It always seems we get behind in our movie watching. Suddenly the Academy Awards are upon us, and we have to cram for the exam.
We don’t HAVE to...that’s not correct. But having watched in some years past when we hadn’t seen many of the nominated films, it’s not as much fun. I spend a lot of my life out of step with modern culture (ask my daughters) and while I refuse to stretch to the Avatar side of the genre and have never gotten the point of horror films, good dramas, comedies, or musicals are worth my time. It is just finding the time to stream those nominated films that proves difficult.
So, in the last week we have been making it a point to turn our attention to the Hollywood hits of 2022-23.
All Quiet on the Western Front...curious about spending 2 hours in the trenches and grafting the utter brutality and purposelessness of war onto your brain? This is for you.
Tár...some beautiful words about music, but all in all an intense ride with an unsympathetic fellow passenger.
Elvis...when you watch this biopic you realize at some point that the actor (Austin Butler) has actually become Elvis. He is amazing. I have a new more sympathetic view of Elvis and I’m a new fan of Butler.
The Fabelmans...given the subject and the hype, I wanted to like this movie more than I did. A nice film, but there are a lot of nice films out there. Sometimes we are better off talking about someone else than we are talking about ourselves. That even goes for Steven Spielberg.
Everything Everywhere All at Once...movie descriptions that use terms like “newfound powers” and “the multiverse” I generally avoid. That and the fact that one of my sons in law did a pay per view and stopped watching this movie made me skip it. If it wins big, I’ll just deal with it.*
Women Talking...this movie is the sole reason I am writing this blog.
There was never a more descriptive film title in the history of cinema. On the surface, it is just that; one hour and forty-four minutes of women talking. But this dramatic ensemble piece set in a Mennonite colony is so much more than that. It is an intense, gripping, and raw display of how these women wrestle with a shared problem.
This cult-like community has suffered at the hands of total male domination for generations. The more immediate issue at hand is that rape of even the youngest of girls in the colony has been become commonplace and one of the perpetrators has recently been caught in the act. He has been jailed and all the men of the colony have gone to town to post his bail in an act of solidarity.
The women are faced with three choices...stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or pack up and leave.
A vote is taken (using pictures for the choices since the women are all illiterate) and while few wish to endorse the status quo, they are split on the fight or leave remedy. An intergenerational council of women convene in the loft of a hay barn to reach a decision.
What comes next is one hour of the most dramatic life or death discussion imaginable. Love, hate, faith, forgiveness, righteousness are all expressed with an intensity that will take your breath away. Some verbally strike out at one or more companions. This includes some vicious words laced with name calling. There are appeals for Christian forgiveness and healing. Even the two young girls who were eyewitnesses to the recent crime participate and offer their thoughts, reminding their elders that to do nothing can never be an option.
The two eldest women are the saucers into which the hot tea is poured to cool. One uses stories of the behaviors of her team of horses to objectively guide the way. The other uses the words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians to suggest a measuring tool for the way forward.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
The thing that I truly loved about that conversation was its utter sense of democracy. Every opinion mattered. Every voice was heard. Shouting was paired with apology and forgiveness. Not for one moment was there any doubt that love was in the center of that room and mutual respect was the value that hung like a veil over the proceedings.
When they grasp hands and sing Nearer My God to Thee it will melt your heart. Like the older cinematic rendition of that song on the deck of the Titanic, it is a reminder that they share an ultimate, corporate fate.
There were two urgencies that pervaded their discussion, time and necessity. You never know when the men will return from town, so they are on the clock. And the community of women has charged them with an affirmative necessity to decide.
How maddingly often in our modern world do leaders “kick the can down the road” in decision-making as though there is no time clock, no urgency, no consequence to delay. Be it the environment, gun violence, sound fiscal policy, fill in the blank, they operate as though the shot clock has been repealed and the four-corner offense is again a possibility. **
Ultimately many no longer believe in government, so the necessity to decide is also missing. Our leaders feel that they can willfully attack each other with impunity and not suffer any consequences. If you feel that you have an infinite amount of time and don’t really have to decide anything, life is good.
In contrast, these women take their charge with an urgency and a responsibility worthy of the faith displayed by those who sent them to that loft. The safety of their children, the safety of themselves, their ability to walk with their Lord in peace and tranquility all align to focus their discussion and their minds. Spoiler alert, they choose the unknown for the known, the road for the house, the chance for a better life for the Hell in which they live.
All of our lives are about choices, aren’t they? Fortunately for most, not as wrenchingly dramatic as for those women, but nevertheless, we are making choices every day. How do we spend our time? What do we say to each other? How do we confront poverty and hate in this world? Do we just walk to the other side of the street?
Someday, we all must look back on our lives and measure it against the words of St. Paul. You don’t have to be a Christian to agree that that is a pretty good list against which to judge your en dash.
Your en dash?
That is the punctuation mark between your date of birth and your date of death. Our mortal lives. Short as an en dash in the grand scheme of things, but of true consequence to those we love and who choose, in spite of everything, to love us.
Above all else, we must keep talking.
* Well, last night it did win everything. I'm still never going to see it.
**In American college basketball a shot clock was instituted in the 1980's to give the team on offense 30 seconds to attempt a field goal (basket) on each possession. It was done to prevent the “four corner offense” made famous by Dean Smith, coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Four Corners was designed to hold onto a lead and keep the other team from getting the ball.