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Archive for June, 2013

Two days away from Father’s Day, here are my picks (as with the “movie moms,” these are listed in no particular order):

1. Chris Gardner (Will Smith), “The Pursuit of Happyness”

Pursuit of HappinessYet another film based on a true story, “The Pursuit of Happyness” tells the story of super-dad Chris Gardner.  A single and homeless father, he overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to give his young son a better life.  If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and do so (or read the book on which it is based).

2. Guido (Roberto Benigni), “Life is Beautiful”

benigniIn his Oscar-winning 1997 film, Benigni tells the story of an Italian Jewish man imprisoned with his son in a Nazi concentration camp.  In spite of the horror of it all, he finds a way to make the experience fun for his little boy, keeping him from the dangers of despair.

3. Jim Halpert (John Krasinski), “The Office”

HalpertJim Halpert is the reason I decided to combine movies and TV for this one.  While Jim’s marriage had some rough bumps over the final season of the hit NBC show, in the end he proved to be a great husband and father by his active willingness to turn away from a promising career in sports marketing in order to focus on his family life.  Giving up one’s passion for a career one is less than thrilled with (in Jim’s case, being a paper salesman) is no easy thing, but it is a mark of a great father that he has his priorities straight.

4. Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte), “Lorenzo’s Oil”

Lorenzos_oilI included Augusto’s wife, Michaela, in my “Movie Moms” post.  This movie is based on the true story of Lorenzo Odone, a seven-year-old boy diagnosed with an incurable, terminal disease that is little-known to medical science.  Both of his parents are medically illiterate, and yet they push themselves to the brink and beyond researching their son’s condition, eventually coming up with a promising treatment (if not a cure).  Therefore, it would be unfair to leave Augusto out.

And finally, a selection you might not have expected…

Splinter

5. Splinter (Kevin Clash), “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990)

teenagemutantninjaturtles_groupYes, the radioactively mutated rat who hails from Japan and claims as his home the sewers of New York City makes my list.  As the adoptive father and lifelong mentor of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Splinter has given his entire life to them and taught them everything he knows.  What is more, his love for the half-shelled quartet remains perfectly intact in spite of their many quirks.  I’m sure any parent can easily relate to that.

There you have it.  If anyone has any other great “movie dads” in mind, please feel free to share!

“Lorenzo’s Oil” poster from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Have a commitment tonight, so I present you with yet another Youtube video.

Another gem from “Theater of the Word,” this video dramatizes the philosophical differences between German nihilistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and English Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton.

NOTE: When Dale Ahlquist cites “Darwinism” here, he is not referring to the theory of evolution.  Catholicism has no problem with evolution — so long as we account it as part of the Divine Plan, not some random series of biological events.  What Ahlquist is talking about is a philosophy that arose from Darwin’s thoughts and subjugated religion, morals, and human dignity to a “survival of the fittest” outlook on life.

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Made on memestache.com

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I recently had the privilege of talking with Ronald F. Maxwell — director of the Civil War epics “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” — and Bill Kauffman — author of such books as “Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette” and “Bye Bye, Miss American Empire” — about their collaboration on the upcoming Civil War era film “Copperhead.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I write for my community’s local newspaper, “The Batavian,” on a per diem basis.  And since Kauffman is a local author, this was kind of a big deal for us.

Kauffman and Maxwell wrote and directed this film, respectively.  Set in in an Upstate New York hamlet in the Spring of 1862, “Copperhead” explores life on the home front during the Civil War.  It chronicles the plight of Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), a farmer who takes a stand against the war and, in so doing, attracts the ire of his community.

Here is the link to the article, which offers (through the insights of Maxwell and Kauffman) a nice inside look at the movie:

http://www.thebatavian.com/dan-crofts/screenwriter-bill-kauffman-and-film-director-ron-maxwell-discuss-copperhead/37808

The film is set to be released June 28.  For more information and to find out how you can bring the film to your local theater, go to http://www.copperheadthemovie.com.

