Dec 15, 2019
If you are one of those people who will settle in this evening with a hot cup of apple cider to watch a holiday movie, you are not alone. Holiday movies have become firmly embedded in Americans’ winter celebrations.
The New York Times reports a massive increase in new holiday movies this year. Disney, Netflix, Lifetime and Hallmark are now in direct competition for viewers’ attention, with both new releases and reruns of the classics.
Holiday movies are so popular not simply because they are “escapes,” as my research on the relation between religion and cinema argues. Rather, these films offer viewers a glimpse into the world as it could be.
May 31, 2018
May 31, 2018
In the midst of one shooting after another of unarmed black men by police officers, one comment keeps sticking in my mind: officer Darren Wilson’s expressed fear of Michael Brown before he shot him six times and killed him. Wilson claimed of Brown, “he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.”
What does it mean to look “like a demon”? How would Wilson know what a demon looks like? Was he implicitly claiming he’s actually seen a demon? Or was Wilson, most likely, projecting an image of a demon from popular media onto the face of a real person? A monstrous, unreal other overlaid on the face of another, real person? And has media so influenced us that we don’t know the real from the fake and we’re ready to pull the trigger regardless?
Dec 27, 2017
Cinema and religion are never far apart—both bring light to darkened places. Sometimes the illumination comes from bright souls gathered together to confront dark forces. Sometimes it’s the light of bonfires lit to root out (perceived) monsters. Sometimes the light beckons to us from outside the window, or at the end of a tunnel, showing us another world beyond, full of possibilities. The lights are at times alluring, and other times frightening, and usually a bit of both.
It may sound strange to say, but in an era of fake news and truthiness, we might need the lights of fiction now more than ever. Yes, for a kind of escape (though the belief in cinema simply as escapism is a dangerous tale), but also for testing, trying, experimenting, becoming other. In the cinema we are given the point of view of someone else, made to feel what someone else does, prompted to become part of the stories playing out on screen.
Aug 1, 2017
Among the millions of travelers heading out for the summer holidays, some are choosing an unlikely destination: a rusted bus on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness.
Fairbanks Bus 142 (aka the “magic bus”) is where the 24-year old Chris McCandless died in 1992. Well-educated and economically secure, McCandless rejected the materialism he saw in contemporary U.S. society. He set out to explore with only what he could carry, and ended up living off the Alaskan land for a few months before dying of starvation. His story was first told by writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer in the book “Into the Wild,” and later made into a film directed by Sean Penn.
Since then, dozens of people every year seek to follow in McCandless’ footsteps. Finding inspiration in his mode of self-sufficiency, many head out to Alaska like secular pilgrims seeking to imitate a great saint from long ago, and to live more simply.
Jan 24, 2017
The other day, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the classic rock song by Guns N’ Roses, popped up on my car radio and I started weeping. If you’ve seen Captain Fantastic, you might know why.
The film has a longer emotional half-life than most as it taps not only into a stockpile of sentiments, but also triggers family ties that have kept its sounds and images bouncing about my life well after the houselights turned back on. For days following, every time I looked at my children I thought of the film. And an old hard rock song that I never much cared for now makes me cry.
Captain Fantastic has nothing to do with superheroes, or anything “super” for that matter....