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Pop Culture From A Spiritual Point of View

April 23, 2003
Greetings from David Bruce, Web Master

This page was last updated October 10, 2003

Main Topic:

1. Mel Gibson on his Passion: Jesus Christ
2. Holes Review -Gen Y and Narmia
3. Levity -Free Screening
4. Theoden's Ill Choices



Full Hollywood Jesus Passion Review -here

Oscar winning actor-director Mel Gibson has been working on a film on the passion of Christ at the Cinecittą studios in Rome. The movie focuses on the last 12 hours of Christ's life and stars Jim Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line," "Angel Eyes," "The Count of Monte Cristo") as Jesus. Gibson granted the following exclusive interview to ZENIT.

Q: What made you decide to do this project?

Gibson: It's been slowly coming on for about 10 or 12 years now. I'm a pretty old guy, but if you go back 12 years I was 35. That's when I started to investigate the roots of my faith. I had always believed in God, that he existed, and I was brought up to believe in a certain way.

But in my middle years, I kind of drifted, and other things took center stage. At that point, I realized I needed something more if I was going to survive. A closer investigation of the Gospels, of the story, of the whole piece, was demanded of me.

That's when the idea started to percolate inside my head. I began to see it realistically, re-creating it in my own mind so that it would make sense for me, so I could relate to it. That's what I want to put on the screen.

Q: So many movies about the life of Christ have already been made. Why make another one?

Gibson: I don't think other films have tapped into the real force of this story. I mean, have you seen any of the others? They are either inaccurate in their history, or they suffer from bad music or bad hair. This film will show the passion of Jesus Christ just the way it happened. It's like traveling back in time and watching the events unfold exactly as they occurred.

Q: How can you be sure that your version is so accurate?

Gibson: We've done the research. I'm telling the story as the Bible tells it. I think the story, as it really happened, speaks for itself. The Gospel is a complete script, and that's what we're filming.

Q: This seems like a switch from the usual Mel Gibson productions. Your specialty is action, adventure and romance. What made you decide to do a religious film?

Gibson: I'm doing what I've always done: telling stories I think are important in the language I speak best: film. I think most great stories are hero stories. People want to reach out and grab at something higher, and vicariously live through heroism, and lift their spirit that way.

There is no greater hero story than this one - about the greatest love one can have, which is to lay down one's life for someone. The Passion is the biggest adventure story of all time. I think it's the biggest love-story of all time; God becoming man and men killing God - if that's not action, nothing is.

Q: Who will want to see a film like this?

Gibson: I think everyone will. The story has inspired art, culture, behavior, governments, kingdoms, countries - it has influenced the world in more ways than you can imagine. It's a pivotal event in history that has made us what we are today. Believers and nonbelievers alike, we have all been affected by it.

So many people are searching for meaning in life, asking themselves a lot of questions. They'll come looking for answers. Some will find them, some won't.

Q: So this film isn't only for Christians?

Gibson: "Gandhi" was a blockbuster hit, but it wasn't just for Hindus. This film is for everyone. For believers and nonbelievers, Jesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most important historical figures of all time. Name one person who has had a greater impact on the course of history.

Q: But if this film is focused on bringing the Gospels to life, won't it be offensive to non-Christians? For example, the role of the Jewish leaders in Jesus' death. If you depict that, won't it be offensive?

Gibson: This isn't a story about Jews vs. Christians. Jesus himself was a Jew, his mother was a Jew, and so were his Twelve Apostles. It's true that, as the Bible says, "He came unto his own and his own received him not"; I can't hide that.

But that doesn't mean that the sins of the past were any worse than the sins of the present. Christ paid the price for all our sins.

The struggle between good and evil, and the overwhelming power of love go beyond race and culture. This film is about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. These are things that the world could use more of, particularly in these turbulent times. This film is meant to inspire, not to offend.

Q: Even so, some people are going to think that you just want to "push your beliefs on others." Is that true?

Gibson: I didn't invent this story. I do happen to believe it. It's something that just gets inside of you and has to come out. I'm just trying to tell it well, better than it's ever been told before. When you're dealing with non-fiction, a director's responsibility is to make it as accurate as possible. Open-minded people will appreciate it for what it is.

