May 25, 2011


Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. In a good way. A very good way. If you’ve seen the transcendent, intriguing trailer, you probably thinking: “I hope the movie is as good.” Well it’s very in keeping with the trailer and way better than it. “Tree of Life” is simply one of the most extraordinary films ever made. Or maybe you were thinking: “I still don’t know what it’s about!” You’re in for a rare, rare treat. A film of this stratospheric caliber comes along every, oh, twenty years or so. Malick has broken some kind of film barrier. He has found away to substantially un-limit, un-fetter, and set film free.

[By the way, “Tree of Life” is a perfect Father’s Day film.]

Terrence Malick portrays a family of three boys (the story is narrated by the eldest, Jack, played with preternatural talent by newcomer Hunter McCracken) growing up in the 1950’s with a so-many-people-can-relate-to stern father (Brad Pitt), and a sweet, loving mother (Jessica Chastain). I wouldn’t call her submissive, because she is very aware of her husband’s harshness, and keeps what peace there is by not crossing him more, and makes up for his hardness with her softness.

Dad is not a monster, however. There are many loving moments with the boys and we can understand where the Dad is coming from. But nevertheless, his sons are still watching and listening to his shortcomings, small and large. Brad Pitt is just spot-on as this flawed father who claims to be loving his sons while often still putting himself, his own ambitions and fragile self-image first.

One smallish gripe with the movie is that the mother almost borders on the girlish, the “idealized feminine,” and she never seems to be terribly busy. But of course, perhaps this is how young Jack saw her, things did move at a slower pace in those days, and perhaps even Moms had more leisure time, or perhaps the point WAS to focus on her playfulness in contrast to Dad.

When I say the eldest boy “narrates”—it’s not your typical voiceover. There are whispered prayers to God. God is “You,” or sometimes that “you” might be interchangeable with a family member. Snatches of daydreams and wishes. We hear his mother’s internal dialogue as well, and once in a while his Dad’s. Fox Searchlight has described the movie as “impressionistic,” and it is, but it’s also more solid than that. Although told in a beyond-brilliant kaleidoscope of small scenes, the story is very strong and unmistakable. These small scenes are so lifelike, so filled with the constant motion of childhood and boyhood and real life, you just give up trying to figure out how Malick did it, how he planned it, how he shot it, how he pieced it all together.

How does God speak? Oh, through everything. He busts out all over, permeates everything, and is as silent as planetary movement. He is known by Jack first through the people of faith who raised him: thanking God with grace at meals, worship at church, courage in tragedy, pointing to the sky “where God lives.” And young Jack struggles to know God, to find reasons to be a good man. The older Jack (Sean Penn) has an adult faith, but keeps going back to his young self to pick up the threads. But his faith is not fragile. It’s beautiful. It’s awakening and blossoming always fuller like God’s revelation of Himself. God who swims with His strangest red creatures in the bluest oceans and belches forth orange and black fire and smoke from a lava pit.

There is an extended (and I do mean extended) sequence of nature scenery intended either to make us gape in wonder, realize that (our) size doesn’t determine our preciousness, or imbibe God through our senses. Or all three.

There are NO gadgets in this movie. None. No phones (wait—there was just one toward the beginning), no TVs, no radios. People are unmediated. People just sit and wait. People look at each other. People read each others’ faces. People talk to each other, but most communication is non-verbal. The eyes have it. People stare. People touch each other. We witness the long thoughts of childhood. These are the days when we did ONE THING AT A TIME.

This is an incredible THEOLOGY OF THE BODY movie. It is the primal, primordial Theology of the Body movie. The masculine and feminine principles are so clearly delineated, and one of the film’s taglines seems to be: “O father, O mother, forever you wrestle within me.” Of course, the principles are witnessed and told from a male perspective (both the writer/director and main character are males). We see that we need both in our lives, in our heads, in our hearts. But it seems like Jack is really trying to understand his mother more than anything. Her pure love. Her telling him that the purpose of life is love and nothing else. His mother seems to be his muse.

