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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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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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