Q: What about the violence? Won't people find some of the more graphic scenes inappropriate?

Gibson: Some people might, but, hey, that's the way it was. There is no gratuitous violence in this film. I don't think anyone under 12 should go see it - unless they're a very mature 12-year-old. It's pretty heavy.

I think we have gotten too used to seeing pretty crucifixes on the wall and we forget what really happened. I mean, we know that Jesus was scourged, that he carried his cross, that he had nails put through his hands and feet, but we rarely think about what this means.

Growing up I didn't realize what was involved in this. I didn't realize how hard it was. The full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption didn't really strike me. Understanding what he went through, even on a human level, makes me feel not only compassion, but also a debt: I want to repay him for the enormity of his sacrifice.

Q: What about the language barrier? You're filming in two dead languages - Latin and Aramaic - and you're not planning to use subtitles. Won't that be a turnoff?

Gibson: Caravaggio's paintings don't have subtitles, but people get the message. The Nutcracker Ballet doesn't have subtitles, but people get the message. I think that the image will overcome the language barrier. That's my hope.

I'm just trying to be as real as possible. There is something kind of startling about watching it in the original languages. The reality comes out and hits you. Full-contact. I know we are only re-creating, but we are doing the best we can to simulate an experience of really being there.

And I think it's almost counterproductive to say some of these things in a modern language. It makes you want to stand up and shout out the next line, like when you hear "To be or not to be" and you instinctively say to yourself, "That is the question."

But if you hear the words spoken as they were spoken at the time, it can kind of stun you. I've seen that happen when we're working. It gets a clarity to it through the acting, through the nuances of the characters, the movement of the camera - it's the movement, it's the timing, it's everything. All of a sudden it's very, very clear to me. That's when I cut and move on.

Q: When you finish this project, will it be a letdown to go back to less sublime subject matter?

Gibson: No, it will be a relief to do something that's a little lighter. There is a tremendous burden of responsibility in this one, not to sell anything short. I just hope I can do justice to the story. You can't please everybody, but then again, that's not my goal.

Passion Forum -Post Here

General Newsletter Bulletin Board -Your Comments Here

Full Hollywood Jesus Holes Review -here

"You are to dig one hole each day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Each hole must be five feet deep, and five feet across in every direction. Your shovel is your measuring stick."

If you're not familiar with the previous paragraph, you don't know Holes -which is right in there with Harry Potter, in terms of Gen Y.

Published in 1998, Louis Sachar's Holes has been awarded both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award for children's literature. With 2.7 million copies in print (2003), it is outselling most new fiction.

Gen Y is the generation born on or before 1986. The oldest graduates High School this year (2003). So, do ya wanna know if you are connecting to Gen Y? Do you want to know if you are with it? Here's the test: When you hear the word ARMPIT what do you think of?

If the name of a boy was not even a remote thought to you, then you are disconnected. Ask any 7th grader and they will tell you about a certain boy in the book HOLES.

Books that form part of the the holy cannon for Gen Y are the Harry Potter series and Holes. Therefore this movie is very significant!

Gen Y is unique in that they have no knowledge of a time before PCs or CDs! Most believe popcorn has always been popped by microwave. For Baby Boomers (1946-64) microwave ovens, PCs and CDs are all recent, but for Gen Y these items are ancient technologies.

Unfortunately, certain "Christian" groups are ready to throw rocks at what Gen Y considers part of its identity. One Christian reviewer is warning parents to stay away from HOLES due to the curse from a fortune teller and because the word DAMN is said twice in the film. And in terms certain "Christian" attitudes regarding HARRY POTTER, oh my, do I even need to go there. But, let's move on, shall we?

Let's build bridges to Gen Y, rather than throwing rocks at those things that they see as part of their identity. Okay?

When I went to see Holes, the theatre was packed, and mostly with Gen Y. I really had to look for an available seat --this film is exceedingly important.

I really liked this film. However, when viewing Holes, keep in mind that this is a fantasy, pure and simple. There is little that could actually happen in real life -again, it is fantasy. Yet at the same time, it is true to the human condition -and that is what makes this a powerful story.

It is a story that has captured the hearts of a generation! A story designed to teach important human values and lessons.

Click to enlargeIt demonstrates the importance of family.

It underlines the value of friendship.

