In Defense of Silence

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To quote The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Silence shows both sides of this statement.

People who are familiar with the movies from Martin Scorsese are familiar with his themes on guilt, redemption, pride, morality. And usually these themes are portrayed in a gritty, dramatic, and even tragic light. There’s a controversy surrounding Silence because many people, including Bishop Robert Barron, mistakenly believe that the movie promotes apostasy. They forget that the story is historical fiction and that the story arc of Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues isn’t a heroic journey, but a tragedy.

Spoilers for Silence ensue.

I think people forget what a real tragedy is supposed to do. Many people love watching shows like House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, and Suits which all have villainous protagonists and the show essentially sides with them even as they endure lots of drama. The protagonists of these shows are not to be admired or imitated or even mourned over if they ever lose the power they gain.

A real tragedy, however, can be found in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth and even in characters such as Iron Man, who lost his friends and loved ones due to his own hubris and paranoia. The character of Sebastiao Rodrigues is an authentic example of a tragic hero. We aren’t meant to imitate him, but mourn him and learn a lesson from his bad judgment.

In traditional tragedies, the central character has a tragic flaw. Macbeth’s is ambition, Othello’s is jealousy. Sebastiao Rodrigues’s flaw in the movie is implied to be vanity. There’s a moment in the movie where Fr. Rodrigues sees his reflection in the water and sees Jesus’s face as his own. His old mentor, Fr. Ferreira, berates him for daring to compare himself to Christ. Now while having a God complex is never a good thing, I think that Fr. Rodrigues was just trying to act in persona Christi. He had such a devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus that touched my heart.

I think Rodrigues’s real tragic flaw was an interior struggle with a spiritual darkness. This darkness only grew as he watched the defenseless villagers offer themselves up to protect him, to the point that many of them are tortured and eventually die for their beliefs.

When I looked up the era that the novel took place in, I learned that at the time, there weren’t many saints or texts outside of the Psalms that talked about spiritual darkness. It’s possible that Rodrigues didn’t know how to deal with the darkness because he never learned of anyone else who dealt with it. I’m also surprised that Psalm 88 isn’t mentioned, as I think that the Psalm captures Rodrigues’s interior struggle.

In his video review of Silence, Bishop Robert Barron compares the apostate priests to soldiers who defect to the enemy. I think what Bishop Barron forgot, however, is that many soldiers in real life suffer from PTSD. I think that the psychological torture Rodrigues was put under led to him developing a spiritual PTSD. He let himself be consumed by the darkness and apostatized out of a distorted attempt at heroism. 

Rodrigues and Ferreira suffered a fate worse than death as a result of their apostasy: they became what they hated the most and make sure Christianity is not brought into Japan anymore. They are mocked by the children and are ordered to take on a new name. They also take a wife, but it’s never shown if they have any relations with the women they ended up marrying.

It’s shown that even after he apostatized, Rodrigues is still put under great scrutiny. He never completely wins over the trust of the Japanese overlords. In the end, Rodrigues’s entire identity as a Christian completely eradicated as he is given a Buddhist funeral and buried under the name that the Japanese overlords gave him. The only evidence of the man he once was is the crucifix that is shown in his hands as his body is burned.

I don’t think that these events glamorize or promote apostasy. Rather, they show the consequences of sin, in this case, the apostasy: separation from God and loss of self. The film shows the brutality of martyrdom, but giving into spiritual darkness is equally tragic.

I highly recommend Silence to those who want to see a good example of a modern tragedy and I think it’s even a good film to watch for Lent because of its look into spiritual darkness. Just bring tissues and ice cream. You’re going to need it.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for those who apostatize and struggle with spiritual darkness.

Image is used for editorial purposes only.

Kubo and the Two Strings: Collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin

 

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If you must blink, do it now…

Kubo is a young boy who lives with his sometimes-catatonic mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he walks down to the village and entertains the villagers by telling stories using origami that comes to life when he plays his shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument). There is a catch to Kubo’s existence: He must never ever stay out after dark. He soon figures out the reason when he stays out past dark and his evil spirit Aunts come to take him to his “grandfather” the Moon King, who intends to take Kubo’s remaining eye. With the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo must find his deceased father’s armor and defeat the Moon King.

This is another collaboration with my awesome friend Amy aka Catholic Girl Bloggin. My friend Amy’s writings will be in blue and my stuff will be in purple.

CGB Hits
I absolutely adore how imaginative this film is! Like the titular character, the world we are introduced to is brimming with creativity. I have always had a soft spot for Asian culture, so I appreciate that the story takes place in ancient Japan.

