The Devil’s Candy

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The Devil’s Candy is a maniacally disturbing horror movie in which the devil is literally in the details. An art gallery by the name of Belial, a t-shirt that reads “Master of Puppets”, a hostess in a smoking skin tight red dress.
By placing the action in an environment in which the demon seems to have total dominion over, the proceedings feel disturbing as hell up until the very last shot, in which the skies clear, light shines and Satan appears to retreat, at least until next time.

B+

Munich

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The tragedy of Steven Spielberg’s masterful Munich resides in the hearts of men. A Jew and a Palestinian are arguing about the necessity of armed conflict between its people in order for goodness to come out of it, when the Palestinian declares something along the lines of “In the end, it will all work out. It took Jews thousands of years to get a home, it will be the same for Palestine.” Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) shoots down his reasoning.

Later in the movie, before Avner and his crew embark on a train ride to Holland, Avner turns to one of his men, who is displaying increasing signs of reluctance at all the killings they are doing, and says “Eventually, it will all end. What we are doing will be worth it.” But it is not only that Avner has turned into a version of the Palestinians he’s fighting against, or that the Palestinians have turned into the Jews they try to emancipate from; that would be too shallow a read, and Spielberg is too much a genius to leave it at that. The scene displays the incapacity for empathy that characters in the movie possess.

During the opening sequence, there is a perfect cut which delineates this idea. When the news broadcasts that all the Israeli hostages are alive, the action moves to the wives and families of the athletes, cheering with relief; the action then moves to a living room where the wives and families of the terrorists are gathered, which mourn the death of their loved ones once the news broadcast the death of all of them.

“This is what’s missing in the world”, Steven Spielberg tells us in that brief scene. “There is no peace at the end of this because the human heart doesn’t cut back and forth between both sides and realize that all of us weep”

A+

Prometheus

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Two of the classes I’m taking this semester overlap in such a way that I am regularly forced to ask myself the question that weighs heavily on the mind of the Prometheus’s crew: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Anthropology posits that humanity evolved, throughout millions of years, from the proverbial ape, animals which in turned evolved from lesser creatures, and so on and so forth.
Philosophy, on the other hand, asks us to examine the cosmos. The flawless order of the universe, along with the intricate and meticulous working of the human body, demands for there to be a Creator.

In Prometheus, the ones who made us turn out to be the ones who also wish to destroy us. Reasons abound as to why. And yet, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) demands more. Nay, she says she deserves to know the origin of all things. The beauty lies in that she voices this statement to an android, a man-made creature that seems perfectly content with living out his destiny instead of asking questions in regard to it.
Twenty minutes into the movie somebody says that since the beginning of time human civilizations functioned under the idea that they are simply creation, and they seek to communicate with their Creator.

Is it the same today? Do we also feel as if we deserve to know everything simply because we are so very smart and enlightened? Do we also consider the Creator in human terms, and forget that if there is one, He must surely not abide by our puny rules and expectations?
In Prometheus, the crew gets the surprise of their lifetime when, upon finally encountering a creator, he starts to butcher them. In our case, will there be more of the former, the latter, or neither?

B

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore.

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I am reading over the book of Ecclesiastes and naturally some of the thoughts that arise due to its content is my place on this world. Everything is meaningless, the Teacher writes over and over again.

That belief plays out in this movie. It is truly a despairing sight, because if everybody is an asshole, and trying to make things better might get you killed, what is the point of it all?

The Teacher reasons that the only way for us to continue wanting to live in this world is to lift up our eyes; to place our hope not on the ruin of the planet, but on the One who will one day come to save it.
Notice the song that plays during the last moments of this movie, and the image of Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) sitting at church, and you’ll find yourself surprised how I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore seems to agree with the Teacher.

B

Silence

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Faith is nonsensical. In a world guided by reason it makes sense for faith to be dismissed as illogical and pointless. What this dismissal fails to take into consideration however, is that faith is placed on One who is much higher than any of us. God is not governed by our reason or our logic; trying to comprehend His thinking in human terms is futile, since we cannot even begin to grasp the vastness of His knowledge. Were we aware of this, were somehow humans made privy to God’s mind, He would not truly be infinite. And if God is not infinite, then He is no God.
This turns every discussion arguing in favor or against the existence of God pointless, as it consists of humans, who are nothing but dust in the wind in a tiny drop on the gargantuan canvas of the universe, trying to use human logic to prove something that is irrational. Which faith, as mentioned at the start of this piece, is. Yet having faith does not mean one will relinquish the human capacity for discernment and reason and become a creature of the absurd. Believers may walk in faith, they may even live by faith, but that does not mean common sense is now as foreign to them as faith is to non believers. Human intellect and curiosity are after all part of the natural order that God set on this world.

