The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the category “Movie Review”

Flywheel, Eustace, and Redemption


“I made Jesus Lord of my life.”  Jay Austin in Flywheel

 “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying in the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been.” Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader after Aslan had torn off his dragon skin. Read more…

What Does Jesus Look Like?

The History Channel’s hit miniseries “The Bible” offers us yet another on-screen depiction of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The honor this time goes to Diogo Morgado, whom the New York Post calls “a kind of surfer Jesus.” The Portuguese actor’s Jesus is not exactly Anglo (although his on-screen accent is); but basically, this Jesus is white. And therein lies a problem.

My thoughts on what Jesus looks like were spurred by a fascinating lecture at Baylor by the University of Colorado’s Paul Harvey, author with Edward Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. In spite of the Ten Commandment’s ban on “graven images” (and the worship of them), many Christians have become so used to visual representations of Christ that we often don’t give them a second thought, nor consider what they say about our mental picture of the Son of God.

The medieval church also produced artistic representations of Christ, but many Protestants assailed these icons, tapestries, and paintings as violations of the second commandment, smashing and burning many of them as they had opportunity. The Puritans and some other early settlers of America tried not to employ visual representations of God, although they surely must have had some mental image of God or Jesus as they spoke to him in prayer.

During the nineteenth century, visual images of Jesus became more common among American Protestants, and they were almost always ‘white’ – or at least not distinctly Semitic/Middle Eastern/North African, which one would think would be the preferred choice if ethnic accuracy were a priority. These images became more common – and insistent – in the years following the Civil War. Perhaps the most disturbing use of the white Jesus was in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), in which Jesus blessed the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.

Most depictions of a white Jesus were more innocuous in intent than Birth of a Nation, and the most common one in American homes was Warner Sallman’s 1941 The Head of ChristThe commonplace depiction of Jesus as white led to indignant reactions, with some African Americans and other Christians claiming a “black Jesus” or some other Christ of their own ethnicity.

I don’t mean to go all ‘Puritan’ here, but should churches promote any visual depictions of Christ? Do the images of a white Jesus risk making God in our own image? Would a more Semitic Christ solve the problem? Or should we return to the full Reformed skepticism about using any images of God at all?

Whatever our answers, the fact remains that Christians do normally imagine Christ’s appearance as we read the Bible and pray (reported visions of Jesus have often seemed Anglo, too). Scripture, however, gives us precious little guidance about his appearance. If not the Jesus of Warner Sallman or The History Channel, then what should he look like?

Thomas Kidd is contributing scholar to The Kuyperian Commentary. His newest book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, published in 2011 with Basic Books.

This article was originally published at Patheos.

The Religious Motive Behind Rand Paul’s Filibuster

Paul Leaves the Floor, Refuses to Yield Values

As the thirteen-hour filibuster ended, Rand Paul left the floor to a roar of applause. He took the floor alone, but now the entire twittersphere and even the Republican leadership joined his crusade against the Obama administration’s drone policy. In one day’s time he has reached the name recognition of his father for standing for the same sort of issues. Again, like his father, he has forced the Republican establishment to join him as cobelligerants for the cause of liberty.

The past three decades of American politics have been blessed with two generations of men who are unafraid to be political game-changers. Ron and Rand are Leaders seemingly incapable of “relinquishing” their values. Rand’s thirteen-hour filibuster is a good tribute to his father’s legacy of refusing to “yield” to politics as usual.

One has to ask what creates such men?

The answer may be a surprise to many. Presbyterianism.

Read more…

Violence in the Future Tense: a Review of “There Will Be Blood”

Guest Post by Remy Wilkins

Daniel Plainview is a new messiah, bringing bread, education, and wealth. Daniel Plainview is a Satan, an accuser, a murderer, a liar, and a drinker of blood. Both Christ and Antichrist, Daniel Plainview, embodies America, our industrialism and our greed, our benevolence and our violence. One part Flannery O’Conner, one part Rene’ Girard, passing Upton Sinclair through St. John’s gospel, Paul Thomas Anderson orchestrates a film that captures the American zeitgeist, that recapitulates our founding, this time in Little Boston, and the tea party replayed with Texas tea.

[There Will Be Spoilers]

The movie begins underground with Daniel Plainview digging for silver. The claustrophobia of the mineshaft, the ominous soundtrack, and the accident that breaks Plainview’s leg, hobbling him the rest of the movie, set the stage for the events that follow. We follow him as he becomes an oil man, becomes the father figure to an orphaned boy, he goes wildcatting and strikes it rich with in a town notable only for its self-proclaimed prophet of the third revelation, Eli Sunday. These two rising stars struggle against each other; Eli hocking the wares of the church, Plainview the wealth of oil, resulting in the promised climax of the title. Both baptism and oil are likened to the Blood of the Lamb, both wish to bring health to the town, both rely on their tongues to accomplish their ends.

At its black heart, the movie is about envy. Some seem to think that Anderson’s film is guilty of sprawling; a sin committed in grandiose style by “Magnolia”, but a charge that misses “There Will Be Blood”, for it depicts a very tight spiral of mimetic violence, particularly brother–brother conflict. The first set of brother’s are Paul and Eli Sunday, whose father’s name, Abel, indicates the archetype of fraternal conflict; it continues with Eli and Daniel (a brother through marriage and baptism) and later with Henry (posing as his brother) and Daniel. But conflict is not limited to brothers alone; it spills out into the public square as Daniel’s competition with the local church for the time of his workers and his tussle in the market with Standard Oil. His son H.W. is pulled into it when he torches Henry’s bed and later breaks with his father to form his own company. In the screenplay this conflict is made even more clear when Fletcher Hamilton, Daniel’s chief assistant, complains about Henry’s inclusion in the company despite his own involvement from the beginning (a scene trimmed, no doubt, because this drew the attention away from Daniel Plainview’s mimetic cycle). Every scene revolves around bitter competition. I could march through the film scene by scene indicating how relentless this theme is, and could argue that it is every bit as economic as his previous film, Punch-drunk Love.

Like Anderson’s previous films the actors rise to their highest limits. Daniel Day-Lewis seizes us by the throat with his performance, but unlike many actors in out-sized roles today, he never overleaps his intensity into parody. His mania is brutally simple, menacing, and he is matched by Paul Dano’s scene gnawing performance of Eli Sunday. The role of the corrupt preacher is difficult to play without falling into thin caricature, but he manages to convey an earnest man of faith in the grip of intense jealousies and lusts. The movie itself is a veritable highlight reel of classic cinema, the baptism scene, the fight between Eli and Plainview, the oil fire, even smaller scenes such as Daniel and baby H.W. on the train are intensely gripping.

The significance of the film, however, goes beyond its technical merits. “There Will Be Blood” is a promise that hangs over the entire film, but a promise that does not end when the movie ends. It is extended beyond the film –there will be blood– today and beyond. The movie could very well be expanded globally and called There Will Be Wars. The beginnings of the oil industry is the true founding of America and P.T. Anderson, avoiding the terse pablum that most politically conscious films fall into, is calling out the scapegoating, the holy-rolling, the hucksters, and the shysters by running this ethos out to its logical demise.

See also : Manohla Dargis at the New York Times.

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