Knight and Day: Film Review

Seeing Knight and Day was a consequence of our preferred movie, Toy Story 3, proving to be too expensive for a family (i have decided i hate 3D).  If the trailor was any indication, we had reasonable expectation that Knight and Day would be an enjoyable alternative, featuring Tom Cruise and Cameran Diaz and providing some rollicking entertainment – in theory a Rom.Action; an attempt to satisfy the gal and her bloke.

While my preference is for films that make you think, I don’t mind the occasional Friday night of mindless entertainment.  While certainly mindless, Knight and Day wasn’t all that entertaining.

Romance?  I can see what Cruise saw in Diaz (and no, i simply cannot remember who the actors were playing – this film was self consciously drawing on the star power of its two big names, and the characters they played were largely irrelevant), but the opposite attraction was just silly?  Do girls really go for killer spies that use and abuse them?  Would a girl really give herself to a murdering villain on the off chance that she might be rescued by an aging CIA agent – even if that agent was Tom Cruise?

Action? A little, but the filmmaker kept telling the story from the perspective of the character (whether Diaz or Cruise) who, for whatever reason, was unconscious.  Just when it looked like some action might be on its way, the film skipped the good bits!!! This might have provided a way for Hollywood to save on stunt expenses, but it meant that the action was left to the audience’s imagination.  The more this occurred, the more irritating it became.

Plot? Predictable and absurd.  While I appreciate that action films require the suspension of belief (and i love science fiction, so i am cool with fantasy) it is also important that a movie has at least a certain degree of internal coherence.  Knight and Day, however, cared nothing about the logic of the story.  In one scene near the end of the film, Cruise is about to enter a car chase after a fleeing bad guy.  The villain flees, but before he follows Cruise kills 4 faceless goons and engages in some repartee with Diaz, which ends in a passionate kiss.  10 minutes must have past before Cruise jumps on his motorbike, only to find himself a mere half a block from the fleeing baddie.

Character?  Cruise and Diaz are the only thing halfway likable about this film.  Both have a certain charm and Cruise, in particular, plays the ultimate cool madman.  But otherwise, , everyone is stereotyped.  Villains are greezy and stupid and absolutely hopeless shots.  Scientists are dweeby geniuses.  CIA agents are mindless drones.

Dialogue? The occasional funny line.  Look for Cruise making a joke of himself (playing a likeable madman).

All in all, Knight and Day is not merely a meaningless movie.  This might be forgivable if the action and passion of the film stimulated the adrenalin, which it doesn’t.  Worth watching only if you want to see Cruise and Diaz half naked on the beech.  Otherwise, go watch inception or Toys story – or anything else.

Belief and faith vs fideism

Perhaps it is the recent visit of Richard Dawkins to Australia or maybe I am imagining it, but it seems to me that the atheist attack on faith and belief is fairly intense at the moment.  Rather than be embarrassed to be a believer, however, i want to suggest that belief and faith are completely reasonable behaviours.

In fact, human progress is dependent upon belief.  As Bernard Lonergan observes, “progress in knowledge is possible because successive generations were ready to believe”.  Without belief, we would feel the need to start from scratch at every turn.  But this is to forget that ‘truth’ is a public reality and knowledge of that truth is a public and shared – beyond the capacity of any individual.  To function, to move forward, to create, we thus need to believe.

This is not to say that belief is unthinking.  Unthinking belief (fideism) leads to our ruin.  We might believe that homeopathy can cure our ills but if we have no grounds for this belief we may kill a child by neglecting evidenced based medicine (see story in SMH).  We might believe that a particular girl is in love with us, but without grounds for such belief we may well receive a slap in the face.  We thus need to put our belief to the test – to make a judgment on its veracity.  We do this in various ways.  We might, for example, be able to justify belief according to our own experience.  We believe the scaffolding will hold our weight because it has done so before.  Our experience is, however, limited, so our belief is also grounded on our willingness to trust the testimony of others.  In this case, we ascertain the veracity of our belief by judging the trustworthiness of the source.  I trust that a builder is expert enough to safely construct my new house, because she is an expert in her field (and i cannot nail a hammer in a wood).  Similarly, my own experience does not enable me to test the truthfulness of Einsteins theory of relativity.  But i can make a judgment that he is sufficiently qualified and intelligent – and that his work has been investigated by other cosmic physicists.  Thus, i can conclude my belief in the truthfulness of the theory of general relativity is reasonable.

Belief, although reasonable, is not certain knowledge, although it may become such.  If i gather sufficient evidence, i may be able to make the judgement that my belief is true – i.e. it is something i know for certain.  You might believe, for example, that Alphacrucis College had sold its property.  You might have good reason to assert this belief (you saw it in a newspaper).  But this belief would become certain knowledge only when you gathered sufficient evidence; when, for example, you witnessed the contract of exchange.  Of course, some things can only ever be believed, since certain knowledge of everything is beyond us.  I believe my house will not fall down tomorrow.  I have good evidence for this.  It did not fall down yesterday, and seems to be sturdily build.  But I don’t know the future and for all i know a plane might fall out of the sky tomorrow and come crashing through my roof.

