According to a Friend of a Friend, who just happens to be a big-shot Hollywood producer, “Son of Man,” which I blogged about here yesterday, is not the only movie dealing with issues of spirituality and redemption at this year’s Sundance Festival. In fact, he told me yesterday he is fascinated that the majority of films he has screened this week have wrestled with issues of faith in one way or another–a trend that he hasn’t seen in years past. So I thought I would pass along this Friend of a Friend of Mine’s (seriously, if I told you who he was, you’d be impressed) recommendations of the best of Sundance, which may be coming to an art-house theater near you in the coming months.
“Forgiven”: In a modern day Greek tragedy about our country’s racial and social divide, writer/director/star Paul Fitzgerald plays Peter Miles, a district attorney running for state senator. On the eve of his campaign launch, the governor pardons Ronald Bradley, a man who Peter had put on death row. When pressed by the media, Peter chooses to stick to his story that Ronald is guilty of the cop killing. However, Ronald–suddenly a free man–knows that Peter has for six years possessed information proving Ronald’s innocence and chose to ignore it. Ronald decides that it’s time for a confrontation with Peter, which ends with surprising consequences.
“Stephanie Daley”: Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia”) plays a high school student who denies knowing that she was pregnant and that she killed the child after giving birth in a ski resort bathroom. Tilda Swinton (“Chronicles of Narnia”) is the psychologist hired by the prosecutor to evaluate the girl and find the truth, but in the process the doctor must face her own hidden pain over a loss of her own. In the process, both women confront pain, guilt, and grief.
And if my Friend of a Friend’s recommendations aren’t good enough, check out the Journal of Religion and Film’s glowing reviews of several other faith-based movies at Sundance, including “Adam’s Apples,” about a middle-aged neo-Nazi who has been assigned community service at a country church, and “Jewboy,” a story about the son of a Hasidic rabbi and his spiritual journey in the wake of his father’s death.
Now that NBC’s controversial show “The Book of Daniel” is no more, it brings up the question, again: What does a television show look like that is both viable and Christian? Not all spiritual shows are Christian. One of the most successful shows in the history of the medium, “Touched By an Angel,” was a weekly tearjerker that featured angels. But angels are not exclusively Christian, and anyway God’s messengers were closer to Greek Fates, posted at life’s doorways to create an aura of cosmic control and well-being. The show did well in part because it was TV’s version of comfort food.
“TBAA” did, however, focus on human suffering–how to respond to it and God’s role in it. This elemental spiritual question seems to be good for ratings. CBS’s short-lived hit, “Joan of Arcadia,” portrayed a family dealing with a wheelchair-bound brother, among other crises. Often, God expected Joan (and us) to translate her own pain into compassion for others.
With five people with edgy problems and visits from the Other Side, “The Book of Daniel” seemed to pattern itself after HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” which for a time was the most spiritually challenging show on TV. Not coincidentally, perhaps, it was intent on the question of why we suffer and die. So why didn’t “Daniel” fly? NBC’s mistake, apparently, was putting Aidan Quinn in a dog collar. For every “Seventh Heaven,” there are two or three shows starring priests that misfire, including Dan Akroyd’s brief strut on “Soul Man,” and now “Daniel.”
One of the movies causing the biggest buzz this week at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, just happens to be a movie about Jesus–and Mel Gibson has nothing to do with it. Made in Capetown, South Africa, “Son of Man” turns the life of Christ into an African fable and takes selected events from the Bible and places them into a fictional modern-day African country filled with poverty and strife. In this film, Christ is a black child growing up in a shanty, and his mother, Mary, argues with angels. Later on, some of Christ’s 12 disciples are women.
Director Mark Domford-May, in a recent interview with Reuters, explained his choices in portraying the life of Christ this way by saying, “We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth.”
While some in the religious community might not completely appreciate Domford-May’s implication that the gospels were written by a bunch of propagandists selling the latest ideology, I am excited at the discussion this film seems to be sparking. One blogger reports that the person at Sundance who introduced the film said the movie made him realize he was a “closet Christian.” CNN has also been covering the reactions to this film and did a piece on why this movie is speaking to some people in a way that “The Passion of the Christ” didn’t. Hmm… maybe that is in part because, unlike “The Passion” or even “The Last Temptation of Christ,” these filmmakers are relative unknowns and are not carrying the personal and professional “baggage” that Mel Gibson or Martin Scorsese brought with them to their projects about Christ.
Regardless, I hope that many truth seekers, as well as indie film buffs, will give this film a chance and enter into the dialogue about the Christ narrative.
One of the many reasons I enjoy watching Lost week after week is that the show can always be counted on to provide thought-provoking spiritual images that add to the fascinating mythology of the characters as well as the island. Last night’s episode centered around yet another religious image–water as a symbol of being baptized. However, unlike previous episodes, this time I was disappointed to watch the series writers give only the shallowest of treatments to a significant ritual.
Recovering addict and has-been rocker Charlie begins having surreal dreams about fellow survivor Claire’s baby, Aaron. Even as Claire continues to voice her distrust of Charlie after discovering he had been hiding a statue full of heroin, Charlie is increasingly convinced that he must stay close to Aaron because Aaron is about to be placed in some kind of danger and only Charlie can save him. Charlie also becomes fixated on something Mr. Eko said to him about having Aaron baptized. The problem is that in Charlie’s state of mind, baptism means placing Aaron in the raging ocean surf to drown.
Despite Charlie’s odd behavior , Claire does approach the “priest,” Mr. Eko, about baptizing her child in a more traditional way. To my horror, Mr. Eko then gives one of the worst explanations of baptism I have ever heard. Claire asks Eko what would happen if Aaron was baptized and she wasn’t; would Aaron go to heaven and she to hell? Eko responds by telling her that that wouldn’t happen if she simply decides to become baptized too, so she agrees. With no moment of confession, no sign that she believes in baptism as anything other than an insurance policy, Mr. Eko still performs this religious rite for both Claire and Aaron, and the ensuing montage is meant to have us believe all is well with their souls.
While baptism practices vary by religious affiliation, most baptism rituals have something in common–in a pure sense, baptism is meant to be a sign of connecting or identifying with something greater than ourselves in a way that brings significant change to our lives. It is not intended to be treated as a “get out of jail free” card or to be used as coercion to convince someone to convert to something. The fact that we don’t see Eko, a supposedly repentant man of God, explaining the true nature of baptism or encouraging any type of acknowledgment from Claire that she wishes to be spiritually connected or changed in some way before he baptizes her left me feeling that this is one time where the true spiritual meaning of an important religious rite was completely lost and no new insight for us as an audience was gained.