Movies

Bookshelf Tour: Speed Racer (the movie)

So, I was thinking books when I said “bookshelf tour,” but well, maybe I should have named it “story tour” because there a movies that are just as important to me as books. As I’ve mentioned, Speed Racer is one of my soul’s “chiropractic adjustments.” Most people we’ve shared that movie with just don’t get it, but I love it! Fortunately, our kids do get it 🙂

Okay, so for starters, lots of people can’t get over the cinematography. The film was done by the Wachowskis (they also did the Matrix if you’re not familiar with them) in 2008, and they really worked to keep the cartoon feel for people who loved the old cartoon Speed Racer. So, the colors are really bright, and there are some camera shots where you see multiple events happening on-screen at once. It can be a lot. But, once you let go of all that (if you dislike it–I personally thought their story-telling methods were really interesting), it’s easy to see there are some incredible themes.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The way they handle family is so beautiful. After a fight, Pops Racer becomes estranged from his son Rex, who dies in a car accident without ever reconciling. In the beginning Pops believes he lost Rex in the car accident, but later, when his son Speed is in the same situation, he realizes that he lost Rex to the fight because he “let him think a stupid motor company was more important” and he–dah duh dah!–changes. I can’t tell you how beautiful that is to me. He handles the same situation with Speed very differently.

You also see how important family is to all of them throughout the film. They really stick together and encourage each other, despite being aware of each other’s faults.

I absolutely love the way they talk about calling. In the movie, Speed participates in a race in order to try to bring down one of the race fixers. At the time, however, his father doesn’t support him. Mr. Racer tells him “You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work that way!” When winning the race doesn’t have the results Speed hoped for, he’s discouraged and upset. Racer X then talks to him about why they race. He says, “You don’t get into a T-180 to become a driver–you do it because you’re driven.” I love that statement. I can’t tell you the number of times I tell myself that. We don’t do what God calls us to do so that we can become a certain kind of person. We do it because we’re driven, because there’s something in our souls that just can’t leave things the way they are. Anyway! At the end of the movie, after Speed wins the last race, the race commentator says “It’s a whole new world!” Basically, the point driven home is that Speed was able to change the world simply by driving a car.

Speed also struggles with why he should keep driving when he finds out that the vast majority of the racing industry has nothing to do with cars or racing, but instead with money and power. He tells his girlfriend, Trixie, that when he’s driving “everything just makes sense.” Throughout the movie, you learn that Speed has been obsessed with driving pretty much since he was born (arguing it’s in his blood). And his mother gives him this beautiful pep talk about how what he does is art, not business. In the end, he drives because it’s part of who he is–not because of what he can get from it. I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder. I need to be told that do flows out of be. I need to be reminded that I mother/teach/write/etc. because of who I am, not in order to try to reach a certain outcome.

On the other hand, I love being reminded that simply by being the person God created me to be God can use me to create “a whole new world.” That my calling isn’t a waste of time even on the days when it feels like it is. And the way that Racer X talks about the world–“it doesn’t matter if racing never changes. What matters is if we let racing change us”–is another reminder for me not to hang my hat on results. Just like Paul talks about it Galatians where he says “what matters is new creation,” what matters in the here and now is who we are–not what we accomplish. God’s the one who accomplishes things. It’s our job to just be who we’re supposed to be (and to act on that–e.g., to actually participate in races if that’s our calling) and God does whatever He’s going to do through all that. Such a comforting thought!

So that’s why we watch Speed Racer. There are some years where we watch it a LOT if our life choices get called into question. For us, watching Speed Racer is a call to “hold the line!” even when there are no results and friends/family members think we’re crazy for doing the things we believe God has called us to do.

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Movies

The Beauty of Brokenness

I love Star Trek. I grew up on Next Generation. I remember when the first episode aired, back in 1987. It was like a holiday in our house because my dad had been quite into the original series. I’ve never been much of an Original Series fan myself, but I’ve been sucked into the Star Trek realm for all the rest of the shows and movies and my husband and I have made our way through TOS after watching the reboots (what is with the “Spock’s Brain” episode??–really, that’s the sort of thing that would make me feel like I had egg on my face if I’d written it). My kids have seen both Tribble episodes–the TOS and the DS9. They loved Into Darkness.

Anyway! I’ve been thinking a lot about the TOS characters lately–mostly because I LOVE the movie reboots (AOS). Star Trek and Into Darkness were top drawer, cream of the crop, all that jazz. I love the characters. The plots were both fine, but the characters just blew me away. And, as I’ve been reading AOS fan fiction pretty much continuously for the past few months, I’ve found myself pondering the differences between the AOS vs. TOS characters.

