Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"We are white men, sir, not beasts."

If you haven't seen The Proposition (Hillcoat, 2005), I recommend it to you. I'm not sure there's a lot of new territory here that John Ford hadn't already explored in The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (see my earlier post on these films), but the old puzzle about the relationship between civilization and violence is brilliantly and beautifully retold by first-time screenwriter Nick Cave in the context of a western set in the Australian Outback. These are the same sort of perennial questions about the nature of justice raised again this year by The Dark Knight. (Come to think of it, Liberty Valance and The Dark Knight are almost the same movie!)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Either you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

As hoped for in a previous post, I did finally see The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), but I haven't been able to write about it yet. I think I need to see it a few more times before I can unravel my thoughts. Here are a few of my confused musings.

First, let me point you to an op-ed by Jonathan Lethem in this week's New York Times. I really liked Lethem's comment that "a morbid incoherence was the movie’s real takeaway, chaotic form its ultimate content". That's exactly the theme I discussed in an academic paper on the philosophy of Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005). I think the movie is intentionally incoherent, pointing to a puzzle in the American soul, a deep ambivalence we have about the nature of violence, justice, and heroism.

This ambivalence is dialectically expressed in a debate between commentators: witness Andrew Klavan's article in The Wall Street Journal and the response by David Cohen in Variety. Klavan argues that The Dark Knight sets Batman up as a symbol of George W. Bush in order to show us that Bush is a misunderstood hero. Cohen agrees with the Bush bit, but sees the movie as a criticism of the president's view of heroism. Lethem seems closer to the target when he says that the movie is playing both points of view off each other.

Both of Nolan's Batman movies have two endings: an ending in which Batman's method is praised and an ending in which it is vilified. In Batman Begins Rachel Dawes visits Bruce Wayne at the site of the burned-down Wayne Manor and says that Bruce was right to have created Batman, that Gotham City needs him. This seems like the end of the movie, but it is followed by a scene in which Lt. Jim Gordon points out that Bruce's method has resulted in "escalation" by giving grandiose ideas to the Joker. In The Dark Knight this theme is elaborated upon: the Joker and Batman are shown to be "two faces" of the same coin. But here we have two endings, too. First Harvey Dent points out that both he and Bruce share the blame for Rachel's death -- only Jim Gordon comes out looking innocent -- and then Gordon goes on to repeat Rachel's idea that Gotham needs Batman. (Actually he says we "deserve" Batman, the dark knight, but that we "need" Harvey Dent, the white knight. I'm not yet clear on what's going on here.)

The philosopher in me keeps hoping for a coherent message. I dream that writer-director Christopher Nolan is working on a trilogy in which Batman finally and unambiguously realizes that his vigilantism was a mistake, thereby affirming Cohen's reading. (It seems sigificant along these lines that, before she dies, Rachel recants her speech from the first ending of Batman Begins.) But, artistically, I suppose I have to admit that the film is a better text for being open to multiple readings.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"What would you do if you suddenly received a box via mail, labeled 'FRAGILE: Contains Peace'? "

This week I received a little bundle of joy. No, I didn't have another baby. (My first baby is less than four months old, so that's sort of impossible.) In fact, my bundle of joy came in the mail. It was an artwork in a global public art series called "The Priority Boxes" (2006-2009) by Nicaraguan artist Franck de Las Mercedes who sends a box (for free!) to anyone who requests one.

I first heard about the project on Barry Taylor's blog. Barry's box contained world peace as did many of the boxes in the project's photo gallery (imagine what the postal carriers must think), so I kind of expected to receive that too when I ordered mine. But it takes several weeks for your box to arrive, and by then I had forgotten that I had even ordered it. So when it did arrive, it really did bring me joy, something I needed especially on that day.

Browsing the gallery of boxes again after receiving my box, I was struck by the fact that almost all of Paul's "fruit of the spirit" have been mailed out. There's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and will power (self-control?). I didn't see faithfulness, goodness, or gentleness, though I did see faith and hope. Other non-theological boxes include things like life, truth, beauty, foresight, courage, creativity, etc. And there are a large number of democracy-themed boxes: freedom, human rights, world peace, activism, change, prosperity, humanity, etc. You can order your own box here. You never know what it might contain when it arrives. It might contain inspiration or even happiness.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Love is always small."

Christianity Today has a great interview (online here) with Andy Crouch about his new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. I've been a big fan of Andy since his days as creator/editor of re:generation quarterly. And his new book sounds especially exciting since it is the kind of thing I've been thinking about, too. See my review of WALL-E.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"And now for something completely different..."

In the past three and a half months since I started this blog, I've written 50 posts and had over 1,000 page visits. Thanks for your support!

The observant among you will have noticed that my profile says I "almost" have a PhD. That's because I am not yet finished with my dissertation. But I am taking this fall semester off from teaching so I can finish up. Unfortunately that means I will have to write less frequently on this blog.

I'll still try to post at least once a week, but if I haven't posted in a while, you can go back and check out the archives of posts you might have missed. After I finish my dissertation, my next writing project will be on the sort of issues raised in these posts, so I would really love to read your comments!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"I don't like food, I love it. If I don't love it, I don't swallow."

In honor of this weekend's Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco, here are my Top 10 Slow Food Movies (in alphabetical order):

1. Babette’s Feast (Axel, 1984)
2. Big Night (Scott and Tucci, 1996)
3. Eat Drink Man Woman (Lee, 1994)
4. Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)
5. How to Cook Your Life (Dörrie, 2007)
6. Mostly Martha (Nettlebeck, 2001)
7. Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)
8. Sideways (Payne, 2004)
9. Spanglish (Brooks, 2004)
10. What’s Cooking? (Chadha, 2000)

In case you haven't heard, Slow Food is an international movement trying to combat "fast food" by emphasizing conscious eating (i.e., sustainability and fair trade as well as mindfulness), communal dining, quality food, etc. (For more on the concept of "slow food", check out the international movement's website.) What do you think? Have I missed any movies that should be on the list?