Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Female Trouble (1974)
This afternoon I was watching a rerun of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on PBS and thinking about watching some of John Waters' film Female Trouble, and it occurred to me that both shows were very wholesome, at least for me, and that I should post an explanation of why I think they are. Of course the two shows are a lot different, but here's my explanation of why they're both so good and wholesome.
Mr. Rogers is wholesome because of the support he gives to children. I remember hearing an interview of his widow, who talked about how after his death, she'd heard from a woman who said he probably saved her life when she was a child. She was abused, but every day she'd watch Mr. Rogers on TV, and he'd tell her she was good. That enabled her to move on and not become a hater, drug addict, and such like. So one way to put that is to say that this show enabled children to deal with traumas they had experienced or might be in danger of experiencing. Mr. Rogers was a real friend to children whom he never met because of the gentle way he talked about life and the various things children would see and deal with.
For me, Female Trouble's wholesomeness is different. I say "for me," because I don't know if it's necessarily wholesome for everybody. Not everybody can profit from every movie. Movies are too diverse for that. But I think it's wholesome for me in a way that's quite different from Mr. Rogers. Of course I'm an adult, and this is a thing that's specifically for adults, as I understand it. We have experienced a lot of pain in our lives by the time we reach adulthood, and Female Trouble provides a sort of relief from it. Maybe especially if we aren't the "winners" in the world. Not the people who got the girls, were the football stars in high school, and such like. Maybe because on some level, a person who hasn't been a "winner" identifies with Dawn. She's definitely a loser who thinks of herself as a winner, and we can laugh at that, but it also means laughing at the "shams" of the world at the same time. At the same time we laugh at her delusions, we laugh at the ridiculousness of anyone trying to get famous.
I do think Dawn is the "hero" of the movie in a odd way, because at least she's always true to her ideals. She always tells the truth, however twisted it may be. And actually, I find the scene in the prison strangely dramatic and sad. Especially at the beginning. You expect it to be silly like most of the rest of the film, but I think Waters wanted to project a real sense of pathos there. It's not just funny. It's true that the scene where Dawn gives her speech on the electric chair is funny, but the one where she's in the cell with the other two inmates has a strangely dramatic quality to it, even while Dawn acts silly. It brings me to tears sometimes.
Another reason the movie is a relief from the pain of the real world is that while lots of awful things happen in it, they're so exaggerated, so "over the top," that they don't seem real. When Dawn strangles her daughter Taffy, you can laugh at it, because it doesn't seem real. The very idea that she'd be upset because Taffy joined the Hare Krishnas doesn't make a lot of sense, like a number of other things in the film. So the violence in the movie doesn't "desensitize" you to real violence, because it doesn't seem real.
So to summarize my point, Mr. Rogers is wholesome for people who are just beginning to deal with the world, and Female Trouble is wholesome for some of us adults who have lived in it and need relief from its pain. Now, in saying these things, I'm not implying that Waters was trying to make an "edifying" film when he made Female Trouble. He was trying to make one that is fun. Fortunately, what was fun for him and the actors is also a lot of fun for us, and "wholesome" in the way I explained.
The God Who Wasn't There (2005)
Pretty sloppy scholarship
Like Michael Moore's films, this film makes some good points. I agree with the point one speaker in the film made about the dangers of people expecting an imminent "rapture" making policy decisions for our society. However, I think there is a serious problem with Flemming's basic thesis. His research was sloppy, and I wonder if some of the "talking head" experts will be a bit embarrassed when they see the finished film.
I don't think there's much plausibility in the idea that Jesus is completely fictional, and the reason comes from, not a strength of the Bible as history, but really from a weakness. This is particularly the narratives of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke. The striking thing about them is that they really only agree on three points: Jesus was born in Bethlehem; he grew up in Nazareth; and he had parents named Mary and Joseph. Otherwise, their accounts are completely different and, I think, irreconcilable.
Also, the Gospel of John provides some important testimony. You might remember that early in the book, when Jesus is just starting his ministry, someone asks, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (1:46). Later, in John 7:52, someone objects, "Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee" (where Nazareth is--see also 7:41-42). Now the point is that in John, Jesus never contradicts those who say he can't be the Messiah because he's not from Bethlehem. If you read chapter 8:21-23 in context with these other statements, it's pretty clear that Jesus implies that it doesn't matter where he was born on earth: he comes from God, not from the earth. So it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the author of John was very doubtful about Jesus having been born in Bethlehem.
