manager approaches the mourning father and tells him of all the great things he did for them and then he says

“They were small things but what he gave us was himself”

This is often what people refer to as the light bulb moment. I sat at the back of the room went against all film watching senses and wrote the quote in my phone.

Often we feel that acts of justice must be carried out on a large scale. The grand gesture and in today’s world with as much publicity as you can get.

We want people to know the good we do. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook the ‘look at my great life’ mentality that social media instigates and nurtures can detract from what it should really be all about.

The greater act may be something small, something unseen by those around you, without publicity. Where you give away part of yourself in order that someone else gains.

In 2016 this goes against the norm. This is outside the box thinking. This idea of small meaningful heartfelt gesture over grandstanding would never be considered by some

If the meek are to inherit the earth. This way of acting maybe the most subversive method of seeing justice done we could ever encounter.

 

Spotlight, Outsiders & Church

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Not enough has been written about the role of Liev Schreiber and his role in spotlight. Yes Ruffalo is great, Keaton outstanding and Tucci wonderfully manic in their roles but Liev Schreiber for me was the key role.

Schreiber plays Marty Baron the new boss of the Boston Globe. He is an outsider. His non interest in sports is the first red flag thrown in the film never mind his Jewish faith background in a city dominated by the Catholic church.  This however is the key to Baron he is not like the others and by being an outsider he does not hold the same ideals in relation to the church. While others on the Spotlight team profess to be ‘lapsed’ or ‘non-practicing’ it is the difference that drives him on. He does not hold the church in the same regard and therefore encourages the team to investigate the allegations when the team has reservations.

The outsider holds the key.

So what of the church today? How comfortable are we with the outsider?

How comfortable are we when someone not like us enters ‘our world’ and points out our flaws?

I saw a quote this week that got me thinking

“…we know when we are really preaching and living the way of Jesus because it’s the Christians that are often most offended….”

– David Capener

All too often, when challenged,  offence becomes the go to reaction. Outsiders are not afraid to let us within the church know when we aren’t getting it right. Yet we often take it badly. Offence is so often the go to feeling. Often that is because the truth is uncomfortable. The truth will push us outside our comfort zones.

Personally I’d rather be outside my comfort zone that have my faith stagnate. Without the challenges from outsiders my faith becomes a pointless character accessory that can be reduced to a social media bio point or degraded to a meaningless hashtag.

The outsiders are vital.

We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner.

Yet when we are called on it we become uncomfortable.

We need the outsiders.

They might understand Jesus better than we claim to.

 

 

 

Room: Innocence lost to wider horizons

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Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a stunning piece of work. Revolving around the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) & Ma (Brie Larson) this tale is simultaneously harrowing and uplifting and will surely be in most end of year polls for film of the year.

Continuing 2016’s cinematic theme of overcoming the odds (which I have previously blogged about) Room is the story of mother and son escaping imprisonment and returning to ‘normality’ and the embrace of their family.

The key to the film is  Trembelay in the role of Jack. He is the hero of the piece and the reason for Ma’s desire to escape. It is Jack who, having known nothing else but Room his entire life, adapts best to the outside world. Ma struggles with the new reality, her family struggle with their guilt over what happened and yet Jack endures.

Jack is the one who arguably has the most to overcome. Everything he knew is blown away once he escapes Room. Sky, trees, dogs, other people all are new and all are to be explored. He has the most to overcome and yet he shows the courage and heart to change.

There is something within us as humans that can adapt, change, evolve to whatever circumstances we encounter. It is important to acknowledge that this occurs at differing speeds for all of us but we all have the capacity if we are so minded.

Recently I have been challenged in my faith by many different things. Podcasts, books, conversations with friends. As I wrestle with what my faith is about and what my understanding of who or what God is these new elements have been very useful.

It’s far to dramatic to describe what I’m experiencing as a deconstruction of my faith. I haven’t lost anything. I may have changed my thinking on certain issues but to my mind this is not loss but gain.

I’m grateful for the new voices I have encountered. I’m thankful for their influence and their input into who I am becoming.

For too long my faith has been held within a small compact Room-like space. It’s time to go bigger than that and step out into the unknown.

 

Some podcasts I have been listening to recently that I’ve given reference to above:

The RobCast

HomeBrewed Christianity

Freestyle Christianity

Revolution Church

 

 

Cinema in 2016: The Overcomers

 

So far in 2016 I have been able to see 3 of the ‘big films’ of the year and I’ve enjoyed all 3 to varying degrees. All three are very different and yet all three have something in common. From arthouse leanings of The Revenant to the popcorn munching multiplex feel good of Creed one thing unites these three.

Overcoming the odds.

From the fringes of death, family circumstances, social classes, insecurities over legacy these protagonists all endure, all survive and in varying degrees thrive.

We root for these characters. We will them on to success. I am not ashamed to say that on seeing Joy I became unexpectedly emotional about mop sales!

These people though are not just the work of cinematic stories alone.  We meet these overcomers daily.

Those who struggle. Those who are weary. Those who refuse to be held back by their circumstance.  Those who wrestle to make it through the week. Those who seem to have a strength we can only hope for. Those who refuse to wilt. Those who overcome things we can only imagine in our darkest moments.

