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21 Grams


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If you want to see more angst, pain, weeping, and life-wrecking crises in two hours than you ever have before, be sure to see 21 Grams. Jeez, what an overload.

The film, which is about death, loss, grieving, accidental killings, attempted murder, childlessness, abortion, drug use, heart surgery, jail time... I could go on, but I'll stop... features a career-best performance by Del Toro, strong work by Penn, and show-stealing work by Naomi Watts.

But, well... after a while I just quit caring. I started thinking that a lot of the misery these characters suffer (and blame on God) is really their own fault. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Worse, the more detached I became emotionally, the more I started to realize how contrived the storyline is; it just falls apart if you start to think about it as a linear sequence of events (it's jumbled in a Tarantino way.)

As in Amores Perros, Innaritu borrows artful imagery right out of the Colors trilogy (this time it's the fetal-position grieving underwater in a swimming pool, and a baffled witness to an offscreen car accident who gapes for a moment and then drops what he's doing and runs to investigate.) And he borrows a lot from Tarantino as well. But where Tarantino has a gunshot (or several) every few minutes, Innaritu has one of his central characters (or several) suffer an emotional breakdown every few minutes. His characters have three modes: loud angry confrontation, self-absorbed moping, and vigorous hasty sex. This movie needs a valium.

It also needs more restraint. The movie's excesses are exhausting and troubling... especially in the weepy scenes and a grossly indulgent sex scene that obliterated what little suspension of disbelief remained, tarnished my respect for the two actors, and drove me to look away from the screen and stare into my notebook to see if I could read the notes I'd been taking. Good grief, Inarritu. Let me shout your movie's closing question right back at you: "What has been gained? What has been gained?!!")

As if it's not disspiriting enough, much of the film is cast in a grey-green corpse-colored light that makes things feel even more miserable.

user posted image

- - - - THE ONLY HAPPY MOMENT IN THE MOVIE?? - - - - -

Also annoying: The whole Sean Penn/Naomi Watts relationship plays like an Ingmar Bergman version of Return to Me. (Same premise. Make of that what you will.)

While I burnt out on the film's overbearing story about halfway through, when the moments of high emotion just came too fast and too furious and the melodramatic dialogue began to get laughable, I was also put off by Innaritu's severe cynicism toward Christianity. I wondered if I was mis-reading this, but then today Jeffrey Wells (also openly anti-Christian) posted this bit of conversation from Toronto:

There's no mistaking the skepticism in 21 GRAMS towards people who lean on Jesus worship in order to get through life's hardships. Benicio's character, Frank, bails on Jesus after causing the death of three people in a terrible car accident -- he can't forgive any celestial presence that would benignly permit such a thing.  

Gonzalez Innaritu says he was subjected to the usual Catholic teachings and began to develop strong skepticism by age 12 or 13. He began, as I did at roughly the same age, to see the God and Jesus b******t -- those immensely discomforting assurances that they know all, see all, care deeply, and takes an occasional hand in our fates -- in all of its splendor. Most of us get there sooner or later. Benicio's Frank sure as hell does, and it's difficult to imagine Penn's and Watts's character not sharing this view by the film's end.  

\"The real spiritual people you meet in life are serene and at peace,\" Innaritu says. But the holy rollers and born-again Jesus freaks \"need emotion and the feeling of being spellbound and speaking in tongues and all that dramatic stuff. For them it's either Jesus or alcohol or drugs...they need radical feelings.\"  

We started talking about the advance reactions to Mel Gibson's THE PASSION, and Alejandro said he's begun to read the book Gibson's film is said to be largely based upon -- \"The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,\" a lengthy \"revelation\" received and written by Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich on the details of Christ's crucifixion, with all the horrendous sufferings. I got the feeling he was slightly appalled, but maybe not.

Anyway, he does what he can to rage against God and then to deny him entirely, and I think we're supposed to be left with some kind of "life must go on" kind of hope. But what an empty hope it proves to be. And if Inarritu told this story to demonstrate how empty Christian hope is, he sure has left us abandoned on a planet with people who are only more cruel to themselves than they are to each other.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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wow Jeffrey, i am SAD. sad.gif

I've been looking forward to this film for half a year. The whole idea behind the 21 Grams theme with the weight of the soul leaving the human body at death seemed like such a great idea to build a story on, especially in the artistic way i'd imagined Innaritu filming it.

