Nov 23 2015

Boxing cats, pride and the observer effect


I was doing some research for the Film and Lit class that I teach and discovered that one of the earliest recordings is a cat video, or cat film to be more precise. Recorded at Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studio with Edison’s strip kinetograph camera, Boxing Cats, made in 1894, is the first cat video. This made me extremely happy. I will admit it. Cat videos make me smile. I’ve been thinking about why.

One researcher suggests that people watch cat videos for emotional uplift, in other words, pet therapy with out the litter box. Another researcher suggests that because cats don’t care or acknowledge that they are being recorded but people who watch them feel that they are constantly being observed,  the observers enjoy the experience of watching something unencumbered by scrutiny. The researchers inference is that we don’t like the idea being watched ourselves but we like the idea of watching something or someone who doesn’t know they are being watched. Maybe people post candid video and watch reality tv, because, as Hitchcock suggested with Rear Window we are voyeurs at heart with cinema satisfying that need to watch other people’s lives. Years after Hitchcock, but at the very beginning of reality television, The Truman Show suggests that audiences have grown tired of the neatness of contrived stories and want to observe someone who doesn’t know he is being watched. Maybe someone should try shooting some scenes from Rear Window or Truman Show with cats. I would watch that.

I’m a little bit obsessed with the observer effect, not only as a theory in quantum physics but also in philosophy and psychology. The idea is that the act of observing a behavior changes the behavior. In physics this generally applies to measurement and the effect of the instruments used to measure on  particles, but in psychology it has to do with the expectations of the observer and with the awareness of the subject that he or she is being observed. Does knowing you are being watched changes what you do?

With some training a dog’s behavior is predictable, at least when humans are watching. The observer has a definite effect on the subject. Not so much with cats. Unlike dogs, cats normally won’t perform on cue. In the Boxing Cats film the cats wear shoulder harnesses to hold on the gloves and there’s a human ref there to keep them in the ring. The cats themselves seem pretty intent on their little sparring match. I suspect this is something they did for sport without the gloves. The fact the the film is only 22 seconds long may have to do with resources and technology. All the films were very short. But it keeping the cats in the ring might have been a factor.

So why do I like cat videos? After spending years with cats, I think they are aware of being observed but they just don’t care whether anyone is watching or not. In fact, if cats engage affectionately with humans it’s because they choose to engage. Dogs either can be trained to respond as expected or love the attention so much they can’t help themselves. This difference in response makes cats endearing to some people and infuriating to others. Cats give off the vibe that they have autonomy and can exercise control over their environment rather than letting their environment control them. Cat videos either portray cats winning at life in this way or portray what happens when the environment betrays them and mayhem occurs. Observing that mayhem is somehow satisfying and funny and endearing to me. It’s like discovering someone unapproachable is actually a real human being underneath the facade of pride and control.

Feb 8 2015

Birdman, Creativity, and Meta narrative film


Birdman leaves a lot open to individual interpretation and its ending has spawned multiple theories. SPOILERS in the link! It may require multiple viewings to solidify those theories. I think I need to see it again to decide.

Riggin, the aging star of superhero films is trying to make a comeback with a stage play by his personal muse Raymond Carver. He wants to create something great and is willing to sacrifice everything to make this play work. His relationship with his family is strained and his professional colleagues question his artistic decisions. Throughout the film he interacts with his superhero persona, Birdman who props up his sagging ego. Shot as one continuous take to reflect Riggin’s stream of consciousness throughout the story, Birdman takes the point of view of an unreliable narrator who may be delusional or may be possessed of supernatural powers. The film may or may not offer visual cues to help the audience distinguish reality from fantasy, if any of it is fantasy.

How it begins provides a more definitive perspective. Raymond Carver’s quote begins the film:

“And did you get what you wanted from this life?”
“I did.” “And what did you want?”
“To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

This film raises some questions about the nature of creativity, ego, and recognition. What do human beings hope to get out of creativity? While creativity is a means of expression it is also a means of communication, how others respond  to what we’ve created matters, even when we pretend it doesn’t. Do we interpret how others receive and accept what we communicate through our creations as how they receive and accept us. Do we evaluate the worth of our creations by the responses of others, especially our creative peers and educated critics of our arts? How is the creation itself affected when the creator’s motives for making something becomes approval and adulation?

