Band Aid (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour  min. 31.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 8; Sex 6/Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

It is honorable to refrain from strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Proverbs 20:3

Band Aid practicing in their garage. (c) IFC Films

Zoe Lister-Jones is multi-talented. She wrote, directed, produced Band Aid, and co-wrote the lyrics for its songs, as well as starring in this dramedy that focuses upon domestic strife. After watching her film, sometimes hilarious, but its humor always on-target, I was saddened that its deservedly hard R rating will limit its usefulness for religious groups—except for those young adults who can easily overlook the nude love scenes and excessively foul language.

Anna (Lister-Jones) feels unfulfilled because the failure of a past book deal has forced her to earn money by driving for Uber. Husband Ben (Adam Pally) is an unsuccessful visual artist loafing around their apartment in his underwear smoking pot and taking on occasional Photoshop jobs. Their enforced close living and vocation failures lead to frequent quarrels about a multitude of things, the most frequent arguments being Ben’s refusal to do his share of dish washing. It looks they will be heading for a divorce until they attend the birthday party of their friends’ child. Under the spell of the weed they are smoking, they find themselves laughing while playing together some of the toy instruments.

This sparks an idea, in that both did play real instruments in high school. Why not turn their angry retorts at each other into songs? Almost before they know it, they have dug their guitars out of storage and come up with a song—and find themselves enjoying the process and the result. Anna belts out a diatribe that once would have sent Ben up a wall, but as a lyric makes him smile instead. Their weird neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) is drawn by the sound to their garage, and soon they are pleading with him to serve as their drummer. Despite his strange sex life, this proves to be a good choice—not only is he a talented drummer, but he also becomes a moderating influence on them when their bickering spills over from the songs, threatening again their relationship. It is appropriate that their turning to music to heal their sick marriage leads them to call the band Band Aid.

After a funny struggle with the mic that seems stuck in Anna’s mouth, Band Aid is well received by the young adults during a club’s weekly open mic night. But will a successful music career bring real healing, or will it be like applying a band aid over a cancer sore? Aided by some sage advice from Ben’s mother (Susie Essman), who at first comes across as a nasty mother-in-law, the pair slowly grope toward a degree of maturity. During this period the pair slowly bring to the surface a major source of their discontent and pain, one which had been too distressful for them to confront openly.

The drama and humor, including a crack about the Holocaust, depict well a secular Jewish couple’s struggle to save their marriage, both discovering that a healthy relationship is hard work. That they are willing to do so rather than taking the easy way out of divorce or adultery is the good news of this film. Probably too raunchy, and too accepting of casual drug use for many people of faith, it nonetheless could evoke some insightful discussion of marriage as well as provide an hour and a half of laughter.

This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.


Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 22 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”;
all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Psalm 10:1-4

The dinner party begins amiably, but soon goes down hill.       (c) FilmNation Entertainment

Director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White finished their film before Donald Trump was elected president, but one of the characters couldn’t be more like him, except for two things—he is far more socially gracious, and has a lot less hair. Centering upon a Mexican-American masseuse/wholistic healer living in Southern California, the film’s fish out of water story shines a spotlight on the darker side of American business practices and the sometimes-disastrous ways that they affect those with no power. Salma Hayek’s Beatriz is so diminutive standing next to the others at the dinner party to which she is an unexpected guest that the story physically, as well as symbolically, becomes a David vs. Goliath affair.

At a ritzy Newport Beach mansion therapist Beatriz has just finished a session with Cathy (Connie Britton) when she discovers that her dilapidated VW will not start. Her wealthy client has become more of a friend than a patron because she is convinced that Beatriz’s nursing her sick daughter during a series of chemo treatments was as responsible for the girl’s recovery as were the doctors. Because Beatriz cannot secure a ride until later in the evening, she invites her to stay and join their small dinner party. Not suitably dressed, Beatriz tries to refuse, but Cathy will not take No for an answer—even when she informs her husband Grant (David Warshofsky) and he responds that he thinks this is not appropriate.

