Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Movie Review: Hercules ft. Dwayne Johnson, and Edge of Tomorrow

I used my day off to take scrap garbage to the landfill, and watch two movies from Redbox back-to-back. The $2.50 for two movies is sweet, sweet free market delight. I might never go to the movie theater again, save once a year for auspicious occasions. Let the lowest-priced DVD-quality video provider win.


What I liked: With the exception of one flash-back of his wife, there really wasn't any sexual innuendo aside from wordplay that younger children would miss.

What I really liked: The movie avoided cliche'd supernatural cinematic overtures, and left the question of Hercules' mythology largely ambiguous. The movie even ends with a narration asking whether Hercules was more myth than man and whether it mattered; The Rock doesn't do anything that's necessarily impossible, just in two scenes he performs deeds that seem highly, highly improbable, which I suppose are included to offer the viewer something to grumble about--whether it indicates superhuman strength or not. In the legend of Hercules, Zeus' jealous wife Hera possesses Hercules to murder his family, driving him mad. But in the movie, it's part of a very human, larger plot twist that plays an integral role in the theme of who the man is, where he stops and the myth begins.

What might make you think: I appreciated that the film offered a "mythologically accurate" retelling while at the same time eschewing the cliche's and offering you a suggestion of how it might have happened if there were no gods or demons involved at all, just larger-than-life men who inspired embellished storytelling for one reason or another. I also appreciated that for once, this was directed at an actual myth, and not like so many modern movies, an attempt to undermine the Bible's account of history by recasting it as an after-the-fact hagiographical depiction of a much different reality.

It's a war movie, so there's blood and depictions of dead bodies, implied just-barely-off-screen breaking of bones, and intense emotional grief/anger, on people's faces as well as in the audio, so it's not a fairy tale movie but because of its lack of sex and obscene gore, as well as comparatively minimal profanity, it should be fine to watch with your preteen.

Edge of Tomorrow:                  (Groundhog Day, or Source Code, with guns and aliens)

What I liked: It's a movie that explores what would happen if the "checkpoint" re-starting system found ubiquitously in video games could somehow happen in real life. Who hasn't daydreamed about reliving different parts of your life in different ways, and adapting based on what you've learned? Do-overs, and the removal of the fear of death that comes with it, is a tantalizing fantasy for, I suspect, most people.

What I really liked: I liked the fact that there was no unnecessary pursuit of a romance sub-plot, not to mention sex. It was only ever implied, and not in a way that you knew what the director wanted the characters to do--if you want to believe x happened, or didn't happen, you are free to form your own conclusions, and that was a pleasant departure from the normal. Most Tom Cruise movies go something like "gun gun gun look at the camera gun gun gun okay now boobies and kissing now gun gun explosion and cut to credits", and this one didn't, which was nice. It stayed focused on the plot and didn't waste any screen time to try to appeal to an audience who wouldn't watch the movie if it didn't include emotional porn, or political activism, or religious proselytism (the closest it came to this was a reference to the alien being "perfectly evolved to conquer worlds," or something like that, which for an alien-invasion movie was pretty benign. Consider the religiosity in Transformers: Age of Extinction, which wasn't even a political film but managed to have a vast amount of religious motifs). This movie stayed on message and didn't fail to be creative in not showing you everything, while at the same time showing the frustrating progress Cruise's character went through in figuring out how not to die in order to get farther than he did last time.

What might make you think: It didn't preach religious themes, but the movie's concept can be applied to a discussion if you are open to one. The biggest point I will make is that it gets you to think about what it's like to know someone intimately without them knowing you. A time-traveling being will never be a perfect analogy to a timeless being, but at several moments, both when Cruise's friends are alive and he observes them repeating themselves, in body language or behavior, for the nth time, and when Cruise sees them die, and the camera poignantly pauses to show them, or show him taking notice of them, you get a real sense of something inexpressible in the character Cruise is playing. He's got a connection to them, because of how intimately he knows the most minute details about them, at the same time as they aren't even aware of the progress of their relationship, in an ultimate sense (i.e. so that they would remember it--because when he restarts, he's the only one who remembers what happened).