So while enjoying the success of those who overcome on screen.

Perhaps in 2016 it may be more worthwhile to get alongside and root for those who overcome daily around us.

 

Review: The Revenant

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I saw Alejandro Iñårritu’s latest film The Revenant six days ago. I tell you this not to show off but because after nearly a week has passed I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about this film.

I am certain I have seen something profound and yet I would struggle to tell you that this was a film that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

Inspired by true events, The Revenant captures one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a bid to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption.

This is a film about the power of the human spirit but it is also a film about suffering and the endurance of pain. Not just the physical pain of the aforementioned bear attack (which is surely one of the most brutal moments in recent cinema) but the suffering caused mental anguish and the consuming desire for revenge.

So the question remains, is it enjoyable to watch a man suffer for slightly under two and  a half hours and watch him strive for vengeance?

My initial reaction was no. However having reflected over the last few days The Revenant has grown on me.

There are some incredible highlights to mention. The wonderful cinematography which elicits memories of Terrence Mallick and his love of nature. The opening sequence of the film where the hunting team is attacked by a native tribe is jaw dropping in it’s simultaneous beauty and brutality.

My favourite thing about this film though is  the performance of Tom Hardy as the wild eyed, manic Fitzgerald. If DiCaprio is to win Best Actor at this year’s Oscars then surely Hardy HAS to be this year’s best supporting actor.

The Revenant is littered with spirituality, the continual resurrection of Glass  regenerating throughout the film to become stronger on his journey home. One memorable scene in a crumbling church is particularly beautiful as Glass gazes on the image of Christ in a way recognising the near death and rebirth parallels of their lives.

The Revenant is a multi layered film that requires a viewer’s maximum concentration. If you invest enough in unpacking the complexities The Revenant is a cinematic wonder. If you are not fully engaged there is the chance that the film could appear pretentious and for art house lovers only.

The Revenant  is not a film to be enjoyed. Much like the vast frontier it plays out in The Revenant is a film to be explored.

The Revenant is on general release from 15th Jan 2016.

Thanks to MovieHouse for advance screening access

Christmas, Home Alone & Church

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It’s the same every year. The boxes are brought down from the attic/roof space, the tree is put together, the branches unfolded and my annual task of untangling the lights begins.

There is one box every year that I can’t wait to get into. The Christmas DVD box. As traditional as the tree itself we have a box full of Christmas DVDs  that are just for this special time of year.

Every year the same rotation, It’s A Wonderful Life, Gremlins, Miracle on 34th Street even Christmas with the Kranks (don’t judge me) are all there to enjoy.

Home Alone however above all others has become a firm family favourite. For starters be honest who hasn’t wished their family would disappear at some point? Kevin being man of the house slapping on some Brut and of course the chaos of Harry and Marv working their way through Kevin’s fun house.

There was one part of the film though that, particularly in my younger days, bored me. The segment in the film where Kevin goes to church.

This year though something changed. Something shifted. This year I watched what Kevin did and listened to what was said.

Kevin goes to church seeking refuge. He is missing his family, is afraid and needs some sanctuary. Unexpectedly he encounters his neighbour Old Man Marley and is shocked to discover the human side of  a man he has previously been terrified of. The realisation comes that Old Man Marley is also in church for refuge. He is in fact very similar to Kevin as he also misses his family. Estranged from his son Marley has to watch the choir practice as this is the only way he can see his grand daughter be close to his family. The refuge he seeks is from his past circumstances whereas Kevin seeks refuge from the present.

During the conversation Marley has the killer line following a misunderstanding with Kevin when he corrects him by saying ‘everyone is welcome at church’.

That’s why Kevin goes to church. That’s why Marley is there. They know deep down even with their problems that church is a place of refuge and a place of welcome to the weary.

I hope that this Christmas you find church (wherever that may be ) to be the same.

Shawshank, Paris & Hope

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Hebrews 11:1 ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’

Over the last few days I’ve written, rewritten and deleted this post. What right does someone who blogs on film have to post something on Paris? I’ve wrestled with the events for days. I’ve been grumpy, downbeat and upset by every news report I’ve watched and I’ve pondered how to respond.

As a Christian the automatic response people think I should have is to open my bible and be reassured that God’s plan is perfect, everything is under control. The truth is though that at times like these those clip note verses just don’t get the job done.

That is one of the reasons I  started this blog. Sometimes a film shows me something of God that fumbling through pages of a Bible, searching for a nugget of wisdom or clarity just doesn’t do.

The events of last weekend have affected me. They have left me broken hearted. They have left me to question in truth what is the point of having a faith.

Then I remembered Shawshank. I remembered Andy and I remembered what he said about hope.

Hope might be the one thing I have left.

Hope that God is in the chaos of Paris and through his people is restoring, and healing the wounds left behind.

Hope that people see that God is not confined to pages of a book but is active around us in the smallest of things and the grandest of gestures.

Hope that in some way this insignificant blog post helps anyone else wrestling with this like I regularly do.

Why do I have faith in spite of everything?

Because faith is being sure of what we hope for and hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.