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No Country for Old Men (2007)


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If it helps at all...

Brolin dies. We don't see him killed (there's a Bressonesque jump in the narrative), but we do see his bloody corpse in the scene following the shoot-out.

Kelly MacDonald dies. Again, we don't see her killed, but we see Bardem checking his shoes when he leaves her house (this seemingly trivial detail is significant. Earlier in the film he is shown moving his shoes out of the way of Woody Harrelson's blood).

Bardem lives.

My understanding is that

Moss was killed by the Mexicans who were also looking for the money (who had tricked his mother-in-law into giving them info about his whereabouts), rather than by Chigurh. However, they left without the money, which was recovered later by Chigurh while Bell returned to the scene... and the audience was again denied a potential showdown between the two characters.

Convention was indeed defied.

The bit about Carla Jean is very subtle. I wasn't clear on whether she

lived or died

. The detail you describe here is pretty subtle; I can't blame anyone for interpreting the scene differently.

I find the interpretation that Chigurh was

walking off to die

pretty hard to swallow.

I don't doubt that the source material is the same, but the lack of interaction between the main characters was frustrating to me. We expect

Chigurh and Moss will have some sort of "one man left standing" showdown, finishing what they started... but then the movie disposes of Moss without even involving Chigurh.

It's frustrating to be set up for potentially exciting scenes, even if only by convention, and then to be deprived of them. Not even just being deprived of them... having the universe of the movie conspire against you to prevent those scenes from happening, and THEN not showing you what happened.

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Theoddone33 wrote: "The bit about Carla Jean is very subtle. I wasn't clear on whether she

lived or died.

The detail you describe here is pretty subtle; I can't blame anyone for interpreting the scene differently."

Personally, I can't see how else to interprete the scene. Upon closing the front door, Chigurh inspects his shoes in such a very precise manner.

Theoddone33 wrote: "I find the interpretation that Chigurh was walking off to die pretty hard to swallow."

I do too. This guy is the Terminator. He is Michael Myers. He doesn't die. I doubt he ever dies. Earlier in the story, after he is shot by Brolin, he blows up a car, robs a chemist's shop and is then shown repairing himself in graphic detail in his hotel room (this scene is actually highly reminiscent of the one in "The Terminator" in which Arnold Schwarzenegger repairs his eyeball in his hotel room). He is shown to be strong, clever and resourceful. Only in the film's opening scene, where he is arrested by the naive young cop, do we see a weak side, but I find it completely unconvincing in the light of all that follows.

Theoddone33 wrote: "I don't doubt that the source material is the same, but the lack of interaction between the main characters was frustrating to me. We expect

Chigurh and Moss will have some sort of "one man left standing" showdown, finishing what they started... but then the movie disposes of Moss without even involving Chigurh.

It's frustrating to be set up for potentially exciting scenes, even if only by convention, and then to be deprived of them."

But isn't that the film's point? Isn't the film saying that fate is pulling all the strings? That there can be no meaningful pattern to anything because everything is determined by a roll of a dice? As Christians we might prefer to think in terms of God's big banana skin (there's that joke by Woody Allen that goes something like "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans"), but I'm not sure that the Coen Brothers will allow us to do that. Chigurh even tells Kelly MacDonald that he arrived on her doorstep the same way that his dice did. Frankly, the more I ponder this film, the more nihilistic it seems, and the more I am likely to end up completely rejecting it.

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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"After he is shot by Brolin, he blows up a car, robs a chemist's shop..."

Though I guess that you would say drugstore...

:lol:

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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IM, I don't understand your need to outright reject it simply because it doesn't line up with your belief system. Why not instead say, "That is a masterpiece, a perfect description of nihilism?"

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

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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IM, I don't understand your need to outright reject it simply because it doesn't line up with your belief system. Why not instead say, "That is a masterpiece, a perfect description of nihilism?"

Because I choose to reject films which reject the Christian worldview. What purpose do they serve?

I would also suggest that "No Country For Old Men" doesn't merely describe nihilism, it positively celebrates it. Chigurh kills people at random and on a whim - humble housewives as well as macho gun-toting men - but he is the coolest character in the film (in the same way that Hannibal Lecter is the coolest character in "The Silence of the Lambs") and I think the Coens like him.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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Are you kidding? By that logic, you'd have to tear out huge chunks of the Bible...