The first ten minutes has the best use of “show-don’t-tell” that I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, there is some opening narration from Kubo himself, but his dialogue is not an exposition spiel; rather the visuals are allowed to do all the talking. Any time the movie does resort to expositional dialogue, it is kept brief. Speaking of the visuals, the animation is–holy cow–just breathtaking! I turned to the friend who accompanied me and said, “Dude, that looks like real water!” There’s an impressive painting-come-to-life feel with the color palatte and the design of the locations that make the film a beauty to behold.

The story itself is truly inspired! Granted, the “adventures-of-a-half human-half celestial-child” story has been done before, but having him be a gifted storyteller who can bring origami to life with a musical instrument is quite an impressive twist. The most admirable quality of the film are the morals. I really like how Monkey tells Kubo, “Your magic is growing stronger. You need to learn control. But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.” Trust me when I say that her statement holds a lot of truth.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jungle Book, in which I pointed out how the film reminded me of something a friend said to me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil. They know what they’re doing.” Kubo and the Two Strings also brought those words to mind! Similarly to how our guardian angels tackle the evil one when he tries to mess with us, any time the hawkish evil spirit aunts come to harrass Kubo, Monkey and Beetle are there to fight them off while Kubo either accomplishes a task or seeks refuge. It is with their help that Kubo becomes strong enough and fully-equipped to finally take on the Moon King himself. Also, the climactic confrontation between Kubo and Moon King does come with an Eden-style temptation. Basically it’s the “join me and you will become like gods” thing, much like how the old serpent told Eve that if she ate the apple, she’d become like God. Between this and the Jungle Book, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that kids films come with an interest in the mysterious spiritual world.

MsOcampoWrites Hits

It’s so refreshing to find a movie for general audiences that has a completely original premise. My brother and I were obsessed with Japanese culture since we were kids and we were both looking forward to seeing this movie. It lived up to the expectations I had and then it blew me out of the water.

The animation is stunning, the characters are all enjoyable, and the writing is a breath of fresh air amongst the remakes and reboots out there. The movie does not play things safe and yet I would totally recommend this movie to basically everyone.

The central themes of this movie are about the importance of family and the power of a good story. Kubo goes on a journey to finish what his father started: to find the armor that will help him defeat the Moon King. Monkey, Beetle, and Little Hanzo all made for excellent travelling companions.

The Sisters were intimidating, frightening villains as well. I also love all the action sequences because there was a variety of them. The townsfolk play a great role as supporting characters who do more than just act as bystanders. I love that they accept Kubo’s gift and don’t treat him like an outsider like other movies would.

CGB Misses

The friend who came with me to see this movie had some questions about Kubo’s scary aunts. “If his grandfather is the Moon King, then are his aunts supposed to be stars or something?” This is just one of the film’s unanswered questions.

Also, is it just me or is the danger Kubo faces at the hands of his tyrannical grandfather lacking some weight? Let me explain: So essentially, if Kubo is caught by the Moon King and the hawk-women, then they will take his remaining eye…and then what? Are they gonna just leave him blinded on earth? Is he going to be made into a freaky spirit person like them? Also, other than being the product of his mother’s disobedience against the Moon King, why is the Moon King threatened by Kubo’s existence? Does the Moon King believe that Kubo being half-human, half-celestial mean that he [Kubo] will try to overthrow him? Now, to be fair, in their final confrontation, the Moon King does offer to take Kubo with him and make him an infinite being, but still, I think that if the threat had been written as “the Moon King’s gonna snatch Kubo’s other eye and enslave him,” or something like that, it would’ve helped.
Speaking of the Moon King, here’s my issue: I totally understand why he is a threat to Kubo, but the movie doesn’t make him seem like a threat to anyone else. The Moon King doesn’t seem to be feared by anyone else in the movie’s universe. In Harry Potter, Voldemort was a threatening presence regardless of whether or not Harry was around; it just so happened that he had his sights set on The Boy Who Lived and anyone associated with him. Here, though, it would have helped to see the Moon King burn down a village or require insane sacrifices or something; anything to raise the stakes of his existence.

