Rendition (film review)

December 27, 2007

Rendition is a movie about the act of Extraordinary Rendition performed by die CIA, where a terrorist suspect is kidnapped and taken to a country other than the US to be interrogated. Critiques suspect that torture is involved in some of these interrogations, and the film portrayes this.

An early scene through the window overlooking the city where the movie is mainly set show one of the most beautifull pictures of African, and maybe other third world cities as well, I have seen. All these small houses packed together, but with a satelite dish on most of them. I’ve seen mud-houses and squatter houses with TV-antennas and satelite dishes on them:-)

Although, according to wikipedia, this film did not get reviewed that good, I’ll highly recommend it. I’m not come great film critic, and I don’t know whether the acting was good or not, I found it convincing. There is no funny special effects or anything. But it has a very interesting plot (SPOILER WARNING!). I found it similar to Babel, just with a much better storyline. The use of the different languages and storylines which come together are similar to Babel, although the different storylines are much closer together than in Babel.

I thought this was a good movie throughout, but the end really got me. It turns out that one of the storylines running are actually occuring earlier than the other two. Now, I usually don’t like is when a movie cannot be figured out simply because information was withheld from the viewer, but the way it was done was really good, a really great strategy. I loved it. 

One other thing. Most say the story is about a wife with a missinf husband, however, I found the story to be much more about Douglas, the CIa agent that has to see the interrogation methods used, and in the end decide to free Ibrahimi, and Fatima, the girlfriend of the suicide bomber that initiated this series of events.

I highly recommend the wikipedia article on Extraordinary Rendition.

There is a new god on the block. We have made offers to Odin, as well as some other gods, should we offer to this new god of the Romans, Christ, as well? This is the question posed by an advisor to the king, early in the movie Beowulf. Set in Denmark, 507 AD, I think this is a very good portrayal of religion, and the perceptions regarding Christianity in this time.

Paul (as well as some others) started spreading Christianity throughout the Roman empire, Luke tell us the story in Acts, how the message of Jesus spread from a few followers in Jerusalem, to Rome, the capital of the Roman empire. It’s really a literary strategy as well, Acts 1:8 show this, first Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, meaning Rome. If the message spread to the capitol, then it has spread to all the known world. The book Acts then show how what was said in 1:8 happens.

And Christianity became very successful, and then even the emperor got converted, and then he forced all his people to get converted, and then he started taking the gospel to the nations, to his enemies, by force, by sword and spear. And Christ has become the god of the Romans, and yes, maybe “g”od is the right word. So, should we pray to Christ as well? Asks the advisor. No is the answer he gets, gods won’t help us.

Beowulf gets on the scene, becomes king, and beautifully it is shown how Christianity has gained a foothold later on in the movie, when he is older. Well, since time has passed, and Christianity was spreading in this time, this seems to be quite historical. Whether this new god helped them, the movie do not seem to answer, what exactly the role of Christianity, and also of the symbol of the cross, is, is difficult to know (is it only coincidence that Beowulf boat’s mast fall in the shape of a cross when it is burning at the end? Maybe, but seeing how prominent the cross features in the movie, I wonder.). It seems like Christianity isn’t making any difference though, not in there culture, and not with there daemons.

In this time when Christmas is celebrated, it might be good to ask ourselves what we are celebrating. Is this simply a western festival, to the westerners god? And who will Odin then be in our story? The eastern gods? Maybe that of Islam? It might be a time to ask ourselves whether the war between some western countries and the middle east isn’t becoming to seem like a war between “our god and theirs”, a religious war? And do we pray to God as just another of our gods (which might include many things) to see which one will work?

If you look carefully, Beowulf might be more than fantasy, more than myth, more than great animations. There might be some religious critique in there as well. Maybe I’m seeing things which isn’t there, maybe it’s just random, but maybe it raises some serious questions.

Well, a blessed Christmas to all, to westerners, to those from Eastern countries as well. To all who celebrate the fact that in some way which we still struggle to understand, Jesus was born, the one who was proclaimed King, who was proclaimed God, the human through whom we got to see God, and may we guard against just another “Western god”.

blue like jazz

December 18, 2007

I was reading Blue Like Jazz the past few days, it’s by Donald Miller, and he basically tells his life-story. Well, at least up to this point, since he is only 36. But it’s really beautifully written.

The sub-title is non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality. Whether Miller really achieve this is debatable, in the end, whether he want to admit it or not, Miller is still busy with some religion, although then in the wider sense of the word, definitely different from what you’d find in Christian religion generally. Like many others he came from an American fundamentalist backgrounds, and then turned into some kind of emerging thing.

What really strikes me is the amazing honesty with which he writes. I want to use this in our gap-year program, not so much to teach anyone anything, but more to help people in looking at their own stories with honesty. He struggles, but learn through this. He’s not always the nice guy, actually, sometimes he does some pretty stupid stuff, but then tell you about it (OK, maybe this just made him a good-seller, but I still liked it).

