Look out, sliced bread: the uncanny X-Men are threatening to become the latest, greatest thing. Action-hungry audiences spent a surprisingly robust $54.5 million in the film's opening weekend. Critics found themselves shocked that character development and social import could blend with the comic-book genre. And Christians spend the weekend seeking the most meaningful spiritual analogies from the highly allegorical story.
"It's this summer's most thoroughly satisfying movie," says GreenLake Reflections' Jeffrey Overstreet about X-Men, in which a group of superpowered mutants strive to fit into a society that fears them. "X-Men are the heroes the big screen so desperately needed. They're damaged, lonely, and misunderstood, but they have a … hope for understanding with 'normal mankind.'" The Dove Foundation says this parallels a Christian experience in America: "Often, the unwitting suspicion cast at the followers of Christ takes on a comparable prejudice. But, like the sacrificial motivations of the film's protagonists, believers are reminded to love their persecutors." This is not the only way the X-Men display Christian virtues. Movieguide appreciated "the unconditional forgiveness [X-Men leader] Professor X shows to his old friend Magneto, in the hopes that he will turn from his evil ways." Deanna Marquart, guest reviewer for Christian Spotlight, says that another mutant's penchant for self-sacrifice is a "heart-touching lesson in love." Not every reviewer was happy; Childcare Action complained of a nearly nude mutant with a "sprayed-on outfit," and a premise that was "in favor of the theory of evolution." But Hollywood Jesus disagreed, saying that the one reference to mutants' "evolution" from humans was merely meant to imply "that we all contain the same genetic stuff. (As the Bible says, we are all of one blood.)" Crosswalk.com's Michael Elliott uses the mutants' "evolution" as a parallel with being made a "new creature" in Christ. Just as the mutations have given the X-Men "a potential power, but it is necessary for them to learn how to control, exercise, and use it properly," so Christians "continue to study the Word of God [to] learn how the spirit within us works." Mainstream critics also noted the film's spiritual resonance, even if they couched their descriptions differently. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy says the film possesses "an unusually sober strain of moral insight [that] sees into the heart of human life," and J. Rentilly of Rough Cut was impressed with "the meaningful heroics of flawed individuals struggling to save themselves." Lest the movie sound textbook-dry, the U.S. Catholic Conference reminds readers that it delivers on a strictly visceral level, too—"an entertaining sci-fi thriller [with] an absorbing, multi-layered narrative, sharp editing and imaginative special effects."The debate continues over how emotionally to invest oneself in The Perfect Storm. World magazine complains that the movie "spends several reels trying to make the audience care about … uninteresting, unheroic characters who make the suicidal decision to drive straight into a hurricane." The storm is far more interesting, says World, making it "a better screen saver than feature film." But PlanetWisdom felt it captures human emotion well, particularly "that sense of dread that washes over you [at] the realization that nature is much bigger than you—and you can't control it." Feeling this dread helped the unnamed reviewer (presumably site owner Mark Matlock) picture the Mark 4 account of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, in which "the disciples—some experienced fishermen at home on the sea—got scared. They were sure the boat was going to capsize and drown them all." For more opinions on the emotional resonance of this film, read our earlier posts from July 6 and 12.
Movieguide also found a film that captures a particular part of the Bible. Time Regained, based on French writer Marcel Proust's autobiography, "is ultimately nihilistic, but in the same sense that the author of Ecclesiastes despairs of life. … This is not an easy movie, but there are some very fine, moral points. … At all times, the vanity of these people's situations is clear: they are trapped in their own ennui." Movieguide also praises the film for its tactful dealings with the sexual betrayal and bisexuality that drive the story. "It is interesting to note that everything is extremely discreet, and most of the sexual references will only be understood by those sophisticated enough to pay close attention."On the opposite side of restraint stands Humanité, a dark story of a murder investigation. Movieguide was disturbed by the "lingering looks at an 11-year-old girl who has been raped with close-up depictions of her mutilated private parts," and calls the film "the most pretentious and boring piece of vulgar filmmaking ever made. … There seems to be no soul or spirit in this movie, man reduced to the lowest common denominator." In contrast, mainstream reviewer Arthur Lazere of CultureVulture.net finds the film distinctly Christian. The manner in which the investigating detective treats the perpetrator, with "a gesture of passionate feeling that is rooted in his inarticulate identification with and empathy for the humanity of the perpetrator, [is] as deeply felt as earlier when he screamed for the victim. It is a profoundly Christian response that now emerges out of the bleak, existential viewpoint with which the film is imbued up to that moment. [The detective] finally emerges as an Everyman, as a Christlike figure taking on the horrific sins of all humanity."Christian and mainstream critics were more united concerning It's the Rage, a dark comedy about the consequences of a trigger-happy culture. The Dove Foundation felt it made rather pedestrian points on gun control, remarking sarcastically, "Guns should definitely be kept out of the hands of gang members, thieves, murderers and whackos. Now, why can't legislators figure that out?" Jeremiah Kipp of FilmCritic.com echoes this, grousing that it "thuddingly hits the same numb point over and over again: guns are bad, guns can kill. That's about as resonant as It's the Rage will get."
Film Journal's Shirley Sealy argues that it's downright menacing: "Lurking among the laughs … is a distinctly sinister—and some might even say subversive—premise: Anyone who owns a handgun is either a criminal or a little crazy, or both."
Two intriguing essays, one Christian and one mainstream, probe the effects of explicit sexual content in movies, looking beyond the usual lust arguments. Sarah Barnett of Culture@Home feels that modern cinema is killing our imagination. "The depiction of sexual behavior in film [used to be] generally limited to screen kisses, sudden embraces and knowing looks. The techniques of doors closing and scenes fading out were used to intimate sexual activity. … In effect a film was not complete without the imagination of the viewer." A decrease in imagination leads to passivity, she says. "There is little doubt that westerners are more visually dependent now than we ever have been. … From the Internet to advertising, our gluttony for things seen is being fostered and fed." Passivity leads to a skewed perceptions, she argues: "The common portrayal of it as the single most important element of human character only serves to cheapen it and lessen its value." In the July issue of Movieline, the Editor's Note by Virginia Campbell delineates a similar theory. "While violence in the movies can have an undeniably pernicious effect on certain psychologically vulnerable individuals, Hollywood love stories seem to have a ruinous effect on just about everybody. … We asked several actresses how the movies had affected their view of love. Their answers were telling. Jennifer Tilly, for example, revealed, 'Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet made me think that love is more intense before it's consummated than after.' … Most candid of all was Jenna Elfman: 'Because of the movies, I always thought you had to breathe heavy and kind of grope at a guy's back when you're having sex.'" Us Weekly confirms that the intensity of movie sex is shaping real-life relationships. Dr. Joyce Brothers says "we've been conditioned to be voyeurs and not participants. In fact, many young couples today videotape their sex because it's more real if they can watch it afterward." All sources, however, were mum on what viewers might do to combat the pressure to be passive.
Steve Lansingh is editor ofthefilmforum.com, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to Christianity and the cinema.
See earlier Film Forum postings for these other movies in the box-office top ten: Scary Movie,The Patriot,The Kid,Chicken Run,Me, Myself & Irene,Big Momma's House,Gone in 60 Seconds, and Shaft.
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