345: Where is hope in such tough times? At the movies, believe it or not!

  Gran Torino 01

Hope
is a breath away,
of course.

Millions of us know that, if we stop to think for a moment about our spiritual resources — but right now some problems are so huge, some evils are so insurmountable, that we wonder: Where is hope in overcoming these mountains? Well, here’s an idea …
    Head to the movies!
    Here are two films you should watch before January ends — one in theaters and one that you’ll have to order on DVD. But both will give you that spiritual jolt we sometimes need to truly believe that mountains can be moved.

    AND BEFORE we share those recommendations
CHECK OUT other signs of hope. Share the inclusive Inaugural Prayer that we commissioned and that people are spreading across the U.S. even as you read these words. (THANK YOU to poet Dinah Berland for urging that this Inaugural Prayer “be heard, received and answered!”) Or, today, read about a peace conference convening in Philadelphia.

ON TO THE MOVIES …

 Gran Torino 02
“GRAN TORINO” — YOU’VE HEARD THE BUZZ
about Clint Eastwood’s movie, “Gran Torino” — that it’s Oscar-caliber material, right? Then, you may have seen a trailer for the movie that flat-out turns you off. Looks like a Wild West shoot-out flick right? This hard-as-granite Eastwood character finally gets mad enough to lay waste to an urban neighborhood, right? I’ve seen the movie trailers and they suggest something like that. Plus, in recent years, the Oscars have developed a track record of honoring incredibly dark and violent films.
    For all those reasons you may be ready to cross “Gran Torino” off your must-see list. Don’t!

   The truth is: Movie trailers aren’t made for most of us middle-aged adults. Sadly, they’re made for teens and restless 20-something who thrive on video games and probably wouldn’t go to this movie if they knew what it was all about, I fear.
    My recommendation is: If you’re one of our younger ReadTheSpirit readers — find an older friend, relative, neighbor or teacher who really needs to see this movie and assure them that, no, it’s not a shoot-’em-up horror film. You’ll be glad you went to see this movie together.
    And, if you’re one of our older readers? Find a teen or 20-something friend, relative, neighbor or student and assure them that, yes, you’re finally willing to go see a Clint Eastwood movie with them.

    HERE’S WHY YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE … It’ll take your breath away — then leave you contemplating the next breath you’ll take.
    There are too many spiritual surprises in this film to describe in a single review and, of course, I don’t want to spoil the experience of discovering a truly Oscar-worthy work of art by Mr. Eastwood. But here are a few examples I can give you that won’t spoil anything:

 Gran Torino 03
    The story is simple. Eastwood plays an angry, bigoted, widowed, veteran of brutal fighting in Korea and decades of back-breaking labor in auto factories. He is determined to protect his urban home even as Hmong immigrants — plus some dangerous urban gangs — surround his little brick bungalow. Eventually, in spite of his hateful way of talking and his mean-as-a-scorpion exterior, he befriends a Hmong family next door and finally helps them confront a heavily armed gang threatening their lives.
    But, no. It’s still not what you think.
    From start to finish, Eastwood is giving us a surprisingly loving portrait of the urban bigot he portrays. And he is showing us in a soul-stirring way the potential for goodness and transformation even in the midst of insurmountable evil.

    A few things to watch for:
    ONE: The young, red-haired priest who initially appears to be the laughable foil in this story is a spot-on portrayal, unfortunately, of lot of newly minted John-Paul-II-era zealots who leave seminary completely unprepared for the real men and women they’re being sent to serve. Some learn a few things, like this red-haired kid in “Gran Torino,” and get back onto the road toward sainthood. Watch the priest.
 Gran Torino 04
    TWO: Don’t leave for popcorn during Eastwood’s confession scene. It’s not a spoiler to say that he does, finally, show up for confession with this priest. You can see it coming from the opening minutes of the movie. What he actually confesses is the revelation. At first, you may not understand what he’s saying to the priest. But this is one of the most spiritually brilliant scenes in the film. Eastwood’s character really is coming clean about the sins that eat at everyday men and women.
    THREE: The scenes in which Eastwood takes his young Hmong neighbor on a tour of blue-collar havens to “man him up a little bit” are going to be ranked as cinema classics — like the famous diner scene with Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces.” These are the scenes in which we realize that, all along, Eastwood has been lovingly skewering the kind of bigot he portrays.

    FINALLY: The ending. Wow. It took my breath away. I didn’t see it coming, I have to admit, even though all the evidence was there of what was about to unfold. I won’t say more.

 Faith of the Century DVD
THEN, “FAITH OF THE CENTURY: A HISTORY OF COMMUNISM”
— You’ll have to order this on DVD, but I strongly recommend this film to teachers and small-group leaders, not only in courses on history and international relations, but for small-group discussion in congregations and libraries, community centers and seniors’ groups.
    This 2-disc set is a French-produced, 4-hour documentary on the rise and fall of communism around the world. Sound dull? It isn’t.
    In the nearly two decades that have passed since revolutions swept across eastern Europe and transformed the old-style communist world, archives have opened up and poured out a stunning wealth of documents, photographs and film footage. I’m a lifelong student of film and of documentaries in particular and I saw startling scenes in this film that I had never seen before.
    Yes, the documentary was produced in France and there is a complete French narration. But there’s also a solid English narration of the entire film. There are some scenes with subtitles, but mainly the action flows vividly with the English-language narrator orienting us to the historic events we’re watching.
    The film moves from Russia to the U.S., from eastern Europe to Cuba, from China to Vietnam. The producers made a huge effort to connect the communist dots all around the world.

    The film’s central assertion is: Although claiming to replace religion, Communism itself became a major world faith. The film’s central questions are: How could billions of people have fallen under the umbrella of a faith that either actively or passively led to the deaths of tens of millions under Stalin and Mao? What led so many men and women to adopt the faith so passionately? And what finally tore away the veil away from this faith?
    Given that American Baby Boomers grew up in a world in which good and evil was defined by our teachers and civic leaders as a struggle with Communism, this is a film series we all should watch. Plus, its four-part format is perfectly divided for a month-long series of discussions in a small group. Invite group members to share their own recollections about each era either from their own experiences or those of their family and friends.

    Remember: Hope is a breath away.
    But it certainly helps to make fresh spiritual connections with such vivid fuel.

 Inauguration Prayer 03
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