Anticipating IM's reply... he probably differentiates between "description of" and "celebration of". Though I'm not sure I could stick NCFOM into the second category with respect to nihilism.

Also: 'Ve believe in NOTHING!'

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IM, I don't understand your need to outright reject it simply because it doesn't line up with your belief system. Why not instead say, "That is a masterpiece, a perfect description of nihilism?"

Because I choose to reject films which reject the Christian worldview. What purpose do they serve?

Are you kidding? By that logic, you'd have to tear out huge chunks of the Bible...

And by that logic, porn should be perfectly acceptable.

Not sure if that allusion to SoS really works, but it sounded catchier than my other response, which was "what theoddone said." Though, assuming that theoddone's is an accurate representation of IM's point, I'm still not sure I'd fully agree. I think watching films that even go so far as to celebrate worldviews antithetical to Christianity can be helpful when it comes to understanding the culture we live in. But I can understand the desire to not celebrate such films, even if we still recognize masterful art in them.

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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I just want to reiterate that I disagree that NCFOM is a celebration of nihilism, nor do I think that just because Javier Bardem's character is one of the most vividly realized--and perfectly acted original characters we have seen in some time, doesn't mean that the character, indeed is celebrated. I mean, somebody name-checked "Hannibal Lector" being celebrated, and yet I've not seen any resurgence in the love of cannibalism.

Not so. As I wrote earlier, this film is the photo-negative of Forrest Gump.... in THAT film, all these crazy events happen, and in many cases, Forrest finds himself somewhat at the forefront of all these pivotal events for almost thirty years... and as he contemplates as to whether there is Fate or Destiny, his answer comes up as "Both." Fair enough.

Only Forrest Gump couldn't have anticipated the horrors of 9/11, not to mention Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the natural disasters of Katrina or the tsunamis that devastated entire villages. And somehow, had the movie encountered such atrocities, perhaps Auschwitz or even Kent State, the theological underpinnings of Gump would come across as facile and wanting.

NCFOM takes the atrocity question, and throws it to its theologian-in-training, the Tommy Lee Jones' sherriff character. And his response is inconclusive. It's open-ended. His dialogue with his [brother/cousin/relative] played by Barry Corbin contains nuggets of keys as to what the film is really about. It shows that he is struggling to make sense of this, in light of the evil that he has witnessed,

and was unable to stop.

The final sequence--the reiteration of the dream--can be interpreted as a prophetic glimmer of hope, or it can be interpreted as the hope is just fantasy. In much the same way, the classic _Black Narcissus_ can be seen as either atheistic propaganda or a reiteration that living in a monastic mission community is sometimes excrutiatingly hard. (Of course, if you've never seen Black Narcissus, or if you've never even heard of that film, what's stopping you from seeing it now? Get thee to thy Netflix account!).

I do not, by any means, share the nihilistic framework. But there is merit in the struggle. There is merit in looking at something so horrid, so emotionally shattering, and admit openly as to your doubts. Even the Psalms, like Psalm 42, have moments where the Psalmist was crying out to God, only to hear no answer. To be able to retain your faith, in the midst of such adversity, is something worth celebrating.

Edited by Nick Alexander

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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So you can't find beauty or learn from anything that is outside of a Christian worldview? To flat out say "you reject" is just too harsh. All the things you've learned in your life that have aided you and helped you along, or all of the things you've seen in art as beautiful have come only from a Christian worldview?

Impossible.

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

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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SPOILERS

theoddone33 wrote:

: The bit about Carla Jean is very subtle. I wasn't clear on whether she

lived or died

. The detail you describe here is pretty subtle; I can't blame anyone for interpreting the scene differently.

I don't recall that detail at all, myself, but I hardly need it. Chigurh is an unstoppable killing machine for pretty much the entire film -- and the film progressively tones down the killing scenes or turns its eyes away from the various murders. So if an entire murder happens off-camera right near the very end of the film, it's no surprise -- it's almost to be expected. What's more, Chigurh's killing spree, and his dedication to bumping people off after he says he's going to bump them off, have been so relentless up to that point that there is absolutely no way I could imagine him letting Carla Jean live UNLESS THE MOVIE SPECIFICALLY INDICATED THAT HE DID. And it doesn't.