It teaches that there are consequences to actions, good and bad.

It presents life as not always fair.

It demonstrates how the mere thumb of God is more than any curse. That God's "presence" brings nourishment, living water, and healing.

It teaches that good ultimately overcomes evil.

That evil doers may have a season, but that destiny is tended for the good.

Here is a story of triumphant grace and mercy --over harsh, needless and human laws.

It is the goal of Walden Media of turning quality books into great motion pictures. They are the group currently involved in bring C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia to the screen. I must say that I am very excited about the commitment of this company.

If all goes well, they will be releasing all seven Narnia books, one per year, as feature films beginning in 2005. Exciting stuff!

Walden Media released "Ghosts of the Abyss" on April 11th, 2003, with The Walt Disney Company. In this groundbreaking 3D large format film, director James Cameron uses state-of-the-art technology, including revolutionary 3D photography, to journey back to Titanic. Currently in production is a film adaptation of Jules Verne's "Around The World In Eighty Days," with Jackie Chan attached to star. The company is making the first live-action film adaptations of C.S. Lewis's book series The Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to be directed by Andrew Adamson ("Shrek").

In 2001, Walden Media was created by educator Micheal Flaherty and, former president of Miramax Films' Dimension label, Cary Granat, with backing of billionaire Philip Anschutz (he's the guy that built the fabulous Staples Center).

They represent something good in Hollywood. They are literally filling some of the the Holes in the motion picture industry (pun intended).

As Entertainment Weekly states, "Seems Holes is hollowed ground."

Holes Forum -Post Here

General Newsletter Bulletin Board -Your Comments Here


Full Hollywood Jesus Levity review -here

I had a wonderful phone conversation the other day with Ed Solomon, the writer/director of Levity. He is the screenwriter of the original Men in Black. Those of you who have seen MIB know what a tremendous writer Solomon is. He has a way of exploring the depth of the human soul and the human condition, that few are capable of doing.

Levity is a film that explores remorse, repentance, and redemption. The message in the film, at least for me, was: In order to achieve Levity (lightness of being, freedom) you must first come to terms with the gravity of your own sin/reality. The film is a search for a relationship with God, who does not exist and yet does at the same time. Solomon finds truth in opposites in amazing ways (i.e. levity via gravity).

The curious thing about Ed Solomon is that he is not a "religious" person. Rather he is a "life as journey" person. Actually, I think writers like Solomon can explore areas of spirituality that religious people can not, You see, religion often restricts creative talent --too bad, indeed.

I praise God for giving us marvelous people like Ed Solomon.

I encourage you to see Levity. And as you do, may God grant you the gift of Levity.

You are invited to a FREE advanced screening of LEVITY.
Click on your city below to

Los Angeles
Sorry, Screening Full

New York
Sorry, Screening Full

San Diego
Wed, Apr 23 at 7 PM

Tues, May 06 at 7:30

Tues, May 06 at 7:30

St. Louis
Wed, May 07 at 7PM

Tues, May 13 at 7:30

Levity Bulletin Board -Your Comments Here

General Newsletter Bulletin Board -Your Comments Here

A Lord of the Ring Monthly Feature by GREG WRIGHT

Full LOTR Review Here

Human Will and The Lord of the Rings

Last Sunday was Easter, the day on which Christians celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over death and the grave. Of course, before the resurrection came the cross. In the Bible, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. During the course of his conversation with the Jewish Messiah, Pilate asks, "What is truth?"

Much of the last two thousand years has focused on that very question, with one group or another -- Christians of various flavors, Muslims, scientists, atheists and others -- claiming at various times to have a definitive answer.

Perhaps more significant is another question: What good is truth if known only; if it merely sits on a shelf, but is never used? Arguably, the defining human characteristic may be the ability to act contrary to what we know is good for us, even wilfully so.

As a Catholic, Tolkien understood the human capacity to exercise the will -- even if it is exercised poorly -- to be God-given, and a servant of Providence: one of the means by which God elects to work out his will on earth. As noted in the Hollywood Jesus review of The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson's movies do not abandon these themes; if anything, they are brought into sharper focus -- and The Two Towers, in particular, addresses the responsibility that comes with free will.