The catered dinner party is to celebrate Grant and his partner’s slightly shady business deal with the high-powered mover and shaker Doug Strutt. Thus, the guests include partner Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife Shannon (Chloë Sevigny), and Doug (John Lithgow) and Jeana Strutt (Amy Landecker). As we will soon see, the project developer Doug has an appropriate last name. He is the kind who enters a room and expects all eyes to focus upon him. As the center of the conversation, he seems to think that everyone should be taking notes so they will remember his pearls of advice gleaned from his recounting his business exploits all over the world. Of course, at first, he thinks Beatriz, dressed as she is, is a servant, and asks her to fetch him a drink. Cathy ignores the scarcely concealed surprise of both couples as she introduces Beatriz, explaining to them how she brought their daughter back to health.

Beatriz at first sits demurely and quietly at the table as the other guests chatter back and forth, mostly about business dealings in Mexico and Panama. The tension begins when she recounts her family history beginning in Mexico, and Strutt interrupts to ask if they came into this country legally. When she describes her healing work, Strutt condescendingly says that this is good, she is contributing something.

The real fireworks begin later when Strutt, passing around his phone displaying a picture of a rhino he has shot, boasts about his exploit. We have seen earlier how much Beatriz loves animals, so her rising anger is no surprise. Calling it murder, the enraged Beatriz loses her cool, hurling the phone across the room at Strutt. She is even more upset later when she realizes that his Mexican hotel project that the others so admire was what disrupted her family and neighbors, destroying her community for the sake of wealthy American tourists.

Beatriz is so upset that she contemplates murder herself. The climax is shattering, and the end of the film is strange, almost enigmatic, which might leave you scratching your head. (I would love to hear what some of you think about it!)

For some this will be a parable comparing society’s predators to those exploited. I can imagine a Jeremiah doing more than throwing Strutt’s cell phone at him. He might have joined the later Galilean prophet who quoted him while turning over scores of another kind of table. When Beatriz leaves the group after her outburst, Cathy comes to see how she is faring. She exclaims to Beatriz, “I don’t even know you,” to which her guest replies, “You don’t.” Obviously during the years of massages and the difficult period when Beatriz nursed her sick daughter, Cathy had never enquired about the healer’s past, or the tragic reason why her family had left Mexico.

Most critics have called this a dark comedy. It is the kind that the jaded Qoheleth might have written could he have become a filmmaker. When Beatriz speaks of how her family and their neighbors had to move out of their homes when Strutt’s project took over their land, I thought of the first verse of Ecclesiastes, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.” The filmmakers pay heart-felt tribute to the little people, while calling the Strutts of the world to account.

Note: There are two trailers on IMDB that provide a good idea of what this film is about.

This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Reviewed by Dr. Markus Watson

Rated R. Running time:  2 hours 2 minutes.

Our content rating (1-10): Violence 10; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 7.

Our star rating (1-5): 4 stars

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:28

And He remembered His covenant for their sake,

And relented according to the greatness of His loving kindness.

Psalm 106:45

The crew of the Covenant steps onto a new planet for possible colonization.     (c) 20th Century Fox

The world was first introduced to Ridley Scott’s xenomorph in 1979’s Alien.  This movie was followed by three sequels (Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien: Resurrection) until the series faded away in the late 1990’s (we’ll try to forget the two Alien vs. Predator movies).  But in 2012, the series was reborn with a prequel titled Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant (directed by Ridley Scott) takes place ten years after the events of Prometheus, but the film opens with a scene that takes place prior to Prometheus.  The android David (Michael Fassbender) is questioned by his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).  “What do you believe in?” Weyland asks.  David replies, “Creation.”

With this, the covenant relationship between creator and creation is introduced.

The film then jumps forward in time.  The crew of an enormous ship (christened the Covenant) traveling through the galaxy—a crew made up of married couples and the android Walter (an upgrade from David, also played by Michael Fassbender)—is taking a ship filled with two thousand sleeping humans to colonize a new planet.  When the ship runs into problems the crew decides to explore a nearby planet that might support human life.

