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.

 

Cinematic Justice & Kevin Costner

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Last night I was invited to introduce Cry the Beloved Country at Stormont Presbyterian church as part of their justice month. I’ll blog a little on Cry the Beloved Country later but first here is last night’s introduction  on how the justice we should strive for looks a lot like Kevin Costner.

What does cinematic justice look like?

Dare I suggest it looks like Kevin Costner but first a little bit of Deuteronomy & James. Deuteronomy is not many people’s go to for biblical quotes and inspirations around just but Deuteronomy 27:19 puts it bluntly for us:

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice”

The biblical imperative is clear long before Jesus of how we are to act.

Some say that faith alone is enough for the Christian. The belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient and will see us safely into the golden streets of heaven.

I’ve never liked that suggestion.

For me it makes Christianity nothing more than a box ticking exercise. Believe these simple steps and have your ticket punched into the grandest club house of them all.

I can’t believe that.

James 2 14-18 is the antidote to this school of thought an speaks of the value of work and says

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”

One if these works I believe, is the pursuit of justice and that brings me to Kevin Costner.

Costner has never played Jesus on screen but in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves he wasn’t that far away.

Have you ever considered how radical a story Robin Hood is?

King Richard has left for the Crusades and left his brother, John, in charge. John has none of his brother’s good intent and England very quickly descends into a land of greed and corruption with a structure that squeezes its people for all they have.

Taxes up and the value of people down and more scandalous all lords, authority and the church come on board.

One man thought rises up against this.

Robin sets himself in opposition to society, gathers a group of disciples and set about their radical mission. They attempt to redress the balance, taking from the rich giving to the poor, sheltering the infirm and protecting women.

Now you may think I’m stretching parallels and its important to say that I’m not suggesting that seeking justice means taking to the woods with mates, bows and arrows in hand and ambushing people in fancy cars. However when Jesus tell us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Robin Hood is no that far away from living this command out.

Ask yourself who is the more Christ like? The outlaw attempting to redress the balance; or the pious priests of the church collecting alms from the poor for the wealthy and refusing to be their advocate?

Robin Hood rises against a society that doesn’t work. Robin Hood takes action against a society that does not protect all of its citizens’ welfare and is no longer fit for purpose.

The question then needs to be asked of us. Are we any further on in 2016?

12 Years A Slave: We are not finished yet

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Recently I had the privilege of seeing 12 Years A Slave with our church film club.

I say privilege as to say pleasure somehow doesn’t feel right.

What I witnessed was not just a film but a gut wrenching, emotion packed, beautifully shot piece of work that will to my mind be one of the films spoken about in the future as a true classic.

Once the film finished I was left emotionally drained and speechless (not an easy task) and felt unable to leave straight away. I was  compelled to sit, to ponder, to reflect.

To be honest I still don’t feel as if I have fully processed everything I saw.

Much was written about the brutally realistic depiction of slavery so I was aware of what I may experience going in. However I wasn’t prepared for what would trouble me most.

The graphic nature of the film is a contributing factor t creating great unease in the viewer. The scene showing Patsy (one of Epps’ slaves) being whipped first by Solomon and then plantation owner Epps was particularly graphic. Patsy’s screams are part of the film that will stay with me for a very long time and it was not easy to sit in comfort watching the flesh tear from her body.

Even more disturbing for me though was the section in which Epps (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender) stands in front of his slaves and with all authority available to him, reads a Biblical passage using it as a justification for the treatment of his charges.

This disturbed me more than the scenes of physical abuse as it was done with such conviction, such belief, such authority that I was horrified that it made me feel physically sick.

I think the main reason for my reaction was the realisation that this biblical justification is sadly not time bound. Watching 12 Years A Slave left me contemplating not only what have Christians justified away ‘biblically’ in our past but also in our present.

For all the progress we have made as a society we still have a long way to go.

Slavery still exists, albeit in a different form, in today’s trafficking of children and adults across the world. We still have a way to go.

Issues such as equal marriage are dismissed by some who stand declaring their faith openly in government and quoting scripture as infallible. We still have a way to go.

Communities are still divided and treated with suspicion and demonised by their opposites and neighbours. We still have a way to go.