The Man of Action
One main story thread of The Two Towers follows Aragorn as he leads Gimli and Legolas in pursuit of the Uruk-Hai who have abducted Merry and Pippin. The decisiveness which Aragorn demonstrates in these opening sequences would have seemed out of place at times in the first of Peter Jackson's movies.

While a member of the Fellowship, Aragorn was not so much a leader as one of many leaders -- even, at times, a follower. From the time that Boromir falls defending Merry and Pippin, however, Aragorn assumes quite a different posture. It's as if the words of fealty delivered by Boromir's faltering lips finally convince Aragorn that he has the authority to lead -- without Gandalf's guidance, without the Ringbearer's thoughts to be weighed, without the mission of the Council of Elrond to be protected. He is free to act, and act decisively. "Let's go hunt some Orc!" he declares, and the eyes of his companions light up. They are ready and eager to follow.

Another Man of Action
The pursuit is a gruelling ordeal. The Orcs are moving fast, and they are well motivated. Just to keep pace, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn must run day and night -- and still, Legolas' keen eyes tell them, they remain a full day behind.

In the grasslands of Rohan, the Three Runners are surrounded by a company of horsemen. Both parties are relieved to find themselves among allies. The Riders of Rohan bring Aragorn and company bad news, however. They have cornered and slaughtered the raiding Uruk-Hai. There are no survivors.

This eored (mounted fighting unit) of Rohan is led by Eomer, nephew of the King of Rohan. He is also a leader, willing to act -- and willing to accept responsibility for his actions. Eomer is consumed, perhaps even rashly, with a passion for doing what he knows is right, even if it runs counter to official policy. He has been banished, we discover, for running afoul of the King's counsel.

The Man of Inaction
Eomer acts in stark contrast to Theoden, King of Rohan. Wizened and frail beyond his years, Theoden has allowed himself to become a model of inaction -- paralyzed by doubt, mesmerized by ill counsel, ruled by fear, captivated by the glamour of past glory.

After rejoining with Gandalf in Fangorn, Aragorn and friends find their way to Edoras to seek counsel with Theoden. Gandalf hopes to rouse Theoden from his malaise and rise against the army which Saruman prepares to send against Rohan.

It's a tall order. Theoden is in no condition to wield a sword, much less lead an army. His forces are in disarray. His son is dead. His best remaining captain, Eomer, has been banished. His shieldmaiden niece, Eowyn, can only stand by and play nursemaid. Theoden is under the dominion of Saruman's will.

The Loss of Will
For years, Theoden has been advised by Grima "Wormtongue." A spy of Saruman, Grima has been the instrument through which Theoden has been tamed and aged. In a cinematic tour de force, Gandalf throws off the yoke of Saruman's dominion -- and Theoden is rejuvenated before our eyes.

And it is here, once again, where we find that Jackson and his screenwriters have made very deliberate and noticable changes to Tolkien's story. And again, we have to ask ourselves, "Why?" The answer is not, presumably, that Jackson has no respect for Tolkien. Nor is it that Jackson is an idiot. We would also be lazy to conclude, "Well, it's a movie, not a book. There's bound to be differences. So what?" No; given the range of options which presented themselves, there must be very specific reasons for the changes Jackson has introduced.

Even in this early sequence with Theoden, there are significant differences. While Tolkien is never terribly explicit about the means Saruman uses to control Theoden, there is absolutely no indication that Saruman was tangibly aware of Theoden's rejuvenation. In the movie, though, Saruman is literally taken aback by the incident, though many miles away. While Tolkien's Theoden throws off a psychological yoke, Jackson's Theoden, it seems, throws off a spiritual one.

In the Bible, Jesus remarks on this kind of deliverance, which many have interpreted as exorcism. "When an evil spirit comes out of a man," Jesus says, it may choose to return. "When it arrives, it finds the 'house' unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself... and the final condition of that man is worse than the first." (Matthew 12:43- 45, NIV)

Saruman doesn't reenter Theoden, of course. In his case, though, the evil influence of Saruman is still not replaced by anything wholesome -- say, the counsel of Gandalf. No. Theoden's state is still horrible, because he's still got only his own poor counsel: the very same counsel that put Grima at his side in the first place. Einstein observed that the level of thinking which gets us into trouble is insufficient to get us out of it. This is a lesson that Jackson's Theoden has never learned.