Birdman explores these questions but offers no definitive answers. Riggins struggles with what playing Birdman has made him in his own mind and in the eyes of the public. While it hasn’t gained him the respect or acclaim he craves, it did make him popular and beloved among audiences. Audience response is especially critical for performance artists. Without an audience there is no performance. And yet what is popular with an audience may not be popular with critics. Riggin wants so much to be respected for his art by his peers but being Birdman places him on a lower tier in the eyes of peers and critics.

Interestingly much of the critical commentary garnered by the film itself reflects this theme. The film is up for best picture, director, actor, supporting actor, best supporting actress, screenplay, cinematography, sound editing and sound mixing. It’s already won awards in some of these categories. Director/Screenwriter Iñárritu is getting lots of well-deserved attention. Lubezki’s unique and challenging cinematography is mentioned in just about every review.  The acclaim former Batman star Michael Keaton has received for his performance is exactly what his character Riggin wants. It will be interesting to see what the Academy does with Birdman. Though his isn’t the only Oscar-worthy performance, I do think Michael Keaton deserves the Oscar for this. 

Does this strange parallel make Birdman a meta-meta-narrative? Films like Birdman, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento and quite a few more, mostly produced in this century, represent a shift in film narrative. Stories are deliberately complex and non-linear.

Works and artists that represent innovation or transcendence, or those that mark transition from one era to the next, Beethoven and Impressionist art for example are the ones students study for generations to come. The rest are merely representative of a period or genre, albeit, some very good representations. These works are popular because they satisfy audience expectations and meet their aesthetic needs. Innovative works require more work from the audience and may even challenge existing aesthetics.

The audience must make a greater mental investment and may need multiple viewings to get what’s happening. The audience must not only suspend disbelief but also to surrender modern certainties for post-modern conceptualizations. And yet viewers of these films understand that they are watching a very deliberately crafted film that contains breadcrumbs from the creators of the film intended to lead both to discovering meaning but also to individual interpretation and theorizing. 

There’s no shame in going to the movie and enjoy a simple, emotionally satisfying narrative or just watch stuff blow up. There’s no shame in producing, directing, or acting in such a film. Perhaps the end of Birdman has something to do with embracing being part of creating higher art and being part of offering an audience a simple satisfying story or an inspiring hero even when it’s not considered high art.

May 11 2013

State of Play: Who can you trust?


May 7

In State of Play a reporter, Cal McCaffrey, is investigating a possible suicide by the aide of Congressman Stephen Collins, who had been his college roommate. Collins approaches him for help after it becomes public that the married Collins had been in a relationship with his aide. To further complicate matters, McCaffrey had an affair with Mrs. Collins and the three had been friends in college. Pretty much everyone’s relationship status could be marked “complicated”, except cub reporter Della Frye played by Rachel McAdams. Continue reading

May 6 2013

Ironman Three


May 6

It doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it might have taken itself a wee bit more seriously. Compared to the previous movies in the series, Ironman Three felt just a little campy.

It had all the expected archetypes and basic plot line that made it feel to me like it was wearing a sign that said “superhero movie.” Not to say it wasn’t fun. The writing in Ironman Three was funny. Stuff blew up. There were cool gadgets. I do love the Marvel characters and I have to say  Ironman Three disappointed a little there.

Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was a trip. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t seen it.  His trickster villain was my favorite part of the movie. Continue reading

May 3 2013

Criterion: Rashomon and the moral ambiguity of humanity


May 3

Rashomon, a 1950 Japanese film by director Akira Kurosawa, is a favorite of directors and a film school staple. A samurai and his wife are attacked on the road by a bandit who rapes the wife and allegedly kills the husband. There are four witnesses to the murder, the three people involved and a woodcutter who witnessed it in secret. They each give differing accounts. Everybody lies, even the spirit of the deceased samurai and the supposedly disinterested woodcutter.

