Jojo Rabbit

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There’s a very poetic scene near the end of Jojo Rabbit in which men, women and children are charging blindly towards certain doom. The camera slows down time, capturing these figures in all their pitiful foolishness. Here they are, the self proclaimed master race, dying for a cause that’s not only evil, but stupid. Perhaps they deserved it. Jojo Rabbit makes fun of Nazis by painting them as buffoons, but it also humanizes them as creatures to feel sorry for.

The friendship that Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) eventually build is based off an understanding of one another as God’s fellow creatures, united not as much in what they have but in what they’ve lost. There’s a beautiful scene in which the two kids stare out the window, the night sky tinted by explosions, and discuss their pain. It has taken time and effort to arrive at this point; Jojo and Elsa had to go through many misunderstandings, but finally, in their darkest hour, they found the solace of each other’s company.

The message “we’re all human, so be kind to one another” is far too simplistic, reducing people’s experiences to mere hurdles that can be easily overcome with enough love. Thankfully that’s not what Jojo Rabbit does. While certainly both human beings, Jojo and Elsa are quite different from each other. By the end of the film their differences haven’t vanished, and they’re both their own person. They did not learn to look past each other’s backgrounds, but came to love them.

Jesus Christ famously cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’ve done” as Romans drove nails through his limbs. It’s a nonsensical response to a heinous act until you realize it was based on love. Jojo Rabbit invites us to look at our enemies, yes, even the Nazis, with love. For they know not what they do. But what if they do know exactly what they do, and just don’t care? Dear reader, I dare say we love still.

Jojo Rabbit had me sobbing my eyes out because I remembered how tough it is to love our neighbor, and what a rotten, dirty, unjust world we live in. It also filled my heart with so much joy because there are things that can make everything so much bearable. Small things, like looking into the eyes of the ones you love and dancing.

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Memorable Moments 2019

The following is a list of movie sequences, scenes, and moments that percolated in my mind long after the credits rolled. In no particular order:

 

VICE – We live in confusing times

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Vice lays out its thesis with enormous clarity in its opening minutes. We are all slaves to a system of governance that is sick and broken, and we are the only ones capable of doing anything about it. But we won’t because our jobs exhaust us, our bills stress us out, and it’s easier to chill with Netflix than to engage with our putrid reality.

 

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) – Lunch

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A father sits across the table from his son, and they try to converse. But the father is too blinded by selfishness and delusion to truly connect with his son. The son knows this, and still he powers ahead, trying to make his dad notice him, be proud of him. It’s an extraordinarily moving moment in a film that zeroes in on father-children relationships like very few in recent memory. 

MIDSOMMAR – Intro

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This is the second year in a row a scene from Ari Aster shakes my very bones. Not even 10 minutes in and we are introduced, in a chilling way, to our heroine and the scars she’ll wear for the next two hours. Not only does the scene set the stage for the nightmare ahead, but it dives head on to the themes of loss and grief that the film explores, to varying effect.

JOKER – The Murray Show

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The most celebrated comic book villain of all time has always existed within the realm of fiction. Even Heath Ledger’s personification of the character in The Dark Knight did not step out of the screen into our real. Not so with this joker. The scene at the late night show, in which he comes clean to his sins, is chilling because you see this villain, for the first time, as existing in this very moment, perhaps somewhere close to you. It is a picture for our troubled times.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS – KITCHEN LETTERS 

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As aching, beautiful, and tender as cinema can get. Already wrote about this moment in my initial review, but it is worth mentioning again. A treatise on motherhood, singleness and loneliness that spans but a few minutes, this scene is one of the finest in years.

THE RETURN OF THE KING – DO YOU REMEMBER THE SHIRE, MR FRODO?

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Boasting an amount of gravitas that modern blockbusters can only fantasize about, the heroism of the hobbits Sam and Frodo is moving. In this moment, at the end of all things, it reaches its apex when a weary Sam literally carries a moribund Frodo on his back, on their way to a mountain of fire that may very well mean their doom. There’s a couple other sequences from this trilogy that could have made this cut, but I settled on this one since it concludes the story on an uplifting note. 