"The woman is at the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world."
-- Blessed Mother Teresa

My own Moms totally understood this. If we WOMEN harden our hearts—what will happen to this old world? My Moms used to say over and over: “This earth could be heaven if we’d just love one another.”

After seeing the trailer and hearing the words: “There are two ways: the way of nature and the way of grace. We must choose which way we will follow,” I was concerned. It seemed to be setting up that horrible false dichotomy. Grace BUILDS on nature! These two things are not mutually opposed at all. But what was really meant was “nature without grace,” because the narration goes on to say: “Nature tries to please itself, be noticed, etc., while grace is humble, doesn’t need recognition….” It almost seems like Dad represented nature while Mom represented grace. It’s almost like St. Paul’s “flesh warring against the spirit,” idea—which does NOT mean the body/matter is bad or lowly! It means that there ARE parts of us that are not conformed to God, to God’s way of being and doing things.

Creation is screaming at us. God is screaming at us. Terrence Malick is screaming at us by making God scream at us through Nature/Creation. Terrence isn’t so much shoving God down our throats as he’s shoving God-in-Nature/Creation down our throats. Nature/Creation is a HUGE piece of THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, one that, IMHO, has not yet been developed by TOB scholars and us TOB soapbox vigilantes.

(Vadim Perelman [“House of Sand and Fog,” “The Life Before Her Eyes”] makes SUBTLE use of nature in his movies, also to marvelous ends.)

And yet, and yet, as @conversiondiary (atheist turned Catholic Mommy blogger) says: “God is just so ignorable.” If we have even an inkling to do so, we can shut Him out for our entire lives.

The soundtrack rumbles and church bells toll and operas rage. Nothing is ordinary. We look and look again. The universe is one big cathedral.

“Father,” “Mother,” “Brother” is whispered over and over (no sisters here)—the only “things” that matter. The mother “gives” her son to his wife. Relationships are all that matter, so we can bury our childish trinkets in the backyard before we move on.

Where is God? Well, He’d like to ask you the same question: Job 38:4. (The film begins with this verse.)


--This film will do a lot for people’s faith in God and/or sense of the metaphysical. It will strengthen them and give them permission to give in to their spiritual ruminations. Especially men. The film illustrates the concept that women just “get it,” while men have to “learn it.”

--As a Dad and lover of kids himself, Brad Pitt is just the perfect choice for the part.

--It was mostly the secular press/media (methinks) at my screening. They kinda sat in awe at the end. Or befuddlement. Time will tell. BUT I kinda think they liked it. Like the secular press/media liked “Into Great Silence,” and “Of Gods and Men.” In fact, I think they appreciate these movies MORE than us churchy people who breathe this God atmosphere all the time and probably take the Most High for granted as much as we try not to.

--Great lines said to God: “You let anything happen.” “Why should I be good if You’re not?”

--"Tree of Life" is about the predominant influence of our families on us. You will not be able to watch this movie without totally reminiscing about your own childhood.

--My posterior was well aware that “Tree” was 138 minutes. This is one long meditation, or as Roger Ebert calls it: "a prayer." You may wish to prepare with push-ups or other blood-circulating activities. Notwithstanding the fact that I was out of sorts, starving, uncomfortable, squished, and in desperate need of a lavatory while screening this film, I absolutely loved it, cannot shake it and don’t want to, and will be singing its praises for years to come.

--The WOWFACTOR and under-your-skin INDELIBILITY of this movie will DOUSE any NAYSAYING.

--Malick externalizes the internal, exteriorizes the interior like no other director.

--God is seeping….

--For further reflection, meditate on the words of one of my fav hymns: “Immortal, Invisible, One Only God” (can be sung in a bombastic OR lightly prancing fashion).

--Golda Meir once said: “Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great.” This movie seems to say: “Don’t be so great, you’re not that humble.”