Theologically? Well, don’t expect this amazing insights, or this new systematic theological treatise on God, but I don’t think this is what Miller intended. Rather, read it for what it is, one man’s story of spirituality (that which happen between our understanding and experiencing of faith, or, how faith becomes practical in our day to day life). And it’s really inspiring, and very funny. Or else, just read it for being a fine piece of literature (for the Afrikaans reader, he reminded me of Seks, Drugs en Rock & Roll by Koos Kombuis).

Something else. It’s holiday, and although I am working, I also have a lot or spare time. So yesterday I watched Mozart and the Whale, the story of two autistic people falling in love, struggling in relationship, but fulfilling each other in this struggle. It’s a REALLY amazing story. Truly inspiring!!!

One of the things in life which I was introduced to much too late, was Cinema Nouveau. But as of late, I’m becoming a fan. I first saw the preview for Jesus Camp while watching 11th hour. Jesus Camp is a documentary on a

You will find very little critique on what is going on in the film, and are left to figure out your thoughts on the stuff by yourself, a good thing I think. It portrays kids “talking in languages”, point out how these people put the kids on extreme guilt trips regarding sin(1), also the believe that America is the chosen nation of God, and in one interview the senior pastor claim that when the Evangelicals vote, they determine the election. Actually, a major theme in the film is the fundamentalist reaction to American politics, and the Bush administration(2). They are portrayed as supporting the war(3), creationism, against public schools, animal rights movements, and considering global warming to be just a political issue.

What got me is that you get to see how much these ideas have infiltrated the thinking in our own churches. See for example the magical approach used to prayer before they start the camp, where every chair and piece of equipment are prayed for individually, as if this will give more credibility to your prayer, God will be forced to listen, of the devil to stay away? (I have previously written some thoughts on this here).

Or what about the concept of sin being some form of supernatural cause of evil, especially when believers are not faithful. This is not the idea that our sin cause evil (that when we do bad things, we cause bad things to happen, when I don’t feed the poor, they remain hungry), rather that when sinning it opens some supernatural door for evil to enter the country.

The film has caused some controversy after being released (it’s been some time before it hit South Africa), many evangelicals not liking it, saying that Pentecostalism is portrayed in a negative light. Personally, although I have seen forms of evangelicalism with which I am much more comfortable, I’ve also seen things much worse than what get portrayed. And I personally wonder how big the difference in the end will be between Muslim and Christian fundamentalism, do we really want Christians willing to kill those they differ with?  Maybe we already have that in certain parts of the fundamentalist movement?

If you haven’t seen the documentary yet, take the time, see it, and think about it.

Maybe a last thing. I have used fundamentalism, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in a way that it might sound as if these terms are synonymous, which they are not. Maybe it’s when all these terms come together that you find what is portrayed in the film, since each of them occur in other forms as well.

(1) see the one scene where the kids are crying, and the pastor say stuff like staying in the boiling pot a little longer etc

(2) especially the supreme judge theme running throughout the film, and the prayer for the election of a conservative supreme judge

(3) see for example the one kid shown wearing a “my dad is in the army” shirt, not that this is that big a deal, but a number of small detail are pointed to throughout the film.

I posted this at my old blog a few days ago. Problem of using wordpress mobile, which I use when I have to use my phone as a modem, to save bandwidth, is that you easily post on the wrong blog.

Saw Apocalypto the other day. It’s Mel Gibson, so you find a lot of blood and guts. It’s about small tribes in Southern America that gets hunted by the Incas in order to be offered to the sun-god. In this ritual the heart is taken out, and smashed, for a short while it looks like the poor guy is still living. Then the head gets chopped of, and thrown down the temple, and then the body follows. There is a lot of running around, chasing some poor guy through the rainforest, all with panthers and snakes, and poisonous frogs, and Incas getting killed.

This is not what I want to write about though. Early in the movie the small tribe sits around the fire, and the eldest tell them the story about the origin of man. An anthropological myth (anthropos is the greek for man, I understand myth not as fairytale, but as the stories we use to make meaning out of existence). In their myth man made his wishes known to the animals. He wished power, knowledge, etc, and the animals gave him this. Power from the panther, and different gifts from all the animals. All except the owl. When man walked away, the owl told the animals that this has been an mistake. Since now man has everything he wants, and lacks nothing. Man will now just keep on taking and taking, until the earth has nothing more to give. (at least, this is how I remember it, it has been a few days).

After this myth, the film show the Incas just taking and taking, plundering people. And the film ends where the guy the film is about get onto the beach, and see the first ships from the European colonists arriving. Colonists who took and plundered more than the Incas ever could. Man just take and take and take. Sadly, this myth about the origin of man seem all to real.

In this myth I saw something of the realities of life, of human life. Of how humans treat each other, and treat the earth. Taking and taking, until she can give no more. In our own self-understanding I believe we need a new myth that would point to an anthropology which involve humans as caring. This myth should also involve how we exist in community, thus fighting against the myth of capitalism, in which everyone fend for him/herself, at the cost of someone else.

