Friday, January 15, 2010

Catching up on movies

hey everyone, back to busyness the past couple of days. After a slow December it's seemed as if everyone's come out of the woodwork this month. Figured I should try and catch up with the past weeks worth of movies so that I don't fall any further behind than I already am.

This week I'm going to try and catch up with The Road. I've heard plenty of mixed reactions about the film over the past couple of months and as I've heard people comment on similarities or the lack thereof between The Book of Eli and The Road, I think it's important that I make sure that I've seen both of them.

Also, the discount theater added Ninja Assassin and 2012 to the lineup this week. Ang and I will try and catch a double feature at some point. I'm not sure whether I'm going to try and log 365 movies this year, but I think there's a chance that between festivals and weekend double features we could do it. The only reason I'm curious at all is that I've never sat down and calculated how many films I watch in a year. I'm looking forward to seeing what the final tally is.

It's interesting that movies 6-8 were all shot in New Mexico over the past few years. There are still days where I wonder whether I should have moved to Albuquerque to try and get into film work. That said, I think Austin is where we're supposed to be and aside from the movie work, there's nothing that would ever make me want to live in Albuquerque over the ATX. (addendum to that: I do remember there being a pretty kick-ass poster store in Albuquerque. Hundreds and hundreds of one sheets and press kits were crammed into this small storefront off of the college drag. I wasn't collecting posters at the time so I didn't buy anything but it was mesmerizing. It's one small leg up on Austin but it's not enough to be the siren that drags me to ABQ)

Ok, without further adieu, movie 6 of 2010...

The Men Who Stare At Goats

I started to write this up last Friday. I've gone back and edited it tonight and tried to form it into something cohesive. Apologies for the length.

Did everyone have a great today? Don't be too quick to respond. I know there are at least a few people out there reading. Thanks. I know that I've been gone for quite some time. But, I’ve consistently posted for the last week so hopefully I can keep this up. We have kind of a significant milestone tonight. After 8 years and many hiatuses I'm finally typing my 500th post.

Tonight we went and had dinner with some friends at Chuy's. Every year, the restaurant (and our favorite Tex-Mex place) celebrate's his birthday. Go in as Priscilla or Elvis and you eat for free. It was fun. Post dinner they give everyone a twinkie.

Afterwards we wandered up towards the discount theater in Round Rock so that we could see The Men Who Stare At Goats. I was excited to see it showing up at the Round Rock 8 today. I had really hoped to have seen the film earlier this year but missed out during the two opportunities we’d had. The first miss happened during Fantastic Fest. Ang and I didn't have VIP passes and it was shown during one of the screenings most easily attended by being a VIP. The second time was a preview screening some film blogger friends helped put on. (That night also happened to be the night of the Fort Hood shooting. Ang and I got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams on the way down to the theater and ended up listening to radio coverage of the tragedy. By the time we got to the theater (an hour later) there was no chance that we were actually going to make it into see the film. Instead, we wandered off to the Screaming Goat (ironic in light of the fact that (spoilers ahead) the goats in the movie have been de-vocalized) where we stumbled upon their trivia night and took 2nd place.)

As we were driving home from the movie I was thinking about contrasting Goats with 1999's Three Kings. I thought about trying to find something poignant about how each of the two movies looks back at their preceding decade and their own Iraqs and Kuwaits. But after thinking about it, I think I want to take another another tack.

The movie is a semi-true, farcical tale about a group of soldiers who were rounded up to try and form the nations first group of super-powered soldiers. Soldiers that could truly 'be all that they could be'. It hops between the founding of the battalion through it's dissolution combined with a modern (fictional) story that takes place sometime in the first couple years of the current Iraq war. I haven't read the book or seen the original British documentary (I know the documentary is online.) But I knew going in that it was oddly true... or at least that there were semi-factual elements in it.

After Chuy's tonight we hit the bookstore to kill some time. At one point my friend mentioned to his wife and I that they had some Benny Hinn books. I've always had some sort of weird fascination with Hinn. In the aforementioned group of friends there's always been a running joke about me starting a rockabilly band called the Benny Hinn Experience. All of the members of the band would wear white suits with big silver pompadours and during musical interludes we'd slay people in the spirit.

Before I had an ironic appreciation for Hinn though I was really kind of into him. There was a period in a youth group where Hinn's "Good Morning Holy Spirit" was a really big deal. There was a certain zeal amongst the teenagers that we could be ‘special’... something I think every teenager who’s trying to sort their lives out wants. Hinn’s book delivered on that in spades. Telling the story of how he originally received the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ it’s sort of a thrilling read for a clueless kid. Imagine reading a book that claims to be the cardinal truth, that seems to jibe with what you’ve been taught in the church you’ve grown up in and that seems to promise you all sorts of wonderful things that God can do ‘through you’. It’s kind of addicting.

That addiction spread. Through other circumstances and a general desire for ‘revival’ the choir and youth group focused more and more on prayer time and trying to receive the spiritual gifts. While I believe in scripture and believe that it’s inspired and believe what’s written about the various gifts there was something unhealthy about what the youth group wanted. But what we wanted was what the Men who Stare At Goats wanted. We, in a way, wanted super powers. We would have claimed that these things were from God if they actually happened, but I think deep down we would have found validation in it. Look at what ‘I’ was able to do! For about a year it seemed to become a sort of singular focus.

