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Posts Tagged ‘Big Miracle’

Jon_Drew

What could possibly bring a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore), the executive of an oil company (Ted Danson), American politicians of the Reagan era, Soviets, the National Guard, media from around the world, de-icing machine business owners from Minnesota, and a tribe of traditional Inupiat whale hunters in the frozen wilds of Alaska together, in addition to reuniting a broken-up couple (Barrymore and John Krasinski)?

Eskimos

If you saw “Big Miracle” or read my previous post about the film, you know that what united them in the 1980s was a mission to free a family of gray whales trapped in the Alaskan ice.

But what was it about this event that inspired such a variety of groups, some of whom were notoriously unfriendly toward one another, to collaborate?  And were they all drawn to this collaboration by the same thing?  No doubt, ambition, publicity, and other personal interests could have been behind some people’s involvement — at least initially.

Big Miracle 2

But whether they knew it or not, what brought them together in the end was the fulfillment of their vocation, our vocation, as human beings — what it means to have “dominion” over the earth and all its creatures.

Mankind is the priest of God’s creation, as Sacred Scripture attests:

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it (Genesis 2:15)

“Cultivation” and “care” are priestly functions. We are God’s “caretakers,” called to exercise good stewardship over the earth and all its creatures.

Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator … requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation (CCC 2415).

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness (CCC 2416).

When the Old Testament was written, the creation account of Genesis and the gift of the Land to Israel were both understood liturgically.  It was not just that mankind and Israel were given “real estate” purely for their own use and enjoyment; rather, the point was that with the land, they had something to offer God in praise and Thanksgiving — not because He needed it, but because He rested on the seventh day.

Sounds funny, doesn’t it?  Let me explain: When Scripture talks about God “resting” on the seventh day, this is an expression of worship as the ultimate purpose of creation.  As creatures made in God’s image and likeness, human beings are called to order all things to the glory of God, Who is love itself (1 John 4:8).

God, Who is perfectly happy from all eternity and needs nothing outside of Himself, created the world from nothing in a sheer act of generosity.  His goodness can be seen in the mere existence of creation and in His providential care for all that exists.

The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created (CCC 294).

So in exercising benevolence toward our fellow creatures, we can always see something of what we were made for.  And how could this not melt our hearts a little and bring us closer together, for however brief a time?

Images obtained through a Google image search.

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I apologize for doing this again, but I think “Big Miracle” is going to need two posts rather than one.  Part five of this overall “project” will be ready by Monday evening.

st_francis

Catholics love nature.  St. Francis of Assisi is the most famous example, but right from the beginning the Church has celebrated and defended the goodness of creation, as does Sacred Scripture.

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good (Genesis 1:31)

Why am I mentioning this?  Because it’s important to realize that death and judgment are not all nature tells us about.

Big Miracle

On that note, I turn to Ken Kwapis’ “Big Miracle,” which is based on the true story of an international effort to free a family of gray whales trapped in ice in the Arctic.

The first thing I think we can get from “Big Miracle” is that nature can teach us humility through big things as well as small.

One of the film’s main protagonists is a zealous environmental activist named Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore).  At one point in the film, she says something very striking.  I don’t remember her exact words, but she makes a case for helping the whales by drawing attention to two seemingly disparate qualities: 1) strength; and 2) vulnerability.

Whales are the largest creatures on earth.  Their size and strength are terrifying, and their haunting voices are enough to humble even the most intrepid hearts.  Yet as the plight of the gray whale family shows, they too can be hurt.

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Kramer attributes to the pain and fear that these powerful creatures can feel a special power to inspire compassion.  For my part, I would agree.  Whether they are human or animal, large or intimidating creatures’ vulnerability can break down the walls of defense that come from our fear of their power, inviting us to desire some sort of connection with them.

I would even suggest that this is, at heart, a Christian notion.  It points to Jesus Christ…

…Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

In His humanity, Jesus unites Himself with us in all things except sin; on the cross, He unites Himself with our sorrowful condition, making Himself eminently vulnerable so that we might draw strength from Him.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

This, by the way, is the answer to the type of prayer uttered by Ottway in “The Grey” (see part three for more details).  God responds to our suffering not by orchestrating some sort of “easy escape” from a safe distance, but by uniting — even identifying — Himself with us in our pain.