The Will to Act, Even Badly
And so, rather than act quickly and decisively on Gandalf's advice, as Tolkien's Theoden does, Jackson's Theoden bides his time and broods. He even has time to deliver the pithy equivocation, "I will not risk open war." Aragorn has to deliver the rather obvious news: "Open war is upon you."

So what's going on? Is Jackson's Theoden made more complex so the role could be beefed up for Bernard Hill? Has Jackson just lost a screw? Not at all. We must remember that certain lessons from the broader scope of Tolkien's novel may be lost or watered down by the creation of three stand-alone filmed epics. To be true to Tolkien's themes, many of them must be revisited within the scope of each film. Jackson uses Theoden, at the very least, to remind us that the human will is essential to Tolkien's story. While the first film is rife with reminders of our freedom to act, particularly in the face of temptation, the story line of Tolkien's Two Towers does not provide as many illustrations. In Jackson's Theoden, however, we have a very tangible reminder that we are entirely free to do what we will, even if it is against our own best interest.

More Bad Choices
Jackson's Theoden isn't done, however. Rather than employing a strong offensive tactic, as Tolkien's Theoden does, he abandons Edoras and moves the entire populace to Helm's Deep -- putting his women and children directly in harm's way, rather than sending them to the safety of the hills. Worse, he seems to take no conventional military precautions to protect his caravan: no scouts, no vanguard, no rearguard. In the context of Jackson's movie, it's no surprise that Theoden, Aragorn and company are attacked by Warg-mounted Orcs, and that they sustain heavy losses.

To top it all off, Theoden is still convinced, upon arriving at Helm's Deep, that he is there to ride out the storm, and that the Hornburg is capable of doing so. Until Aragorn literally resurfaces, there's nobody at the helm in Helm's Deep. Theoden couldn't protect his people from the flu.

A Near Disaster
The results of Theoden's short-sightedness and ineptitude are nearly disastrous. Despite the aid of Elvish archers, and the valor of Aragorn and his friends, the forces of Rohan are no match for the host of Isengard. An Uruk-Hai suicide bomber leaps into the culvert under the Deeping Wall, and a thunderous blast rips it apart. Haldir and countless others die in the melee which follows, and the survivors retreat into the Hornburg.

When it becomes apparent that all is lost, and the Orcs are breaking down the door to the keep, Aragorn finally convinces Theoden to lead the final assault. But for Jackson's Theoden, it is not a final act of heroism, it is merely an act of fatalistic desperation.

The Man of Action
This moment, of course, is the one which separates the men from the boys -- and in Jackson's film, that's an important distinction. For Tolkien, kings didn't earn the title: they were born to it, bred for it, destined to be kings from their mother's wombs. Some, like Aragorn, are even foretold in prophecy; some, like Theoden, may be untimely enfeebled; some, like Legolas' father Thranduil, may seem capricious; some, like Denethor, may be led astray by their own lust for power. But all are kings because they are meant to be. They are of proud lineage, they are better men than their peers, and they command respect because they are who they are.

Jackson's Aragorn, on the other hand, is more like you and me: needing to be convinced that he is worthy of a high calling, needing the occasional goad from a friend or trusted counsellor to push him to the next level. Are you and I likely to be convinced on our own that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do"? (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

Tolkien highlighted the Providential role of every person, even the smallest, through his portrayal of the Hobbits. Jackson has chosen to emphasize the importance of the common man through Aragorn. And since Jackson has invested so much into this portrayal of Aragorn, it's critical that, in The Two Towers, Aragorn becomes the hero of the story. More could be said about Aragorn; but it should be sufficient to suggest that Jackson's choices for Theoden are more about Aragorn than they are about Theoden.

In the meantime, we are still left to ponder Gandalf's thoughts, penned by Tolkien himself: what matters is what we do with the time we have. How will we exercise our own free will? Pretty poor choices have brought most of us to where we are now. Isn't it time to start listening to some good advice?

Lord of the Rings Forum -Post Here

General Newsletter Bulletin Board -Your Comments Here

God bless you.
David Bruce
Web Master, Hollywood Jesus.

PS To chat directly to me, e-mail: Private 2 David

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