I remember first hearing about this idea years ago on the Art Bell show and i've always been intrigued by it. But isn't it hypocritical to make a film that suggests the soul leaves the body at death and then rail against religious establishment in the process of the film? It doesn't seem to make much sense.

I guess i'll read a few other reviews and then decide if it's worth my time or not.

The film, which is about death, loss, grieving, accidental killings, attempted murder, childlessness, abortion, drug use, heart surgery, jail time... I could go on, but I'll stop...  

Jeez, what an overload...  

I guess that would be kind of predictable, though. I mean Amores Perros, much as i loved it, seemed to pack a lot into a short amount of time. There were the three separate stories, and the Veroniqueian overlapping, and then there was the dogs and the humans, and the notion that everyone treats their dogs better than they treat their own fellow man, and then there was a theme of true beauty, and i'm sure there's more but that's just off the top of my head. Perhaps it was the style, language differences and better aesthetics that won you over to that but not this? Or maybe there was just enough meat in Amores Perros (dogs jokes aside) to ground us into the frame of mind to take it all in.

But, well... after a while I just quit caring. I started thinking that a lot of the misery these characters suffer (and blame on God) is really their own fault. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

Man i can identify with that. I've been there over and over and over. You're right about the fact that the misery certain characters suffer is their own fault, yet some we end up loving despite their problems and some we just plain hate. That seems a lot like real life, come to think of it. There are all kinds of people, all with their own problems, and if we get to know them we will eventually see them in their moments of weakness. Some we choose to be drawn closer to, others we back away from. It would seem that films play a role in our lives almost like the different people we know.

Jeffrey Wells (also openly anti-Christian) posted this bit of conversation from Toronto:

Gonzalez Innaritu says he was subjected to the usual Catholic teachings and began to develop strong skepticism by age 12 or 13. He began, as I did at roughly the same age, to see the God and Jesus b******t -- those immensely discomforting assurances that they know all, see all, care deeply, and takes an occasional hand in our fates -- in all of its splendor. Most of us get there sooner or later. Benicio's Frank sure as hell does, and it's difficult to imagine Penn's and Watts's character not sharing this view by the film's end.

That critic sounds bitter. It's amazing that at 12 or 13 years old he came to fully rule out the possibility of a God in the Universe. Wow. He must've been some smart kid.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: . . . Jeffrey Wells (also openly anti-Christian) . . .

Interesting. I mean, given that he posts his column on a web site run by an open (if irreverent) Catholic.

stef wrote:

: The whole idea behind the 21 Grams theme with the weight of the soul

: leaving the human body at death seemed like such a great idea to build

: a story on, especially in the artistic way i'd imagined Innaritu filming it.

I dunno, this sounds like an urban legend to me, kind of like the myth that says we only use ten percent of our brains.

: But isn't it hypocritical to make a film that suggests the soul leaves the

: body at death and then rail against religious establishment in the process

: of the film? It doesn't seem to make much sense.

Um, where's the contradiction? The condition of the soul (or lack thereof) is not inherently tied to any particular religious establishment. Indeed, the director speaks well of "spiritual" people -- he just doesn't think that a lot of what passes for Christianity is truly "spiritual", is all.

: It's amazing that at 12 or 13 years old he came to fully rule out the

: possibility of a God in the Universe. Wow. He must've been some smart kid.

Well, given that the burden of proof is on those of us who assert that there IS a God, it is entirely possible that the people this guy knew when he was 12 or 13 years old were failing to meet that burden. It is entirely possible that he saw through their professed belief to the guilt trips and emotional insecurities, or whatever, that motivated them to say what they said and to do what they did.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Um, where's the contradiction?  The condition of the soul (or lack thereof) is not inherently tied to any particular religious establishment.  Indeed, the director speaks well of \"spiritual\" people -- he just doesn't think that a lot of what passes for Christianity is truly \"spiritual\", is all.

Sure. But if this soul is an actual weight and if it leaves the body at the point of death, 1. Who is in control of it and 2. Where is it going?

Obvioulsy we are not in control of it or we could make it go wherever we wanted right now, unless you either believe in astral projection (in which case i'd like to meet you for dinner tonight) or that the soul lays dormant until it's appointed time and purpose at death. But who gives it that purpose? If we give it to ourselves than we should also be able to give ourselves the ability to let it depart and fly away now. And we can't. So we are back to square one.