"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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SPOILERS

What's more, Chigurh's killing spree, and his dedication to bumping people off after he says he's going to bump them off, have been so relentless up to that point that there is absolutely no way I could imagine him letting Carla Jean live UNLESS THE MOVIE SPECIFICALLY INDICATED THAT HE DID. And it doesn't.

:spoilers: indeed.

I thought it was open ended on first viewing, because there was no resolution to the "coin flip" part. She rejects it, he's still trying to convince her, scene ends. Did she relent? Did he flip the coin anyway? Next scene: Chigurh walking out of the house.

The interpretation that is shared by most here is the most likely possibility in the context of the movie, but I still felt like it was a bit of an unresolved question when I viewed it.

A more general comment about the movie: I watched the closing monologue twice and I still couldn't come up with a decent interpretation. I liked this film for its dialogue, its pacing, its characters, and its cinematography, but I can't say I caught whatever it was trying to convey. Especially the final scene. I found this movie quite unsatisfying, but at the same time it was very... powerful. Powerfully unsatisfying.

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SPOILERS AHOY!

IM, I don't understand your need to outright reject it simply because it doesn't line up with your belief system. Why not instead say, "That is a masterpiece, a perfect description of nihilism?"

Because I choose to reject films which reject the Christian worldview. What purpose do they serve?

Are you kidding? By that logic, you'd have to tear out huge chunks of the Bible...

I am unclear what you mean. The Bible, which I view as one consistent metanarrative (I read it as one book and not sixty-six) leads us in one clear direction: towards the redemptive work of Christ. "No Country For Old Men", by contrast, would seem to point us towards nothing more than a deep moral vacuum. Why would a Christian want to wallow in nihilism - which is, after all, the complete rejection of Christ - for ninety minutes? Do the Coens have anything meaningful to say about meaninglessness? If they do, I don't see it. This is not a deep film. It appears to be deep because it is well crafted, exciting, funny, ambiguous and literary, but it's ultimately just another popcorn movie - a cartoon about death. It's just the Coens doing their usual postmodern thing (albeit better than they have ever done it before).

I just want to reiterate that I disagree that NCFOM is a celebration of nihilism, nor do I think that just because Javier Bardem's character is one of the most vividly realized--and perfectly acted original characters we have seen in some time, doesn't mean that the character, indeed is celebrated. I mean, somebody name-checked "Hannibal Lector" being celebrated, and yet I've not seen any resurgence in the love of cannibalism.

I haven't noticed a resurgence in the love of cannibalism either, but I have noticed that more and more people in our society are incapable of recognizing evil when they see it. This postmodern amorality is reflected and promulgated by movies like "No Country For Old Men".

And I disagree with you about Bardem's character: I think he IS celebrated. He is hugely glamorous and great fun to watch (though he might have seemed less glamorous if the Coens had actually shown us what he did to Carla Jean).

So you can't find beauty or learn from anything that is outside of a Christian worldview? To flat out say "you reject" is just too harsh. All the things you've learned in your life that have aided you and helped you along, or all of the things you've seen in art as beautiful have come only from a Christian worldview?

So what is there to learn from "No Country For Old Men"?

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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So what is there to learn from "No Country For Old Men"?

Maybe that Chigurh isn't cool or fun to watch

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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"No Country For Old Men", by contrast, would seem to point us towards nothing more than a deep moral vacuum.

Your thinking here is that a thing -- a work of art or a film or anything -- is either "Christian" or "other." Setting aside my general problems with the word "Christian" for a moment, my thinking is that a person is a Christian, and that a thing is not. So when I view a film, it cannot say "I am a Christian" and make a commitment to Christ. I know that film speaks, but I think it speaks to something other than a dividing line as to whether it is only of one particular religion.

So what is there to learn from "No Country For Old Men"?
Honestly, I cannot answer this question well, as I haven't grappled with film lately like I used to. I know that all stories affect and shape us, and certainly for me the stories of the Bible have been the ones that have shaped me the most.

Fate, free will, and coincidence have now been argued within Christian circles for a long long time, so the film offers nothing new there. But it is a fresh look, and film often does this, at a subject we do tend to grapple with as Christians.