--Can you say "explicit religious imagery that makes you want to be spiritual AND religious?"

--You will hear the cry of Our Lady of Sorrows: “My son!”

--If I’m not mistaken, the narration at the beginning says: “The nuns always told us….” Was that just wishful hearing????


--The nature cinematography emphasizes both the micro- and macro-level, and sometimes you can’t tell which is which and you can’t tell what the heck you’re looking at (some of ‘em even look like cancer spores) but it doesn’t matter because “everything is beautiful in its own way” and we are going to have aeons to live and appreciate everything.

--Job may be one of the oldest books of the Bible.

--Job didn’t have Jesus.

--Job didn’t have Jesus, so how the helicopter could he understand suffering?

--Malick has Job and Jesus.

--This most unusual of movies appropriately ends with the sound of wood thrushes, the most beautiful birdsong this side of the Promised Land.

[1] The Mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
[2] Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
[3] Our God comes, he does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
round about him a mighty tempest.
[4] He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
[5] "Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
[6] The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! [Selah]
[7] "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
[8] I do not reprove you for your sacrifices;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
[9] I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
[10] For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
[11] I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
[12] "If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
[13] Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
[14] Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High;
[15] and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
[16] But to the wicked God says:
"What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
[17] For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
[18] If you see a thief, you are a friend of his;
and you keep company with adulterers.
[19] "You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
[20] You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
[21] These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
[22] "Mark this, then, you who never think of God,
lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
[23] He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!"


"Tree of Life" is a grateful celebration of life!about 5 hours ago via web

"Tree of Life" is like a living, filmic scrapbook of one person's life....about 5 hours ago via web

We go to heaven together: “Tree of Life”

"Tree of Life"--the cream rises to the top. PM May 22nd via web

"Tree of Life"--From boo-ing to top prize (Palme d'Or) at Cannes!!!

Feel need to reconnect with self, past, God, nature, family, people?

2011 is the Year of the God Film: "Soul Surfer," "Tree of Life," "Courageous." 11:16 PM May 18th via web

Great review of "Tree of Life" Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips

We don't need to fantasize TOO much cuz our reality really is fantastical.
20 minutes ago

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Tree of Life": art, images, and memories.
20 minutes ago

"Tree of Life": wicked awesome.
21 minutes ago

"Tree of Life": you'll never be the same.
21 minutes ago

What are some of the ways humans "know"? See "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Tree of Life." Just remember: "Cave" and "Tree."
22 minutes ago

"Tree of Life" has changed filmmaking forever.
22 minutes ago

"Tree of Life" will knock your socks off.
7 hours ago

Get your Godflow on:

@ebertchicago Roger Ebert VIA SrHelenaBurns
"Tree of Life" is a form of prayer. My new blog entry, just posted:
23 hours ago

Film is evolving....
17 May

This film has made me very, very happy.

Got God?

Another awesome and accurate review of "Tree of Life" (Variety Mag)…

"Tree of Life" was booed AND cheered at Cannes! Oooooooh, controversial!!
"Tree of Life" got booed at Cannes. Now you HAVE to go see it.
1 hour ago

Why we need Moms AND Dads:
1 hour ago

Why we need Dads AND Moms:
1 hour ago

How do you "get back" to God?
1 hour ago

It's not your imagination. God really is talking to you. All the time.
1 hour ago

Looking for a Theology of the Body movie?
1 hour ago

There is no body/soul split in
1 hour ago

Can you tell I like this movie?
1 hour ago

Ladies--wondering how men relate to God?
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Magnifique: Brad Pitt in
1 hour ago

Job 38:4
1 hour ago

1 hour ago

Is God looking for you?
1 hour ago

Looking for God?
1 hour ago

"Tree of Life" is a big, fat unabashed God movie.
3 hours ago

The perfect Father's Day movie:
6 hours ago

Our earthly fathers weren't perfect, but our heavenly Father is.