MsOcampoWrites Misses
While I will say that all the actors did a great job in this movie, I wish that George Takei had more than just a cameo role. I also think that this movie could’ve been even better with Asian actors in the main roles. Matthew McConaughey’s acting is uneven, albeit has its own interesting brand of charm.
Elephant in the Room

MsOcampoWrites:
Right before we did this collab, one of my Facebook friends sent me an article from a well­ regarded Catholic news source that dismissed this movie and said that it promoted “neo-­Pagan values.” As somebody who grew up watching Charmed, reads Harry Potter, and still watches Buffy, I think that the themes in this movie are just as Catholic as any Bible­-based movie. For one thing, the central theme of this movie is the importance of family. While the main villains are Kubo’s grandfather and aunts, it’s reminiscent of Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-­in-­law against daughter-­in-­law and daughter-­in-­law against mother-­in-­law.” The Moon King and his daughters are arrogant because they fail to comprehend things such as compassion and selfless love. Without going into spoiler territory, the ending of this movie shows justice and mercy rendered unto the Moon King, so the movie ends up teaching something that relates to the Year of Mercy as well.

Catholic Girl Bloggin:
Yes, I did see the article about Kubo promoting the occult and I will tell you that I didn’t see a single ouija board, tarot card, voodoo doll or anything occult-like in this entire movie. In fact, the villains were reminiscent of demons while Monkey and Beetle were basically Kubo’s guardian angels. If anything, the story borrows heavily from Greek mythology with hints of Shintoism. For the record, Shinto is a Japanese religion and given that the story does take place in ancient Japan, it only makes sense to borrow influence from a Japanese religion. So fear not, guys and gals, Kubo and the Two Strings is NOT pro-occult propoganda. Frankly, I don’t think the devil really cares about stop-motion animation and the film’s pro-family message would probably have him tripping over himself as he tries to flee.

I don’t think Kubo is in theatres now, but if it’s still showing, I highly recommend families with kids of all ages to check out this movie. If not, rent it from a Redbox or an on-demand streaming service when it comes out on DVD. It’s a great, original adventure that will take your breath away. And on top of that, it emphasizes the importance of family when dealing with a problem that’s more than a child can handle.

Venerable Takayama Ukon and Saint Paul Miki, pray for us.

Deadpool vs. Risen: It's All In the Execution

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There’s not much that Deadpool and Risen have in common aside from the fact that they came out this month and I saw the movies a day after they premiered in theaters. You might be surprised to find out, though, that while I initially liked the movie about the smart-aleck assassin more than the movie about “the resurrection as told by a nonbeliever,” the latter movie actually left me wanting more.

Spoilers ensue. You have been warned.

I do agree with those who say that the parts of Deadpool involving Wade Wilson’s backstory is pretty standard and that the sex montage was completely gratuitous, as was the strip club scene (although the Stan Lee cameo was awesome). I also agree that this is one superhero movie that you should not bring the kiddies to! But I had a lot of fun watching this movie. What made this particular film different from the typical superhero summer blockbuster is the humor and the small ways that it goes against expectations. I liked that the girlfriend was not a damsel in distress and all the times that Deadpool broke the 4th wall. I’ll also admit that I have a soft spot for dark comedy. I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD to watch it again and I recommend my fellow Catholics to do the same if you haven’t seen it yet. Or at least close your eyes and ears during said gratuitous sex montage and strip club scene.

In contrast, I went into Risen with pretty low expectations. From the way that the movie was marketed, I expected something along the lines of Ben-Hur, in which Clavius would spend the whole movie searching for the disciples and for Christ, but always missing them or letting them slip through his fingers, and losing his power as he questions everything he believed in. The first third of the movie was good, but my suspension of disbelief went straight out the window as soon as Clavius found the Risen Christ. I’ll tell you right now that it takes a lot for me to suspend my disbelief, but I often find that it’s always little things. I can more easily believe all of the events that go on in Deadpool than all the things that happen after Clavius finds the Risen Christ among the disciples.

I don’t know what it is about Bible adaptations, but I always find that they overdramatize things unnecessarily. I always wish that they could let the drama of the Bible speak for itself without anything added to it.

It was just really hard for me to believe that Clavius would’ve changed so easily and that the apostles so quickly accepted him as one of their own. And it’s really hard for me to invest in Clavius because I know that he wasn’t actually part of the narrative.  Not to mention that there’s nothing new about this particular story. Most of the story is told in flashback, which I honestly consider kind of a cliche, and then the movie ends with Clavius just wandering off into the desert. We don’t get to see Pentecost or him getting martyred. There are no real consequences for Clavius’s actions. We never get to see what happens when Caesar comes into town. When the credits started rolling, I felt confused and lost and not in the same way that Inception made me feel.