When they arrive, they soon discover something is terribly wrong.  Two of the crew are quickly killed when they get infected by an alien virus.  Then they discover an ancient city in which the human-like inhabitants seem to have been turned to stone.  The only “functioning” inhabitant of the city turns out to be the android David who was marooned on this planet after the events of Prometheus.

David seems at first to be a savior.  But by the end of the movie the crew makes a terrible discovery.  Not only is David guilty of genocide, having killed the planet’s inhabitants with the alien virus, but for the past ten years David has been genetically modifying the xenomorph DNA.  It seems that he has created the perfect alien weapon, namely, the alien we know from the original 1979 film.

The title of this movie certainly seems to scream “theological connections!”  The concept of “covenant” is central to healthy relationships in the scriptures, especially God’s relationship with humanity (Creator and creation) and the relationship between a husband and a wife.  A covenant is a promise made in relationship: God promises to love and care for his creation, and husband and wife promise to love and be faithful to one another.

Both of these relationships are emphasized in Alien: Covenant.  The marriage covenant is underscored throughout the film.  Time after time, characters practically go out of their way to remind each other that they are married to one of the other crew members.  Husbands and wives love each other, care for each other, try to save each others lives, and seem to be truly faithful to one another.

The creator/creation covenant relationship—evident in the relationship between David and the xenomorphs he has been genetically modifying—is a bit more problematic.  While there is a certain kind of connection and faithfulness evident between creator and creation, it seems rather twisted.  There is a kind of perversity to what David has done.  The alien xenomorphs are his “children” and their only purpose is to destroy and kill.

There is a huge gap between the kind of covenant relationship we see in the movie and what we see in the scriptures.  Whereas David’s creation exists only to bring devastation, human beings—God’s creation made in God’s image—have been charged to be stewards of all of God’s good creation.

In Genesis 1, God blesses the humans and calls them to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  This verse is often understood negatively, as though we are to dominate over the rest of creation.  But the kind of “subduing” and “ruling” that God invites us into does not involve domination.  Just as God rules us with love and kindness and protection, so we are to rule the creation with love and kindness and protection.  We, like God, are to bring the best out of creation.

Not so, the xenomorph of Alien: Covenant.  The covenant between David and the xenomorph is a covenant of destruction (I should note that every marriage covenant in the movie is ruined by David and his xenomorphs), whereas God’s covenant with humanity is a covenant of love and care.

The Exception (2016)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 47  min.

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex 5/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5


 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

And to this people you shall say: Thus says the Lord: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.

Jeremiah 21:8

Col. von Ilsemann, the ex-Kaiser, & Capt. Brandt follow the advances of Hitler’s armies on the large table-map.         (c) A24

After watching director David Leveaux and screenwriter Simon Burke’s film, its title reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s 2007 The Good German. That earlier film title, set in the immediate post-WW 2 years in Germany, refers to any German who either opposed the Nazis or who served in the government or armed forces but did not know about the Holocaust. In this new film, based on Alan Judd’s novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” which mixes fictional characters with historical ones, the German Army Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is at least twice called “the exceptional” in regard to his fellow Nazi officers—for a reason that is slowly revealed as events unfold.

The story begins in 1940 when the Captain is reluctantly in Berlin rather than participating in the fighting because of some “business with the SS in Poland.” He is given the assignment to go to the Netherlands to assume command of the personal bodyguard of the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II, a man whom he had presumed dead. Unhappy with the assignment, he asks how he can do this in another country, and his superior informs him that the Reich forces are at that moment taking over Holland. He is to receive the assignment as an honor, he is told, because the Kaiser is till of “tremendous symbolic importance to the German people.”

