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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Gulliver's Travels

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

"Gulliver's Travels" (Fox) answers the question whether a movie rated PG can be considered morally offensive.

Yes, it sure can.

It's not because the project is a mediocre effort attempting to cash in on the elusive comic abilities of Jack Black, who plays a modern riff on the traveler Lemuel Gulliver, hero of Jonathan Swift's classic novel, first published in 1726. It's because this film was made and is being marketed as family entertainment, and so has to be held to that standard. Presumably, this is an entertainment for children to consume.

By that measure, it's the cinematic equivalent of toxic lunch meat. Director Rob Letterman and screenwriters Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller have produced a sour, slapped-together botch with a noxiously cynical message: You can plagiarize and lie without penalty and still end up with the girl -- and the job -- of your dreams.

Black's Gulliver, a mailroom clerk at a New York newspaper, is a lazy schlub who dreams of becoming a writer to impress travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). He works up enough courage to ask her for an assignment, but when she requests writing samples, he produces a couple of articles by cutting and pasting from travel websites.

In the real world, that's no joke—such an underhanded act means lost jobs and derailed careers. In this story, it earns Gulliver an assignment that has him piloting a small watercraft in the Bermuda Triangle, where a huge storm and waterspout transport him to the Kingdom of Lilliput, a vaguely British island populated by a race of people only 4 inches tall.

Gulliver, famously first tied down and imprisoned by the Lilliputians and called The Beast, eventually becomes a defender of the land ruled by King Theodore (Billy Connolly) and his princess daughter Mary (Emily Blunt).

Gulliver's first heroic act is to extinguish a palace fire by urinating. But the onscreen incident goes way beyond the somewhat indecorous potty humor of Swift's account, degenerating into queasy imagery as many Lilliputians, including the king, are knocked down and drenched by the fire hose-intense stream.

Gulliver also aids a romantic subplot between Princess Mary and commoner Horatio (Jason Segal), but this isn't sustained well enough to generate interest. Gulliver spins whoppers to convince the Lilliputians that he's an American president ("President Awesome") and is rewarded for his heroism with Gulliver-sized accommodations, including an entertainment center in which Lilliputians costumed as the band Kiss provide a live-action version of the video game Guitar Hero.

Although Darcy catches up with Gulliver's plagiarism, the deeply flawed moral takeaway remains intact: Theft and falsehood can be a path to achieving your dreams. That's a harmful lesson for children and an unwelcome message for adults.

The film contains skewed moral values, graphic scatological humor and some intense action scenes. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Matthew: Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the "tax farmers" got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as "publicans," were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners" (see Matthew 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers. 
<p>Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many" tax collectors and "those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important. </p><p>No other particular incidents about Matthew are found in the New Testament.</p> American Catholic Blog The most appealing invitation to embrace the religious life is the witness of our own lives, the spirit in which we react to our divine calling, the completeness of our dedication, the generosity and cheerfulness of our service to God, the love we have for one another, the apostolic zeal with which we witness to Christ’s love for the poorest of the poor.

 
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