And by keeping the discussion at a level of spirituality instead of any kind of organized faith, the logic does worse. I mean, what is the soul for, if not escaping the body at death? Is it to reincarnate into someone else? And if so, who governs those rules since there's no higher power at work? What if the two dead people trying to reincarnate get in a fight over which gets to reincarnate as a particular person? What, are they gonna draw straws? And how do you draw straws when you're dead? :? :?

It seems to me that there is a contradiction here, a sort of circular logic at work, and that the writer and director haven't really thought thru this very well.

Oh and Peter, Art Bell was the kind of radio show you'd listen to to get scared and freak out at 2 am, but it's taken with a grain of salt. Beliefs in werewolves, conspiracy theories, end times theories and UFOs were the norm. One of the scariest episodes i can recall is when Art cleared the phone lines and said "If you are a vampyr, from the realm of the undead, call in now." They left the "vampire line" open all night long and he got more calls then any talk show i've ever heard, and they all had a bizarre story attached to the call.

So yeah, the thought of the soul having a weight may be a little campfire ghost-storyish, but it's something i still thought was worth investigating. Only, in order to investigate you'd have to get someone to volunteer to die on a scale in order to know for sure.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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stef wrote:

: But if this soul is an actual weight and if it leaves the body at the point of

: death, 1. Who is in control of it . . .

Isn't that a little like asking, "If these facial fair is an actual substance and it only starts to appear at a certain point in someone's life, then who is in control of it?" Some things just ARE.

: . . . and 2. Where is it going?

A legitimate question, sure, but again, one that can be answered in any number of ways without appealing to an "establishment" of any sort.

: Obvioulsy we are not in control of it or we could make it go wherever we

: wanted right now, unless you either believe in astral projection (in which

: case i'd like to meet you for dinner tonight) . . .

An astral dinner? smile.gif

: I mean, what is the soul for, if not escaping the body at death?

Well, for one thing, it animates the body while it's alive.

: And if so, who governs those rules since there's no higher power at work?

By the same token, who "governs" the growth of my facial hair or yours?

: It seems to me that there is a contradiction here, a sort of circular logic

: at work . . .

To be honest, the only circular logic I see at this point is yours.

: Only, in order to investigate you'd have to get someone to volunteer to

: die on a scale in order to know for sure.

I'm sure SOMEONE would be willing to die on a scale instead of a bed. smile.gif

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

Just adding a link to mike_h's comments.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

David Denby wrote:

: Quentin Tarantino sent the tenses spinning in “Pulp Fiction,” and so did

: Christopher Nolan in “Memento.” Both those movies were noirishly

: stylized and funny, and one could enjoy them as elaborate pranks. But

: the material in “21 Grams” is grim and overwrought . . .

They are just starting to show trailers for this film in Vancouver, so I haven't seen it yet, but I have to wonder what Denby makes of Atom Egoyan's films, which also employ a heckuva lot of non-linear storytelling, and which COULD be characterized as "grim and overwrought".

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Atom Egoyan's films, which also employ a heckuva lot of non-linear storytelling, and which COULD be characterized as "grim and overwrought".

Hmmm. I've never thought of Egoyan as "overwrought." There is a purposefulness to what he does. 21 Grams feels like a director skewering his characters slowly so he can watch them squirm.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I don't think it's a good sign that the silioquy that ends the film and tries to give meaning to the films is part of the radio ads and trailers, hence telling you beforehand what you should be led to. Maybe that's just a marketing mistake, but it doesn't help.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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  • 1 month later...

Saw this two days ago. Oddly enough, despite the fact that this film is so Serious and Depressing and Foreboding and Full Of Irony, the film seems very forgettable to me. At least, I don't find it sticking with me in any significant way, unlike certain other recent films.

I was a bit surprised to see that the actress playing Sean Penn's wife was Charlotte Gainsbourg, though. I don't think I had seen her in anything since that Jane Eyre flick she made with William Hurt several years ago. Good to see her with her hair down, as it were.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Worse, the more detached I became emotionally, the more I started to

: realize how contrived the storyline is; it just falls apart if you start to think

: about it as a linear sequence of events . . .

Care to flesh this out?

: . . . (it's jumbled in a Tarantino way.)

No, personally, I'd say the film is jumbled in an Egoyan way. Tarantino NEVER oscillates back-and-forth between past and present with the sort of frequency that this film does; his films are much more rigidly structured, with a full scene here, a full scene there, etc., whereas Egoyan and the director of this film tend to flip back and forth between individual shots.