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May 21, 2011



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May 11, 2011


“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is the latest documentary by the inimitable Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn,” “Grizzly Man”). Herzog is both a fiction/feature film writer/director AND documentary maker. Audiences tend to either like him or not. I’m a liker.

And you have to like HIM to like his films, because he will earnestly and tersely narrate the whole thing to you in his non-lilting, non-professional-voiceover German accent, as if you’ve been cornered at a dinner party of terribly interesting people. You can feel him straining for insight and understanding—often stretching out a story line—but I don’t mind because he does manage to find those nuggets of truth, and he leaves spaces for you to find your own.

To me, Herzog is one of the most human of all filmmakers, inserting himself and everyone else into his documentaries in the most casual and unpolished of styles. He films himself filming. He films his cameramen filming. We hear him asking questions of his interviewees, and then he interrupts them to probe further. He tells one of his interviewees about to go off and demonstrate something: No, stay here. But Herzog is not a Bill Maher-type control freak over his productions. It’s more what BJP2G would call the “personalistic norm.” That is, everything we do, we do humanly. Everything we do is personal and partly subjective: perspective, participation, appreciation, influencing outcomes, etc. And the personalistic norm is a good thing. Humans should humanize. Persons should personalize. Herzog needs to involve everyone and everyone-experiencing-everything in his doc as part of a successful experiment.

Herzog is always after “humanness,” and will baldly go after that question time and again in his work. In a recent interview on NPR he spoke of how, growing up in Germany after the War, he was often very hungry as a child. He eschews graphic violence in films and won’t allow it in his own (“comic book” violence—KAPOWEE!—is OK, though). I remember in “Grizzly Man”—the story of Grizzly Bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell and his death at the hands of a Grizzly—Herzog came into the possession of a video recording of the actual event. Treadwell’s girlfriend was filming the encounter until it turned deadly. She dropped the videocam while it continued recording the audio, and tried to save Treadwell. She was also killed. On camera in “Grizzly Man,” Herzog gives the original recording to a previous girlfriend of Treadwell’s and tells her to destroy it. He did not include the gruesome audio in his documentary.

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” takes us into the Chauvet Caves in Southern France where, in 1994, the oldest cave drawings in the world, 32,000 years old—in pristine condition—were discovered. They are twice as old as any other cave drawings ever found. Herzog, entering the caves with a team of scientists and art historians is the only person ever allowed to film the extraordinary sight. And now WE get to ogle the exquisite and refined line drawings of animals (some also shaded in) of (mostly) a single, very talented artist. There are very strict rules and limitations for entry into the caves, including sterile boots and a vault door that locks behind you. The lights and cameras that Herzog and crew were allowed to bring in were not of the highest quality, but in the end, the effect is that we see the joyous and wondrous drawings in the same kind of flickering, dancing light that the Paleolithic people first to enjoy them saw them in: torch light.

There is only one image of a human being: a woman—but she is combined with an image of a bull. This is the only fantastical creature portrayed. The rest of the beasts are straight-forward but artistic renderings of the plethora of animals that surrounded these early modern humans (many of the species now extinct): woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, hyenas, wolves, horses, bears, lions, ibex. There are even large butterflies and insects. Oh, but the horses are so beautiful. Everyone in the film pretty much agrees that they are the crown jewel of the caves. The depictions are mostly profiles, but there are exceptions. A bison turns his head to look over his shoulder at us (or at a pride of lions).

Why all animals and no people? Perhaps the centrality and primacy of animals to the lives of the people. They were the daily occupation, the hunted. Yet they were not only prey for the humans but predators. They were food, they were the source of all kinds of life-sustaining resources. Perhaps, like the Native Americans, they were seen as spirits from which humans could imbibe many qualities.

The soundtrack is slightly discordant modern chorale singing and/or strings. I couldn’t help thinking that--as we silently reflected on the hordes of horses undulating across the smooth, curved, contoured walls of the cave--we were listening to HORSEhair bows dragging across the violin and cello(?) strings….