We could turn to our own Christian anthropological and creation myths, Genesis 1 and 2, Psalm 8. But I think we need to look at people first, before looking at the text. We need to see what our own self-understanding is. How do we interpret the anthropological and creation myths underlying these texts, how do we translate them into our own lives. I fear for what we would find in people. But, I think we might find some building blocks (maybe others will be needed as well) for an anthropological myth which will give us a self-understanding that might help when we talk about the problems of our day: ecology, poverty, AIDS…

Jesus, Judas and the Zealots

September 18, 2007

It’s sometimes interesting to look back and see what was the small things that made revolutionary changes to the way you are thinking. Kind of butterfly effect stuff. I remember a conversation which I had at some stage in High School, and one sentence a friend said, set in motion a process of change in my thinking continuing up to this day (however, that is a story for another day). And then, at some stage in my third year, I bought a lot of 2nd hand books from a guy, and he said that for every book I bought, I could take another one from an unlisted pile. I got about 80 books that day! One of the little books I took for free, was by Oscar Cullmann, Jesus and the Revolutionaries. Not well known, and probably not the type of book that will go down in history as one making this huge changes in theology. But in my life, it made a huge change.

The book tried to show how the zealots in the time of Jesus would have perceived Jesus. The Zealots were groups of people that believed that the Roman authority over Israel should be overthrown by force, and were willing to do something about this. They were a large enough group to start a war about 40 years after Jesus’ was crucified, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This group of people also believed that the messiah would come, and that he will lead this battle against the Romans. Furthermore they believed that the institutional Jewish groups, Pharisees and Sadducees, were not doing God’s will, since they worked with the Romans.

Knowing something about this, and reading the Jesus story as we find it in the gospels, and then imagining yourself into this volatile time, you might see how easy it was for Zealots to think that Jesus might just be the one to fight for their cause. He might be the King of David, that came to liberate Jerusalem. He might be building up an army out of the thousands sometimes following him.

When I started to see the significance of this, I started re-thinking historical Jesus research. Trying to understand how these people must have thought about this Jesus when they heard him speak, trying to understand who Jesus really was. It set in motion a process in me which continue up to this day.

In The Secret Message of Jesus you will find some of this kind of thinking in easy-to-read format. Also, I watched the film Judas this weekend, and the film try and show something of this. Judas is portrayed a a Zealot who start following Jesus, believing that Jesus is the messiah he was searching for. But then Jesus start talking about peace, about turning the other cheek, and Judas begin to doubt if Jesus really is the one they are waiting for. This leads him, in the end, to be willing to turn Jesus in.

Haven’t looked into the historical reliability of the film, but it’s an excellent portrayal of the social tensions between Zealots and Institutional Jewish Religion, and the Roman Empire, and the Jesus followers, and a lot of things happening in that time. I will definitely recommend this film!

I’m not a big fan of series’. It simply take up to much time. I’d rather watch a movie, which ends after 2 hours, and it’s done and over with (except with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I watch once a year, and take more than 10 hours). But I decided to watch Band of Brothers, by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, a few weeks ago, since it’s only 10 episodes long, and is rated quite well.

It’s the story of Easy Company, a company of paratroopers which were on the front line from D-day till the end of World War 2. As a kid I remember having quite a romantic picture of warfare. It was a place for heroes, a game which you played, and which the hero always survived. It was a game where everyone had integrity, much more than in the other parts of life, and where their was an honest fight. It was the place where great strategists were born, who outwitted their opponents, where the smartest guy always won. And where the smartest guy was also the good guy. War was never a place where wives lost their husbands, parents their kids, and kids their fathers. War was never a place where soldiers rapes woman, since no laws counted for them. War was never something that completely screwed up those who took part. It was never something which sent back soldiers who could no longer no what is moral, since they had to learn to kill for a living. And they didn’t kill those who are evil, but simply others who got paid to fight a fight.

Band of Brothers sketch some of these realities. By the end of every episode you just realize how absolutely crazy the idea is. How wrong it is. How it’s messing people up. Those fighting on the ground. Is forces you to rethink every war going on. Rethink all the nice reasons why people start wars. Rethink all the wars that was started in the name of religion. Rethink the fact that we are still building out our arsenals, and researching new ways of killing people. See for example Stealth, not a brilliant movie, but it raises the question with regards to Artificial Intelligent weapons. At one stage one of the characters mentions the fact that killing becomes impersonal, and the problems regarding that.

Anyhow, getting back to Band of Brothers. After every episode it just gets worse and worse. Their is one turning point however. This is when they find the first Jewish camp, portrayed very graphically. The death, the suffering. The absolute inhumane way in which these people were treated. And then you wonder, does their come a point where war is the only option? Where the ideology of one become so distorted that war becomes correct? Where we understand why Bonhoeffer took part in trying to kill Hitler? But how we would ever know when this is really the case I don’t know. I believe it is something we can only say in hindsight. So maybe we should simply wait till their is really NO other option before going to war. Or maybe never? Maybe we just shouldn’t ever link war to the will of God? But then again, how can we talk about war without talking about the will of God?

I simply don’t know.