Let’s just talk about Kirk and Spock because we know most about their backgrounds and it’s easy to see what I’m talking about with them. So, in the original series, Kirk grows up in a loving, stable home. His father inspires him to join Star Fleet. He goes through some serious trauma in his teen years on Tarsus IV–basically, if you’re not familiar with the story of Tarsus IV, some kind of fungus that killed all their crops and for some reason Star Fleet didn’t come right away (or wasn’t aware of the situation) and so Governor Kodos used the crisis as an opportunity to put into practice his theories on eugenics and killed half the colony so that the other half could survive (see TOS The Conscience of the King). Kirk does have this great line in Star Trek 5 (yes, I realize it’s pretty much the only redeeming part of the movie) about how his pain makes him who he is. And we do see him with an awful lot of alien women, although I’ve read someone who made the case that he genuinely gets emotionally attached to them vs. the one night stands AOS Kirk indulges in. But on the whole, this Kirk is confident, stable, and uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights.

Spock from TOS suffers from trying to reconcile his two halves, and he doesn’t have the best relationship with his father–although there’s not a lot of insight as to whether that’s simply because he went into Star Fleet or if it’s of longer standing than that.

In AOS, Nero’s advent does a few things. For Kirk, obviously, Nero results in the death of his father even as Kirk is born (and if you look at the star dates, he’s born prematurely; unless of course AOS just forgot when Kirk’s birthday is). Kirk’s mother is off-planet, what seems to be frequently, judging from Kirk’s delinquent tendencies. I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that Winona Kirk probably had issues dealing with Jim simply because her husband died as Jim was being born. I’m guessing that messed up a lot of that early mother-child bonding. Jim also has an uncle/stepfather? (Frank) who is at least verbally abusive to the point that Jim’s brother runs away while Jim is young. And we don’t know about Tarsus IV, but personally, I have no problem with the idea that it still happened and he still went. Hence, you end up with a Kirk who is brash, spoiling for a fight, clearly broken… he still uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights, but there’s an edginess there that’s not present in TOS.

For Spock, we don’t know exactly what Nero’s advent did. The movie shows Spock being bullied on account of his mother’s heritage. Fan fic authors speculate that xenophobia increased after humans learned from Nero that Romulans and Vulcans are cousins (something that didn’t turn up in the original series until part way through season one), resulting in deteriorated Vulcan-Human relations, and thus the bullying and his path to Star Fleet. He’s not accepted by the Vulcans. Obviously, after the first movie, Spock is dealing with the loss of his planet and the loss of his mother. She doesn’t die until much later in his life in the original series. Spock too is broken.

Guess which series has more fan fics?

If you answered AOS, you’re right! On fanfiction.net alone, there are more than twice as many AOS fics as there are TOS. I realize that there are more factors at work than just the characters–TOS is TV and the fans may tend to be older and perhaps less likely to write fan fic, which is after all a relatively new phenomenon; AOS is a movie series and has garnered fans from across the age spectrum.

But looking at those facts really brought something I’ve been thinking about for a while into focus for me. As an author and a reader, I love watching characters develop, and the reality is that character development takes angst. People don’t change when life is full of fluffy happiness–there’s no reason to. If I were going to write a Star Trek fan fic, I’d write it in the AOS universe because there’s more room for character development.

As Christians, we often go to great pains to look like we’ve got things together. We think that if non-Christians see how messed up we are, it’ll somehow put them off the Gospel, or if fellow Christians see how messed up we are, they’ll judge us for it. But the reality is that brokenness is winsome to people. People like the gritty, messy reality of brokenness because they can relate to it. Nobody’s perfect. If we pretend that we are perfect, we are in effect telling people that they don’t belong in our churches (or coming across as hypocrites, since everyone knows that nobody’s perfect). If we pretend that we’re perfect, we miss out on the opportunity for true community within the Church. And everyone else misses out on seeing something beautiful as God takes our brokenness and redeems it.

I talk a bit about this in my new book, To Push on the Rock, but I love Kintsugi–the Japanese art of pottery repair where they would fill in the cracks with lacquer mixed with gold dust. Kintsugi pieces are beautiful to see. And that’s how I feel about reading/writing a story where you watch the character go through angst that changes them or talking to someone who’s in the middle of a difficult time in their lives–there’s such beauty in the brokenness.

So why hide it?