Herzog wants to involve ALL our senses. He even brings in a master perfumer to use his nose for us in the caves (doesn’t really work). At one point, Herzog makes everyone be SILENT and just listen to the silence and dripping in the caves.

I’m not really sure why Herzog calls this a cave of “dreams.” Herzog is obviously fascinated by every person he interviews, and asks them about their personal lives as well. At one point he uncovers that one of the archaeologists had been a circus performer. After seeing the cave drawings for the first time, this archaeologist began dreaming about them at night. He called dreaming: “A way to understand things that is not direct.” Perhaps this is where Herzog took the title of his film. And certainly these drawings were “forgotten”! Imagine the artist knowing that we—his brothers and sisters from the future—are admiring his work all over the world on large screens! Of course, he does know, because “to Him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).


--I’m one of those people who normally can’t see 3-D, even with the glasses, but this was in “Real D 3-D” (whatever that means) and it worked!

--I loved the eccentric German dude dressed in an Ice Age fur parka who played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on an ancient flute made from a vulture radius. Yeah. Herzog is that quirky. But he’s not out to make us laugh. He REVERENCES quirky.

--I really, really, really want to see the horses on a T-SHIRT.

--“Hippies” are named thus after “Hippos” which is Greek for horse. The horse symbolizes “truth-seeker.” Pope Paul VI was purported to have said that horses are the most beautiful animals God ever made. If he did, I concur.

--Herzog believes in and wants to put “ecstatic truth” in his films. He wants to go for “emotional accuracy” above all. I believe he has achieved it in “Cave.”

--A virtual cave has been created by laser scanners. One portion of the cave is called “Sacre Coeur.” :]

--Question asked in the film: “Was Stone Age man a romanticist?”

--The ancient artist(s) solved a question paleontologists had: extinct male “cave lions” didn’t have manes!

--Sometimes the artist created several outlines of the same animal or gave it extra legs to denote motion! Looks almost like a cartoon or zoetrope at times, especially with the flickering light! Herzog also filmed REAL fade-ins and fade-outs with the muted lights they were allowed to use in the cave!

--If you love this NATGEO type stuff, you’ll love “Cave.” There’s just too many cool factoids to mention here.

--Neanderthals didn’t do art.

--The 20 or so pairs of older people in my theater were the stillest movie-goers EVER. Even during the previews. They didn’t eat, talk, cough, laugh, move—nothing. I have never experienced such a thing. They made me feel positively hyperactive. Did they feel that viewing this extraordinary gallery was a privileged, sacred experience?

--Herzog’s ending was bizarre and anti-climactic: albino alligators, doppelgangers, “nothing is certain, nothing is real”—SAY WHAT???

--Werner Herzog on the Chauvet Caves: “It’s as if the modern human soul burst forth here.”

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May 9, 2011


Great new DVD from the makers of "The 13th Day"! "Finding Fatima" is shot in the same Bresson-esque and super-stylized way as "The 13th Day." While hearkening to and honoring filmmaking's past, the Brothers Higgins are simultaneously bringing the story and message of Fatima to a new generation.

As much as I love watching documentaries, I was just going to give this a quick perusal, but I got hooked and couldn't stop watching.
I thought I knew a lot about Fatima--it's my favorite Marian apparation, and I've been reading books and watching films about Fatima since I was a teenager--but I learned a ton from "Finding Fatima." "Finding Fatima" could be called "Fatima Then and Now," because it brings us up to speed on the Fatima story as it continues to unfold in our present day.

The Higgins Brothers use clips from their "13th Day" for the re-enactments, as we get to know the personalities of the three visionary children in depth. This documentary is chock-full of fascinating, down-to-earth interviews and historical footage, all presented in a spritely way. There's not a dull moment in this life- and joy-filled documentary, even with its more sombre sepia-toned visual edges! Innovative without being novel or gimmicky, "Finding Fatima" has a 21st-century feel to it.