I tend to look at any film as "What are the creators trying to do" and "Did they accomplish it." The Coens pulled it off here -- although we already know that they are more about style than substance. But if you were to ask them whether or not they were making the film from a Christian worldview, they would probably laugh at such a suggestion.

PS I have never shown consistency here from day one, so in that corner we stand, the two of us, together.

Edited by stef

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

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Tons of spoilers here....

I think there is a major PhD dissertation here, but it is generally assumed that, as a thriller/horror movie progresses in story, the more vivid the images and more graphic the violence.

Take a look at JAWS. Despite its terrible production history, the film is so expertly constructed as a thrill ride... it starts off without seeing any of the shark, and then as it progresses, you get to see a little bit more, and then it finally rears its head (surprisingly, without any musical forewarning), until the final, climactic extended battle where we see the shark in its full glory, and see it killed.

So it would be expected that any film will go into greater detail, as to the nature of the threat, to its final showdown.

NCFOM, on the other hand, starts off with a couple of simple deaths (and an-aftermath), and as the film progresses, the violence gets bigger and more horrific. These expertly staged sequences are indeed, terrifying. The expectation builds that as the film nears its end, the showdown would be inevitable as it would top everything before it: either Chigurrh would be put to justice (and the movie will be a slave to Hollywood convention), or that he will escape scot-free (and the movie will be a true celebration of nihilism). Neither happens. The film switches gears just as we are about to go into autopilot as to what should happen, and by it switching gears, it forces its audience to read the film in a different matter it had been, up to that point. Chigurrh is not put to justice, but in a wonderful ironic twist, he falls victim to that same streak of randomness that he depended upon to decide the fates of these lesser characters

.

And so, on a metaphorical level, the film wants to share McCarthy's thoughts as to his struggle against evil in the world. It's just that, by going this route, the film sacrifices storytelling that would make the surface reading of the events being satisfactory. I truly wonder... had the Coens departed from the source material, by (1) showing Llewelen and Chiggurrh's showdown, and (2) provided a non-ambiguous ending, had the film worked metaphorically.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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So what is there to learn from "No Country For Old Men"?

That despite all the evil in the world, and how unstoppable its advance can seem at times, there's a light up ahead in the darkness.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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MORE SPOILERS AHOY!

Your thinking here is that a thing -- a work of art or a film or anything -- is either "Christian" or "other." Setting aside my general problems with the word "Christian" for a moment, my thinking is that a person is a Christian, and that a thing is not. So when I view a film, it cannot say "I am a Christian" and make a commitment to Christ. I know that film speaks, but I think it speaks to something other than a dividing line as to whether it is only of one particular religion.

But I tend to the view that "No Country For Old Men" is more than merely "other", but actually anti-Christian. The Coens seem to be making a case for chance and fate, and, to my way of thinking, if chance and fate are true then Christianity is false. At the end of the movie, evil wins. Chigurh walks off into the sunset to kill again after another quick repair job. More housewives will die. More college girls. Meanwhile, the good but godless cop loses his nerve, turns his back on the world, and retires into oblivion with his inscrutable dreams.

I think there is a major PhD dissertation here, but it is generally assumed that, as a thriller/horror movie progresses in story, the more vivid the images and more graphic the violence.

Take a look at JAWS. Despite its terrible production history, the film is so expertly constructed as a thrill ride... it starts off without seeing any of the shark, and then as it progresses, you get to see a little bit more, and then it finally rears its head (surprisingly, without any musical forewarning), until the final, climactic extended battle where we see the shark in its full glory, and see it killed.

Personally, I found the shark's first kill (the nude bather) to be the most ferocious and most memorable thing in "Jaws". Spielberg shoots it like a rape scene. I think everything that follows is small change (including the death of Quint and the death of Bruce the shark).

NCFOM, on the other hand, starts off with a couple of simple deaths (and an-aftermath), and as the film progresses, the violence gets bigger and more horrific. These expertly staged sequences are indeed, terrifying. The expectation builds that as the film nears its end, the showdown would be inevitable as it would top everything before it: either Chigurrh would be put to justice (and the movie will be a slave to Hollywood convention), or that he will escape scot-free (and the movie will be a true celebration of nihilism). Neither happens.

I don't buy that at all. Chigurrh wins. Fate momentarily disrupts his plans, but it doesn't stop him. He will kill again.

