Archives For Film

SupermanMy all time favorite superhero is Superman. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can shoot lasers from his eyes, blow tornados from his teeth, and who knows what would happen if he ever got indigestion.

Superman fights the unending battle for truth, justice and the American way. The Man of Steel never seemed to fly as high as when I was a boy. I wanted to be like him. I knew I could never fly or pick up a car; all I could really do was wear my underwear outside my clothes. So I did… (well, at least until Jr. High). When I was a child, I put on my Superman underoos and stood on the couch as I waited for those famous words to blast from our television. “It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” Although I never really understood why these first two guys were so excited about seeing a bird or a plane, I waited for my cue. “IT’S SUPERMAN!” Hearing those words, I would jump from the top of the couch and zoom around the room.

Superman JoeySuperman served as my paragon for living a selfless life, of being in the world but not of it, of doing the right thing even when it stirred resentment and criticism from others (cough, cough—Batman!). It is not a surprise, then, that as I grew up and begin to read the Gospels, Superman reminded me a lot of Jesus. Now I know I’m behind the curve when it comes to writing about Superman as a type of Christ; so I want to go the other direction. I want to write about how Matthew presents Jesus as a type of one of Israel’s veritable superheroes: King Solomon.

Typologies of Christ abound in the New Testament. The authors present Jesus as a new Moses, a second Adam, a modern Elisha, a contemporary Melchizedek and so on. You likely know most of these, but you may not be as familiar with the depiction of Christ as a new Solomon.

King Solomon, of course, was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was known as the wisest man that ever lived. His sapience was so remarkable that the Queen of the South traveled to visit and admire this king of the Jews. The Queen did not, however, come empty handed: she brought the son of David precious spices and abundant gold (1 Ki 10.10). And she was not Solomon’s only visitor; rather people from “all the nations” came from every part of the world to hear his wisdom (1 Ki 4.34—5.14).[1]

SolomonDespite his obvious blemishes in the rest of 1 Kings, Jewish wisdom literature and certain intertestamental works often exalt Solomon as their venerable champion. He even develops into a predecessor of Green Lantern. Seriously! In the legendary Jewish work written sometime between the First and Third Century called the Testament of Solomon, God gives the wise king a magic ring by which he subjugates all the demons in and under the world. (You can read it here,[2] I promise it is much better than the movie.)

With this general ennoblement of Solomon in mind, let’s fast forward to the First Gospel. Matthew begins with a genealogy in which he records five women. First, there’s Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. Then there is Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon—the wise heir to Israel’s throne. The woman who follows Bathsheba on the list is Mary, the mother of Christ—the everlasting King of the Jews. Matthew situates the next hint of the typology in the story of the wise men. These royal visitors come from afar; and—similar to the Queen’s gifts to Solomon— they bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In case we missed the typology before, Matthew makes it clear in 12:38-42. There, as Jesus castigates the scribes and Pharisees, he reminds them of Solomon and the queen. “She came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom:” and now…drum roll please…”one greater than Solomon is here!” Jesus goes on to place the religious leaders in juxtaposition to the foreigners who, like the queen, will come from the ends of the Earth to pay homage to one greater than their superman. Over against Solomon, Jesus is Wisdom incarnate (11.19), the preeminent philosopher king.

A few years ago, one of my toddlers climbed into my lap, put his head under my chin, and “cuddled.” After a few sweet moments, he broke the silence and said: “Dad, you’re the ‘bestest.’” Similarly—although the debate still rages as to whether Superman or Batman is better (despite the obvious answer!)—this typology of Christ as well as others in the New Testament demonstrate conclusively that above all the champions in history (real or imagined, DC or Marvel) Jesus is the “bestest.” Yesterday, Today, and Forever.

 


[1] (πάντες οἱ λαοὶ /מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים )

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Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Now You See Me and plan to, you probably don’t want to read this until you’ve seen the movie.

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Now You See MeI recently watched Now You See Me, and I loved it. It’s clever, funny, features a fair amount of action, and comes with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s a winning formula. If you liked Ocean’s 11/12/13 or The Italian Job, you’ll probably be into Now You See Me.