The ex-Kaiser (Christopher Plummer) is living on a magnificent country estate outside Utrecht. Thanks to payments by the German government he has not wanted for anything in order to maintain a royal standard of living. The old man is supported by a loyal staff that includes his aide-de-camp Col. von Ilsemann (Ben Daniels), plus his crafty empress, the Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer). The newest member of his staff is a maid named Mieke de Jong (Lily James), so beautiful that the old man remarks that if here a hundred years younger, he might…

The new movie is an intriguing blend of a small amount of history with an erotic romance. Brandt has no sooner arrived and presented himself at the mansion when, alone with Mieke who has brought a message to his cottage, he orders her to take off her clothes. She meekly complies, but he is unable to perform. However, later, whether out of attraction or pity, she comes and tells him to take off his clothes. Lovers of bodice-busting novels will probably find their romance greatly entertaining.

The history part of the film gives the great actor Christopher Plummer a fine opportunity to show off his talent. His version of the ruler is of an old temperamental man set in a routine of feeding the ducks, chopping wood, hunting, and dreaming of returning to assume the throne again. Like the real Kaiser, his is a man of conflicting opinions—he is anti-Semitic yet deplores Hitler’s brutal treatment of the Jews; despises Hitler yet is happy for the Führer’s military victories. Like his wife, he hopes that Hitler will bring him home to assume his royal title again.

There is intrigue afoot when Brandt, who by now in love with Mieke, and she so much with him that she reveals that she is a Jew, learns that there is an Allied spy in the region. The agent operates a radio somewhere in the region, so a second mobile radio detection van is sent for so that the Germans can triangulate his position. It is no spoiler, I am sure, to reveal that Mieke is bringing the spy news of events of the ex-Kaiser’s household.

When Brandt discovers a pistol hidden in Mieke’s room, he is pulled by his loyalty to his country and to her. At one point he asks if there is a loyalty to something greater than one’s country. His decision grows more difficult when the news arrives that Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan), second in command to Hitler, will soon pay a visit. Mieke vows vengeance because her family was destroyed by the butcher.

Our dawning awareness that Capt. Brandt is “the exception” to his fellow SS officers comes be means of some short flashbacks. At first we see a couple of times an overhead shot of a girl, possibly 12 or so, sprawled on the ground. This is repeated, until, from a higher vantage point, we see that the girl is at the edge of what seems to be a cluster of hundreds of dead bodies, all of them civilians. Brandt apparently had not accepted such atrocious tactics and made a protest, hence the rumor voiced by a fellow officer that the man had been in some trouble in Poland, and that if he had not high connections, he would have been executed.

Like the fictional Captain Brandt, I knew nothing of Kaiser Wilhelm’s fate following his abdication and exile, so I found the film fascinating. My usual looking out for “a moment of grace” was rewarded by the scene in which Mieke and Brandt, caught in one of their trysts, is brought by the outraged Empress to her husband out of the expectation that both will be publicly disgraced and banished from the house. Everyone is surprised by what he says and does.

The graciousness of the old man (he was 82 when he died a year later) comes through also in the climax of the film during a flight from the SS, now aware that Mieke is also a spy. I wish the real Kaiser Wilhelm II had been more like Mr. Plummer’s depiction, instead of the temperamental man, subject to scandalous outbursts very like a certain U.S. president.

The romance and adventure are thrilling, but the main reason that I recommend this film is Mr. Plummer’s fine performance—and in every scene together Janet McTeer as the Empress is his equal. Indeed, I agree with the IMDB reviewer who calls her a “Lady Macbeth.”

Beyond its entertainment value, the film also serves as a visual parable dealing with the choice between good and evil.

Note: For information on the real Kaiser see the Wikipedia article at:,_German_Emperor


This review with a set of questions will be in the. 2017 issue of VP.

Oh, God! (1977)

This review includes many spoilers so as to explore in some detail the theme of faith, so you might want to see the film first, if you have not already. I am posting it now because it fits in well with one of the Scripture Lessons in the column “Lectionary Links,” featured in the July 2017 issue of Visual Parables.

