Sunday, April 01, 2012

Films on the road that bring God-talk into open spaces



Arts & Faith has put out another top 25 list, this time “Top 25 Road Films.” What do these films have in common? Darren Hughes explains:
The “on the road” theme has such staying power, in part, because there is a shared ethic at work in these stories. Some people, including a majority of A&F voters, would argue it’s a God-breathed and essential ethic—that each of these stories reflects a fundamental desire for spiritual improvement or progress toward sanctification or, more simply, a moment of epiphany or grace. (Not by coincidence, American evangelicals have taken to calling their lives “walks with God.”) 
As habitual storytellers, we humans have transformed this ethic into countless odysseys, coming-of age tales, and allegorical paths towards enlightenment. Hollywood has celebrated the “freedom of the open road” and the glory of a trial by fire. Ultimately, road movies offer us a brief glimpse of potential alternatives to the soul-sickening “everdayness” of our lives.
My favorites of the films they list are 2001, Apocalypse Now, Up and The Thief of Bagdad (the whole family enjoyed those) and The Searchers (one of my all-time favorite films). The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada has been on my list forever; this list may be what I need to finally seek it out.

While most of the following may be somewhat déclassé additions (though a couple are, arguably, among the best films out there), here are some more “on the road” films I’ve enjoyed that share those movements towards “a moment of epiphany or grace”—and have brought God-talk into these open spaces along the way.

Book of Eli. This film centers on a mysterious sword-wielding stranger who is protecting an ancient book and on a journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape of a not too distant future. While the film garnered rather negative reception when it released, I liked it. I appreciated the Western genre elements and themes, and plot-wise, I enjoyed how all the clues for the twists are there (and there was one twist I didn’t expect). And I also thought some of the God-talk in the film is worth contemplating. You can read the rest of my thoughts here.

Children of Men.  In this post-apocolyptic film, adapted from P.D. James' novel, women can no longer conceive. The world hasn’t witnessed a baby born in almost two decades and the human race is looking into the face of its death. As a result, the world is falling apart, oozing with wars, anarchy and despair. Many try to flee to Britain, one of the last surviving governments, itself under martial law as the chaos threatens to undue even this last refuge. It is here we meet Theo, a Brit who is chosen to protect and bear a secret that could change the fate of man: Kee, a woman who is almost nine months pregnant. Their journey is to make their way through the treacherous Britain towards a rendezvous point with the benevolent and mysterious Human Project, with whom she can have her child in safety.  You can read the rest of my thoughts here.

Déjà Vu. A “road trip” through time rather than distance (and arguably a film that might not belong on this list), ATF agent Doug Carlin is investigating the blowing-up of a New Orleans ferry (killing over 500 people, including children). He joins a special government task force that wields a mysterious and experimental technology that allows them to peer back in time four days—in great detail and with no point-of-view restrictions. Carlin intuits that the death of a woman, Claire Kuchever, a few hours before the explosion is connected to the crime, and has the task force focus on her. As he observes her, his attachment to her grows—and he sets out on a journey through time to save her and prevent the ferry explosion. You can read the rest of my thoughts here.

Logan’s Run. In this classic dystopian sci-fi film, Logan’s people live in a gigantic domed city bubbled off from the world—in fact, they don’t even know there is a vast land teeming with life outside. As a people, they have an extremely limited and very dangerous understanding of who they are and the world in which they live. On the surface, it appears they have lives filled with pleasure with every need provided for. But when each person reaches 30, they report to the Carrousel, where they are told they have a chance of Renewal (or rebirth)—but actually they are killed as a method of population control. As Logan and Jessica journey through and then outside the city, they also journey towards a fuller understanding of reality and the world they live in—and bring that knowledge back to free the rest of the city. You can read the rest of my thoughts here.

Lord of the Rings. Arguably one of the ultimate road trip stories, the journey of Frodo and the fellowship is laced with many moments of grace, sanctification, and epiphany. You can read some of my thoughts on the films here and here.

Pitch Black.  This is a 2000 sci-fi flick about a group of passengers on a transport ship who crash land on a desert planet and journey across a land infested with flesh-eating pterodactyl-like creatures that come out in the darkness to reach a transport that can get them off the planet. I must have seen this movie at least half a dozen times (admittedly, mostly the edited version of this rated R film they show on television). It’s a pretty decent film as far as science fiction films go (and I have hard time thinking of another planet-rise as amazing as the one in this film), but what draws me back has more to do with Riddick and his journey. You can read the rest of my thoughts here.

Serenity. This sci-fi film that continues the small-screen Firefly on the big screen is as much about Captain Malcom Reynold’s personal journey as it is about the "road trip" of the crew of Serenity through space. You can read a bit of my thoughts about the film here and the series here.

True Grit. There are now two big screen versions of Charles Portis’ novel that follows the journey of 14 year-old Mattie, who hires the morally questionable but effective Marshall Rooster Cogburn to go after the man who shot and killed her father. Interesting, the films end in different places; the Cohens’ film more closely follows the book while the John Wayne version changes the ending towards a more hopeful note. You can read more of my thoughts on the Wayne film here and the novel and its ending here. For what it’s worth, an original film poster of the Cohens’ version hangs on our wall (which means we liked it).

Zathura. In this sci-fi film, two brothers start to play an old board game and find themselves (and their house and sister) suddenly thrust into outer space. The only way to return house and home to Earth? Continue playing the game. Granted, this is a different kind of “road trip” but the message of the film—“there are some games you can’t play alone”—is a good one. You can read more about my thoughts on this film here.

2 comments:

Karl Udy said...

I found the characters in The Book of Eli to be quite cliched - especially Gary Oldman's villain. I don't know if it would qualify as a "road film" but The Secret of Kells deals with the same issues of the different attitudes that people have to a book that is the greatest treasure with much more depth and style, and without resorting to a cheap twist at the end.

Carmen Andres said...

i agree, most of the characters were cliche, but i have to admit, i was engaged by the story and actually liked the twist at the end, heh. thanks for the heads up on "Kells"...