A crisis of faith then, can best be described as a clash between the logical and the illogical, between human’s innate desire for answers and the choice we made to believe in someone who owes us none and has them all.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which is the most important film I will ever see, tackles said dilemma in a manner that transcends cinema and turns it into something akin to the miraculous. It has crossed my mind on several occasions now that it would be unfair of me to compare it to other movies, or even to say whether it’s good or bad, since Silence works best not as a motion picture but as a document that believers should be required to have, next to their copies of the Bible.
Such necessity stems from the fact that in the four years since I professed faith in God I have been plagued by doubts that Silence explores, and if my conversion is genuine I don’t see why other believers will not have had, or will have, experienced the same.

The declaration I made once upon a time that I would be in constant communication with GodĀ  has been proven false. The ground for such statement was that, since I knew how much I loved God and He knew as much, any obstacle that could come between us would ultimately be obsolete.
But has it been proven false by the inexorable disenchantment of life or by myself? I know I’ve sinned, so is He punishing me by keeping silent? I also know I have repented and am forgiven, and that His love and mercy far outweigh my many failings, so is His silence evidence that my faith is not strong enough? Or perhaps, at this juncture in my life His silence is a test to gauge whether or not I have matured from the man I was four years ago? This unparalleled frustration may lead to doubt, which may lead to sin, which in turn may culminate in numbness at His silence. What are believers to do at such despair?

The only concrete answer Silence provides comes during an exchange between a soon to be martyr and his confessor. “My faith is not strong, but I have so much love for God”, the martyr says. “Is that good enough?”.
As I write this, still shaken to my core pondering on Silence from its first to last frame, I wonder if that brief exchange carried a monumental truth that I needed to hear. When faith flounders, love should thrive. Punishingly torturous as sitting through it was, Silence was also rewarding in that it allowed me to examine the current state of my faith under a different light. I may still cringe at the thought of receiving no answer from Him, but I find encouragement amidst the vacuum. I love Him, and He loves me. And if love is not enough, then no amount of noise in the world can be either.

A+

Favorite Films 2016

I don’t take it as coincidence that the final film I watched this year had a character proclaim that “there is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.”
I don’t take this as coincidence because the recurring theme for most of the 133 movies I watched in 2016, either above or below the surface, was a case arguing for the nonexistence of God.
In a year in which madness ruled the world and chaos abounds globally in earth changing events, but also personally with people seeking a way out of their loneliness and giving in to temptation, I used movies to inform me about such sad state of affairs.
From the unparalleled greed found in comedy War Dogs, to the existential despair of the gorgeous Knight of Cups, I saw God in everything. Or rather, I noticed the urgent need for Him. I noticed the need for Him in the sickening sequences of carnage of Hacksaw Ridge and in humanity’s innate inability to communicate with each other in Arrival. I understood that the only sane way to live in an insane world is for everybody else to think you are insane because you follow not in everybody else’s path, but in obedience to the Lord.
But as Sausage Party so bluntly put it, how do you know it’s obedience or just a delusion? Going back to my opening statement, isn’t it much easier to accept the fact that God is dead, as Rosemary’s Baby implies?

Let the following 10 films, 2016’s favorites, give the answer:

1. There Will Be Blood

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The greatest film I watched this year concludes with a preacher denouncing God and calling his faith a superstition. He dies soon after.

2. Steve Jobs

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Utterly spellbinding, I was honestly surprised when the credits rolled because I could have sworn I had taken a seat to watch it not even half an hour before.

3. Never Let Me Go

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Dressed in earnest melancholy from the first to last frame, this movie robbed me of my tears for a solid five minutes after the screen had turned to black. Coupled with at least two other instances during the film in which I had to wipe my eyes for I could not see very well, I never cried as much during a movie in 2016 than I did when watching this one.

4. The Social Network

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I watched this soon after Steve Jobs, can you believe my enormous good fortune?

