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#GODonFILM: HARRY POTTER / DH2 is unmistakably religious, spiritual, and dare I even say “Christian”

This Sunday we’ll be covering the last movie of our GODonFILM series – and boy what a way to go out. Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows 2 is a deeply satisfying conclusion to the decade-long affair, and it consummated a lot of the mystery and the waitings of the series. I, for one, walked out deeply impressed by the undeniable religious parallels in the conclusion, whether intentional or not. And truth be told, I saw it coming. That’s why I planned on preaching a sermon on this movie months back.

Now I am expecting some flak. Certain Christian communities have vehemently opposed the movie for promoting witchcraft in children; I’m not so convinced. While I agree it has taken a darker twist of late, I still find that this series speaks powerfully about good and evil, childhood and innocence, tremendous yet unbridled potential, and the portent (or tremendous hope) of this thing called destiny. These are religiously-infused ideas. Below are those who are of the same opine as me… and of course, read at your caution, for there are spoilers ahead…

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Is Harry Potter the Son of God?

When asked if she is a Christian, Rowling answers:

“Yes, I am, which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

Perhaps what she won’t tell is her denomination, but as it is known that she is a member of the Church of Scotland congregation… that information hardly seems illuminating to the Potter story. What else might she be refusing to divulge? When a person states that they are a Christian, they may mean one of several things – “I believe in God,” “I’m not an atheist or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu,” “I go to church sometimes,” “I go to church every week,” or “I believe that Jesus Christ was the incarnate God who died to redeem the world of their sins, and I have a personal relationship with him as my Lord and Savior.”

Do any of these statements have the potential to reveal the ultimate plot of the series? One of them must, as Rowling has said it is so. The only one of the above statements that approaches that potential is the last, which I will henceforth refer to as “Christ follower.” If Rowling is a Christ follower, what might that mean for Harry Potter? I believe that it means Harry is the Christ – of the wizarding world, that is – of J.K. Rowling’s created universe.

Can this be? Can a writer so censured by elements of the religious right, the writer of a book that portrays “good” witches and wizards; the writer of scenes so horrific as the senseless murder of a young boy; a villain who drinks unicorn blood and uses the bones of his father – whom he murdered – and the blood of his enemy to regain a physical body; a writer who uses symbolism from the tarot; a writer blamed for encouraging interest in witchcraft among teens; can this writer be a Christ follower, and actually be writing about Christ? I say yes.

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Harry Potter is a ‘Christ-like’ figure

(Theologian Stephen) Holmes said: “What happens gives the strong impression that Harry dies, discovers an afterlife in a place called King’s Cross, a striking reference from a Christian perspective, and comes back to life. The effect of his death has been to render impotent the power of evil. That is a Christian narrative which is almost impossible not to recognize.

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So would you agree?
Does this movie undeniably contain religious / Christian themes?
Did it speak to you?
And what about?

#GODonFILM: MIDNIGHT in PARIS Speaks of Nostalgia, Romanticism, and Presence

Inspector Javert takes a dip here, I believe

This Sunday I’ll be talking on Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris for our “GOD on FILM” series – and I just couldn’t wait to post on it even before my sermon, because for the many thematic elements to talk about here, there is the singularly rich and valuable point: the grass aint always greener on the other side. Which is why I was simultaneously charmed by this film but also really really disappointed (spoiler alert***)

Owen Wilson: naivete incarnate

The realization that presence takes precedence over nostalgia and romanticism – this is an important idea – a summons to snap back to reality and appreciate the good thing right in front of us, whether it is the place we live in, or the spouse we married, or the church we attend, or the career path we chose. Living constantly in a fantasy world of anywhere-but-here misanthropy is a miserable state to be in, no less, in my book – a state of perpetual childishness.

Which irks me to no end about the conclusion of this movie: in the end – Gil capitulates to his infatuation wholesale. Sure he’s not stuck in the 1920’s anymore but he never really grows up, in a sense. Paris may be the place to be today, but tomorrow it will be London, or NYC, or Milan, or anywhere but here. And there will always be a new belle who likes rain in her hair, or listens to Cole Porter, or likes pita bread. See what I mean?

Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen at the 2009 Tri...

not cool, Woodster, not cool.

So I don’t know if I’m alone in pointing this out – not many have aired these sentiments – but I just feel it was a bit too biographical of Woody Allen for my liking – slipping deeper into neurosis and never fully climbing out (albeit tongue in cheek).