The movie features four talented magicians, who are collected into a single act by an unknown ringleader. Though each magician has been accustomed to working alone, they work perfectly together in extremely complicated and dangerous tasks as they perform magic tricks on stage. These tricks, however, involve robbing a bank during a show and distributing the money to the crowd, hacking into a wealthy sponsor’s bank account and forwarding the funds to audience members’ accounts, and stealing a safe and showering the money upon a large outdoor crowd.

It’s Robin Hood with a deck of cards rather than a bow and arrows. And no tights. These magicians steal from the wealthy and pass out the funds to their theoretically poor audiences. And they do it with style. I really enjoyed watching this movie.

But here’s the thing. Even though the movie is really cool, relatively clean, and very entertaining (did I mention I loved it?), it teaches something. All movies teach us. We think of movies as entertainment, but they give us a two hour view of the world through the eyes of one or more character, through the eyes of a director, a writer, a film studio, etc.

In the case of Now You See Me, the movie teaches something unchristian. While there is much to praise and enjoy about the movie, when the plot comes together, you find that the all of the spectacular events in the movie were motivated by revenge.

Now You See Me 2It’s subtle. Like a magic trick. The mysterious ringleader (unidentified until the last scenes), lost his magician father when his attempt to escape from a safe dropped into a river went bad. So the events of the film enact this son’s revenge. He doesn’t kill anyone, but he steals money from the insurance company and bank that didn’t pay out on his father’s life insurance policy, as well as the manufacturing company that built the sub-standard safe that malfunctioned and therefore entombed his father. He also gets the man who prodded his father into the daring trick imprisoned.

The potential upside to all of this is that these four individualistic magicians learn to work together—a dynamic that the film calls attention to. But in reality, they are working together in order to become famous. That’s their entire motivation, and there’s no hint that any of them acted altruistically. The film also tries to soften the revenge theme by having the main character fall unexpectedly in love. But when his newfound love finds out the truth about what he’s done, she merely smiles and vows to lock the secret away forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked this movie. I’m sure I’ll watch it again. And there’s a sense in which this movie tells the truth. People are highly motivated by fame and revenge. The problem I’m having is, these terrible motivations are rewarded in the film. There’s no hint that this is not the best way to live. In fact, I found myself liking the way the main character took his revenge. Whoops.

The fact of the matter is, good movies can teach bad things. And bad movies can teach good things. The point is not to avoid a great movie like Now You See Me. The point is to think critically about what our movies are telling us and how they are moving us.

The goal is first to enjoy the movie as a movie, be moved in the ways the filmmakers wanted you to be moved, and then to contemplate how your biblical worldview ought to come to bear on that film. What is good and true and can be affirmed? What is false and ugly and must be rejected? And how can we live in this world more effectively in light of what we’ve just seen?

History Channel The Bible 2Yesterday, I talked about the History Channel’s new series on the Bible. As I said, many found the show compelling and faithful to the overall story, if not to every detail of the biblical story. My argument in yesterday’s post was that adapting a book for film is fraught with difficulties, so we should be cautious with our expectations. Today I want to continue exploring our response to this show by showing why the criticisms are valid, but why I tend to disagree.

The most important concern about the series is that it changes some of the events, dialogue, and chronology within the biblical storyline. This is serious. We’re talking about God’s divine revelation to us, after all. So even though it’s difficult to adapt a book to film, the issue is significant when we come to the Bible.

If presenting the Bible on film is so difficult, we might argue that it shouldn’t be done at all. God wrote the Bible, so let’s stick to that. That’s a legitimate position to hold. This would allow us to stick with the inerrant version of the story and keep us from needing to interpret the events for visual depiction.

But that does seem a bit simplistic. For example, can we paint pictures about biblical events? Christians have been doing this throughout the history of Christianity. What about stained glass windows? At one point in church history, these windows were designed to tell the biblical stories so that illiterate peasants would have access to these inspiring and important accounts.

So we probably shouldn’t rule out visual depictions of biblical stories outright. Instead, we’ll need to focus the discussion on what types of presentations are permissible.

History Channel Abraham IsaacAnd that’s where we’ll disagree. As an example, I was okay with the History Channel’s decision to put the words of Genesis 1 –3 into Noah’s mouth (when in fact it was Moses who wrote them). It served as a cool introduction to these chapters, it put the flood in its theological context, and it allowed them to cover a lot of ground in a few minutes. Was this presentation inaccurate? Yes. We have no record of Noah saying this. Is it bad? I don’t think so, personally. Moses would not have been the first one to be aware of the creation story, though he was the one chosen to record it in Scripture. Noah would have known these things. So I liked it as a storytelling device that stayed accurate to the overall story, if not to the details. Others will disagree, and that’s okay. It’s a tough issue.