The story takes place several centuries ago and is told as the woodcutter, a priest, and a ragged stranger take refuge from the rain at the dilapidated city gatehouse called Rashomon. The priest and woodcutter had testified at the trial of the bandit. The priest had found the wife hiding in his temple and woodcutter had testified to finding the body, not to witnessing the crime.  The action switches between the telling of the story at the gate, the forest where the attack took place, and the open air court. If the conflicting stories of the wife and bandit weren’t interesting enough, through a medium, the samurai also testifies. The woodcutter insists that a spirit can lie because he, too had witnessed the murder and knew what happened. His testimony is suspect in the eyes of the stranger because he suspects that the woodcutter stole an expensive dagger, the missing murder weapon in the wife’s story, from the scene of the crime.  Continue reading

May 2 2013

Random Hulu selection: Trek Nation and a son’s quest for his father’s legacy


May 2. Tonight I watched Trek Nation, a documentary in which Eugene Roddenberry takes his own trek to learn about his famous father Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry died when Eugene was 17. Eugene knew him as a flawed and somewhat distant father. He hadn’t really understood the significance of his father’s creation. In fact, he’s more of a Star Wars guy. Continue reading

Feb 16 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and the importance of backstory



Zero Dark Thirty is gripping and slow at the same time. The story is about these necessarily anonymous men and women who devoted years of their lives to locate Bin Ladin. The pace of the movie certainly mirrors the painstaking process.


The story itself felt real. Imperfect, often irritating individuals work together toward a common end. They disagree. Bosses pull rank. They work around protocol. They lie and deceive, spy and torture as part of their jobs. I kept wondering whether the job influences the person or the person influences the job. Who decides to make a lifestyle out of this?

Continue reading

Dec 29 2012

Law and grace in Les Miserables



Les Miserables is a study in the conflicting motivations of law and grace.

Paroled after twelve bitter years of imprisonment for stealing bread to feed his family, Jean Valjean meets people who are pivotal in setting him on the course of grace. First Monseignor Myriel offers him forgiveness and protection even though the desperate Valjean steals from his church. In doing this he reflects redemptive, magnanimous grace that changes the course of Valjean’s life. In his new life Valjean supports the principles of grace and compassion, but has not fully integrated his attitude into his business practices.  He must face the consequences that his negligence has on Fantine. Continue reading

Nov 23 2012

Lincoln is profoundly human


Lincoln centers on the political maneuverings surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln is portrayed as a real politician who was willing to play the political game in order to get what he wants. Human beings who support good causes are still human beings. Even an idea so pure and profound as “liberty for the captives” in the hands of politicians, even Abraham Lincoln, must be accomplished through bribery, deception, and compromise.

Lincoln is populated with flawed people who are keenly aware they are living in historic times. Lincoln is concerned with getting the amendment passed. Tommy Lee Jones’ sardonic Congressman Thaddeus Stevens is concerned with the message the amendment communicates. He tries to hold true to his ideal of equality, but ends up misrepresenting his true beliefs in order to appeal to less radical Republican factions who want assurances that free does not really mean equal. They fear that free slaves might one day get the vote. Others are concerned with ending the war and vote based on whether they think passing the amendment will hasten or delay its end. And each considers how his actions and beliefs will be perceived by his constituents. Continue reading

Jul 15 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5: Is Walter the new Gus?



Season 5 of Breaking Bad airs tonight. So far Breaking Bad has chronicled Walt’s downward spiral, from the moment he becomes a meth cook with motives that he can justify to himself as understandable and admirable, to the final show in season 4 in which Walt seems to have become the very person he once saw as a necessary evil. Gradually, over four seasons,Walt’s desperation and fear have been replaced with the same pride, cunning, and aggression that has elevated his boss Gus Fring to executive status in the drug trade. Continue reading

Jul 3 2012

Captain America, Mayberry, and Independence Day


 R.I.P. Andy Griffith.

Griffith  is most remembered for his role as Sherriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Andy Taylor spoke with reason and restraint, humor and compassion. His reactionary deputy Barney Fife was always ready to “Nip it in the bud.” Everything was a crisis and every wrongdoer was a villain for Barney. Andy’s calm response was usually to “have a talk with them.” A talk with Andy led to a better understanding of oneself and one’s responsibility to one’s neighbors.

In the Bible Jesus describes the apostle Bartholomew as a man with no guile.  It was a compliment. Andy Taylor was a man with no guile. He was wise and perceptive but never insidious or sly. Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers communicates the same sort of sincerity. Continue reading

Jun 26 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seriously serious?