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 38 min. Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1. Our star rating (1-5): 5

 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;  our God is merciful.

The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.

I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;

I said in my consternation, ‘Everyone is a liar.’

Psalm 116:5-11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Mark 4:6


Jerry at night-time again reads the note,

supposedly from God.   (c) Warner Bros.

Many people were put off by the title of Carl Reiner’s film when it was released in 1977. Most were soon put to ease when they saw the story unfold about God trying to reassure an anxious humanity (it was the height of the Cold War) that things would turn out all right if they would have faith and do the right thing.

In the film God’s means of calling a mild-mannered assistant produce manager, very much like “the simple” of Psalm 116, was not quite as eye-catching as a burning bush, but still miraculous. Jerry finds a note amongst the produce at the store where he is an assistant manager. It is type-written invitation claiming that God wanted to meet with him at a certain place. Thinking it a joke, he tries to get rid of it, but it keeps reappearing, including that night when he is in bed with his wife.

The next day he does go to the building, his meeting setting him forth on a seemingly impossible mission because it seems so preposterous. Claiming that God took the form of an old man wearing sneakers whenever they met–how could anyone accept that? Jerry, as played by John Denver, had trouble himself at first believing that the old man, ably portrayed by George Burns, was really God. Nor was it any easier accepting his call to go and tell others. Wouldn’t they think he was crazy?

God & Jerry at his supermarket. (c) Warner Bros.

Yes, they would. Jerry’s own wife and children think he has gone off the deep end. When he manages to get on the Dinah Shore Show, he is held up to ridicule. The TV anchors and pundits have a field day with him. And a panel of famous theologians and a TV evangelist are unconvinced when they interrogate him. God, however, is fed up with the smug, less than honest evangelist, so he has Jerry go to one of his televised services and attack him verbally. This leads to a court case against Jerry, initiated by the evangelist and his attorney. Again, Jerry is held up to ridicule, but this time, if the judge does not accept Jerry’s claims, there will be a costly penalty. The trial reaches its climax, with Jerry calling one witness (against the judge’s advice Jerry serves as his own attorney).

Jerry calls as his witness, and he pauses for a dramatic instant, “God.” Everyone looks back at the double-door of the courtroom. Nothing happens. There is a snicker among the crowd, but the judge is clearly not amused. Jerry argues that there was a moment when everyone must have expected someone, a brief instant when belief and doubt co-existed in their minds, because they all looked back at the doors. Thus, he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and the case against him dismissed, he argues. The judge is not only not convinced; he is tempted to cite Jerry for contempt of court!

And then the doors do open, and in walks the old man in sneakers, just as Jerry had described him, claiming to be God. God accepts the oath, swearing “so help me, Me,” and then proceeds to affirm both Jerry’s message and his goodness. When the evangelist’s lawyer tries to question God, he is told, “Sit down, Sonny!” The camera pointedly shows us the court recorder starting a tape recorder, as well as typing every word being spoken. After his brief testimony in which God again reassures humanity that they will be fine if they believe and do right (and he also does a card trick for the judge!), he walks down the aisle and exits through the doors.

A buzz spreads through the startled people in the courtroom. Only Jerry, and at last his wife who had questioned his sanity, are calm and pleased at what has transpired. The judge orders the plaintiff and the defendant into his chamber to discuss the case. He confesses that he is not sure what happened, especially when the court recorder cannot find any of the words of God on the tape and the typed transcript. We can hear during the playback the questions and remarks of all the humans, but where God supposedly spoke there is only silence. A check of the paper transcript also reveals only blank spaces at those places where God’s words should have been. The evangelist and his lawyer claim that this must all be a hoax or a hallucination. Jerry tells them that God had told him such would happen, that God cannot be captured or enclosed physically, that he came in human form only to accommodate our limited senses. His accusers refuse to accept this, of course. The judge, saying that they will probably never know what really happened in that courtroom, dismisses the case, and Jerry walks out a free man, both he and his wife believing that they had indeed encountered the living God.