Now, to bring this to a conclusion, what does that show? Well, it's clear that some early Christians did want to believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem, because of the prophecy in Micah 5:2. The best way to understand the narratives in Matthew and Luke is as attempts to find some way of reconciling what we could call "the mythical Jesus" or "Jesus of faith" (born in Bethlehem) with the "Jesus of history" ("Jesus of Nazareth"). Now, of course that also means there must really have been a Jesus of Nazareth. If he were a purely fictional character, the stories would just have said he was born in Bethlehem, and that would be the end of the matter.
I realize that the mere historicity of Jesus of Nazareth doesn't go too far in proving God or Christianity, but it is worth recognizing.
One other small point: Fleming quotes Paul as having said in Hebrews 8:4 that Jesus was "not a priest on earth." For one thing, that is really taking the verse out of context, because the writer is speaking of the "exalted Jesus" there, the Jesus who has ascended to the Father, not Jesus during his earthly ministry. Also, most scholars don't even believe Hebrews is by Paul, so I think Fleming would do well to do a bit more careful research.
21 Grams (2003)
Deeply compassionate view of human life
If you only watch movies for entertainment, this is clearly not for you. But if you want to deal with the human condition, it is. I had to see it twice to appreciate it completely, and of course it takes some endurance to do so. It had me bawling for days.
I think Guillermo Arriaga intended some very deep symbolism here. Sean Penn's character appears to be a "Christ figure" in the movie. Towards the end, he grabs a gun and shoots himself while Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro are fighting on the other side of the room. If he had done what we would normally expect and shot Benicio del Toro, the signs of reconciliation that we can detect near the end of the movie would not have been possible. He and Christina (Naomi Watts) would have spent the rest of the film running from the law or otherwise trying to hide the fact that they'd killed him, and, I suppose, justifying the act to themselves because "he deserved it." But as it is, there is room for reconciliation at the end because of what Sean Penn does.
I'll admit that my idea that there's reconciliation might seem doubtful to some of you. The reason I think there's a bit of reconciliation is that in one of the very last shots of the film, while the narrative voice-over is on, you see Christina turn to Benicio del Toro while he speaks to her. I think that in a film like this, written by someone like Arriaga, there is reason to read even small details like that in such an optimistic way. And actually, because the film is giving us what we could call a "God's-eye view" of these people's lives, the exact degree of Christina's reconciliation with Benicio del Toro's character is not that important. What is important is that Arriaga has shown us there is potential for reconciliation.
And as you might guess, I interpret Christina's pregnancy at the end as being a sort of resurrection. She lost her family, and Sean Penn's love has given her another one. At the very end, you see her in her daughters' bedroom, cradling her pregnant abdomen and holding one of her daughter's stuffed animals. Earlier in the film, she had said she could not bear to step into their room.
I also wonder if Arriaga intended Penn's wife to be a sort of representation of Law, given that she's always trying to "manage" his life and get him to do sensible things like not smoking. Much of what she demands seems sensible, but in the context of his life, it doesn't seem to work. And you might notice that later, when he attempts to get Christina to stop using drugs, he is more understanding of her position than his wife had been of his. What finally gets her to stop using drugs (I assume) is the new life he has given her, rather than someone browbeating her.
Another real powerful character in the movie that might seem rather minor is Christina's drug dealer in the bar. The actress, whose name I couldn't identify because IMDb's page doesn't seem to identify her as a drug dealer, did a real good job of depicting that sort of role and its place in the life of someone like Christina. I think it's also interesting to notice that Christina does not disclose any of her sorrow when talking to her. She can just smile and nod affirmatively when she asks if she "married that hunk" and whether he's "a good lay." This is a purely commercial relationship, so Christina feels no need to disclose her inner life.
Some of you might be thinking, "you're ruining the movie for me," but this film is so hard to watch that if you don't think there's going to be something of a "happy ending," be it ever so tentative, you might not be able to get through it. And of course I understand if you decide it's not for you after watching a few minutes of it. It is real tough to watch.