Note: Let me stress that my work for “The Batavian” is in no way related to “Into the Dance,” which is a merely personal blog.

Image obtained through a Google image search

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In our last segment we left off with an observation of detachment on the part of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Eponine (Samantha Barks).  Now let’s take a look at how their respective acts of detachment converge in the wedding of Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and then move on from there.

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On the one hand we have a lover whose love is unrequited…

Jean Valjean_Cosette

…and on the other an adoptive father reluctant to lose the only companion he has in life.

Both have come to the same realization: “They are not ours to claim.”

Brace yourself, for we are touching a deep vein of the story’s inner life that is necessary for a life both of Grace and transcendence: Detachment.

Colm Wilkinson

It all starts with the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who gives Valjean two of his candlesticks in addition to those of his possessions that Valjean had initially stolen.  In so doing, the Bishop is clearly a man of the Gospel:

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. (Matthew 5: 40-41)

The more detached we are from earthly things, the less we have to lose; the less we have to lose, the less our enemies can take from us, and the more we have to give.

Adam_Eve

The problem of attachment has haunted us since the Fall of Adam and Eve, which made the elevation of the ego and the subservient urge to to dominate people, things, and nature for ourselves normative for mankind — so much so that we tend not even to perceive anything wrong with it unless it gets violent.

We can think of it like a beautiful moth we are tempted to hold in our hands.  It’s great, but what happens when we hold it too tight?  It dies from suffocation.

But when we can let go of those persons and things we cling to inordinately, they have a way of then being able to take flight like the moth, to fulfill their true purpose toward the Kingdom of God.  And we, being unburdened by attachment, have the freedom and levity of heart to do the same ourselves.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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I would, as a viewer, identify four things that make the most difference in the second half of “Les Misérables.”  And these are relatively little things, as opposed to the grand uprising that was the focus of the previous post.

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1. Eponine (Samantha Barks) gives Marius — with whom she is in love — the note he was supposed to have received from Cosette — with whom he is in love — after hiding it.

http://www.yuyi.cc/zy/41549-1-1.html

2. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), fearing to lose his adopted daughter Cosette but knowing her love for Marius, saves the latter’s life in almost total anonymity.

Marius_Cosette

3. The love between Marius and Cosette, which culminates in a happy wedding.

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4. The mercy of Valjean, who at one point has Javert (Russell Crowe) in his grasp but spares his life, even knowing full well that he will continue to hunt him.

It is in these very simple and seemingly mundane actions of rectifying one’s own mistake, risking life and limb for another with no one watching, the love between a man and a woman, and “turning the other cheek” that produce the greatest emotional effect and conduce most to the story’s happy ending.

I think we see our two great themes coming together at this point.  We talked about the futility of a merely this-worldly uprising against institutional oppression in the previous post, and of how the latter is embodied in the character of Javert.

Javert 2Ironically, his side of the coin — namely, the legalistic police state — is another form of the same error.  After all, it is based on the assumption that by force, one can bring about perfect conformity to morality here on earth.  So the problem it poses is an earthly-utopia/transcendent-hope issue is well as a Law/Grace issue.

By showing Grace toward Javert in a self-effacing way, Valjean actually does wind up successfully bucking the “system.”

Javert_SuicideJavert, unfortunately, commits suicide as a result of this.  Having been faced with an understanding of reality for which he has no frame of reference, he simply cannot handle it; and instead of repentance, he chooses despair.

But whatever the result, Valjean has, by way of an action that to all appearances should be judged of little importance, thrown a wrench into the clockwork.

Self-effacing actions, not self-asserting actions, are what effect real and needed change.  Eponine and Valjean succeed in surrendering their own desires/interests, and their respective acts of detachment converge in a wedding…

Next time.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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I must confess, I don’t usually like listening to sad songs.  Why?  Because they make me…well, sad.