So what is there to learn from "No Country For Old Men"?

That despite all the evil in the world, and how unstoppable its advance can seem at times, there's a light up ahead in the darkness.

I see no light in "No Country For Old Men". Fate rules. Evil wins. God is dead.

I think that
Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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...either Chigurrh would be put to justice (and the movie will be a slave to Hollywood convention), or that he will escape scot-free (and the movie will be a true celebration of nihilism). Neither happens.

I don't buy that at all. Chigurrh wins. Fate momentarily disrupts his plans, but it doesn't stop him. He will kill again.

Except you didn't see the deleted scene, when an earthquake comes out of nowhere and swallows Chigurrh up. ;)

Seriously, look very closely on Chigurrh's final scene, and your own phrase "Fate momentarily disrupts his plans..." Here's an assassin who targets others by the flip of a coin, but never imagined that fate would actually target him. The hurt was so strong, that he is reduced to the same level that Llewellen was at, offering money in return for clothes. Note how also, those kids were not killed, but were almost immediately corrupted the moment the money transaction was made.

Fate just as easily could have targetted Chigurrh, and left a corpse. Even with a bone sticking out of his arm, he's not likely to be able to self-medicate that sort of wound. It is an incorrect viewpoint to think of Chigurrh as indestructible, no matter how many sophmoric chuckles he may elicit from the audience.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I see no light in "No Country For Old Men". Fate rules. Evil wins. God is dead.

No, the sheriff says God never came into his life. That in itself is an acknowledgement of God's existence.

I believe his exact words are,

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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No, the sheriff says God never came into his life. That in itself is an acknowledgement of God's existence.

Not necessarily. If I say "I always figured Santa Claus would come into my life and he didn't," that doesn't imply that Santa Claus exists.

Or, say, "the perfect woman."

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Fate momentarily disrupts his plans, but it doesn't stop him. He will kill again.

Or: free will determines its course and accidentally bumps into his own free will. And he may or may not kill again.

I see no light in "No Country For Old Men". Fate rules. Evil wins. God is dead.

Or: Free will rules. Evil temporarily, not absolutely, wins. Something that happens all the time in every day life. (Just watch the news. 3 Dead Babies in the Refrigerator. Mom arrested. Man keeps daughter in a soundproof cage for twenty-some years. Rapes her repeatedly while she has kids. Some he kills, some he lets live. Probably rapes the living kids too.)

Just because evil temporarily wins does not mean evil absolutely wins.

None of this shows that God is dead. Unwilling to sometimes intervene, sure, I think that case could be made. But not dead.

It is one situation out of many billions of others.

And I hate it when I read the news and realize that he didn't intervene this time, and it's something I have a hard time understanding in the faith. But it certainly does not disprove his existence.

Edited by stef

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

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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A friend commented on my reference to the conversation between Bell and his uncle, and the use of the word "Vanity."

I thought it was worth pasting:

I think the passage you quote goes beyond even the message you attribute to it, echoing as it does the single most pregnant word in the King James English. In fact, the Book of Ecclesiastes suggests that it is vanity not just to take on the problem of evil but to assume that we can draw definitive and accurate conclusions about the nature or existence of God based only (or primarily) on observation of this world (whatever happens "under the sun"): "In the place of judgment, Wickedness was there; And in the place of righteousness, Iniquity was there" (3:16).

The constant tension that runs through the book is between observation ("I have seen") and revelation ("I know"), and it is the substitution of the former for the latter that leads the prophet (or anyone) to say "All is vanity and a pursuit after the wind." If we limit ourselves to human wisdom, there is no way we can make sense of it. (Solomon was the wisest of all men, and he could not.)

... I'm not huge fan of the film, but fair's fair, and I get tired of people lobbing around words like nihilistic just because evil doesn't get its comeuppance. Just because Plato said it had to be that way, doesn't make it so...and hasn't been the de facto interpretation (to the extent that a good artist should know that the work must inevitably be judged morally on whether or not virtue is rewarded and evil punished) of literature since, oh Fielding skewered Pamela in like 1741. (Plus there is a difference between doubt and/or despair and nihilism, but that's a whole other riff...sheesh, even Jesus said "Why hast thou forsaken me?")

Edited by Overstreet

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