Saturday, January 30, 2010

More on THE BOOK OF ELI (and even AVATAR)

Killing to protect the Bible is hardly a new idea. Or a Biblical one.

It's THE ROAD with a comic book sensibility and confused religious intentions. Seems to me Eli preserved a Bible, but abandoned the gospel.

Here's a dissenting voice, and worthy of note - Craig Detweiler, who directs the Reel Spirituality Institute for the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, and who wrote a study guide for the film. He calls the film "stylish and smart." My conviction is that the movie is in fact pretty dumb. Simply at the level of plot holes, it doesn't hang together. More problematic is its enthusiastic acceptance of unrepentant violence (using apparently God-given supernatural martial arts gifts) in the service of its religious mission, particularly in a time of jihad and "Mine eyes have seen the glory" military intervention. (WWJS - What Would Jewett Say?) But Detweiler's a smart man - wish the link to his study guide wasn't broken, I'd love to know whether he engages these questions there. Maybe we can have a chat about it someday.


And that someday came, thanks to Facebook. Craig's post: "appreciate your push back, Ron. i definitely take the film as a more Old Testament style story. it is about pre or post civilization. how you build something out of the ashes. / I was intrigued by the scene where he tried to stay above the fray. He didn't pick a fight in the bar either. He wanted to stay on the path but the intense reality/survival test kept dragging him into the mire. / I can see how a jihadist might have the same rationale. "I am just defending the word of God."

My reply: "I think the whole question engaged / distracted me so much because I tackled the same sort of questions in a post-apocalyptic play I wrote called REMNANT, which tries to imagine what the gospel might look like in that savage sort of world, and what role it might play as some sort of civilization tried to rebuild itself in the rubble. In my play, it came down to a laying down of arms, the need to intentionally put oneself at risk, as the necessary precursor to any sort of resurrection, either spiritually or culturally. So the taking up of arms, however reluctantly, in defence of God's truth, just struck me as an easy way out of the dilemma - but an easy way into all kinds of thematic dissonance and problematic conclusions."

Turns out David Denby is with me on this one.
Among the more bizarre responses to AVATAR, James Cameron's blue-green bliss-out, is the complaint, from several conservatives, that the movie fails to devote itself to a Christian narrative. Ross Douthat, in the Times, deplored its celebration of "pantheism" and the absence of redemption. Jonah Goldberg, of National Review, longed for "a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts." . . .

The search for redemption is over. THE BOOK OF ELI has arrived. . . .

THE BOOK OF ELI is not as lethally boring as THE ROAD, but it has the same dour skies and a color range that runs from cinnamon to liver. We seem to have been cursed with a new kind of film: the brown-and-white movie. . . .
Eli carries the Word by means of the sword. He slices up many people. In this religio-exploitation picture, Washington maintains a solemn kind of cool, while Oldman, smirking and roaring, keeps the show alive: camping, he at least seems to know that he's in an impossibly daft movie. . . .

The lesson is: We've been bad, very bad, and we had it coming. And now we're being punished by watching a brown-and-white movie. . . . THE BOOK OF ELI combines the maximum in hollow piety with remorseless violence. It's a true American commercial product, overflowing with barbarous acts and improving bromides."

New Yorker, January 28, 2010


Mack Gordon said...

Do you suppose the brown and white phenomenon was started by No Country for Old Men?

Ron Reed said...

I did notice lots of messing around with colour the year leading up to NO COUNTRY. I think colour correction became a lot more available at a certain point with digital filming. Would be interesting to look back at the flow of releases and think about which ones started having that sort of thing.

In general, I'm all for it. But now that Denby has pointed it out, I hope I don't start perceiving it as a cliche.

Saw a film with great colour treatment last night, EVERLASTING MOMENTS. The film takes place 100 years ago in Sweden, and involves a woman who discovers photography - so it seems very appropriate to see many scenes through that sort of century-old camera's eye.