I was initially disappointed in Risen, but after looking at other reviews and discussing it with my dad, who saw the movie with me, I realized that I was contemplating this movie a lot more than Deadpool. I actually would recommend this movie to my fellow Catholics, if only for the sake of discussion. And I’m actually contemplating a second watch if only to test my suspension of disbelief again.

The Force Awakens: Nothing New Under the Sun (SPOILERS)

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One thing that keeps getting brought up in a lot of reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that the plot is basically the same as A New Hope, but with characters we don’t really know and aren’t as invested in as the older characters. We’re at this point in media where we understand that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to ideas for movies and TV shows. The stories that drive the Star Wars films are centered around Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and “The Hero’s Journey.” So I understand what people mean when they point out how this film feels like a retread of A New Hope. However, there are new elements to The Force Awakens that take the familiar “Hero’s Journey” plot and give the movie a fresher feel.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

For one thing, I like that there’s the initial misdirect of Poe being the protagonist. If you take away all the marketing and hype, someone who has never seen anything related to Star Wars might see Poe as the main character. Instead, he acts more like Leia, who stays on the outskirts of the story.

The real heroes of the story are Finn and Rey, with the adorable BB-8 rolling along as their companion. What makes Finn and Rey different from, say, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are this: Finn is someone who is defecting from the First Order. We never saw anyone in Star Wars from the Empire decide on joining the rebels. There are also implications that Finn may be suffering from PTSD but it’s never fully explored in the film. Rey, on the other hand, isn’t an ordinary farmboy like Luke was. Instead, she’s a scavenger, a survivor on the desert planet with major abandonment issues. She’s waiting for her family to come back for her, but it’s shown that she’s been waiting for a very long time.

There’s an issue of Rey coming off as too powerful too soon given how she got out of being captured and how she’s “powerful with the Force.” However, I don’t think she’s a Mary Sue because she has flaws that are an actual detriment on her character.

Kylo Ren is set up to be a Darth Vader Clone. He’s intimidating and a powerful leader, but if any of you have been seeing the memes where Kylo Ren is really an emo Disney Princess, you can see where things start deviating from the formula. I like that Kylo Ren is actually a teenager with major issues. He’s seen lashing out like a whiny brat when things don’t go as planned.

I also wonder why he chooses to try and stay in the dark side even when he feels that pull to be good. There are a lot of theories going around about it, but I personally think that Snoke influence Ren into believing that whatever his parents taught him about the war against the empire wasn’t true and that Luke killed his own father. This personal belief is what leads him to killing his own father later on.

One other thing I liked about the film is how Leia and Han act as the mentors in this story. In a lot of ways, this whole film feels like the first “generation” of characters from the Star Wars films are passing the baton (or the lightsaber) on to the next generation, to Finn, to Rey, and to Poe. I care enough about the new characters to hope for the best for them.

So yeah, I think that Star Wars: The Force Awakens deserves all the money it’s been getting. It deserves all the hype because it reintroduces Star Wars to a new audience while at the same time gives new material for the fans who’ve been following the films since the beginning. I hope that it tops Avatar as the highest grossing movie of recent years because unlike Avatar, there’s more to the movie than just the space setting and the cool CGI. The characters are ones that feel new and the plot feels fresh.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so! Take the kids! It’s worth the price of admission and more so.

Firefly Month: The Wisdom of Serenity, the Big Damn Movie

Ladies and gentlemen and Browncoats of all ages, we have come to the end of my Firefly Month. And the only way I can properly end this is with a recap and analysis of the Big Damn Movie Serenity.

I hadn’t seen this movie for a long time, so watching it again gave me thrills and chills. I think it’s a great way to bring newcomers into the fandom and it’s a sneak preview of what Joss had to give the world in Avengers. Keep in mind that the last time Joss made a movie, it was Alien Resurrection and before that, it was the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie starring Kristy Swanson. So to say that this movie is one of Joss’s best is saying a lot.

The prologue of the movie opens with a universe-establishing history lesson from Cam from Bones. Young River talks back to her teacher. Cut to River at the Alliance Lab, where she is in the middle of being lobotomized. The men at the Academy explain to Simon what they’re doing to River.  They intend on turning her into a living weapon. Simon activates a blast wave and the two of them escape the Academy.

It turns out to be a video seen by the bad guy of this movie, The Operative. He’s accessing the records and asks the Academy Doctor what his sin is, pointing out that it’s pride. The operative thinks that River picked up government secrets as she was experimented on. The Operative proceeds to kill everyone in the room in a disturbingly clean and precise manner and then asks about a way to get to River Tam’s triggers.