I really enjoyed Avery Corman’s novel, on which the film is based, but it ends before God walks through the courtroom doors. Thus, when the film continued, I thought, “Oh no, here goes Hollywood, messing up a good novel–they couldn’t just end the film here. They had to prove to everyone that it was really God whom Jerry had met.” This feeling of disappointment continued–until the scene in the judge’s chambers, when no physical evidence could be provided for God’s presence. The people had only the evidence of their own senses, and they responded according to the nature of their character. The evangelist with his fake faith, so smug with his belief in a god made in the image of himself, refused to credit his own eyes and ears. The skeptical judge was at least open, but still not convinced. Only Jerry and his wife truly believed and left the courtroom changed by the experience.

The filmmakers accepted Avery Corman’s thesis that there is always ambiguity in faith, that the believer must choose whether or not to believe. The scriptwriter took the novelist’s biblical understanding a step further, showing us that God cannot be pinned down by our modern devices. God is far too big and tenuous (spiritual) for tape recorders, or any other technological device, by which we attempt to capture “Reality.” Thus Oh, God! stands in opposition to the many biblical spectaculars, such as Cecil B. DeMille’s’ The Ten Commandments, in which miracles are objectified for all to see and be convinced of God’s presence. The film seems to start out that way, with God acceding to Jerry’s request for a miracle to prove that he is really god: God causes it to rain inside Jerry’s car, while the sun is shining outside–but this is a private experience just for Jerry. Others, such as the traffic cop who stops him, could interpret the water as having been left over from a car wash through which he must have driven with his windows open.

Oh, God! reminds us that although “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we must still choose to accept an experience, and that different people, such as those in the judge’s chambers, will react to a faith encounter in different ways, some accepting, and others rejecting the validity of the experience.

This review is adapted from the longer feature (it includes questions) “Praying the Movies” that appeared in the Oct. 2000 issue of Visual Parables.

Dean (2016)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 27 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,

    and my bones waste away.

Psalm 31:10

Dean and his father Robert visit the grave of their mother/wife.                         (c) CBS Films

It is a real joy to come across a comedy that really is for adults interested in real life issues rather than promoting alcohol and drug, penis and fart jokes! Written and directed by comedian Demitri Martin, it deals with death and loss, though not in as profound a way as the Emily Dickinson film A Quiet Passion. However, being a comedy, it is never morbid but there is a freshness to it thanks to the series of humorous simple cartoons, drawn by Dean, that are sprinkled throughout the film. I also enjoyed the film because it includes the wonderful Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen as a possible romantic pair.

Appropriately, the film begins in a cemetery where Dean (Martin) and his father Robert (Kline) are placing a bouquet of flowers on a grave. They are mourning the death of Dean’s mother, whose death nearly a year earlier has continued to plague them. Robert, an engineer, takes the practical route of his profession, coping with his loss by seeing a therapist and deciding to put their house up for sale. Dean, unfortunately, has been moping around, unable to finish his over-due second book of cartoons, and unwilling to talk about selling the house which contains so many happy memories.

He travels to L.A. for a job interview, but the way his two creepy would-be employers want to use his art proves so obnoxious that he walks out of their office without speaking a word. Throughout his sojourn in La La Land the film exhibits the same contrast between L.A. and New York as seen in Woody Allen’s films, all the former city’s denizens pictured as shallow and insincere flacks. He stays with longtime friend Eric (Rory Scovel), meets briefly Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) at a party in an embarrassing way, and, when he doesn’t hear from her for a while, boards a plane to return home. Suddenly seeing her text on his cell phone, he disembarks, setting out to join her. This leads to a road trip with Nicky, her friend Jill (who for a reason to become clear later disapproves of Eric pursing Nicky), and Eric, but…

Meanwhile, back in New York, his father Robert grows closer to the realtor listing and showing their house, Carol (Mary Steenburgen). He enjoys going out with her several times, but he is still not over his mourning. This is poignantly shown when, after an enjoyable night out, Carol asks him to come up. We can see by his face the conflicting emotions. He wants to, but something inside causes him to refuse. His emotions are still too entangled with the woman who had meant so much to him.