But Bruno Mars’ popular and fairly recent single “When I Was Your Man” has intrigued me.  If you haven’t heard the song, take a few minutes to watch the above video before reading any further.

I don’t know whether or not this is based on an actual past romance of Bruno Mars.  Either way, it is compelling.  It should get us thinking of our own relationships, whether romantic or otherwise.  There is nothing worse than having had something truly special, failed to appreciate it, and then lost it.

Unfortunately, most of us have to learn this the hard way.  Perhaps that’s why the song resonates with so many people.

Let’s assume for a second that “When I Was Your Man” does, in fact, tell a true story.  Is there any silver lining to it?

I would say there is, but you have to look hard.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking line in the song occurs toward the end, when the singer acknowledges his lost love’s current relationship with someone else:

I just want you to know, I hope he buys you flowers…

Notice that he does not betray any hope of getting his girl back.  He sincerely desires her happiness — even if it is with someone else.

Though the end of his relationship may in itself have been a tragedy, a greater good has been drawn out of it.  Through tragedy, he has finally learned to love.

Before the breakup, he was all about himself.  He was too preoccupied with his own pursuits — whatever those were — to take his girlfriend out dancing, or even to buy her flowers.

Now, not only is he more focused on the unnamed woman’s happiness, but he desires said happiness for her own sake.  To truly love is to will the good of the other without expecting to get anything in return — even the restoration of a lost relationship.

Picture the relationship in question lasting.  In other words, picture the singer and his significant other getting married and spending the rest of their lives together.

But apart from that, imagine no difference.  Assume that the egotism and self-interest the singer laments in himself remains.  What would that mean?  For one thing, it would make for a lifetime of unhappiness for the woman.  But while it seems like the male partner is getting his way by keeping her by his side while still getting to shirk his responsibility to show her the love and admiration she deserves, is this really good for him?  If we consider human dignity within its most comprehensive context, is it good for anyone to go to the grave with this kind of a legacy?

Whether the male protagonist of “When I Was Your Man” is Bruno Mars or a fictional character, we can assume that he has been saved from this type of a legacy.

True, his relationship did not have to end in order for this to happen.  But again, as fallen creatures in need of redemption, we often have to learn the hard way.

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The curtain opens on Paris in 1832, at which time the June Rebellion is underway.  “The People,” or representatives of the poor and downtrodden masses, are rising up against the French monarchy.

Any history buffs out there?  If so, does anything strike you as ironic about this?

Between the French Revolution of the earlier century and this time period, there had been a number of other such uprisings, all of which resulted in new monarchies and/or dictatorships that, at best, disappointed the hopes of the French people.

GavrocheWe are apprised of this in “Les Misérables” through the wisdom of a child — Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) by name.

Fighting on the side of the rebellion and reflecting on the People’s “victory” in France’s last great uprising (namely, the July Rebellion), he observes, “we tried to change the world too fast.”

Indeed, when we try to change things ourselves, on our own clock, when in our zeal we either presume to separate ourselves from our reliance on a Higher Power or assume that His will is 100% in conformity with our current temporal ends, then what we think is an accomplishment toward great change is just another case of egoistic self-assertion after the pattern of the Fall.

And what comes out of this?  Defensiveness.  Wall-building.  Denigration of the other.

June Revolution

What Gavroche doesn’t seem to realize is that the current rebellion poses the exact same problem.  The righteous indignation of the peasants against corrupt power structures is, in a sense, “ruined” by the mode of their rebellion.

Javert

In the rebellion by which they intend to “build a better world when tomorrow comes” and the oppressive monarchical side — embodied by the character Javert (Russell Crowe) — we have two self-defensive “egos” colliding.

It’s like a phenomenon we can observe any day in nature: When we strike two rocks against each other, flames are sparked.

Perhaps this is why, contrary to the expectation of the rebels, the people of Paris do not show up to help them on the day of battle.  Perhaps this is because they understand that it will not change anything, and in fact will probably just replace the old set of problems with a whole new set.