After the titles, we see Serenity preparing for a landing. Of course, the landing involves the usual atmospheric burning which included a hull scorching. This opening scene is majorly awesome. Former internet critic Welshy does a wonderful analysis of this opening shot in his Scene It video.

Mal plans to take River out on a job and Simon isn’t all too keen on it. This is a great intro for newcomers, but I’m very certain some of us are wondering where Book and Inara are. Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and River are planning a robbery of a security firm. River’s purpose in the robbery is to use her psychic powers to make sure the job goes smoothly.

Unfortunately, the job goes south when Reavers attack. River gets into a psychotic breakdown. The 4 head back to the ship as fast as possible. The Reavers are a LOT smarter and faster in this movie, making them all the more dangerous. They make it to the ship by the skin of their teeth, with only one Reaver on board. The Reaver gets dispatched of easily and Mal tells Wash to set a course for Beaumonde. Simon punches Mal in the face and tells Mal he wants off the ship.

Mal and Zoe have a conversation about why Mal chose to mercy kill a bystander instead of letting the guy onto their hovercraft. Mal has pretty much hardened. In the cargo hold, Kaylee says that the ship is falling apart in more ways than one. Not only does the ship need a repair, but Mal has seemingly drove away Inara like he’s pushing Simon and River out.

Once Serenity lands on Beaumonde, Kaylee gives Simon and River some tips before she and Mal go off to a bar/club called Maidenhead. Kaylee begs Mal to keep Simon and River on the ship, whining about how she hasn’t gotten laid in at least a year. She chastises Mal for letting Inara leave and walks out.

Mal meets up with Fanty and Mingo. River wanders into Maidenhead just as a commercial for fruity oaty bars plays. The commercial triggers her “living weapon” mode and she proceeds to she-fu everyone. Jayne tries to get her to calm down only for her to hit him below the belt and knock him out. Simon arrives and says a phrase in Mandarin that makes River fall asleep.The Operative watches from a distance.

Back on Serenity, Mal handcuffs River to the catwalk. He and Simon get into a fight again. Wash decides to ask Mr. Universe, a communications expert. They look over the footage and realize that the commercial had a subliminal message that activated her trigger. Simon takes care of River and she mentions Miranda. Simon thinks it might be a person or an alternate personality. River contemplates suicide, but Simon comforts her. We then cut to The Operative meeting with Inara, which can’t be any good.

Serenity lands in a moon called Haven, where Shepherd Book is waiting for them. Mal talks to Book about what to do with River. Book says that belief is going to help him get through this. Mal decides to walk out at the mention of faith, but Book points out that he wasn’t talking about God. Book, given his past with the Alliance, points out that whoever is after River is gonna strike from the shadows and won’t ask any questions.

Inara video calls Mal as the rest of the crew eavesdrops on them. She invites everyone to the Companion Training House where she’s staying and brings up the fact that she left some luggage on the ship. (Classic ex behavior.) When Mal enters the cockpit, Zoe deduces that it’s more than likely a trap and Mal agrees.

Mal arrives at the Training House and Inara chastises him for willingly going into the trap. The Operative comes in. He and Mal have a talk. Once The Operative mentions that he is unarmed, Mal shoots him. Of course, The Operative is wearing full body armor, which leads to him getting into a brawl with Mal and Inara. Just when The Operative thinks he has the upper hand, Inara points out that she wasn’t lighting incense. Cue a flash bomb that allows Mal and Inara to escape to the shuttle. Serenity sends out a handful of decoys and high tails it outta there.

On the ship, Inara points out that the reason that The Operative is dangerous is because he believes that killing River is the right thing to do and won’t stop until he finishes his mission. Jayne points out that Mal is being reckless, acting like he’s still in a war. Zoe orders Jayne to leave. Inara and Mal get into a fight of their own as the ship heads back to Haven. River has a dream of a distant planet and being attacked by Reavers.

In the kitchen, Jayne hears something from the other room. He gets his gun ready and looks for River. The rest of the crew hears a gunshot and find the kitchen locked. They search the ship for River, only for River to come out from the kitchen. She punches Simon in the throat and knocks Simon out. Mal finds River in the cockpit. She holds him at gunpoint. Mal asks River if she’s a person. She shows Mal what Miranda is: a planet.

Mal says that Miranda was an uninhabitable planet. But even though they’re close to Miranda, they would enter into Reaver territory if they were planning on landing on the planet. The ship lands on Haven to find the encampment burned by the Alliance. Mal finds a dying Shepherd Book. Book went down fighting to defend himself. Book says that he isn’t part of Mal’s crew but Mal says otherwise. Book begs Mal to believe in something, anything, and dies.