Like any great leader (indeed, as the Great Leader against Whom all other leaders should be measured), He takes the worst of the trials He demands of His followers upon Himself.  Through these, He will lead His People to life.

In the pleading eye of one of the gray whales, might one be able to see a reflection of the Mighty God Who solicits our love through both strength and weakness?

The next and final post of this reflection will deal more with the details of “Big Miracle,” with a focus on how it points to human beings as the earth’s stewards.

The movie poster is from http://www.imdb.com; all other images were obtained through a Google image search.

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The past year has seen the release of two films that offer very different — one might say polar opposite — reflections on man’s relationship with nature.  Joe Carnahan’s thriller “The Grey” fits into the classic “man vs. nature” theme, whereas Ken Kwapis’ family drama “Big Miracle” has more to do with the man-nature relationship in its positive aspects.

I have a lot to say about both films, so I will review them separately.  Let us begin on the “dark side” of things and delve into “The Grey.”

We could say that the essence of the worldview suggested by “The Grey” is nature as death.  Let’s face it — living in a comfortable world of technological advancements, we modern Westerners are very good at denying the reality of our ultimate demise.  Maybe we don’t explicitly deny it, but we have at least a subconscious tendency to think of death as something far off … if we think of it at all.

Partly, this is because death is not a lot of fun to think about.  I’ll be the first to admit that.  But the fact that we live in the midst of advantages and luxuries that even the kings of ancient times would never have dreamed of has something to do with it as well.

Without the challenges of living in the midst of nature and her wild ways, without the constant reminder of mortality she holds before the eyes of anyone left to her embrace, without the awe-inspiring sense of dependence on something larger than ourselves that she elicits, death is simply not an immediate concern.  In one way or another we accept that it exists, of course; but I would say that we generally take it as an abstract concept rather than a concrete reality that crouches in the shadows, eyes fixed on each one of us, poised to lunge at our throats.

And sooner or later it will not only make its move, but will do so successfully.

I can’t help but think of this when I recall “The Grey,” which follows a band of arctic oilmen who have survived an airplane crash in the Alaskan wilderness.  Led by an experienced hunter named Ottway (Liam Neeson), they struggle for survival in the face of extreme cold, lack of sustenance, and — worst of all — a pack of wolves into whose territory they have unwittingly stumbled.

Those of you who have seen the film will recall the scene in which they are all huddled around a campfire in the woods at night, and out of the darkness the glowing, ravenous eyes of the wolves shine all around them.

Fr. Robert Barron, whose review of “Skyfall” I posted yesterday, did a video commentary on “The Grey” around the time it came out in theaters.  With background reference to the thought of German existentialist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Fr. Barron suggested that we could see the wolves as symbolic of death.

In the eyes of the wolves, we see something like what we see in the eyes of death — something that is against us, not for us; something without mercy or sympathy; something that forces us to be on our guard and to fight with every resource we have available, and yet always gets us in the end.

Fr. Barron sees a definite existentialist bent in Carnahan’s film, and who can blame him?  Still — and I say this with due humility, since Fr. Barron is obviously a far smarter man than I — I think we can glean more from the movie than that.

For my purposes, the wolves represent the “dark side” of nature.  Following our train of thought so far, we would then have to say that the dark side of nature relates to death.  This begs a multi-part question: “Why is it this way?  Why is nature hostile to man?  Why does the reminder of death seem so ingredient in its being?”

This relates to an even bigger question: “Is life really a cosmic absurdity?  Does death have the last word?”

Having addressed the fundamental issue of death, I intend to explore these questions next.

As the representative of the more negative view of the man-nature relationship, “The Grey” is decidedly more complex than “Big Miracle.”  For that reason and in order to give the reader a break, I will divide my reflection on this film into two separate posts and conclude it tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

“The Grey” poster is from http://www.imdb.com, the second photo from http://www.dailyfilmdose.com, and the third photo from http://www.guardian.co.uk (all obtained through a Google image search).

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