: Also annoying: The whole Sean Penn/Naomi Watts relationship plays like

: an Ingmar Bergman version of Return to Me.

Ha! That's one of the best one-line put-downs I've seen in a while. smile.gif

(I know, I know, you posted this MONTHS ago, but it's only now that I've seen the film that I know what you mean by this.)

: "The real spiritual people you meet in life are serene and at peace,"

: Innaritu says. But the holy rollers and born-again Jesus freaks "need

: emotion and the feeling of being spellbound and speaking in tongues

: and all that dramatic stuff. For them it's either Jesus or alcohol or

: drugs...they need radical feelings."

There IS some truth to this, I think. Maybe it's just because I've been going to an Orthodox church for the past several months, but whatever concerns I might have about the potential emotional manipulativeness of music in general, at least the music there focuses our attention on God, whereas the lyrics to the song the people sing in this film's church are all about how WE feel. The prevalence of that sort of shallow, me-centred 'praise chorus' was one of the things that began to drive me away from the typical evangelical churches I had been attending my whole life, and I can't say it bothers me to see a film critique that mindset.

: Anyway, he does what he can to rage against God and then to deny him

: entirely, and I think we're supposed to be left with some kind of "life

: must go on" kind of hope. But what an empty hope it proves to be.

No kidding, especially given SPOILER the way that the one character ends up pregnant with a baby she clearly doesn't know if she wants.

David Denby wrote:

: Is it possible that Arriaga and I

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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A few lingering questions you might find productive... or they might just bother him:

In the film, Benicio's character seems to run out of faith in God, and begins to take matters into his own hands. Do you interpret this as a positive development? Do you see his faith as a "crutch" or as a source of truth?

The film portrays the liaison of Sean Penn's character and Naomi Watts' character as a passionate rendezvous that meets some need in both of them. Can you explain what that need is? Do you mean to present their romance as a step in the right direction for their characters?

Each one of these characters responds to crisis with some rather alarming and destructive choices. Do you think there is hope for them? Where do we see that hope? Do you think they are capable of saving themselves from the mess that they're in?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Jeffrey,

Thanks for your suggestions. I learned this morning that I've been uninvited to the phone interview. The excuse was that he only had time for a few calls in the morning which I had told the publicist conflicted with a previous engagement. I suspect that my URL might have worked against me this time. (www.christiancritic.com). I read in another interview that he is a professed atheist. Perhaps he felt that the conversation would end badly.

Michael Elliott

Movie Parables

http://www.christiancritic.com

ccritic@bellsouth.net

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  • 1 month later...

Have been meaning to post on this for a couple of days.

It's funny, the two best friends in the film (which i actually assumed were sisters but i'm not sure this was substantiated by the film itself), played by Naomi Watts and Clea DuVall, were both in other films that resembled the poetic tone and structure of 21 Grams, so much so that i kept getting all mixed up and forgetting exactly which film i was actually watching. I had a sort of "osmosis experience" happening, where the same actors from similar non-linear films kind of all just blur together into one colossal mess. I kept waiting for Matthew McConaughey and Laura Harring to show up, because Egoyanian or not, it felt like the scripts were pulled from the six degrees of separation of Thirteen Conversations About One Thing mixed in with the out-of-balance structure and eroticism of Mulholland Drive. Only if Lynch were to actually care about a plot (simple as this one was)...

OH! That's the other thing: i think it also compared to Irreversible in the way that a simple story is pulled out of the context of time to bring something greater from the characters than just a plot arc. Which to be honest, i must say worked for me, at least at times. I mean, i at least like the idea that if you were to examine a person's character and free it from the constraints of time, or even view it from a place where you can see every point in their life (as if read directly off a film strip), there would be places in all of our lives of ups and downs, mourning and dancing, victory and defeat. This was a theme each character grappled with, up until the final riveting scene, in which The Christian is given the grace to go free. Ironic that this is probably the first time that he really *didn't* do the crime. But there's more than this, there's the look that Naomi Watts sends Del Toro in that final scene. Is it forgiveness? Is this the face of redemption, or at least a sort of reconciliation? Or is it just that she is so tired of the numbness she's felt since the death of her family, perhaps she doesn't want to only feel hate.

So i guess i like the idea of this film, but it still feels like the bridge between Amored Perros and something else. Kinda like "The Unforgettable Fire." Sure, there's some good meaty stuff there, but it's not as good as what's in the past and certianly not as good as what'll take place on down the road.