I also saw in a preview that when Jesus is asked by his disciples what he will do, he replies, “Change the world.” The gospels don’t record these words, so again, we have an inaccuracy. But would any of us deny that this is what Jesus was doing? It’s a storytelling device that shows the significance of what Jesus was up to. Again, I’m okay with it. And again, others won’t be.

So here’s my point in writing these two posts. If you find yourself disgusted by The Bible on TV, then don’t watch it. It won’t be helpful for you to smolder on your couch. But be okay with other people being encouraged by it. Be sure that they’re committed to the reliability of Scripture and the primacy of the biblical telling of these stories, but be okay with them finding value in something you don’t like.

And if you find yourself upset at those who didn’t like the series, understand that the Bible is the most important book in the world. It’s understandable that some are disturbed at seeing the biblical events altered for film. We can all agree that something more significant is going on here than disliking the way the Hobbit was adapted for film.

For all of us, if we curb our expectations and evaluate the series based on its faithfulness to the overall message of the Bible, we might get more out of it. (But then again, we might not—it has yet to be seen if the show will faithfully present the overall story of the Bible.)

Here’s the position we should hold: The Bible is and always will be the only inerrant and definitive telling of God’s story. If we cling tightly to that, we will be equipped to critically assess and still benefit from a visual interpretation of that story.

History Chanell the BibleLast night, the History Channel aired the first episode of their series on the Bible. I watched the previews for this show with curiosity. For one thing, Hollywood isn’t known for its efforts to protect the accuracy or intent of Scripture. For another thing, if the History Channel wrote a history textbook, it would contain at least a chapter on each of the following: World War II, antiques, aliens, truckers and loggers, and conspiracy theories; then there would be a concluding chapter entitled “Other Things that Happened.” So as I watched previews for a dramatized film version of biblical stories, I was skeptical.

If my Facebook feed is any indication, the show proved controversial. Some are arguing that it was very reverent and preserved the intended message of the Bible, even if some of the details were change for the new medium. Others are outraged, concerned that the Bible was changed to make a good show. Most people seem to be falling in between these two positions.

I was only able to watch the first 20 minutes (though I plan to keep watching), so what I will offer here are some thoughts on what we should expect from a film version of Bible stories, rather than what the History Channel did specifically. I feel that many of the negative reviews seem to be stemming from a misunderstanding of how the Bible might work as a movie.

So what should we expect when we go to see the Bible on the silver screen? Well, don’t expect too much. Haven’t we all watched a film version of a beloved book only to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the book? This is because books and film work in different ways. If a book could be easily and accurately adapted as a movie, then these movies wouldn’t need writers. The story is already written, why rewrite it! Right?

History Channel JesusMovie-adaptations need writers because we read books differently than we watch movies. A book can tell you Frodo threw the magical ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Your mind conjures up a wonderful image of what this “looks” like, based in part (though only in part) on descriptions the author provides. But the movie has to show you the details. They have to show you lava flowing, rocks shaking and falling, a convenient rock peninsula that seems to have been built for throwing magical rings into the lava below. Thousands of details that a writer can leave out have to be thrown into a movie.

So when the Bible says that Jesus fed five thousand and picked up basketfuls of leftovers, a film presentation would have to show you people’s faces. It would have to interpret their reaction to getting increasingly more bread and fish from a single man. The Bible doesn’t tell us if the people sat still for this, if they were dead silent or talkative, or if they fully realized what was going on. A film has to make a decision on each of these things in order to portray the event.

Similarly, a book can give you extended dialogue on what a character’s motivation is, or pause the action to describe the significance of what’s happening. A film has to keep moving. It can fill in some gaps with a narrator (which the History Channel chose to do), but much of the interpretation comes from the visual depiction and the action and interaction of the characters.

So back to the question. When the Bible hits the silver screen, we shouldn’t expect it to be a word for word retelling of biblical events. Aside from necessitating the longest film series the world would ever see (or wouldn’t see, because it would be immediately cancelled), this would make for a bad movie (can you imagine the many many episodes on Numbers, or the similarity between the Kings and Chronicles episodes?). Don’t get me wrong. The Bible is indeed the greatest story ever told. But God chose to record his story in a book. The doctrine of inerrancy says nothing about how that book should adapt to film.