Every time he has to go through the paces to initiate the relationship he's been working on with them, you can imagine the frustration he feels, even as he gains a deeper compassion for them. At a certain point in the movie, Cruise gives up trying to make progress on the mission for a while, and just starts trying to catch a break. He spends time getting to know Emily Blunt's character, instead of focusing on finding a way to defeat the aliens. As a finite human, you can appreciate that he's tired of the dying and reliving, and just wants to relish in the relationship that he has with Blunt. That scene ends with a moment I appreciate intensely: the movie nowhere even uses the phrase, "I love you." What happens is this,
Emily Blunt's character defies Cruise's warning that she has never yet gotten out of the situation they're in, in all the times Cruise has relived it. She questions him, "what does it matter if I die?" After a dramatic pause, Cruise's answer is this: "I wish I didn't know you, but I do."
As someone who has arrived at the belief that love for another person is based on your knowledge of that person, my soul said an "Amen!" to this dialogue. Cruise's character has had a crisis of purpose, where he doesn't just want to mechanically solve the problem anymore. Now that he has gained intimate knowledge of Blunt, he cares about her and wants to enjoy the state of their relationship. Just enjoy it. Not fight the aliens. He'd rather patch her up and make her coffee, and bask in the joy of spending time alone with her, without the pressure of the conflict of "good and evil" on his mind. He just wants to be with her. And though the movie never used the word, this is the purest essence of love. Wanting to be together with someone else. Because you know them.

What's my point? That in its always-imperfect capacity as an analogy, this relationship on screen, this cinematic conundrum of having a form of timelessness, provides a miniscule, infinitely inferior insight into what it might be like to be God. Mind you, I don't propose this as a form of elevating man, but of elevating our minds, to try to empathize with God as much as it's possible for us finite creatures. We are made in His image and told to imitate Him, after all. I consider this thought exercise an interesting endeavor.

God knows us infinitely well. Mathematically, it would be as if Cruise's character had "relived the day" a number of times approaching infinity, and not just that day, but every day of Blunt's life, knowing her intimately to the point of perfection. The scenes where he stares in disbelief and heartbreak and compassion and yearning at her dead body slumped on the ground provides the opportunity to contemplate the sorts of emotions that God feels when something happens to us, be it death and agony or something joyful. God isn't "emotional," but He has emotions. That's important to acknowledge. God does indeed experience existence like we do, in some ways--though it's more accurate to say that since we're made in His image, we experience existence like He does, just allowing for finite limitations. Yearning. Compassion. Love borne of intimate knowledge. Desire to consummate a peaceful relationship, borne of His persistent actions of Love toward us, though in our limited state we don't even know what He's doing for us, most of the time.

Every analogy will always fail to be perfect. But if we never try to contemplate God, we fall into spiritual traps like that of the hindu, the atheist, or the muslim, etc, those who refuse to know God as much as they can, because they suppose that since perfection is not attainable, it is futile to attempt. No, God wants us to try to know Him. So use reasoning aides to help you, just please, please please always remember that no conclusion you reach, if it disputes what we know about God from the Bible, can be correct. Back up, discount the reasoning that brought you to the false conclusion, and begin again. We will forever in eternity be getting to know God.

The movie Edge of Tomorrow was fascinating to me only partly because of the imagination-stimulating concepts of "restarts" and cool aliens; what was most intriguing was the philosophical question, of what thinking about having a different relationship with time, and thus a different relationship with people, can teach us about the sort of relationship that God has with us.

That is the limit of what I want to propose. Don't take my thoughts and go challenging God's deity, that's not the intention and never will be. If you can't think along these lines, you don't have to. Leave it an open question 'til you meet Him. I speak to you as if you're a believer, of course.

The final notion I had, with the idea of "restarting," is that the fantasy so many have about reliving life to right our wrongs stems from a desire that will be finally fulfilled in eternity for the believer. We will live again after we die, it's not just a day-dream. The missed contacts we had with people on this side of death, if they're a believer, we will be able to overcome with an infinity of time at our disposal, to really get to know them. But better than people, we'll have an eternity to get to know God better, once the short time of our ignorance is past and we have an open future with Him, safe from the good-and-evil conflict that now consumes us and keeps us from making meaningful relationships with our true love.

I hope my scattered musings have been mildly thought-provoking and hopefully encouraging on the level of faith.

~ Rak Chazak

1 comment:

  1. Although I was not expecting much from this I have been waiting to see The Legend of Hercules since they started showing the trailers.  This movie is one of the examples of movies that are not very good in overall artistic value but it is a fun ride throughout.