Monday, January 28, 2019

Serenity

I am taking a break from posting sermons to return to movie reviews, something I have not posted in a while.

It has also been a while since I have gone to a movie that has gotten such scathing reviews as has "Serenity." It has been called "terrible and insane" here and "an exhaustingly tedious drama devoid of compelling attributes" here. On the other hand, some good reviewers like Richard Roeper really like it.

My children will assume that I like the movie solely because Anne Hathaway is in it. While that is reason enough to like a movie, it is actually not the basis for my giving it a good review.

Before I talk about the substance of the movie, though, there are a couple of preliminary thoughts. First, the movie has what many people are calling a major "twist" about two-thirds of the way through. I don't really think of it as a twist as much as an explanation, a natural step for the somewhat off-the-wall storytelling involved; but semantics aside, if you read too many reviews and know that "secret" of the movie ahead of time, it will doubtless affect how you view it. I will try to avoid spoiling that secret here, but I have to dance around it a little to make my point. Second, the movie's R rating is well-deserved, both because of its rampant profanity/obscenity and a few of its racy and violent scenes. I often am turned off by this kind of usually gratuitous stuff. I am not affected that way here, because it has a very real and consistent purpose and is not, ultimately, gratuitous. I cannot tell you what the purpose is without revealing the secret of the movie, but I can tell you that while I was initially offended, by the end of the movie it all made sense in a satisfying way.

Appreciating this movie depends on your willingness to accept the concept of point of view. You are seeing and hearing everything that happens from a certain perspective, and you don't really know all you need to know about that perspective until the movie is over. If you have been willing to suspend judgment long enough to let it play out, I predict that you too will be satisfied by how it all plays together.

Yes, there are characters whose actions don't seem at first glance to make sense. Yes, several characters are stereotypes. Several reviews have accused the actors of being wooden or not really trying very hard. Respectfully, I think those reviews miss the point entirely There is a very good reason that these characters are the way they are. It is a matter of perspective.

This is a nouveau-noir thriller that appears to plow some old ground. Hard drinking, chain smoking veteran seeks to abandon all he knows. Femme fatale from his past reappears with a tempting offer that abandons all morality. He tries to resist. Something is not as it should be. The bad guy is really, really bad.

I understand why reviewers think they have seen all this before.

They are wrong.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. Seeing the world through someone else's eyes, approaching what you see in light of someone else's experience, trying to understand what is before you as it is colored by the thoughts of another ... this is a delicate and difficult exercise. Many people never understand it. They just apply their own perspective and decide what is in front of them is silly.

This understanding is of course far more important in many other areas than it is in watching a movie.  Atticus Finch famously said, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Our social and racial and political conversation in this country could certainly do with a little attempt by listeners - on all sides - to think about where the speaker is coming from before launching into a response. We would all get along better and achieve more solutions if we would consider perspective a bit.

I know that last paragraph sounds a bit high-handed for a review of a popcorn movie, and I suppose it is. But I think the "twist" of this movie is not such a twist; it is just recognition, realization of something we should all strive to figure out: Why do things look and sound as they do? Could it be because we are not understanding why they are there, where they came from, how other people view them?

Oh well, I said I was staying away from sermons in this post. Just go see the movie, if you can stomach the language and the blood and the intimacy scenes enough to get to the punchline. I am not suggesting this is one of the world's great movies - "Casablanca" it is not - but I do think it will keep you thinking long after you pull out of the parking lot.

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