Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Will Be Old Men

Wow. It's amazing what final exams and Christmas break will do to a posting schedule. It's fun to be back, particularly when I decided to post on one of my favorite hobbies, the movies.

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen two very good movies, No Country for Old Men directed by the Coen Brothers (of innumerable terrific movies' fame) and There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Magnolia is one of my favorite movies of all time. Yesterday, these two led the pack in nominations for the Academy Awards. Interestingly, the movies have a similar theme, evil. Evil and sin should an important part of our Christian theology, but they are something that a lot of Christians don't like to talk about. I think these two movies would be a good pair for a church fellowship group DVD party. [Warning, No Country deserves every part of its R rating. It is one of the goriest non-"horror" movies I have ever seen. Blood on the other hand is quite the opposite. Although there is violence, it happens mostly off of the camera view. In Britain, Blood, according to imdb , was first rated as the American equivalent of PG-13. In a highly unusual movie, the movie's producers appealed and were awarded the British equivalent of an R rating.]

So how do these movies differ in their treatment of evil. In No Country EVIL appears in capital letters with fangs. It is the evil of serial killers and mass murderers. In There Will be Blood the evil ends up being as massive, but it derives from the long corrosive attack of every man's sinful nature (the main character's last name is the simple Plainview). At least for me, the fear I felt in No Country is the fear you have when you are awake at night and alone and you hear something rattling around upstairs. The fear I felt in Blood is the fear you have when you are awake and alone at night and your hear something rattling around in your soul.

Of course as Christians our deliverance from that fear is the blood of the cross. The blood of Jesus is clearly one of the "bloods" in the movie. Yet P.T. Anderson has never, in anything I have read, claimed to be crafting a Christian religious message, particularly with regards to Magnolia. His message has always been that if that's what people see in his movies, that's fine, but that's not his intent. Nevertheless, there are two clear messages to me in Magnolia: first) the necessity of healing "salvation", which requires divine intervention, and second) a denial of the universality of that healing, which appears to be withheld from at least two people in the Magnolia landscape. In There Will Be Blood the canvas is reversed. The movie's focus is on two people who do not receive grace and salvation. I believe that a good bible verse to go with a study of There Will Be Blood is Mark 3:28-29.

"I tell you the truth, all of the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven: he is guilty of an eternal sin."

I also don't understand some reviewers who believe that Anderson provides only a one-dimensional parody of Christianity. First, my father spent his life in oil fields doing what a lot of people in this movie are doing to earn a living, and I don't think the movie suggests a one-dimensional picture that all oil men are evil. I am certain, from my father's stories, that he saw many of the shady things that go on in this movie. Likewise, just because of the complicated and not at all one-dimensional life trajectory of one character, it's a huge mistake to believe that the movie says that all Christians are foolish. In fact, that assertion is factually wrong. Anderson does have his agents of grace in this movie as in Magnolia, and they are quite obviously Christian. It is just that in this movie, unlike in Magnolia, Anderson's concern is with the ultimately reprobate.

So which movie do I think should win the Academy Award? Well it's like being offered two different cars as a gift. One, No Country for Old Men, is like a beautiful new silver BMW. It's stylish. Every part functions perfectly, and the parts fit together in breathtaking harmony. Your other choice, There Will Be Blood, is like a Classic Series 2 Camaro. It's a gawky yellow, its engine is too big, and the parts sometimes clunk together when you slam the door. But it is awesome fun to drive.