Each week, often instead of singing, the choir would gather and we’d pray for anointings, we'd have nights where we'd lay hands on people and while speaking in tongues ask God to 'slay them in the spirit'. One night, during one of these ‘choir rehearsals’, I got into a line of people that were being prayed over. When I got to the front of the line, one of the leaders put her hand on my head and started speaking in tongues. I wasn't feeling anything. After another minute I started to feel the leader pressing on my head as if she wanted me to go down. I wasn't feeling anything. I wanted SO BAD to feel the Holy Spirit knock me down but I was very aware of the fact that there was a distinct lack of anything supernatural happening. I pondered whether or not I should just walk away and whether I would be castigated for walking out of the room. Eventually, after another minute or so and more pressing, they gave up and I did walk away.

During these times of prayer I'd end up practicing trying to hear the 'still small voice' while we were praying. I'd almost will bible verses to come into my head and see if they were prophetic messages. A good deal of the time the verse and chapter didn't exist at all.

The Men Who Stare at Goats wanted something. They wanted to feel special. They wanted to develop their powers for good.

Did I mention that this was a Lutheran church?

It wasn't too long after these various evenings that I wandered away from the choir. Honestly, it wasn't just the prayer nights. I had a roiling soul. Battling depression amongst other things, I just never really felt like I fit in. I was neither popular or completely unpopular. Looking back now I had more friends than I ever thought I did, but it never really felt like I had many. I mostly wandered away because I was sick of feeling different. My theology started to diverge from the rest of the youth group, though I don't think my hope that there was a Holy Spirit that could do miraculous things ever went away. It just grew more jaded. Many of my friends from that choir eventually stepped away from the church. I don't blame them. There were all sorts of weird things that went on, but for whatever reason I never lost my faith. I've experienced too many weird things that I can't attribute to anything but some sort of a God and so I go on believing, but maybe my history makes me more sympathetic to the idea that some soldiers could get the idea that they want to figure out how to develop superpowers.

So having been through that, I could oddly relate to the idea that there were people who REALLY truly believed that they could try and tap into something beyond themselves. They thought they’d find their answers outside the church in the eastern philosophies and the hippy tropes, but the universal feeling of wanting to tap into something bigger than who they were to transform themselves and their world was teh same.

The main narrator of the movie takes an almost inverse character arc. He goes from being the jaded and cynical journalist to believing in it himself. He's a bit of a doubting Thomas, not able to put any stock into what the people around him are saying until he's able to experience them for himself. He's quite the empiricist. I think we're all empirical to some degree. We're able to have faith in something but we always have the desire to find some empirical knowledge that would prove that it's true.

I wanted the same thing. I wanted to believe and did believe to a certain degree, but I really wanted to have that experiential moment where I could absolutely know that it was true because IT (whatever ‘it’ happened to be) had been done or been done through me.

There was an interesting sermon I read recently from a pastor/novelist/philosopher named Frederick Buechner. He sort of covered some of the same territory. While he's talking about our desire for proof that God is there. I think it applies to this story as well… the hope for there to be something more than just our corporeal existence.

"If God really exists, why in Heaven's name does God not prove that he exists instead of leaving us here in our terrible uncertainty? Why does he not show his face so that at last, a despairing world can have hope? At one time or another, everyone asks such a question. In some objectifiably verifiable and convincing way, we want God himself to demonstrate his own existence. Deep in our hearts, I suspect that this is what all of us want, unbelievers no less than believers. And I have wondered sometimes what would happen if God were to do just that...

...We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof that we tend to want---scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all----would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all. For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God's existence that we want but, whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle that we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get...

...God speaks to us, I would say, much more often than we realize or than we choose to realize...His message is not written out in starlight, which in the long run would make no difference; rather it is written out for each of us in the humdrum, helter-skelter events of each day; it is a message that in the long run might make all the difference...

...But I believe that there are some things that by and large, God is always saying to each of us. Each of us, for instance, carries around inside himself, I believe, a certain emptiness--a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside his skin. Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself, especially no one of our age, which has been variously termed the age of anxiety, the lost generation, the beat generation, the lonely crowd. Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God's voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly in his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.

...These words that God speaks into our own lives are the real miracles. They are not miracles that create faith as we might think that a message in the stars would create faith, but they are miracles that it takes faith to see--faith in the sense of openness, faith in the sense of willingness to wait, to watch, to listen, for the incredible presence of God here in the world among us."

excerpts from "message in the stars" by frederick buechner

Anyway, I know the movie wasn’t particularly theologically deep, but it made me think of all of that old junk. Knowing that there were factual elements I was quite surprised after the movie to hear from one of my car-ride companions that they found the idea implausible, almost to the point of complete incredulity. I guess I was a little surprised. It wasn’t enough to take me at my word that I’d read about some of the various events. The person didn’t think that rational army people would ever do something so seemingly irrational... I've known this person for quite a while but i guess we’ve never really discussed anything of a similar vein. I had projected my beliefs and assumptions on to them whether that was a belief or not.

I guess, having lived through the youth group, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that, yes, there were people out there who would do something irrational in the hope that it was entirely rational and that people just hadn’t discovered quite how rational it was.

I’m probably being too introspective about the movie. It’s a pretty light comedy really. But maybe it hit me because as much as I’ve changed and grown up over the 16 years since those original youth group events transpired, there’s still a part of me that wants to stare at my own goats and see if I (God) can make something happen.

Ok. that went much longer than I thought it would. Reviews of 7-9 will have to get bumped to the next post. More in a few.

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