Zoe realizes that The Operative is probably tracking down everyone who’s ever worked with them. Mal is at the cockpit, looking at the footage of the people The Operative killed to get to them. Mal asks The Operative why he’s doing what he does. The Operative says that he believes in a world without sin. Then Mal gets a wonderful, awful idea.

Mal starts ordering his crew to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship. The crew starts to protest, but Mal stops the fight once and for all by saying that he wants to make his stand against the Alliance and he wants to go to Miranda. So Serenity dons her disguise. As the ship gets closer to Miranda, they hear distant screams of nearby ships, leaving The Operative in the dust.

Once the crew is on Miranda, they find that the planet was properly terraformed and well developed. Their search for a beacon signal leads them to a public area with corpses all around. River goes through another mental breakdown.

They make their way to a research and rescue building where the beacon signal was sent. River activates a recording of a researcher assessing the damages. The people of Miranda died because of a chemical called the Pax which was put into the atmosphere as a way to lessen aggression. Only problem is that the chemical worked too well, taking away everyone’s desires and drives until they let themselves die. However, a tenth of the population had the opposite reaction and turned into Reavers.

River throws up and realizes that she finally gained clarity. Mal makes it his mission to get that message out to the entire verse and aims to misbehave. They decide to reach out to Mr. Universe, who already has the Alliance in his house. The Operative tells his men to destroy everything.

An epic space fight ensues as Serenity makes its way out of Reaver territory. On the other side, The Operative waits with an entire Alliance army, ready to fire. Serenity comes in with a fleet of Reavers behind her, forcing the two armies to fight each other.

Wash maneuvers Serenity through the artillery fire and blasts in a seriously awesome scene. All the while, The Operative gets into an escape pod and heads for the planet. Serenity prepares for a very crashy landing but Wash is able to maneuver the ship and glide it into landing. The ship shakes, rattles, and falls apart inside, and comes to a stop at the hangar. But just before the audience gets a chance to breathe, Wash says “I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I-” and gets impaled in the chest by a Reaver ship, dying instantly. Zoe and Mal make a run for it and head inside with the rest of the crew to a bunker.

The crew creates a strategy. Zoe says they have to bottleneck the Reavers and prepares herself for battle. Mal asks Jayne for grenades as Reavers close in and sends a few out the door. Mal tells Zoe to hold the line as he makes his way into Mr. Universe’s room. He walks in to find the whole place wrecked up. However, the robot tells Mal that there’s a backup hidden and that the signal is still going.

As the Reavers close in, River breaks down. Kaylee laments dying while Simon decides to tell her how he feels about her. With the promise of finally consummating her relationship with Simon, Kaylee gains the will to live and prepares to fight.

Back at Mr. Universe’s, the Operative and Mal confront each other. Mal declares that he believes in getting the message out there and that he’s willing to die for it. Thankfully, Mal is a very quick draw.

The crew falls back as the Reavers close in on them. Jayne throws his last grenade. Kaylee says that the door can be shut, but only from the outside. Then Simon realizes he left his bag outside and gets shot.

Cue the beginning of River’s most epic moment in this entire movie.

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You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.

Then River jumps out there, closes the door, and tosses Simon’s bad to the crew, all the while, she fights off the Reavers in the most epic fight scene since “Chosen.”

Mal continues to fight the Operative. During the fight, the Operative asks Mal if he knows what his sin is. Mal says “Hell. I’m a fan of all 7. But right now, I’m going to have to go with wrath.” The Operative stabs Mal in the side and prepares for his final blow, but we all know that Mal doesn’t go down without a fight. He refuses to kill the Operative and sends the message from Miranda out into the verse. When Mal returns to his crew, opens to River standing on the corpses of Reavers. The Alliance closes in, prepared to kill, but the Operative tells them to stand down.

A funeral is held. Zoe wears a beautiful white dress as she sends off the rocket. The crew gets to work repairing and repainting Serenity. Simon and Kaylee finally consummate their relationship while River watches, the little voyeurist that she is. And finally, on a rainy day, the Operative warns Mal that as of now, they’re all fugitives. The Operative is no longer working for the Alliance. Zoe says that Serenity is ready to go. Mal asks Inara if she’s ready to leave, but Inara isn’t so sure. Then Mal makes his way to the cockpit, where River is there, as his copilot. And the film ends with the ship flying through the rain into the black.