Dean returns to the East, and it is during this last portion that the film returns to its father and son thesis. The son grows a bit when his good friend tells him that his mother’s death is the “first big thing in your life you are never going to get over.” There are some things that cannot be changed and which must be accepted. Dean and Robert still have each other, each learning that the mourning period is more complicated and longer than expected—and it must be faced, not run from as in Dean’s case, before one can form a new romantic relationship and expect it to be stable. Neither filmmaker nor the characters seem to possess a mustard seed of faith, so they have little to console themselves with other than their own resources. As with so many of those viewing the film, this will have to do. The Psalmist, quoted above, because of his God, is assured that His “sorrow…sighing…and misery” are temporary. These three will pass for Dean and Robert too, but it will take longer for their power over them fade enough for them to bond with new lovers —well, in Robert’s case, maybe not so “new” a lover.

This review with a set of questions will be in the. 2017 issue of VP.

A Quiet Passion (2016)


Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 5 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

One fate comes to all alike, and this is as wrong as anything that happens in this world. As long as people live, their minds are full of evil and madness, and suddenly they die. But anyone who is alive in the world of the living has some hope; a live dog is better off than a dead lion. Yes, the living know they are going to die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward; they are completely forgotten. Their loves, their hates, their passions, all died with them. They will never again take part in anything that happens in this world.

Ecclesiastes 9:3-6

The only family member not kneeling at their pastor’s command is Emily. (c) Music Box Films

British filmmaker/writer Terence Davies has given us a wonderful film to enhance our enjoyment of Emily Dickinson’s graceful poetry. He begins his film in 1848, when Emily would have been about. 18 years of age, a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where its founder Mary Lyon (Sara Vertongen), addresses the assembled classes. “You have now come to the end of your second semester. Some of you will remain here … Some of you will go out into the world…I put to you a question of the utmost importance, which concerns your spiritual well-being. Do you wish to come to God and be saved?”

At her urging, those sure of their salvation move to one side of the room, while the not yet arrived, but still hopeful ones move to other side. One student remains in the center. Emily. Miss Lyons demands, “Have you said your prayers?” “Yes, though it can’t make much difference to the Creator.” Upset by this, her interrogator launches into a critical tirade, to which the unmoved Emily replies, “I wish I could feel as others do, but it is not possible.” “You are alone in your rebellion, Miss Dickinson. I fear that you are a no-hoper.” “Yes, Miss Lyon.”

The recalcitrant Emily is relieved that her brother Austin, has arrived to rescue her, taking her and her sister back to their home in Amherst. Throughout the film Emily is depicted as a lone rebel, standing against the stifling conventions of her time, eventually becoming the recluse who was the subject of so much talk in the town. Later when she is asked if she has an illness, she says that she had “an acute case of evangelism.”

Another example of the script’s many witticism’s is Emily’s response to her straight-laced Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland) comparing her rebellious acts to French Revolutionist Robespierre. The niece impudently says that she would prefer Charlotte Corday, the vengeful woman who was executed for assassinating the radical Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub.

At home Emily usually is the dutiful daughter, seeking her father Edward’s (Keith Carradine) permission to stay up late and write her poems. Liberal for his times, he agrees. He also accedes to her request that he contact his friend Dr. Holland, editor of the Springfield Republican, about publishing one of her poems. (Until the end of her life, this would be the only journal in which less than a dozen of her over 800 poems appeared in print.) Yet we also see the father as sharing his age’s patriarchal views when the family attends an operatic recital in Boston and he criticizes the female singer for appearing on a stage. Aunt Elizabeth is even more vehement in denouncing this crossing over the line of female propriety.

