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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Cowboys & Aliens

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Daniel Craig stars in the movie "Cowboys & Aliens."
When aggressive extraterrestrials attack a ramshackle 19th-century frontier village in "Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal), the hopelessly outgunned townsfolk are—not surprisingly—perplexed. "Who are these celestial invaders, armed with machines that can fly," they seem to wonder, "and why are they interrupting our Western?"

While judgments may vary as to the aesthetic success of this experiment in genre bending, this much can be said with certainty: Interludes of harsh violence, ranging from brutal fistfights to more high-tech mayhem, restrict the appropriate audience for director Jon Favreau's adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel.

So, too, do some tacked-on but dubious theological trimmings. These come courtesy of the two-bit burg's resident preacher, Meacham (Clancy Brown).

Though the filmmakers have done enough research to create an atmospheric, if downbeat, evocation of the Old West, their inquiries do not seem to have extended to the Protestantism that prevailed amid the tumbleweeds. That much becomes clear when Meacham talks, incongruously, of granting "absolution" to another character.

That term, if it had meant anything to a minister of Meacham's ostensible stripe, would have been exclusively associated with the Catholic clergy, and therefore with the supposed "errors" of the Church of Rome. Yet Absolution, we learn, is also the name of the very town Meacham shepherds.

In the same conversation, Meacham seems to suggest that being true to ourselves is more important than following God's plan for us, though his phraseology—as supplied by no fewer than five credited screenwriters—is too diffuse to pin down precisely.

On the receiving end of Meacham's discourse is one of the two flawed heroes of the piece, ex-outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), a man who—as it develops—could certainly afford to be well shriven. At the moment, however, Jake can remember nothing of his past, sinful or otherwise, because he's just back from an alien abduction that left him with a bad case of amnesia and a strange bracelet on his wrist.

When the unwanted visitors follow up their rough treatment of Jake with the aforementioned assault on the local community, a posse is formed to pursue these inexplicable adversaries and rescue their victims.

Jake is joined, at the head of this hunt, by ruthless local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and by mysterious stranger Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who seems to know more than she's saying.

As the motley crew under their command gradually unites, both Jake and Dolarhyde show the better sides of themselves, returning us to the theme of reform and redemption.

Second chances have always accompanied westward expansion, at least onscreen So it's not surprising, perhaps that the sometimes clever, but ultimately unsatisfying "Cowboys & Aliens" works much better, in the end, as a campfire tale than as an intergalactic showdown.

The film contains intense, sometimes gory violence, including torture, brief partial nudity, ritual drug use, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, as well as a few crude and some crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Philip and James: 
		<b>James, Son of Alphaeus:</b> We know nothing of this man except his name, and of course the fact that Jesus chose him to be one of the 12 pillars of the New Israel, his Church. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is also known as James the Lesser to avoid confusing him with James the son of Zebedee, also an apostle and known as James the Greater. 
<p><b>Philip:</b> Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45). </p><p>Like the other apostles, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. On one occasion, when Jesus saw the great multitude following him and wanted to give them food, he asked Philip where they should buy bread for the people to eat. St. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip answered, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (John 6:7). </p><p>John’s story is not a put-down of Philip. It was simply necessary for these men who were to be the foundation stones of the Church to see the clear distinction between humanity’s total helplessness apart from God and the human ability to be a bearer of divine power by God’s gift. </p><p>On another occasion, we can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice. After Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7). Then Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a). </p><p>Possibly because Philip bore a Greek name or because he was thought to be close to Jesus, some Gentile proselytes came to him and asked him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew went to Jesus. Jesus’ reply in John’s Gospel is indirect; Jesus says that now his “hour” has come, that in a short time he will give his life for Jew and Gentile alike.</p> American Catholic Blog Only in human weakness do many of us begin to rely on God and explicitly repudiate our own divine ambitions. Every pain alerts us to the fact that we are not the Almighty.

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