Not since Snakes on a Plane has the title of a movie made we want to see it as much as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I got what I expected. I’m not saying I wasn’t entertained. I was. The historical details like Lincoln’s mother dying or his job as a shopkeeper lend enough historical accuracy that it actually makes it harder to suspend disbelief. Suspension of disbelief has no power over this movie. It takes a silver bullet through the brain of reason. Once that’s done, it’s a decent ride.

The vampires are the dark, devouring, bloodsucking villains they are supposed to be. No romance here, just scary bad guys who have the advantage of thousands of years experience in fighting and manipulation. Abe Lincoln is believable in appearance and personality. He reacts in much the way one would expect Abe Lincoln to react if he were confronted with vampires. Abe’s sidekicks are decent.The stage was set for an awesome girl fight but Mary Lincoln was as bland as a hospital diet. That was disappointing. Continue reading

May 5 2012

Being a game-changer in the Hunger Games, the Roman Empire, and maybe planet earth


Warning – spoilers. The Hunger Games invites comparisons to other totalitarian dystopian movies like Gattica or V for Vendetta, with some Truman Show and Rollerball thrown in. But Sparticus and Gladiator, both set in that real-life dystopia we remember as The Roman Empire, seem like more appropriate comparisons. Characters from the Capitol sport names from the ancient world like Senica and Caesar. The name “Panem” comes from the Roman phrase “bread and circuses”, used by leaders of the empire to describe their strategy for keeping the Roman public happy.

The citizens of the urban seat of government called The Capitol are sheeple who simply accept the games as entertainment and never consider what it would be like to be vulnerable to the lottery. These people have all they need. They cooperate to maintain their well-fed, comfortable, fashionable lifestyles. The government feeds them information and attitudes via media.

The totalitarian government exerts control over the Districts by establishing a cultural/political tradition that calls for each District to offer up two teen “tributes” chosen by lottery to participate in what amounts to a reality-tv-gone-worse death match. The producers of the televised event and the government are one in the same. The government uses the lottery to illicit fear and continue to exact revenge for a nearly 80-year-old attempt at rebellion by the districts. The government also controls the flow of information and resources to the districts. Hunger, poverty, and lack of independence create a sense of helplessness and despair that fuels cooperation. Continue reading

Feb 27 2012

The Artist is the best picture I never saw


I kept not going to see The Artist. When I had the chance to go to a movie I chose something else. Every time. When I was a little kid I remember everyone telling me how great The Wizard of Oz was. After I saw it I was afraid to admit how much I disliked it. I was supposed to like it. I sort of feel that way about The Artist.

I get why I’m supposed to like The Artist.  It represents the roots of Hollywood itself. For a Hollywood-type to dis The Artist would be like a Christian dissing The Gutenberg Bible.

But a silent, black and white picture doesn’t really appeal to me. On top of that it looks like there’s a lot of dancing in it. I like plot and action. I love dialog. I don’t even mind if it’s subtitled. I tend to like movies that involve people talking to one another, so I’m not a big fan of survival movies with a cast of one. Continue reading

Feb 21 2012

Downton Abbey: dealing with change and searching for significance



CONTAINS SPOILERS: Downton Abbey appeals to me the way Jane Austin does. It’s thoughtful reflection on the human condition and relationships makes the setting somewhat irrelevant. Nobles and servants alike deal with love, pride, fear, and the longing for significance and belonging. Yet the setting is what creates the tension in the story. Downton Abbey takes place in a time of tremendous social change. The characters are products of the social expectations and traditions associated with British peerage. The modern era is pushing against the way of life they’ve always known. Downton manages to weave social and historical perspective into its storytelling but story and characters are its heart.

Robert Crawley takes his responsibility as a member of the British peerage seriously. He feels an obligation to his servants, to the people in the community, and to the traditions of the nobility to which he was born. He is willing to lose his house to preserve the integrity of that system. His personal desires are second to his sense of honor. The butler Carson represents this same commitment to tradition on the other side of the house. Carson treasures his role and is fiercely loyal to the Crawley family. They both find significance in their roles, as does his mother Violet and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes.