INCEPTION – GROW OLD TOGETHER

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“I miss you more than I can bear, but I have to let you go”. 

VOX LUX – AMBULANCE RIDE

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Vox Lux begins with a student walking into his classroom, taking out a shotgun and shooting all his classmates. One of the students is put into an ambulance, and for the next five minutes (I timed it) the camera stays there. It shifts from an exterior to an interior shot, the camera swirling around the vehicle, capturing the highways, the vegetation next to it. Then it captures the young victim, as the first responders attempt to keep her alive. Meanwhile, Scott Walker’s mournful score plays over all. 

THE DEATH OF STALIN – I HAVE PAPERS ON ALL OF YOU

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Were this not played for laughs, a sharp satire shining a light on the events occurring immediately after Stalin’s death in Soviet Russia, it all might be too horrific. It’s more bearable and entertaining this way, since we get to mock the disgusting human beings who were in power then, without having their atrocities in the foreground. But then there’s this scene, in which one of the leaders confronts the rest of the committee with all the nasty things everyone else has done. There’s still some jokes here and there, but you cannot help but be in awe at the lengths our species will go to for power’s sake. 

THE LAUNDROMAT – PRAYER OF DELIVERANCE

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I think most genuine believers, at one time or another, have prayed or will pray a supplication similar to the one delivered by Meryl Streep here, as she sits in a church pew. This moment only works because of what precedes it: 2 wealthy bankers say that the prayers of the rich and powerful are monetary contributions to political campaigns. Only suckers, and the rest of us, attend church to make our prayers. And right now our prayers aren’t being heard. Or they are being answered in a way not of our liking. Whatever the case, please God, deliver your perfect justice. Amen. 

Requiem for a Dream

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This is where I confess to a shameful, possibly sinful question that pops into my head every now and then: if my heart can shatter over the pain of people I’ve never even met, why is God, who knows them intimately and loves them deeply, so indifferent to their plight? Going one step further, and making it about myself, why is God so quiet about my own hurts? If a broken, weak, sinful creature like myself can feel empathy over my own agonies, shouldn’t my Father who is in heaven be compelled to provide some sort of comfort and relief?

Requiem for a Dream is a gut wrenching, agonizingly brutal piece of cinema. Of the 1,150 movies I’ve seen since 2013, few have come close to the traumatizing effect this has on the soul. Indeed, so unrelenting is the pain it features that at one point I thought I was going to puke. In another, I actually lifted my voice up to the heavens and asked God to stop it all.

When are you going to come back, Lord? When will you make creation anew, and put everything in its right place? When will you wipe away all of our tears? Are you seeing this? Are you!? Sin is eating away all that is good in the world, sin is obliterating the natural order, sin is making us sad. Please God, do not delay any longer! Come, come and make things right!

But it is my duty as a new creature in Christ not only to pray for the salvation of His people, but to obey the command to go out into the world and preach the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ to every living creature. There’s few films that elucidate that truth, and spur the soul towards that mission as masterfully as Requiem for a Dream. If your church wants to make missionaries of people, show them this film. If you think that people in America have it easy and don’t require to hear the good news, watch this movie.

I’m currently reading a book on four differing views on hell-conditional, literal, metaphorical and purgatorial. There’s intriguing insights into all four. But I think I have my own answer. Requiem for a Dream provides the clearest vision of hell I have ever seen. Hell is a life lived far away from the presence of God, and all the soul crushing realities of attempting to fulfill out your dreams on your own strength.

So, now that I’ve said all that, how do I answer the questions that opened up this post? I’d love to say that after experiencing the harrowing journey of Requiem for a Dream I’d have an answer. The truth is I don’t. I still struggle with the pain of children in the face of a good Father. It continues to hurt. This is what I remind my spirit: be of good cheer, for Christ has overcome the world. It’s fine if I don’t have all the answers, so keep trusting, dragging yourself if you have to, in the one who knows everything.

A+