“The Liturgical Year in Cinema” is an ongoing series, a personal exploration of the thematic connections between the Christian calendar and films. Sunday, May 15, is the celebration of Pentecost, the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian church.
“Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:7-12)
By my count, at least 17 different people groups were present for Pentecost, the miraculous birth of the church as the Holy Spirit showed up in wind and fire. Like a reverse Tower of Babel phenomenon, the racial and linguistic barriers were broken down and cultural rifts restored.
No one reading this article witnessed Pentecost—a day where strangers with little in common than their current location are suddenly connected by something beyond them. Indeed, as a layperson, the idea is often difficult for me to grasp. But from a film critic’s perspective, I’ve seen this spirit of Pentecost infused in recent acclaimed films. “Hyperlink cinema,” as coined by film critic Alissa Quart in 2005, features a multiplicity of characters through various narrative threads all coming together into an intertwined on-screen tapestry. The stories may initially appear separate or disjointed, but as the film progresses we begin to see the interconnected nature of the characters, united by some unseen force or shared event. Robert Altman could be considered the precursor to these films with Nashville or Short Cuts, followed by Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Nine Lives), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel).
Hyperlink cinema offers a unique filmic Pentecost in its narrative structure—these movies hint at an invisible interconnected reality made possible by the presence of the Spirit. At the moment of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, a huge crowd of Jews from all over the empire hear Peter preach the good news of Jesus, and the church is birthed. Suddenly, complete strangers and former enemies are drawn together as a united front, a miraculous movement transformed by the presence of the Spirit. Hyperlink films also suggest such a connection—we are closer to one another than we may imagine. All it takes is a life-transforming encounter, and everything could change.
More than 25 characters’ lives intersect in Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning film Crash, a film which has gained notoriety over the past decade as arguably the worst Best Picture Winner. (Detractors point to its erroneous conclusions about racism or its lack of character development; personally, I find myself partial to Michael Peña’s father/daughter scenes.)
Putting aside my personal sympathies for Crash, the movie’s depiction of police officers and their relationship (or lack thereof) with the community speaks to issues which persist today. We continue to live with ongoing tensions between law enforcement and the black community, implicit racial assumptions, and the resulting violence from racial bias. In one controversial storyline, Matt Dillon portrays a racist Los Angeles police officer who gropes Thandie Newton’s character at a “traffic stop.” When he later finds himself pulling Newton out of her wrecked vehicle, he places his hands around her waist again, this time to pull her out of her burning car.