Yes, rebellion is sometimes necessary.  And yes, we should always do what we can to ensure that our societies respect the inviolable dignity of every human person.

But hope can be compromised when we try to do too much too quickly, when we invest too much hope in the idea of building the ideal society here and now…of relying on our own strength and zeal to reverse the sad condition of the world in which we live (as some of the revolutions of twentieth-century Europe have shown).

But enough of that.  What kind of actions do make a real difference, at least in “Les Misérables?”  We’ll get to that next time.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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Again, having seen “Les Misérables” is not mandatory.  We are here dealing with a theme, not plot points.

Ok, we’ve had a break.  Now let’s get back into it.

We’d be remiss if we concluded that the Grace/Law issue is the only great theme that shines through “Les Misérables.”  In fact, I think even that falls under a wider umbrella — namely, hope.

We can say that hope is upheld by the change that Grace allows and legalism prohibits.  But on another level, hope is the “food” of the human race.

I can borrow no better words than those of motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, who has commented on the difference made by people “who believed that the future could be bigger than the past.”*

“Les Misérables” bears witness to hope, but it is also a cautionary tale.  We have to remember that hope transcends us, and must be patiently awaited until it is ready to meet us on its own terms.

Humility is mandatory.  Look at it this way: If we think of the progression of time and history as a straight line, we can infer that it is set against a larger background (eternity), and headed toward a final end (heaven).

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As a progression, it has a length, but no width.  No two points in time can exist side by side.

Now, imagine trying to give it width.  Mentally attempt to grab the middle of a line by its “edges” and stretch it out like so…

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You have some more width — or something vaguely like it — but what does this “stretching” do to the rest of the line?  It pulls it back in both directions.

I think utopianism and triumphalistic ambitions toward hope do the same thing to us as human beings.

When we invest our hopes in this world, we forget where we came from and where we’re going.  The great progression of history becomes no longer a line, but a mess…like a blob of jelly spread out over the face of eternity.

Again, humility is mandatory in order for hope to be truly hope.  As with Grace, we must acknowledge our dependence on something higher than ourselves.

More than that, we have to acknowledge the fact that our destiny, our fulfillment, our hope lies in something that is beyond our powers — and beyond this world.

And now the curtain opens…we’re ready for Act II!

* Here is a link to one of at least two videos in which Kelly says this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcM7S7Y7r0A

Top photo obtained through a Google image search; others courtesy of Yours Truly.

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Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

Much has been made of a comment Pope Francis made a couple weeks ago in a homily — I think you probably know what I’m talking about.

The Holy Father made two points:

1. All human beings are called to do good; and

2. Christ has redeemed not just Catholics, but all people — even atheists.

Many have taken this to mean that everyone basically gets a free pass to heaven.  But a little clarification is needed.

Really, there is nothing newsworthy here.  The Pope was, in fact, merely reaffirming Church teaching on God’s universal salvific will and the fact that the Body of Christ extends beyond it’s visible boundaries (which is to say, the Catholic Church).

But here’s what we have to keep in mind: Christ, for His part, has redeemed all humanity of all times and all places.  But salvation is a two-way street.  Our salvation required the initiative of Almighty God Himself, “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

But, as Peter Kreeft says in his great book “Catholic Christianity,” God seduces us, but He never rapes us.

No one can be forced into heaven.  Heaven is an eternal relationship with God and with the assembly of the blessed, and one which must be entered into freely.  God has freely and gratuitously redeemed us, and now we must freely and generously respond with our lives and hearts.

Here is the official Church teaching on the subject:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

…they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.*

But even those atheists (and others) of goodwill who obtain salvation are, just like the rest of us, saved by Christ, not by their own merits.  When they turn toward the good as they know it, they are turning toward Christ, though they may not realize it.  For Christ is the Source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

* From “Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (italics mine), quoted in reverse order — full text here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Photo from Wikipedia

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