Again. This was a great movie. But for it’s merits, the message never hits home in the end, but balks. For that reason I give it 3 out of 4.

#GODonFILM: Interpretations of The TREE of LIFE


Today’s post is from a guest blogger, friend, and fellow Regentarian, Desirée de Jesus. Desiree is a film theologian and philosopher working in Europe right now, and so I’m glad to have found similar conclusions to her about The Tree of Life (particularly how the brother is the key element to the narrative). Here’s her take on the Tree of Life:

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Terrence Malick is something of an enigma.  A philosopher-cum-filmmaker, Malick guides his viewers through cinematic meditations suffused with emotionally evocative imagery and sequences that create space for the contemplation of philosophical and theological notions about the tensions of the lived experience.  From Badlands (1973) to The New World (2005), Malick’s films probe the consequences of relational rupture within a world that has lost its innocence, and his most recent film The Tree of Life, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival continues this discourse, albeit through unconventional narrative means.

The Tree of Life is an ambitious exploration of the human condition as embodied by the O’Briens, a family living in a small, idyllic town during the American golden age of the 1950’s. Much of the film presents an Edenic landscape of childhood memories of freedom and adult-imposed constraint through the eyes of Jack, the film’s central character. The dynamism and myopia of the camera’s movement and placement offers an immersive cinematic experience that recalls the often complicated transition from childhood to adolescence.  And yet, this is not a straightforward coming-of-age film.  Rather than the conventional plot-driven, character development of popular Hollywood films, The Tree of Life situates this family’s story within the grand narrative of the birth of the universe and the evolutionary development of Earth’s living organisms. Some may find the heavy symbolism and Heideggerian visual poiesis of this particular style of storytelling too unconventional for their liking, but I’d like to suggest that the formal qualities of the film can offer interpretive insights that will help make sense of the narrative and illuminate theological themes. Let’s just look at a couple of them.

While this is not always the case, most of Malick’s films feature the use of voice-over narration during their prologues.  Although they initially appear irrelevant to the story progression, I think that the first words spoken supply the film’s thematic framework and ground the visual juxtaposition of what some film theologians refer to as “echoes of transcendence.” In this prologue, after the passage from the book of Job fades to black, the slow emergence of an isolated flame-like shape is accompanied by the whispered utterance of the word “brother.” Without giving too much away, the word “brother” not only functions as the central relational focus of the film (as it is the catalyst for the subsequent narrative flashbacks), but also as an invitation for the viewer to consider his (or her) shared loss of innocence personally, interpersonally, and in relation to the Fall.  For the film’s jump cuts and lyrical tone collaborate to create an immersive ontological event that evokes the recollection of our own childhood experiences; thus reinforcing the notion that this particular loss of innocence is an endemic aspect of creaturely life on Earth since the beginning. But this is not a meditation in which God is absent.  Rather, by using a visual rhetoric of light suggestive of the presence of God, Malick’s aesthetic seeks to depict some of God’s immanence, transcendence, and mystery within the natural world. The additional layer of visual subtext represented by the presence of windows throughout the film offers another opportunity to contrast the omniscience of God and the myopic, temporally bound human perspective. In fact, when I think of the film’s “message” in this way, it helps me to make more sense of a cinematic structure that on the surface appears to be the joining of two largely different films.

Of course, there are many other themes and ideas that can be mined from The Tree of Life, but I hope that my brief analysis of the film has offered you another avenue for theological and philosophical engagement, and maybe even encouraged you to give the film a second viewing.

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Desirée de Jesus is finishing her MA degree in Christianity & the Arts at Kings College London.  For her dissertation, she is placing the films of Stanley Kubrick in dialogue with the early Church Fathers and modern philosophers.  She is also interested in genre studies (westerns & sci-fi), film phenomenology, film theory, and star studies.

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Thoughts?

If you’ve seen the movie, how does this resonate with your interpretation?

Is there an interpretation?

What is this movie about, really?

#GODonFILM: Making Sense of KUNG FU PANDA

I was really embarrassed to announce that as part of our GODonFilM series we were covering Kung Fu Panda 2. But there are some merits:

  1. The theme of technology vs. spirit (i.e., Kung Fu being outmoded by the cannon – the precursor to the gun). So the question is, can something as spiritual / mystical as kung fu stop a speeding bullet? Is technology a contaminant to the purity of spirit? Should we all stop blogging and abandon twitter? Alas, I don’t go here in my talk.
  2. It IS the first movie directed by an Asian-American woman. The perspectival change is already evident between KFP 1 and KFP 2.
  3. Themes of predestination and fate: Evil Lord Shen is told a panda would one day lead to his demise. So the question for you thinkers is; would befriending or eradicating all pandas alter his destiny at all? Is it in any way avoidable / redeemable?
  4. Biblical genocide in true Herodian fashion. ***SPOILER*** of course, Shen, being consummate evil (because he is played by Gary Oldman) goes the genocidal rout. Destroy all Pandas… but of course one survives. How original.
  5. Po wrestles with “daddy issues” (or lack of)

So how did I whip up a sermon out of this?