Throughout her life Emily will be the dutiful (to her father) outsider, even dissenting from the public’s taste in poetry. Whereas others profess their great admiration for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, especially his lengthy “Hiawatha,” she expresses disdain. She prefers poetry that is not so obvious, poetry that challenges the intellect as well as the senses. She pushes against the world even in the punctuation of her writing, in one scene angrily condemning the editor for “correcting” what he thought were mistakes without consulting her.

The film transitions from its short first portion dealing with the characters’ youth to its longer section, set years later, by a marvelous dissolve effect. The family members are having their portraits taken by a photographer. As the finished photo of each appears, it morphs from the faces of the younger actors into that of the older ones who take their places in the story. Rose Williams, playing Emily’s sister Vinnie, slowly changes into Jennifer Ehle; Benjamin Wainwright, as young Austin, melts into Duncan Duff; Emma Bell dissolves into Cynthia Nixon — and Keith Carradine’s hair becomes thinner.

Another admirable technical feat is a leisurely 360-degree camera shot in the family parlor that begins with Emily. The family members are entertaining themselves as slowly the camera focuses upon each of them–the austere Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland) is almost nodding off to sleep; Edward is reading; brother, Austin (Benjamin Wainwright), partly off in the shadows, also is reading, her adored sister, Lavinia (Rose Williams), known as Vinnie, sewing; and their mother, also named Emily (Joanna Bacon) stares at the fire. The camera passes over the flames in the fireplace and other objects in the semi-darkened room, at last coming to rest once more on young Emily, her serious face revealing some inner concern.

Never having read any of the Dickinson biographies, I do not know how much of the film’s dialogue is historical, and how much stems from the creative imagination of the filmmaker. Admirers of Mt. Holyoke College and its pioneering feminist founder Mary Lyon will be upset by the portrayal of Ms. Lyon as a narrow-minded, vindictive religious fanatic, but I suspect the writer would say that his intention is for this scene is to show the kind of religion the poet was up against all her life, rather than to show the real Miss Lyon. From what I have been able to find out, this scene is not recorded anywhere else. However, such rigid religious views did prevail in New England at the time, and sadly, still are wide-spread among Fundamentalists. This is but one of the theories as to why Dickinson left the school after just 10 months, another being that she was homesick, and another that the shy girl and her sister (yes, Vinnie enrolled at the same time) did not get along with her fellow students.

Although I usually prefer historical accuracy, I find this scene helpful in showing the poet’s courage and forthrightness in refusing to bow down to religious tyranny—and she literally refuses to bow down when the dour pastor of her family’s church visits their home and demands that they all kneel and pray for God’s forgiveness. Emily’s refusal is based on her lack of feeling any guilt, her father angrily chastising her later and demanding that she apologize.

That she does respect compassionate religious leaders we see later in her relationship to other ministers, and, of course, in her poems, several of whom are read throughout the film. I am looking forward to seeing the film on DVD when I can use the subtitles to better catch the words of the numerous poems read by Cynthia Nixon. (I wish that IMDB included a list of them.) Of course, as the film approaches the time of the poet’s death, we do hear the words of her beloved, “Because I could not stop for Death— / He kindly stopped for me.”

Mary Lyon might have branded Dickinson as a “no-hoper,” but the poet was merely a questioner of dull, unimaginative orthodoxy. She would go on to write, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” The poet might have withdrawn from the world, but not from the universe. She continued to explore the latter regarding Nature, God, time, and death.

The film portrays Emily Dickinson as living completely in her own time (hence her obeying her father) yet also pushing against it, moving toward our own wherein a woman need not seek anyone’s permission to write after hours (or any other time). Her character, or role in life, is well summed up by the woman closest to her, except for her sister Vinnie, Miss Buffam (Catherine Bailey): “You are a strange creature, with more depth than any of us. You don’t demonstrate, you reveal.” I had intended to close this review with this, but then recalled the poem quoted in the film, perhaps more fitting in that it is autobiographical:

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told —
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —
Judge tenderly — of Me

 This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.