Anyway, what has this rambling discussion got to do with Christianity?  Firstly, it reminds us that Christians who believe unthinkingly are in trouble.  Fideism (blind, irrational belief) leads to stupid actions – to patients who refuse medical treatment on the grounds that it would be ‘lack of faith’ – to people being duped into giving unreasonable sums of money to so-called health and wealth teachers; the list is endless.

Secondly, it helps us to assert that belief is not irrational.  We need to remember that we have good reason for our belief (and if we don’t we need to search such reasons out).  We have our own experience; the transforming work of God in our own lives.  We have the testimony of our friends and neighbours.  And we have the testimony of the writers of the Scriptures, and of the great thinkers of the church – Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther etc.  More than this, we can apply our own minds to the task of thinking through our beliefs – to putting our beliefs to the test.

Finally, however, we are reminded that our beliefs about God can never be certain knowledge, at least not of the sort that grounds science and that can be ‘proven’.  God always transcends our knowledge.  God is bigger and more mysterious then we can ever know, and so our belief is not certainty ( a fact that should lead us to be generous to those with different religious beliefs).  That is why belief in God is grounded in faith.  Lonergan suggests that faith is ‘knowledge born of religious love’.  It is the knowledge that God has revealed himself; that there is meaning and purpose in the world revealed ultimately in Jesus Christ.

As i noted in an earlier post faith is not the absence of doubt but, rather, a deeply intuitive trust in the goodness of God in the face of our doubts.  It is a trust that is revealed to us through Jesus, one that enables us to persevere through the hard times (even the ‘godforsaken’ times).  It is also a trust that grounds our beliefs, which may not be ‘provable’ to the atheist, but which are reasonable nevertheless.

Faith and Doubt

A friend of mine has been struggling with faith.  One imagines, as a new Christian, that faith grows in time until it is transformed into certainty.  For many of us, however, the experience of growing older is not a movement into certainty but, rather, into ambiguity, as faith mixes itself with doubt.

We have, of course, been told of the heroes of faith in Hebrew’s 11, who were “sure of what they hoped for, certain of what they did not see.”  But most of us are not giants, and we lack the faith of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the crew of Hebrew’s 11.  Or do we?  More than a thousand years later, the writer of Hebrews can talk about the certainty of the faith of these men and women retrospectively, but i suspect that the actual experience of faith at the time was not as black and what as we sometimes assume.  Abraham, the paragon of faith, gives his wife (the mother to be of his promised child) to a foreign king in order to protect his own life – and he does so twice!  Isaac, the seed of Abraham’s faith, did the same thing to Rebekah.  And the ups and downs of Jacob’s life of faith don’t need retelling here.

I suspect that many a life that will, retrospectively, justly be declared to have been one of faith will have been one lived in the face of doubt. Indeed, what is faith without struggle and doubt?  If faith is trust in God, it is faith because sometimes we wonder what God is doing even, sometimes, whether God is really there at all.  Perhaps, after all, real faith is the preparedness to struggle with one’s doubts.  To face them honestly, to share them with a friend, to not find easy answers and yet, however tentatively, to move forward, pursuing the truth and goodness and beauty that we somehow know, deep within ourselves, is only found in God.

Godfather Part III

It is easy for those of us watching the Godfather series on DVD to forget that Part III was released almost two decades after the phenomenally successful Parts I & II (in 1990).  Apart from Hollywoood’s usual goal of wringing every last cent from a successful film franchise, the third film intends to be both a celebration of the earlier films and a wrap up of the life of ‘the Godfather’, Michael Corleone.  It is generally considered to be the poor cousin of its predecessors and, indeed, it lacks something of their originality, complexity and compelling tension.  It also falls short in terms of the depth of the caste.  Gone are Brando and DeNiro (with Vito Corleone dead) and Robert Duval’s Tom Hagin is replaced with a forgetable lawyer. All that is left of the original is Pacino and Keaton, who are both excellent, but whose relationship is difficult to fathom.  Apart from Andy Garcia, who plays Sonny’s son Vincent (the next generation Godfather), the remainder of the supporting caste are relatively bland, and the movie focuses almost exclusively on the Pacino’s Michael. This is not to say that it is a bad film.  Apart from the fact that anyone who has seen Parts I & II will be compelled to see the story through to its conclusion, it remains a well scripted character study, and one that takes us thematically forward; moving beyond analysis of the ambiguity of evil to a reflection on the possibility of redemption.