I chose to look at another family drama played out between two brothers, Joseph and Judah over the course of 14 chapters in Genesis 37 to 50. I wouldn’t say the parallels are precise, but the unfolding family dramas in KFP2 hearken to some of the dysfunctionalities in Israel’s line. I know that’s overreaching but – well worth exploring.

What resulted was a sermon inspired by Robert Alter‘s (Berkeley) narrative critical approach to the Judah / Tamar story wedged in between the larger Joseph framework (what some technical folks call framing, or inclusio, or sandwiching). Here’s a link to the talk.

What delights me is that this sets us up for next week’s talk on the Tree of Life perfectly. So get ready for Joseph / Judah part II this upcoming Sunday.

#GODonFILM: Exegeting X-MEN

I really enjoyed our talk on X-Men: First Class for the new GOD on FILM series at Harvest Houston Church; preached my heart out and felt a connection with the audience, especially as we have a spike in attendance over the summer due to incoming high school graduates and returning college students.

As an unrepentant nerd, I’ve followed the X-Men comics long before the movie hoopla and even the cartoon television series; I was nurtured on the classic storyline of the “freaks” ostracized by society; deported to apartheid-like islands (Genosha), running from mob-like discrimination (the Sentinels) and struggling with identity and seemingly unlimited and uncontrollable power (the Phoenix). A powerful concoction every pubescent 13 yr old can relate with, yes.

So naturally I find deep themes to draw out here.

And I narrowed in on the deep themes of rejection, foreignness, freakishness, being the Other, the outcast, the reject, the carny, the misfit, the person with the huge scarlet letter emblazoned on their chest. In short – I think X-Men touches a nerve with so many because YOU (and me too) are ALL FREAKS. And we need some solace. Some meaning, something that speaks to our inadequacy to fit into society; in many ways, the X-Men story is the modern-day Kafka narrative of angst and existentialism.

So in the end, what did I think of the movie? I don’t know; I haven’t watched it yet.

GOD ON FILM – coming to Houston, TX – JUNE 2011


GOD ON FILM series – June/July 2011!

You heard right; I’m pretty stoked about our upcoming new series @ Harvest Community Church starting the first week of JUNE 2011. For seven weeks, we’ll be covering the summer blockbusters and looking for “God on Film” – as portrayed through culture, media, and the lens of the movie camera. So take a look @ the schedule below, grab your popcorn, watch the film, and come out to a discussion on Saturday / Sunday!

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JUNE 4/5:  THE TREE of LIFE – musings on childhood, complicated fathers, the lost soul in a modern world, the origins of life and the existence of faith. Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn – need we say more? Great way to kick off this series.

JUNE 11/12:  MIDNIGHT in PARIS – a romantic comedy by Woody Allen. We’ll be discussing delusion, misanthropy, fear, groping for meaning all with a Woody Allen-esque sense of humor.

JUNE 18/19:  X-MEN – talking about themes of the “Other” / the outsider / the alien. This present-day action movie re-plays older themes of Kafka-esque alienation experienced by so many of us.

June 25/26:  WAITING for SUPERMAN – the centerpiece of our series, we will be hosting a free screening followed by a public discussion involving local Houston-area educators. We will also have the principal of International high school in Sharpstown as a  special guest sharing his thoughts on how to move forward in educating ALL of our children – including the “least of these.”

July 2/3:  SUPER 8 – Anything produced by Spielberg and JJ Abrams has got to serve up good suspense, mystery, and deep philosophical questions about life today.

July 9/10:  TRANSFORMERS – We’ll be considering the universe-wide clash between good and evil. Starring Optimus Prime.

July 16/17:  HARRY POTTER – while it has taken a darker twist of late, this series speaks profoundly about good and evil, childhood and innocence, tremendous yet unbridled potential, and the portent (or tremendous hope) of this thing called destiny.

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We hope you will join us for at least one of these looks into “GOD on FILM.” See you at the movies – and then @ church.