what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I know that I promised a book review, but here's a movie review instead. As always, feel free to tell me what you think of what I think.

Landon and I watched Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland Saturday night, and it left me pondering some questions. It made me think about the sovereignty of God v. the free will of man, whether there's any way to avoid extremes, and the general attractiveness of blue caterpillars smoking hookahs. It was a fascinating movie. It was also a bit of a disappointment.

The movie opens with a flashback, but the story really begins with 19 year old Alice (Mia Washikowska) in a carriage on the way to a party. We begin to see the outlines of her character in her interactions with her Mother (Lindsay Duncan), who is not pleased to discover her lack of corset and stockings. While some of Alice's statements and actions are contrarian and anti-establishment, she speaks and acts with more confused petulance than defiance, as when she sulkily compares a corset to a codfish. Alice is set up as a plethora of awkward: barely more than a child in her blue party dress and hanging curls, yet a woman in marital eligibility. A rebel as concerns her undergarments, but oddly compliant when ordered with whom to dance. Distracted and eccentric, yet socially desirable enough to have caught the eye of a Lord.

By the time that Alice dashes away from a very public marriage proposal to follow the waistcoated white rabbit down the hole it is obvious that this girl needs a good dose of direction, clarity, and what is commonly known as “finding herself.” Through her interactions with and reactions to the whole array of weird, wonderful, and just plain fascinating people and places of Wonderland she finds just what she needs. The possibilities for symbolism in this movie are endless, but there isn't room to explore all of the options here; suffice it to say that in Alice's confusions, triumphs, and breakthroughs in Wonderland, we can see the shape of her successes in the world above ground. In Wonderland she “finds her much-ness” again, and fulfills everyone's expectations of her by just doing exactly what she thinks best. It's very neat, really.

And therein lies my biggest problem with this movie: it doesn't live up to its potential for moral complexity and thematic ambiguity. Follow your heart, believe in the impossible, and you can have it all – Disney modern-princess movie anyone? I'm not against “happily ever after” endings, or fairy tales, or the reminder that sometimes you can do what looks impossible if you have enough confidence. It's just that in this movie, they don't quite fit with the rest of the story; there's a jarring note in the overlay of Tim Burton eccentricity and simplistic Princess themes.

While I am less than impressed with its self-empowerment theme, I can hardly find fault with the movie's presentation. The mix of standard computer animation, CGI, motion capture animation, and live action characters allows for a gorgeous multi-layered visual. The landscape can be jewel toned, despairingly dark, and confusingly dreamlike as called for. Some of the characters are a mixture of two or three of those methods, like Helena Bonham Carter as the bulbous-headed Red Queen, and Crispin Glover as the knave of hearts with a live action face atop a motion-capture animated body. Johnny Depp plays the truly mad, slightly pathetic, but very brave Mad Hatter with discomfiting eyes. And, speaking of Disney princesses, Anne Hathaway's White Queen is (in my humble opinion) one of the most bizarre and unsettling characters in the whole movie.

As a whole, I would heartily recommend this movie if you're already interested, but wouldn't count it a must-see. Although it's definitely a treat for the eyes, it doesn't quite have the substance that it could; like Alice, it's lacking a little much-ness.

Alice in Wonderland” is rated PG, and is quite clean as far as innuendo and language are concerned, so it's suitable for almost any audience; I probably wouldn't recommend it for very young children who are going to be confused by the dreamlike qualities of Wonderland or frightened by the mild action scenes.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I would call myself a casual observer of current events. I don't obsess about ferreting out the latest news, and I don't even have a news feed as my home page. I get an e-mail every day with some headlines from the New York Times; some days I delete the e-mail, most days I scan the headlines and read two or three articles that look interesting, every once in a while I really go through and read half a dozen or more articles that look particularly informative. Other than this I get my news through listening to NPR when I'm in the car.

So I have a decent grasp on the big stuff (there's oil in the gulf of Mexico, South Carolina is a political soap opera, General McChrystal has a big mouth, etc.), but it's not exactly up to the minute, and it's not terribly in depth. You can read all that as a disclaimer and an introduction, because this casual observer has some questions about current events (and by current I mean within the past few weeks).

1) What, exactly, did/do people expect President Obama to do about the oil spill?

This is partly a sarcastic remark, and partly an honest question. From my limited perspective, it looks like a problem that requires people with a more experience in engineering and less in politics. Are there presidential powers of which I am not aware that Obama should have been exercising? Is there something that he didn't do that he could have, or did that he should have not have? Also, isn't it a little odd that people were so angry that he didn't appear angry enough?

2) Are stupid remarks about the boss and difficult coworkers, made while not on the job or in official capacity, just cause to fire someone?

This is, of course, a reference to General Stanley McChrystal, who was removed from his post as the leader of the Afghan war following an article published in Rolling Stone containing some less than satisfied things that he had to say about diplomats and Obama administration members.

3) Is presiding over the opening of a construction project in Ohio really the best way to curry favor with the citizens of that fine state?

Last weekend I had to giggle at the story of President Obama attending the ground breaking of a road construction project in Columbus, OH. Having lived in the area, I can attest to the annoyance felt by all when summer begins and the orange barrels begin sprouting like pestiferous, poisonous blooms. Undeniably it is a good thing that a construction crews worth of Ohians have a job that they would not have otherwise had. Also, road construction is a good thing. It's just an annoying good thing. Especially in Ohio. Thus the giggling.

4) Why did I ever hate Landon Donovan?

This question should be self-explanatory. If its not, there is little hope for you. Also,

5) Where can I get hold of a vuvuzela?

I asked, you answer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hello World!

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

~ James 4:13-15

To be a brilliant vapor is to live life with an awareness of its brevity, and a determination not to waste that time simply existing (defined as allowing yourself to be simply acted upon by the forces that push us around in life). It is to choose instead to actively live out this brief encounter with time, utilizing as much choice as has been given us to fill it with what is meaningful, instead of just what happens to be there.

To live life with the reality of our vapor-ness is an exercise in priorities; ours are simple. To truly live is to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness. We recognize these supreme virtues to be bound up in the person of YHWH, the Creator. Obviously, then, to pursue them is to pursue Him, to pursue Him is to pursue them. This belief contains a few consequences and assumptions:

  1. Truth, beauty, and goodness exist in objective, knowable forms. These three qualities are exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ and in His kingdom (the kingdom of the heavens).

  2. Truth will never contradict itself. Revealed truth (the Bible, in all its inerrant glory), and discovered truth (in science and all other explorations of what there is to know in the world) will never really disagree.

  3. Our search for the beautiful must be informed by the character of God, not just what is pleasant for our senses.

  4. The goodness of something is dependent on God's definition of what is good; something that He calls evil cannot be called good, and vice versa.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of where we're coming from. Here is a short list of other potentially important background facts:

  1. We believe in the Bible as the revealed word of God.
  2. Our theology is informed by the Anabaptist tradition, specifically our upbringing and continued membership in the Mennonite church. However, other theological traditions have impacted our thinking to varying degrees and we recognize their value.
  3. Our higher education is in (generally speaking) Biblical studies (Marina) and science (Landon).
  4. We enjoy a good debate.

The purpose of this blog is to share what we find in our search. It might be a book or movie review, an essay on theology (or a research paper, if we're feeling ambitious), a commentary or question on recent events, a commentary or question on scripture, or whatever else our minds come up with. On any of these, we desire your interaction; questions, comments, and critiques are all welcome (just keep it civil). Marina is the voice of the blog, but the posts will inevitably come out of our life together. In the next week or two look for some questions on current events, a book review, and maybe a scientifically oriented guest post from Landon.