 

Movies

Frozen

Last week we took our girls to see Disney’s Frozen for Christmas and I loved it! As in, I told my husband I want my own copy so the girls can’t take it with them when they get old enough to move out. If I had the chance, I think I’d watch this one more times in theater than I did The Matrix (8 times). This movie had good music and good acting, but if you’re like me, what you really care about are the redemptive themes. Frozen more than delivered in that respect! It had some amazing themes in it and has sparked some great conversations with our children. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, go see it and then read this 🙂

One of my favorite things was how the Frozen folks defined love in this movie: sacrificing for someone else, whether that’s in the context of romantic relationships or anywhere else, and then they showed it with Kristoff, Olaf, Anna, and Elsa. The trolls talked about how you can’t really change people, but when you love them, they change themselves–and they talked about how we need this kind of love from family and friends and in the context of romance; we’re all “fixer-uppers.” We regularly talk to our girls about how humans are incapable of loving on their own (1 John 4:19; Galatians 5:22-23). God initiates love and that transforms us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we pass along God’s love and others are transformed. And then, of course, Disney hit the sacrificial love that saves Anna at the end, just as Christ’s sacrifice saves us. Love transforms us as we are loved AND as we love. So beautiful!

I also loved how Elsa’s parents thought they were protecting her (and everyone else) by isolating her and teaching “conceal, don’t feel” her magic, but at the end Elsa discovers love is what protects people. She’s trying so hard to control things. We had a great conversation with our daughters about how feelings are like that. When you lock them up inside you, they explode out and end up hurting people at some point. Instead we need to love and then share our feelings in the context of relationship. I could also really relate with the family dynamics of keeping secrets as a self/others-protective mechanism that ends up sucking the life out of and isolating those involved in the secret. Love is where it’s at.

Another amazing theme was freedom. Elsa feels trapped in her room/her power (or as she calls it, her “curse”) and then she sings about how she’s finally free when she goes up on the mountain alone and can let that part of herself out. She is free in the sense that she is finally using her power, similarly to how she used it in her childhood. She’s no longer pretending to be someone she isn’t and it changes her. I love how Disney visually showed this by switching up Elsa’s costume from a very straight-laced look to very flowey hair and dress. By changing her circumstances, it provides her with outward freedom to be herself, which is a step in the right direction, but later she realizes she’s not really free there either because she brought her own internal storm with her. It’s only once she learns to love and be loved that she’s really free. So beautiful to see a Disney film talk about how circumstances don’t determine our happiness, peace, etc.–that freedom is about being free from our own personal demons. And then combining that with her honesty about herself–Elsa ends up free because she lives out who she is AND deals with her internal storm. She lives a wide open life in a spacious place. I was really convicted by this theme. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about how people can’t see what God is doing in us if we don’t live wide open lives. But it takes having time to be anchored in the reality of who we are. I’m not sure that Elsa would have been able to handle things as well if she hadn’t had that time alone where she was exploring her power. I have a short memory so I need time every single day to be alone, to sit in God’s presence and know who I am and who He is, to re-create that space in my soul. Only then am I able to love in truth. Otherwise I’m hemmed in on every side with no margin.

The Frozen folks also addressed fear and control and how the opposite of fear is love. Elsa and her parents are motivated by fear after the accident with Anna. Fear causes them to focus on control. They think they’re loving Anna and others by living out of fear, but as I said before, at the end Elsa discovers love is what protects people. I thought Disney did a great job of juxtaposing fear and love and how control is an illusion. Control promises to fix things, but all it does is hide the problems. And once you have some control you end up needing more and more to deal with the problem… it becomes a never-ending cycle. As a person with PTSD, this is a lesson I feel like I need to hear every single day. My natural response is to run to control because it seems like it’s the road to security, but I’ve learned that my heart is the problem.

I also liked that the bad guy didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Usually you can guess who it is from the get go, but the sudden reverse of Hans provided a great opportunity to talk to our girls about giving people time to show who they really are. Maybe it’s my background, but I think it’s important to teach kids to be wise in who they trust–obviously, it’s important not to swing to the side of teaching them to fear. Hans is also a great opportunity to talk about how having a hungry soul makes you vulnerable. He even tells Anna that he was able to fool her because she was so desperate for love. It’s sad, but she practically fools herself. I’m not saying that her situation didn’t come into play; obviously the fact that she was alone for years was a big part of why she was willing to give herself to whomever came along. However, from a spiritual perspective, having a satisfied soul is a great way to safeguard oneself from bad relationships, bad choices, and the like.

I think it’s very telling that Frozen did so well in box offices. When a storyteller connects with the themes of God’s bigger story and the way He made the world to work, people connect with it on a heart level. Suddenly they can picture themselves as this character or that character (and I think it’s very telling to see which characters they relate with–my daughters each picked a different character as their favorite, one that matched up well with where they’re at!). So, if you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to watch this beautiful story and think about who you are.