Downton’s heir Matthew has made a place for himself in the modern world as a lawyer. He comes to Downton with prejudices toward the lifestyle of nobility. As he spends time learning about Downton from Robert, Matthew comes to appreciate Robert’s perspective. He is not won over by the philosophy of the peerage but by Robert’s grace and honor. Continue reading

Nov 11 2011

My favorite American movie veterans


Thank you to our veterans who are changed forever to preserve our freedoms. They go when they would rather stay home, they bear the marks of war on their bodies and their psyches. They are our friends and neighbors and our heroes. Here’s a list of my favorite veterans from some of our major wars.  Who are yours?

Benjamin Martin (The Patriot) – Revolutionary War. Brings not only his experience, but his wisdom and regrets to his second war. He won’t fight until it’s personal, leads reluctantly as a citizen soldier standing with his neighbors. It’s not about power.

54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.(Glory.) Civil War. A black regiment led by an idealistic white captain learn to put aside distractions and disagreements and focus on the cause. When one fell another took up the flag, a symbol of their determination to win freedom.

Sergeant York – World War I. Kinda hokey but I love this guy. He resists violence but he fights when his default setting is peace and love for his fellow man. Continue reading

Jul 7 2011

How I Am Second is sending me to the Cliffs of Insanity


Today I’m having a Princess Bride style argument with myself about “I am Second.” I admire the organization and appreciate what they are doing. I mean no offense, but I think their name should be “I am Third” instead of “I am Second.” If Jesus is first, shouldn’t others be second, and I be third?

But then, if I share this opinion on my blog, aren’t I, in practice, making myself second? If I was really third I would shut up and let I Am Second be second if they want to be second instead of pointing out that I think they should be called I Am Third. So they are probably right, my practical position is that I am second even though my philosophical position is that I am third.

I can’t help wondering what it would look like if I really decided to live like I am third.

Jun 24 2011

Bridesmaids is about women and emotions but it’s not a chick flick…and it’s really funny


Bridesmaids is a funny and somewhat crass look at friendship and competition among women involved in a wedding. Often a wedding party is made up of people who may not socialize together. When a group of women don’t know one another well but end up in an intimate social situation like a wedding insecurities are bound to surface. It’s already an emotionally charged event. I thought Bridesmaids was a refreshingly honest look at some of the ways weddings can heighten insecurities and make women crazy.

Lilian’s bridesmaids are Anne, her childhood friend, Helen, the wealthy wife of her fiancé’s boss, who has become a close friend, Becca, a newlywed co-worker, Megan, the groom’s sister, and Rita, Lillian’s cousin who is a dissatisfied wife and mother.The status of “best friend” changes over the years so when it comes time to choose the “maid of honor” one of the “best” friends is going to be hurt. Continue reading

Jun 12 2011

Mystery, perspective, and the root of bitterness in Super 8


SPOILER ALERT – This review contains spoilers.

STINGER ALERT – When you do see the movie stay until after the credits!

In Super 8 Abrams manages to tell an emotionally engaging story about his characters’ journeys without compromising on mystery, plot, or action. The mystery begins when a group of middle school students witness a train crash and find their science teacher in the wreckage with mysterious instructions for the group. It builds as two of the kids, Charles and Joe, actually watch what their dropped camera has caught on film.

Joe’s father, Deputy Jack Lamb wrestles with his own set of puzzling clues. There are mysterious power outages, all the town’s dogs run away, and then townspeople start disappearing. Meanwhile Jack and Joe are grieving the death of wife and mother and trying to establish some sort of working relationship without her. Continue reading

Jun 6 2011

Why The Tree of Life is a film but should have been a movie


The Tree of Life is a film, not a movie. Films make you work harder than movies. Some movies are also films. If it wins a Best Picture Oscar it’s usually a hybrid. Movies that aren’t films hardly ever win. Films win Oscars but not usually for Best Picture.

If the audience rating is high but critics hated it, it’s definitely a movie. If the critic rating is higher than the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes it might be a film.

If it’s a trivia question in a bar, it’s probably a movie. If it’s a trivia question on Jeopardy it might be a film.

If the wordless parts are car chases it’s a movie. If the wordless parts are ethereal looking women looking at trees, it might be a film.