In the DVD commentary of this movie, Joss outed himself as an atheist and an absurdist. One theme prominent in this movie is the concept of belief. It’s telling that Joss chose to kill off Shepherd Book and Wash in this movie because Wash, like Xander in Buffy and Topher in Dollhouse is Joss’s Author Avatar. Symbolically speaking, Joss was killing off his belief in a higher power and his time with Firefly through this movie.

There’s this theme in Serenity of the “right to be wrong” because the Alliance was trying to take away free will in Miranda. During the Easter Vigil, one of the many readings is the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Fr. Robert Barron said this in one of his Lenten Reflections:

“The serpent places in the minds of Adam and Eve the conviction that unless and until they determine the meaning and purpose of their lives, they will not be free. To put it in modern terms, their lives will not be lived to the fullest. But the knowledge of good and evil is the godlike prerogative to set the agenda for one’s life, to determine the difference between right and wrong. And this belongs to God alone. Just as he breathed life and being into us, so he breathes moral and spiritual purpose into us.

When we convince ourselves that we live on our own terms, we cease to be truly free and alive. When Adam and Eve grasped at this knowledge, they were expelled from the garden, not because God is vindictive, but because it is the natural consequence of making oneself into God. When we grasp at divinity, whatever life we have dries up. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our egotism, victims of the Great Lie.”

The thing is, though, is that Whedon isn’t anti-religious. He just hates bad religion. He includes Jewish characters in Firefly such as Amnon and Mr. Universe. And while Book has a dark and troubled past, he still advises Mal in spite of Mal’s hatred for God. It’s telling that Book’s last plea was for Mal to believe in something, anything, because Mal did find something to believe in: the right thing to do. The Alliance doesn’t represent God, but rather Man having a God Complex. As Paul said “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Make a world without sin, and you also remove grace. The name of the planet is also an allusion to this. Miranda is the name of the heroine from The Tempest. As in “O brave new world that has such people in’t.”

Kyle Cupp and I discussed the themes of Serenity and sin and he had this to say:

“When Mal says he aims to misbehave, he’s not defending moral anarchy or nihilism. He’s defying the Alliance’s false concept of what’s right. And their demand that everyone obey. It’s not God he really opposes, but idolatry. [The Operative] bought into the lie. He believes a world without sin is possible, for others if not himself.

The Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don’t murder children.

The Operative: I do. If I have to.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?

The Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?

The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

He’s almost a Moses figure for the false paradise promised by the Alliance.

I’ve been talking a lot about the Serenity Prayer and alluding to this during my Firefly recaps. If “The Message” was about acceptance and “Objects in Space” was about courage, the movie as a whole carried with it the theme of wisdom. Wisdom, as I’ve learned, is very different from knowledge. To put things simply, knowledge is the desire to know everything while wisdom is the desire to only know what is important.

In Serenity, the Operative and the Alliance represent knowledge. They used Miranda as a test site for gaining the knowledge of having as much control over everyone as possible. In contrast, Mal and his crew represent wisdom. Mal knows he’s in over his head and they all know that the odds are stacked against them, but they also use wisdom to press forward.

Zoe gains wisdom in this movie through the loss of her husband. She gets herself injured during the fight with the Reavers and there are some points where you wonder if she has a death wish, but ultimately, she moves on. The last line she says in the movie about Serenity also applies to herself as well. And it’s a relief to know that in the comics, Zoe eventually has a child.

Jayne doesn’t get much to do, given that he’s the muscle, but it’s interesting to see the number of times he goes out of his way to help River. It’s a really big character development given his misgivings for the Tam siblings. And while he keeps an eye out for River, he still acknowledges that they’re dangerous to the crew. But this time, he does this with a layer of sympathy for both of them.

I knew what was coming the first time I heard Wash say “I am a leaf on the wind.” I wanted to stop the movie there. But I didn’t. We get to see Wash be active in combat, albeit only through flying the ship in dangerous situations. But his landing of Serenity was still a wonderful moment in spite of what happened.

Kaylee was right to call Mal out for becoming such a cold-hearted person, especially towards Inara. Her desire to get laid is a source of humor and some eye-rolls from me. But hey, she gets to fight and she gets the guy in the end, so all’s well that ends well.

Inara doesn’t really do much in this movie aside from help Mal escape from the Operative. But it’s nice that she decides to return to Serenity. Sadly, given the length of the movie, their will they/won’t they will have to sadly never be resolved. Thank God for fanfiction!

But really, the movie is about three people: Mal, Simon, and River.