Set in 1979, as Corleone nears retirement, the film narrates his struggle to leave his family with the legacy of a respectable and legal business empire.  On the surface the Godfather has accomplished the American dream, living in opulence and receiving the adulation of his society and the church.  The problem, however, is that the past is not so easy to leave behind – as Michael observes, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”.  Evil has a way of embedding itself, of working its way into the connections of family and visiting its punishments ‘to the third and fourth generation’ (Deut. 5:9).  Thus, notwithstanding his wealth and power, Michael has become a tragic figure.  His mafia ‘colleagues’, friends and enemies alike, will not let him escape.  More significantly, his family life is in crises. In his own mind, everything he has done has been for his wife and children.  But his ex-wife ‘dreads’ him.  His son wants nothing to do with him – “I will
always be your son, but I will never have anything to do with your business”.  The only bright spot is the love of his daughter, but he finds himself forced to lie to and manipulate her – for her own protection.    Reflecting on his life at the funeral of a friend, he notes

  • You were so loved, Don Tommasino. Why was I so feared, and you so loved? What was it? I was no less honorable. I wanted to do good. What betrayed me? My mind? My heart? Why do I condemn myself so? I swear, on the lives of my children: Give me a chance to redeem myself, and I will sin, no more.”

This longing for redemption starts with a $700 million gift to the Catholic church, but he soon discovers, not only that the “higher I go, the crookeder it becomes” (a sad indictment on a church corrupted by wealth and power), but that salvation cannot be purchased, that nothing he can give is sufficient to redeem and protect either himself or his family.  The subsequent exchange between the Godfather and Cardinal Lamberto (the one righteous priest in the film) is worth recording in full:

  • Cardinal Lamberto: Would you like to make your confession? Michael Corleone: Your eminence, I… it’s been so long… 30 years. I’d use up too much of your time. Cardinal Lamberto: I always have time to save souls. Michael Corleone: Well… I am beyond redemption. Cardinal Lamberto: I hear my own priests’ confessions here. The urge to confess can be overwhelming. Michael Corleone: What is the point of confessing if I do not repent? Cardinal Lamberto: I hear you are a practical man. What have you got to lose, eh? Michael Corleone: I… I betrayed my wife. Cardinal Lamberto: Go on, my son. Michael Corleone: I betrayed myself. I killed men, and ordered men to be killed. Cardinal Lamberto: Go on, my son, go on. Michael Corleone: I… ah, it’s useless. Cardinal Lamberto: Go on, my son. Michael Corleone: [choking up] I ordered the death of my brother. He injured me. [sobbing] I killed my father’s son. I killed my father’s son! Cardinal Lamberto: Your sins are terrible, and it is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you do not believe that. You will not change.

As a Christian viewer, you would like to believe that there is some sort of healing in this confession.  Protestants might reject the ‘catholic’ nature of the confession, and decry the fact that the priest does not offer grace freely – that he expects something from Corleone.  But surely it is right that confession without change (without repentence) accomplishes nothing.  Too often we pedal what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls ‘cheap grace’ – grace without price.  But while redemption is freely and graciously available to all, it has to be appropriated, as Bonhoeffer goes on to note, grace is costly – what cost God the life of the son cannot be cheap for us.  Likewise, notwithstanding his confession, Corleone fails to repent – to change, and so he misses out on the redemption that is in fact available to him.

Thus, the film moves relentlessly toward what is one of the saddest conclusions of a Hollywood film ever.  More then the dramatic and brilliantly acted climactic penultimate scene (which i shall not spoil) is the tragedy of Corleone, finally an old man, dying alone on a chair in the dirt of sicily.  Whatever the flaws of this film, for Christian audiences it stands as a profound reminder of the need for redemption and the true significance of the gospel.

See my earlier reviews: Godfather Part I and Godfather Part II

Church and Imagination

I am currently reviewing a book by Wolfgang Vondey , Beyond Pentecostalism – to be released by Eerdmans in August.  His chapter on Ecclesiology is inspiring me, and i thought i would share a brief quote.  He notes that base communities (grassroots local churches):

  • are meaningful and valuable … only if they function as cultural agents that are open to imagination, creativity, improvisation and change.

He is describing the way in which pentecostals develop a spiritual imagination that enables them to live in and speak to the cultures in which they find themselves.  This gives rise to the diversity that constitutes Pentecostalism, from house churches to prayer communities to ‘family churches’ to the megachurch – all of which can be said to be following and imagining the move of the Spirit in their own context.

The danger of this spiritual imagination is syncretism, where the surrounding culture corrupts the values of the gospel.  But the conservative response to this danger – dogmatism, traditionalism, institutional control – is wrong headed, since it destroys the very imaginative creative that is the fruit of the Spirit.  The alternative is the need to affirm the place of spiritual discernment – to hold together the creativity of Pentecostal spirituality with the voice of the prophets (which might include theological prophets).

100 years old and a new world for women

My father’s Aunty Grace (Grace Hunter) turned 100 last Saturday (1o June).  Who would have imagined, in 1910, that a mere century later she would receive congratulations from:

  • Queen Victoria
  • Julia Gillard (Prime Minister)
  • Kristina Keneally (NSW Premier)
  • Ms Quentin Bryce (Australian Governor General)
  • Prof. Marie Bashir (Governor of NSW)

No doubt there is still some way to go before equality finds its way into all the social structures of society (e.g. the church!), but there is surely something significant in Aunty Grace’s celebration – aside from the awesome accomplishment of reaching that magic age.