Can some events be left out? Can some dialogue be extrapolated in order to present the significance of what was happening? We’re left to make those decisions on our own. Just keep in mind that it’s not an issue of Hollywood trying to change the Bible, these are decisions we’d all have to make in trying to present the Bible visually.

These are a few thoughts to help us consider how well the History Channel did. We have to keep in mind that they took on an audacious project, one that we would all find exceedingly difficult, and that we would all be criticized for undertaking.

But there is more to be said. Tomorrow I will give some concluding thoughts and show why many of the concerns presented are justified. Then I will explain why I tend to disagree with most of the concerns.

Harry PotterI know I’m over a decade late with this. But I recently read the first book in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (I plan to read them all), and I can’t help but write about it.

Harry Potter has not been well received in the Christian community as a whole. Some reject it outright as a work of the devil. Some have decided to keep a safe distance and look suspiciously at any Christians who have read the books (or watched the movies). Others enjoyed the books but feel a bit guilty about it. Still others dive in head first.

The controversy centers on one facet of the Harry Potter series: it contains magic (wizardry, withcraft, spells, potions, flying broomsticks, etc.). For many Christians, this immediately disqualifies the series. But should it?

Assess the books just a bit and you’ll discover that Harry Potter isn’t about magic. It features magic heavily, sure, but the series is about good and evil, courage and hope, friendship and goodness. These tales of good versus evil are set within a world of magic, but the Christian community needs to get beyond the faulty assumption that Harry Potter teaches kids that they ought to be witches and wizards.

We simply cannot judge a work based on its subject matter alone. The Bible contains witchcraft, after all. If that’s our sole criteria, then the Bible is out. We have to be more mature in our thinking and ask what the work says about witchcraft, or to phrase it differently, what the work uses witchcraft to say.

Kucherlinskoe lake, Altai mountains (#3)The Bible speaks against witchcraft because it involves turning from the true God to darker powers that try to subvert God’s rule. The characters in Harry Potter—both good and bad—use magic, but it is assumed throughout that magic is to be used for good. When a wizard goes bad and uses magic for evil, this is clearly condemned. So magic is being used in the Harry Potter books to show us something about the struggle between good and evil. I’m not saying that there are good and bad types of magic, I’m just saying that J. K. Rowling uses a magic-laden world as a literary expression of a reality we all face—good versus evil.

There are also some compelling aspects of Rowling’s use of magic. She presents us with a world laden with magic. But most of humanity refuses to believe that anything supernatural is going on (magic-folk refer to these naturalists as “muggles”). Isn’t this a lot like the Christian worldview? The supernatural surrounds us, but we are intentionally blind to it. Paul calls us to engage these supernatural realities (see Eph. 6). Again, it would seem that Harry Potter is more closely aligned with the biblical worldview than many Christians are willing to admit.

And then there are some powerful analogies within the storyline. The first book begins with a powerful wizard turned bad—Lord Voldemort—who tries to kill the baby Harry Potter, only to find that he can’t kill the child and that his powers have been stripped in the process. Is this sounding familiar? The Dark Lord is only able to work evil in the world when people “open up their minds and hearts” to do his will. Ring a bell?

Here’s my point: if we can get past the presence of magic in a book like Harry Potter and ask what the book is saying about magic and about life, then we will find much that we can affirm. I hope that my daughters grow to embody the lessons Harry Potter teaches, regardless of whether they read the books or not.

I know this is a significant issue, and I don’t want to downplay the concerns of godly parents. I don’t plan to let my girls read Harry Potter until they’re old enough to have a meaningful discussion about the things I’ve addressed above. If, as a parent, you are convinced that being exposed to the fictional witchcraft in Harry Potter will push your children toward the misuse of the supernatural that nonfictional witchcraft embodies, then you’ll need to have a good discussion with your kids and direct their imagination toward something more edifying. (Though this will be more difficult than you might think—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The 100 Cupboards series, and many other edifying books written by Christians feature magic.)

My goal is to push you to think more deeply about things like Harry Potter. These books have captured the imagination of more than one generation already. As Christians, we should be able to think about these stories—rather than dismissing them out of hand—and help others do the same.

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