Continue reading

Apr 20 2011

Celebrating Easter with 15 Moments of Redemption in Movies


Sometimes truth dawns slowly and change comes in fits and spurts. We begin thinking about eternity and seeking purpose. We recognize our baggage and want something better. We find ourselves inching toward truth in the choices we make and the causes we embrace. We want peace and reconciliation and community. While redemption happens in a moment of decision, the journey toward that decision and transformation that follows  is often a process.

Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction. Jules recognizes that redemptive forces are at work though he has not yet connected the dots. He finds himself longing to change his role from avenger to shepherd.   They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Rom 2:15

Charlie Babbitt – Rain Man. When Charlie realizes that Raymond is the secret friend, the “Rain Man” of his childhood, his self-centeredness and greed begins to break down. It’s not the moment of truth but the truth that leads to the moment.  Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Mark 12:34 Continue reading

Mar 25 2011

American Idol Judges Use Their Save on Casey Abrams



Casey Abrams, the American Idol contestant facing elimination starts to sing but the judges won’t even let him finish. Randy Jackson announces that they’ve decided to use their save. And Steven Tyler makes it clear that the judges clearly disagree with the nation’s vote. Casey’s bends over and looks like he’s going to pass out or throw up. Host Ryan Seacrest steadies him.

Casey finally gets himself together enough to rush to the judges table and say “Are you really? Why would you do this? I can’t believe it.”
“I thought that they wouldn’t use the save, because there’s 11 people,” explains the shocked Casey Abrams. The timing does seem wrong.  Using the save on this night changes the dynamic of the summer tour. They’ve never had a “Top 11.”

After Casey finishes his round of hugs and congratulations he stands before the judges again.

“We just want you to get back to being the musician that you are,” Jennifer Lopez tells him. “No more antics. You deserve to be here.”
Casey doesn’t fit the “Idol” image and up until this point he hasn’t really seemed to care. He’s done what he wanted to do. Former judge Simon Cowell might have called his last two performances “indulgent”  but current judge Steven Tyler compliments Casey on his “perfect pitch and …out of control ego.” Randy Jackson calls Casey “fearless.” Continue reading

Feb 27 2011

Sanctum was a beautiful mess


(Contains spoilers) I honestly would have liked Sanctum more if it had been a 3-D IMAX movie with trippy music and no dialog. I found the cave scenes and the 3-D effects riveting. Not so the story. The story is loosely based on a true event in a cave in Australia in 1988 in which everyone survives. Apparently for the filmmakers survival movie = lots of death and not too much survival.

Now I’m a fan of disaster and horror movies. Everyone knows at the start of the movie that out of the initial group of characters some of them are going to get killed along the way. One by one.  I wonder if Vegas runs a book on this sort of movie. Seems like there should be some sort of movie death pool where we can bet on the order and method in which characters in a movie are going to die. Continue reading

Feb 14 2011

Top 10 Favorite Romantic Comedies


My husband knows how lucky he is. I’d rather watch a mountain blow up than watch a relationship blow up. I’ll admit it. I haven’t seen Blue Valentine, Black Swan, or any of the Twilight Movies. Once in awhile a dramatic love story comes along that actually captivates me. Once in awhile a film captures a truth that makes me nod my head, maybe nudge my husband, and seriously examine my sense of romance. Most of the time, though, if I’m going to watch a love story I’d rather watch a romantic comedy. Continue reading

Jan 14 2011

The Themes of Pride and Humility in The King’s Speech


The King’s Speech affirms Proverbs 11:2 & 15:33 which say that “humility precedes honor.” With a king for a father and a name like Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor, Bertie has become accustomed to being treated with extreme deference. There are rules about how he is to be addressed, how far from him to stand, etc.  He is used to people adapting their schedules and practices to his expectations. He is firmly rooted in the pride of his position as Duke of Windsor, the Prince of his father King George V of Great Britain.

Royalty are usually trained to feel separate and above their subjects. One might expect that people who are in this sort of position of authority and power would have some trouble with pride. Yet submission seems to be a prerequisite to getting help, and Bertie needs help. Continue reading

Dec 28 2010

Pride and Temptation in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


I enjoyed the movie Voyage of the Dawn Treader for the story it told. Dawn Treader is my favorite of the Narnia books so, of course, I was disappointed when my favorite parts didn’t make the screen. I do understand that telling a story like this one on screen will look different than telling it as a written narrative. Making the story a quest for swords and a battle against a defined and visible evil made it an easier story to tell. However I do think the movie failed to give the audience enough credit.

