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By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

God and the Cinema




BRUCE ALMIGHTY (A-3, PG-13): In what seems like Hollywood’s ongoing effort to revive Lake Erie, Bruce Almighty takes place in Buffalo. (The 2002 independent Manna from Heaven was also filmed in Buffalo, and this year’s View From the Top, with Gwyneth Paltrow, was largely situated in Cleveland.)

“After all,” explains director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar, Patch Adams, Dragonfly), “Buffalo is a city that gets no respect and neither does Bruce. Buffalo is a city that needs reinvigorating, and so does Bruce Nolan.”

Bruce (Jim Carrey) is a local television reporter who is given all the leftover stories to cover, like the baking of Buffalo’s biggest (10’ 4”) cookie. He’s almost 40, his hopes for a promotion to news anchor are slim, and he seems to live Murphy’s Law. Even when he tries to help a homeless man, he gets beat up by thugs. His sweet, live-in girlfriend of five years, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), hopes for a proposal, but Bruce misses the signs. He’s self-centered and, though he believes in God, his level of faith development is still juvenile. Bruce is angry at God because nothing is going right in his life and he is sure God hates him. He blames God for everything because if God is so all-powerful, why won’t he help?

Just when his life seems to be at its lowest point, his pager goes off over and over again. He calls and a man tells him to come to an address for a job. The man turns out to be God (Morgan Freeman), working as a janitor in a warehouse.

Bruce learns that God knows everything about him in a comedic scene perhaps borrowed from an I Love Lucy episode. They have a conversation about the dignity of work and this leads to God’s decision to endow Bruce with his divine job and his powers. (Morgan Freeman is excellent and plays God just right.)

But Bruce is not allowed to tell anyone he is now “God” and he cannot mess with free will. Bruce learns very quickly that you cannot force people to love you.

From this point on, Bruce is a comedy/ fantasy parable with a little romance. It takes almost the entire film for Bruce to finally grow up, as a human being and a believer.

Naturally, in a Carrey-Shadyac partnership there is some crass adolescent bathroom and body-part humor. But when it comes to the relationship between God and people, the truth that God does care shines forth.

Both director Tom Shadyac and actor Jim Carrey have matured as artists. Shadyac, a practicing Catholic, says that Bruce Almighty is not a catechism, but I disagree. I think that those who can go beyond the surface will see God’s attributes (though Shadyac admits he has to work on the feminine perspective in his work), that the Creator is a personal God who is present and cares about us—and who can laugh just as much as we can. Laugh-out-loud funny; some problem language; full of reverence and insight about the nature of the fatherhood of God, who exists for people of all faiths and no faith.


THE MATRIX: RELOADED (A-4, R): The long-awaited sequel to the Wachowski brothers’ stunning 1999 sci-fi, high-concept extravaganza The Matrix has finally arrived. (The word matrix is related to womb or mother, therefore, life-giver.) In the original film, humans created and perfected technology to such a degree that it takes control of the earth, reality, human activity and freedom. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is identified by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) as a Redeemer-figure who will overcome the machine and reestablish the primacy of human beings in the scheme of creation.

The story, themes and questions from the first film continue in The Matrix: Reloaded, only now Morpheus realizes that he and his crew have just 72 hours until the minions of the Matrix destroy the remaining humans in Zion. The mystery of the human person, reality, God, philosophy, religion, mythology, literature, science, technology and theology are all in the film, presented within the context of a city or civilization close to extinction and fighting to survive. A dose of romance and some sexuality have been added to The Matrix: Reloaded, as well as some humor.

There is, as with all superhero comic-book tales, a built-in contradiction: Will the hero who overcomes evil and gains power be tempted to keep the cycle going to a meaningless conclusion anyway?

This science-fiction film is straight out of a comic-book mentality and sensibility. I did not find either of the Matrix films that much different from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in its battle between good and evil or, for that matter, the recent war with Iraq that was brought to our living rooms by some networks as if we were watching a football game.

One pastoral approach to the film is to recall that sci-fi audiences find the genre a meaningful way to explore life’s deeper questions in this “other” zone or “head space.” They understand the cultural references of this genre.

The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions (to be released later this year) are worth the watch so we can talk about them with credibility, relevance and a faith perspective. André Bazin, the famous French film essayist, once wrote, “Cinema has always been interested in God.” The Matrix: Reloaded continues the tradition. A thinking person’s movie, with choreographed violence and special effects that are both awesome and probably over-the-top for most mature viewers.


BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (A-2, PG-13): This intelligent and funny film has emerged from across the pond with the power to entertain a wide variety of audiences.

Jess (Parminder K. Nagra) is a lovely 18-year-old, the daughter of parents who immigrated to Britain from India. Jess has just taken the equivalent of U.S. high school final exams and is awaiting her marks. Her sister, Pinky (Archie Panjabi), is engaged to be married and everything is focused on this event. To her mother’s dismay, Jess loves to play soccer in the park with the guys. Her bedroom is covered with posters and memorabilia of Manchester United star David Beckham. One afternoon, a girl named Jules (Keira Knightley) scouts Jess for the local girls’ soccer team.

Jules’s mother, played by the always excellent Juliet Stevenson, doesn’t forbid Jules to play. But she doesn’t understand soccer, thinks it’s inappropriate for her daughter and wants her to be more feminine. As the summer progresses, Jess and Jules become friends and both fall for their handsome coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).

Jess’s mother only wants her to learn to cook Indian food and find a suitable husband. But Jess lies about playing soccer and sneaks out at every opportunity to play. At a party following a match in Germany, Jess drinks a little too much and makes a pass at Joe. Her friendship with Jules disintegrates over a misunderstanding.

There are many misunderstandings in this romantic and family comedy about culture and what parents want for their children and what the children want for themselves. Over and over, characters think they see something and jump to conclusions. Indeed, this is what keeps the film moving along to its inevitable happy conclusion.

The British accent is somewhat challenging in the beginning of the movie, but Beckham is worthwhile because it explores issues with so much charm and humor: race, bigotry, understanding, the Fourth Commandment, reconciliation, body image, gender identity, tolerance, ethnic culture and so forth. It also helps if you like soccer. Mild problem language and sexual references; recommended for teens and adults.


TOUCHED BY ANGELS: Summer is a time for catching up on reruns of our favorite shows while hoping for some new series worth watching when the fall season begins. Although we don’t mourn many of the programs that were canceled, we bid a respectful adieu to Touched by an Angel. This successful CBS series inspired audiences and often beat out the competition for ratings during its remarkable nine-year run.

Week after week, the angels and the people they accompanied showed us what God's love and forgiveness are like and that it is possible to live in reconciliation and hope. The angels taught us to be angels. Thank you, angels—both those on the screen and those behind it.


Film Capsules

ANGER MANAGEMENT (A-4, PG-13): A contrived, painful-to-watch comedy with almost no redeeming social value. The last five minutes are funny, finally, but not worth the cinematic agony to get there.

THE LIZZIE McGUIRE MOVIE (A-2, PG): TV’s Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) and her junior high class take a graduation trip to Rome. Themes of family and friendship with some Britney-like midriff showing. Eight-year-old girls will want to see this, so it’s a good opportunity for parents to be there with them and talk about it afterward.

A MIGHTY WIND (A-2, PG-13): A quirky, humorous, entertaining “mockumentary” with some sexual humor about fringe folk music of the late 50s-60s by the director of Best in Show, Christopher Guest. This film will appeal to people who lived through those times. The original music’s not bad either, with its Up With People and Peter, Paul and Mary sound-alike ballads.

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