We have progressed but 12 Years A Slave also does not let us off tht lightly. It also shows us that we as human beings are all unfinished, imperfect and ultimately still work in progress.

Review: Only God Forgives

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The question is often put to me by friends ‘why do you love film so much?’.

The answer is simple . I’m not sure that another art form exists that can be so divisive. Start a conversation with film loving friends about what the greatest film ever made is and sit back and watch the fireworks to see what I mean.

Only God Forgives is a prime example of this quality. To date opinions have been right across the spectrum and reviews are ranging from 5 to 1 star. I’m  not sure there has been a more divisive film in recent times.

Ryan Gosling plays Julian a Bangkok based drug dealing Thai boxing club owner. When Julian’s brother kills a prostitute, the avenging angel police officer Chang allows the father to kill his daughters murderer, then restores order by chopping off the man’s right hand.

Julian’s mother Crystal (played in spectacularly sinister form by Kristen Scott Thomas), arrives in Bangkok to collect her son’s body. She orders Julian to find his killers and raise hell.

Increasingly obsessed with the Angel of Vengeance, Julian challenges him to a boxing match, hoping that by defeating him he might find spiritual release but Chang triumphs. The stage is then set for a bloody journey through betrayal and vengeance towards a final confrontation and the possibility of redemption.

I was warned by some friends that this was 90 minutes of my life I would never get back but to be honest I really enjoyed the film. Although to say I ‘enjoyed’ this film is perhaps a strange phrase to use.

From start to finsih this is a tough watch. the violence portrayed is graphic as is the choice of language (Kristin Scott Thomas said in interview they had to do multiple takes of one particular scene as she couldn’t bring herself to say some of the lines). Dialogue when not including profanities is scarce, which for some is problematic, but in some ways that is the beauty of it. Winding Refn has made a film that says more in the silence than it does in dialogue. For example Gosling constantly staring at his hands to some peers was a huge point of frustration. To me this was a clear indication of a character who is scared of the potential his hands have to do carry out evil. It is for this reason he fantasises of his hands being removed as it is only in doing this that true release will come for him.

No character in this film is likeable. Normally that would be a problem but that is the point. All cahracters in this film are flawed and all have committeed atrocities in some form. The deeds carried out by the characters in this film leave them only with darkness as comfort which is why Winding Refn chooses the neon illumination of the Bangkok night to allow us to see them.

Only God Forgives is a tough watch and to many may be considered difficult to engage with. This however is a film that has many questions to ask around justice and redemption. The major difficulty though is the manner in which the questions are poised although this does not make the questions any less valid.

Drive is far and away the more mainstream and accesible of Winding Refn and Gosling’s collaborations. Fans of Drive should know this is not a companion piece and while Drive is itself violent and a difficult watch in places Only God Forgives takes those elements to a new extreme level.

For me though it is Only God Forgives which may, after repeat viewing (if you can stomach it) and the passage of time prove to be considered as Refn’s true masterpiece.

Lawless & Film Club

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So film club went to see Lawless and lived to tell the tale!

I had concerns about the violence in the film as expressed in a previous post. Truth is I shouldn’t have worried there were no complaints (that I know of) although I know I winced on a few occasions.

Tom Hardy is the show stealer in this film giving a powerful performance through presence. A man of few words but can say a lot through some well placed grunting. Hardy is developing into of one of the finest actors of his generation and this film could be a defining moment for him.

The lovely folk over at Movie Writing have written a full review that I will reblog in order to give more background info on the film plot etc.

Lawless is focused on justice. Outlaws who deserve justice due to the frankly abhorrent Special Deputy played with menacing finesse by Guy Pearce.

At the end of the day human nature craves justice for those who are wronged regardless of their circumstances. The men portrayed are criminals but the injustices they suffer are greater therefore we empathise and will them on to prevail.

Justice is a biblical concept, we should seek justice for the oppressed, for the abused, for those who have experienced wrongs in fact we are commanded to in Isaiah 1:17
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Micah 6:8  also tells us
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Lawless is potentially one of the films of the year. It is also a  cry to remember that everyone is entitled to justice.

 

A great review of Lawless is here by Amy at Movie Writing