Sunday, June 28, 2015

I Need #Resurrection, the Likes O' Which Ain't Never Been Seen Before

Oh wait, yes it has. About one thousand nine hundred eighty five years ago in Jerusalem... what.

Any rate, I feel like I've been watching a lot of movies/TV since school let out the first week of June. I feel like I was working pretty hard at the end of the school year, what with my part-time teaching responsibilities plus covering for my part-time colleague. So I have felt that kicking back and taking in some of the entertainment I missed over the past few months is fine. Most of my viewing pleasure has been on Netflix; my wife and I have been getting our money's worth there watching 30 Rock. That's been fun.

I've also been using the Netflix to watch episodes of Arrow. Because superheroes.

Speaking of which, I found out that the AMC down the street has $5 weekday matinee tickets. I took advantage of that last week to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. I don't really think there's any redeeming value there; it's just fun superhero adventure. I mean, if you really wanted to find literary merit there, you could talk about Tony Stark's hubris and the way that Marvel always portrays its heroes as very human, with many flaws and foibles.

I also took advantage of the $5 tickets to see Mad Max: Fury Road. I was really digging that one. It totally lived up to the hype, which for me included the feminist themes. I saw in that one a conflict over the possession or freedom of innocents. But I think some may disagree with me there because of the ultra-violence that Mad Max has always featured. I'd love to discuss that one if anyone is interested... (just contact me and let me know).

Now, the problem with all of these is that there's not a whole lot of redeeming content in them. I mean, I wouldn't go so far to say that any of them are trashy entertainment. But I definitely don't think there's a lot of really spiritually edifying ideas, either. Which is part of why I wrote my last blog post. And how I decided to watch a movie that my wife shared with me when we first started dating: Bella.

By the way, the blog I borrow this poster
from has a decent discussion guide that
connects this movie to scripture

Now, I live tweeted this one (this is second blog I've written that's using the live tweets). I think I'm always looking to post some sort of insight about the movies I do that for, but for at least the first half of this movie, I really felt like I was summarizing. See, Bella isn't like some of the other movies I like, which are really dialogue heavy and they have great, tweet-able quotes. Rather, I found that the really beautiful situations in this one were very contextual; you needed to see a lot of it to really understand the emotion: For example, José and Nina (the two main characters) are walking by a homeless man on the sidewalk pretty early in the movie. The man stops Nina and offers to sell her an artful origami frog. She says she doesn't have any cash, so she can't. The man replies "Well, it's a beautiful day, right? Describe it to me, the day."

Nina's response to this is rather cynical. She does describe the day, but without much passion or detail. She sums it up by saying "it's just an ordinary New York day." And the man simply says "Sure wish I could see it." And he hands her the frog. This whole time, he's been blind, but neither Nina nor José have been able to see it.

It's scenes like that that I want to share about the movie. I feel like I can't adequately describe them, but nonetheless, here I am writing about it.

To back up and set the stage, this movie works in flashbacks (and a couple flash forwards). The very first scene is this young many, very charismatic, dressed in a red vest, slacks and a white shirt. The camera focuses in on his rich red shoes and the fancy footwork he's doing. As the camera comes out, you see this young many is dancing on the sidewalk with a girl while some boys play soccer in the street.

The boys kick the ball and it lands near the young man. He starts teasing them about the game they're playing and they challenge him to prove that he can do it better. So he does. Just going about ten feet down the sidewalk, this young man is able to fake out every one of the boys. And then he reveals that he's just signed on with the Madrid Futból Club. Turns out he's here on the sidewalk waiting for his manager, who is inside grabbing some things. As the manager comes out, the young man trades the boys for their soccer ball. He promises to get the whole team to sign it and gives them a shiny team practice ball in exchange. And he and his manager drive off (in a really slick classic convertible, I might add).

Next scene, we're in a kitchen restaurant. José is the head chef at his brother Manny's restaurant. It's a very bright, very salsa sort of place. Everyone is prepping and getting things ready to open for lunch. Everyone is there who needs to be there, except for for Nina. It's the second day in a row that she's been late. Manny asks the staff "where is she?" and the camera cuts over to where Nina is. She's in a convenience store. And she's trying to buy a home pregnancy test with pocket change.

These first two scenes set up a huge juxtaposition. The first scene is this really idyllic interaction between a soccer star and adoring children. He looks moneyed, he's confident. The second scene is much more bustling, not blue collar, but it gives off that hard-working vibe. And in among all that, there's Nina. Vulnerable and on the edge. She seems like she wants to work for what she gets, but that's getting harder when she doesn't know whether or not she's pregnant and it looks nearly impossible when she gets to the restaurant. The doors are locked against her, but she keeps walking back and forth between the doors, which means that that the whole staff can see her walk in front of the big glass windows that face the street. When Manny finally opens the door, he reminds her this is the second day in a row that she's been late, and there was a day last week when she called in sick and everyone had to cover for her. That's three strikes, he says. So she's out. Just like that, he fires her.