Oh, is it just me, or is the idea of a guy who nearly dies of heart disease, and gets a heart from a donor, chases down the donor's wife and falls in love with her sound like something Kieslowski would have come up with? I remember making Kieslowski comparisons to Amores Perros and nearly being laughed off the old boards (but i leared from the Tykwer thread that you've just got to hold your ground and eventually everyone else will learn what they've been missing). wink.gif

And like Thirteen or Medea, the haziness of the picture was a reflection of the haziness of the human heart. I wasn't bothered by the look of the film at all, if anything, it's what i most enjoyed. There were some great visual images, although, the sex scene is the first to come to mind so perhaps that was rather gratuitous. If i were an actor playing out that scene, i wouldn't have been acting at that point.

Not a horrible film, but then again i had the honor of distance from the initial reviews that described it as such. At the same time, certainly not a great film, and not half as good as Amores Perros. But for what it's worth, the friend i went with hasn't seen Amores Perros (and for that matter probably hasn't seen many of the other films talked about in this post) and he was floored by the film. I've seen a few more films than he has and i think that's where the difference lies. If anything, perhaps this story shows us that I

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I remember making Kieslowski comparisons to Amores Perros and nearly being laughed off the old boards

Really? I was thinking about Kieslowski throughout Amores Perros... and there were several clear visual references to the Colors trilogy there. (There are in 21 Grams as well... Naomi Watts in a fetal position in a swimming pool, and the way the camera focuses on the leaf-blower guy during the car accident is strangely similar to the way the camera focuses on the teenager in the opening scene of Blue.)

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I told Jeffrey that one of the reasons I went to see it were the multiple reviews touting how 'redemptive' it was, and the 'message of hope' it delivered.

Needless to say, my idea of redemptive and hopeful skews vastly from what I was at the very least marginally expecting to see. For me, Life Goes On isn't a message of hope or particularly redemptive, nor is the message 'Well, that's finally over with--for now.'

The performances were awesome (particularly Ms. Watts', though I really didn't need to watch her nipple do battle with Sean Penn's tongue for a minute and a half) -- and these are what kept me from feeling entirely cheated.

It was the second gruelling experience I had as a viewer in less than a month, but fortunately it was much more palatable than the excruciating Masked and Anonymous.

[iNSERT SIGNATURE HERE]

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stef wrote:

: Oh, is it just me, or is the idea of a guy who nearly dies of heart disease,

: and gets a heart from a donor, chases down the donor's wife and falls in

: love with her sound like something Kieslowski would have come up with?

Sounds more like Bonnie Hunt than Kieslowski, to me. smile.gif

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

mrs. zug and I just saw this last night and thought it was really compelling. I have to disagree with some of the previous posts and say that the resulting theme did strike me as very redemptive.

First of all, the darkness of the film is not over the top. I suppose that it will strike those who have been acquainted with grief differently than those who have not. All I can say is I can relate.

The guilt, and resulting bitterness toward God, that drives Del Torro

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So yeah, the thought of the soul having a weight may be a little campfire ghost-storyish, but it's something i still thought was worth investigating. Only, in order to investigate you'd have to get someone to volunteer to die on a scale in order to know for sure.

This has been done.

http://www.snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Well, zug, I wish I could agree. My main gripes are, A) the extremely contrived nature of the conclusion, cool.gif the unnecessary jumbling of the chronology, C) the emotional extremes of scene after scene until I didn't buy it anymore, D) above all, the way religion is dismissed as insignificant, and the storyteller suggests some kind of "goodness" as the answer... a humanistic faith, not a faith in anything higher.

The director has said in interviews regarding 21 Grams that he tried to portray Christians fairly, but that he is an atheist and wants to provide stories of redemption that show redemption can come without God. I definitely got that from this film. So, for all of the truth we can see glimmering in the story, I also see other things that trouble me.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm really trying to get this but after a few minutes of hard thinking and looking up the word "redemption" in the Dictionary i just admit that i don't understand this thought at all, that is, the idea of redemption outside of Christianity. If there is no God, how is this word "redemption" even being used? If there is no God then there is no good or bad, no need for any kind of redemption that i can see. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Someone please explain this to me. I don't think i'm in such a Christian bubble that i shouldn't be able to understand this thought, but i'm wondering if my own Christianity is preventing me from getting it.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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