Having to struggle with temptation, distinguish good from evil and admit our faults is something everyone faces. Some of the best movies I’ve seen deal with internal struggles like this. The characters’ internal struggles with pride were evident enough without using green smoke as a visual cue for temptation and evil. It would be nice if green smoke showed up so we could know that evil is in the process of tempting or deceiving us. But we don’t. We face struggles without visual cues. We take internal voyages toward internal change and personal resolution. This is really the heart of the book and the place where I think the movie missed its mark. Continue reading

Nov 19 2010

Pride in Harry Potter


From the first movie pride has been an underlying theme in the Harry Potter story. It’s an undercurrent in the personalities of many of the characters. The stories have bit by bit eliminated fate, accomplishments, talent, position, heritage, or associations as means for judging personal worth.

Throughout the series Harry’s mentors have been taken away and now he’s reached a point of self-reliance. The prophecy that names Harry as Voldemort’s nemesis puts him in a unique position in the wizarding world. Harry fears for the safety of those who associate with him so he distances himself from others. Harry’s sense of being uniquely fated for his task makes him feel separate. Because of his connection with Voldemort, Harry is vulnerable to the self-absorbed egocentrism that defines Voldemort himself. Harry fights hard to pull out of himself and engage with other people, to appreciate other’s contributions and talents so that he’s not so into himself.

Hermione Granger seldom admits when she is wrong. While her advice and conclusions are often right on the money, her intellectual arrogance tends to annoy even her friends. Because her parents are Muggles Hermione may feel she has more to prove. She manifests an attitude we see in many bright and talented people: an assumption that her giftedness makes her contributions more important than those of others. Continue reading

Oct 15 2010

The Social Network and the Seven Deadly Sins


The Social Network touches on just about every one of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, and revenge, with a little lust, gluttony and sloth thrown in for good measure. Like any good fable it serves up some pretty obvious morals about relationships and business.

1. Hell hath no fury like a lustful hacker scorned.
2. Envy makes it easier to justify less than ethical behavior (Note to self: write down and date the details of the idea, make sure a non-compete is signed before revealing the details, and invite the tech guy all the way into the club or meet somewhere else.)
3. Hubris makes communication and conflict resolution nearly impossible. In the scene between the Winklevoss twins and the Dean, hubris oozes from both sides of the desk. Continue reading

Sep 28 2010

Get Low is a Fable About Forgiveness and Atonement


Felix Bush is the subject of myth and legend in 1930’s rural Tennessee. Few know his real story. Felix has spent forty years of his life as an isolated hermit in a self-imposed penance for some mysterious long-ago sin. Felix becomes troubled by  dreams and visions from his past. The inevitability of death  is punctuated when he learns that one of his contemporaries has died.

Felix recognizes it may soon be his time to “Get Low” and decides to have a funeral party for himself while he is still alive. He goes to the local minister who turns him down because he refuses to repent to God. Felix initially rejects the idea put forth by Rev. Horton that “Forgiveness is free but you do have to ask for it.” Continue reading

Sep 8 2010

Football Movies – Some Lessons About Character, Vice, and Virtue

Last Saturday when I sat down to watch my Texas Longhorns the sports pundits said that they expected more of a running game since they would need to adjust their game to match their new talent. I groaned. I love the thrill of seeing the football hurtling down the field to a receiver who catches it and runs it for a long gain.

But that’s not what happens in real life. In real life we inch forward, lose ground, and sustain hits that knock us down. In most football movies the struggle on the field, that tedious inch-by-inch progress punctuated by blocks and tackles, unjust calls and rookie mistakes is a metaphor for the way life usually works. Sure football movies are full of clichés, but the stories they tell can serve as reminders of how often our attitudes thwart our relationships and our forward progress.

Any Given Sunday – In the half-time pep talk Coach D’Amato says that, “the inches we need are everywhere. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch.” Life events come at us from every direction and sometimes seem to conspire to lay us flat. I can figure I’m just a victim of fate and envy the lucky ones; or I can learn some patience, figure out the holes in the line and rejoice in progress by inches. Continue reading