I don't know why José was out on there. Maybe he was going to try to convince his brother to give Nina another chance; you can already tell José is a gentle soul and he would intercede for someone like Nina just out of principle. But Manny ignores him and José watches Nina walk away. She drops a stuffed toy bear but doesn't notice, so José jogs to pick it up and then give it to her before she disappears. They get all the way down into the subway station before José catches up to her. They talk, Nina has choice words about Manny, and José can see that she's a whole mess of emotions. She reveals that she's pregnant. Knowing this, José decides to walk with Nina, rather than go back to the restaurant.

As they walk, the first thing we as the audience see is them interacting with the blind homeless man, which I told you about. But as Nina and José continue on, it becomes more and more apparent that Nina feels like this pregnancy is isolating her, making everything in her life harder, and she seems to feel like it's a punishment. Which is why she says she needs to just "take care of it on her own" (that's a nice euphemism, isn't it?) José is visibly distraught over this, not for any political or theological reason, I think, but just because here in front of him is this woman who is hurting so much and feels so alone.

At this point in the movie, I'm reminded that my wife describes Bella as a "non-romantic love story." I agree with her, since it's from this point that José starts to show Nina his life. Which starts with inviting her to meet his parents. Normally, I would say that seems like things are moving too fast between them... but it's hard to define what things are between them. That makes me a lousy judge of what they are doing.

There are lots of revelations that happen quickly here, so I'm just going to share a few tweets with you, to let you connect the dots (in full faith that you'll want to see this movie for yourself, despite my coming spoilers).

(By this point, it's become clear that the scene at the beginning of the movie, the well dressed young man with the convertible, that was José at earlier in life)

I think it may have been at this point in the movie that I realized that this is a story of resurrection. Both Nina and José have been set adrift in their own lives, everything they thought they knew is gone. Yes, José has been here longer, but he is still adrift. He lost his dreams just as much as Nina has lost her sense of stability. If that were it for the story, it would seem very bleak. Maybe we could say that the virtue is the two of them banding together, but I think that might end up as a cheesy romance.

So before the story goes there, Nina and José go in for supper (they are at the home of José's parents, after all).  And is it ever a meal. It's the full Mexican spread, all the food is handmade. I got hungry just watching it. But what I saw, more than anything, is the family around the table.

This is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. It shows that, for José at least, there is a constant foundation of love in his life. And I think the large part of what he's doing is offering for Nina to come into that. To realize the world is not just a cruel, unforgiving place like the way she sees it. She does not need to fear raising a child, because there are still people like this in the world.

After supper Nina seems uplifted, rejuvenated. She talks with José's papa about his son. The whole story about being chosen for the soccer club and how those dreams were all broken. But there was still love for the person himself. Papa asks Nina to stay but she says she should get back. Now, I don't know if maybe I'm reading too much into the dialogue, but maybe that was more than a gesture of affection. Of knowing that Nina was afraid of what was to come in her life and trying to tell her that she could have a place here, in this home, if she wanted it.

The movie was nearly over at this point. But before it actually finished, Nina and José went to the beach near his parents' house. They sat out on the beach and Nina told José about what it was like for her growing up. Her home was not like his. It was not nearly so warm and despite one night of deep emotional connection with her mother, Nina was largely estranged from her. Nina returned to the idea that she did not want to have child, only to give it a life like she had growing up. After this, they leave the beach and both Nina and José need to go back to their normal lives, although "normal" seems like something that's unattainable now.

The camera fades out, but when it comes back, José is back on the beach. But this time he is playing with a little girl. She's maybe five years old and José is calling her Bella. They look so happy and filled with true joy. For me, I'm unsure of who this child is. But then Nina drives up in a taxi, looking anxious. The realization hits me about the same time that Nina greets José and the girl. She asks Bella, "Do you know who I am?"

Bella nods and says, "You're my mama."

I cried. My eyes began to leak at that line and I did not care, because the enormity of the whole thing came down on me, just like that.

Through the movie (up until this point), I've seen José, a broken man who has not been able to put his life back together since he wrongfully drove over the life of an innocent child. And I've seen Nina as a woman pregnant with a child she does not know how to care for, which scares her to death. But in this moment, I realize that the love and trust between the two of them has not produced some sappy romance between them, but instead it has allowed them to make room for a new life: Bella.

I might be a little too sappy here, but Bella seems to me to be José's second chance, his passion. And she seems to be Nina's light in the world, proof that not all is lost and gone.

This seems to me like resurrection.

~ ~ ~

Do you have your own reflections on any of the five shows I've mentioned in this post? Do you have any other resurrection stories you think I should feature on my blog? Please tell me in the comments below! Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Twitter or Facebook! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!