I think it was wise of Mal to bring River during one of his heists because he wants to make her useful in the hopes of getting her to function like a normal person. Simon is so protective of River that he borders on smothering her. However, it’s not until River goes to Miranda and finds the message left behind that River actually starts to gain the healing she needs. And once River gains her clarity, Simon decides on making his own life, starting with having a relationship with Kaylee. The movie starts out with River and Simon being the focus and crux of the movie centers on Mal’s belief that River was still human and still in need. In spite of him being hardened, helping River gives Mal and Simon some sense of purpose.

I think my favorite line from the movie is the one from the end. I think this shows what Mal believes in more than anything else.

Mal: It ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I’m about to say.

River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.

Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse… but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love… she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down… tells you she’s hurting before she keels. Makes her a home.

And with that, my Firefly month comes to an end.

Attributions: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions and are used for editorial purposes only.

Into the Woods: Things I Know Now

Yesterday, I went with my family to see Into the Woods. I’m a big fan of musicals in general and I was really looking forward to it.

What makes Into the Woods unique is that it starts out with the fairy tales that everyone knows and then turns them all on their heads. The film follows the spirit of the original musical, if not the letter of it.  Spoilers will probably ensue, so proceed with caution.

With that, I’ll talk about the characters. The one who stood out most to me was Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. I found myself relating to her character most of all. Her storyline follows the original Cinderella tale instead of the more well-known Disney version, which includes her stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels to try and fit into the slipper and getting blinded. However, the first half of the movie shows a major flaw with Cinderella: she’s indecisive about what she wants. When she finally gets her dream of dancing with the prince, she runs off three times. I understand why she ran the first time. She was overwhelmed by the new experience. But when she was contemplating what to do when she ran away the third time, I wondered what the heck she was thinking even as she was singing it. Sorry to say, girlie, but choosing not to decide is still a decision, and not a very wise one at that. There was no indication of any sort of “turn into a pumpkin by midnight” clause, since she’s seen putting away the dress she wore.

Later on, though, Cinderella finally learns what she wants…or at least finds a happy medium between the two extremes she experienced. Yes, she was trapped as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, but she became a princess, she was still trapped. She couldn’t go anywhere without a royal escort. She learned how to hold her own and take care of those in need and learned that not everything was completely black and white.

James Corden was the perfect choice to be the baker. I kept calling him Craig in my head because I knew him from Doctor Who. He had such great chemistry with Emily Blunt that it was hard for me to believe that the Baker’s Wife would cheat on her husband the way she did, let alone try to justify it to herself. However, I put the blame squarely on the prince’s shoulders. After all, he was raised to be charming. And the Baker’s Wife showed hints of wanting to know what being with royalty was like. But to me, it seemed more like she was in love with an idea rather than the reality.

Meryl Streep obviously had a lot of fun being the Witch. I loved her more when she was the scraggly old witch, though, than her more beautiful form. The witch’s motivations are understandable, but unlike what she claimed, saving Jack wouldn’t be the “good” thing to do. Her treatment of Rapunzel was deplorable, wanting her daughter to stay young forever, but the reality of the situation was that Rapunzel was all grown up and needed her questions answered. She was right in the fact that everyone had to stop blaming each other in order, though.

Jack and Red Riding Hood were also great, but Red’s storyline was kind of short compared to everyone else. After the wolf was slain, most of Red Riding Hood’s story arc involved her either motivating other characters or being supported by other characters. Johnny Depp as the wolf was as creepy as was expected. And hey, at least he wasn’t a pirate this time!

My least favorite characters were the princes, although that’s also to be expected. While “Agony” was hilarious, Chris Pine’s Prince Charming was a real sleazeball. Of course, given that Chris Pine’s other most famous character is known for spending time with female characters of every species, the casting was perfect on that end. I also didn’t like Billy Magnussen’s costume. It didn’t look like a prince’s outfit so much as an 80s glam rock outfit. But at least he and Rapunzel got their happily ever after.

The only thing I’d really change about the musical was the way it ended. It doesn’t have to be a total “happily ever after,” but I do want to see the Baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Red Riding Hood living new lives out of the woods. But then again, Sondheim tends to go against expectations.

I definitely recommend this movie to fans of musicals, but I will warn parents that this is not a kid-friendly movie in spite of what the PG rating may say. I would say it’s more for ages 10 and up because of the language, Johnny Depp’s very villainous song, and the implications shown in the second half of the musical.

Isn’t it nice to know a lot? And a little bit…not.