5. Mustang

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“Their spirit would never be broken”, the tagline reads. It’s just their dreams, and hopes, and hearts and family that shatters completely.

6. Sicario

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As I write this I am back in El Salvador. It has been 20 months since I moved away, and I am just back for the Christmas season. When I was away I had almost forgotten what it felt like to live constantly in fear of violence by gangs and cartels. Sicario reminded me of it. Being back home does as well.

7. Glass Chin

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If anybody is reading this and are intrigued by any film on this list, make this a top priority.

8. Green RoomPrintI think I mentioned before how the suspense is so unbearable for the first thirty minutes that I wanted to stop watching and run away.

9. The End of the Tour

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Stamped on David Foster Wallace’s (Jason Segel) wall is a Bible verse. The man was living in solitude and he ached. Naturally he turned to prayer. It didn’t work. How do we deal with situations like this one, when one believes in a loving God?

10. Spotlight

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While the first film on this list was a denunciation of the faith, the last one can serve as proof that doing that may be the wise thing to do. The heralds of the faith, those who are called to protect the weak, feed the hungry, abide by righteousness and lead by example have turned astray, taking with them a multitude of sad souls. This infuriates me. Belief in God is dwindling not so much because He is silent, but because those who are supposed to speak on His behalf have corrupted his message to theĀ  point of disgust.
What are we to do?
If you have not seen this movie yet, there’s a character that gives an illuminating response on the matter.
I will leave it there.

Sausage Party

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The evidence that there is no paradise and the gods are just hungry human beings is found in the “dark aisle”. This aisle contains knives, pots and cookbooks. Applied to Seth Rogen’s world, this dark aisle is everything that ails mankind and produces untold suffering. This runs contrary to the idea of the existence of a loving God, and if there is no God the morals that we hold on to are useless, hence everybody should have sex with each other.

And while the movie portrays a hilarious orgy scene, followed by the food traveling into another dimension, real life allows no such journeys. After the enjoyment of sexual pleasure, what is left?

B

Black Death

black deathA professor of Theology was recounting the time when one of the students at the seminary he teaches at suffered the loss of a loved one. The student visited the professor at his office shortly afterwards with questions regarding God’s purpose in such mindless tragedy. According to the professor, the student left his office in high spirits. A year later however, the professor received an email from this same student, with more questions regarding a good and loving God in the midst of a cruel and unloving world. The professor replied to the best of his abilities. Two years later, while visiting the blog of this same student, he encountered a post discussing the loss the boy had suffered many years before. “I finally understand the purpose of all this”, the post went. “It means there is no God.”

The quest at the heart of Black Death is a spiritual one. The swords and shields the characters wield play second fiddle to their true weapons: faith and prayer. There is an extraordinary scene set at a dining hall, in which Ulric (Sean Bean) stands up, his companions soon rising along, and recites the Lord’s Prayer. Because it is implied that everybody else in the room is a devil worshiper, the scene has unbearable tension, with the camera cutting between Ulric praying and everybody else, looking as if their cover is about to be revealed and demons will spill forth from every corner of the room.

Black Death is a bleak a movie about faith in God as I can recall. At the start of the picture, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) is shown kneeling at the cross, crying. The doubts the monk harbors are not about the existence of a higher power, but about the role he plays at the monastery, and whether or not he is the right man to serve the Lord. Osmund is in love you see, and not exactly with Jesus Christ. Osmund’s passions are of the flesh, as he is in a romantic relationship with Averill (Kimberley Nixon).

The movie progresses and Osmund suffers the sting of loss, but the filmmaker is wise enough to not show his increasing theological doubts to the audience firsthand. It is Langiva (Carice van Houten), the witch that Ulric and Osmund have been seeking for the entire time, who comments on Osmund’s new state of mind. Langiva, who holds sway over the entire village, understands the effect that turning a man of the cloth away from God would have on her people and on the Christian crusaders that have arrived to claim her life. It is exactly why the scenes in which she taunts him are so effective. Audiences know the toll the battle that is being waged in Osmund’s soul must be having on him.

“Why did you believe her?”, a crusader asks a heathen about the witch.
“Because she was beautiful”, he replies. “And real.”
Of his own faith, Osmund is not so sure about the real part anymore. At the end, he is kneeling at the cross again, but there are no tears on his cheek this time. Much like the kid at the seminary, he seems to agree that the reason for all the madness in the world is because there is simply no God.

B