One thing that "Finding Fatima" brings out that--surprisingly--often gets lost in the shuffle of the more sensational miracles/wars/secrets aspects of Fatima is the fact that Mary's visits were also intended to spread devotion to her Immaculate Heart. Mary stated that Jesus wanted to triumph through her Immaculate Heart. She even showed her heart, encircled with thorns to the children at one point.

The pacing is perfect, the interview clips are kept short and the interviewees even sort of "dialogue" with each other! The soundtrack is as mottled as the bordering-on-dreamy palette of colors the film is shot in. Perhaps Ian and Dominic Higgins are onto something new: "transcendent filmmaking." Although all filmmaking should have the quality of the transcendent,* what if your film really is about the real Queen of heaven and earth? "Finding Fatima" is a template of how you might wanna proceed.

Subtitles also in SPANISH.
*"Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery."
--Blessed John Paul II the Great, #12 "Letter to Artists"

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It'll be in color, probably plaster. Note the word (book) and image (camera).
Jesus is the Word of God AND the Image of the invisible God!
Fun fact: Alberione made the first color film ever produced in Italy: "Mother of God." It has just been remastered and re-released (Italian only).

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May 2, 2011


I was so moved by this film that I need to “blog about it.” I normally just write a review, but “Courageous” calls for a “blogging about.” (This trailer is a solid representation of the film, but there’s lots more great stuff, too.)

I’ve been asked to be a bit vague about story details since “Courageous” opens on faraway September 30. However, tickets go on sale Father’s Day(!) What gives? Marketing genius, that’s what! The plan is to sell out all the pre-programmed theaters by September 30:

Want to bring “Courageous” to your city? Just pre-purchase 1,000 tickets, and you’ve got it.

“Courageous” was done by the same folks who put out “Fireproof” (the story of a fireman whose marriage is on the rocks—his fault, partially because of internet porn—and what happens next). “Courageous is about four policemen, their families, and what being a father means. All us “Fireproof” groupies have been eagerly awaiting “Courageous.” “Fireproof” and “Courageous” are two of the most “Theology of the Body” movies out there. They are from the “moviemaking ministry” of Sherwood Church (motto: “We can change the world from Albany, GA”). The “moviemaking ministry” is very humbly listed under “Ministries” as “Sherwood Pictures.”


Hmmm. Where to start. I am not at a loss for words about “Courageous.” I took 17 pages of notes during the screening. A record! In my case, the more notes, the better the movie. So, I need to also blog about the experience of the screening, cuz as soon as I walked in the theater, I recognized one of the stars from “Fireproof”: Ken Bevel. I shook his hand and summarily gushed over “Fireproof.”

When I got to our theater within the cineplex (the huge “Ultra Screen” theater—hey, Sony is releasing this puppy), whom did I end up sitting behind? Ken Bevel (also newly-ordained minister) and his lovely wife. So naturally, I began interviewing him. Ken--who also stars in “Courageous”--had no prior acting experience before “Fireproof,” and he’s really one of the best of the cast. He just retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, but is still in good enough shape to do his own stunts. And stunts there are. Sherwood Pictures has a way with action scenes. They’re just really good at them.

ME: “So, these films are a ministry of your church?”
KEN: “Yes, we use mostly non-actors, members of the church. The stories are written and directed by the Kendrick brothers.”
ME: “Incredible.” (I then proceeded to tell him about BJP2G’s “Theology of the Body,” and how this teaching emphasizes from Ephesians that marriage is a reflection of Christ and the Church: Christ the Bridegroom, laying down His life for His Bride, the Church. Ken nodded vigorously. I told him how Catholics into “Theology of the Body” really appreciated “Fireproof.”)

[As an aside for fans of “Fireproof,” I asked Ken if people always mention salt and pepper shakers when they see him. He laughed and said he has a whole collection of them now.]


As the film promoters gave a verbal introduction in the theater, they explained some of the resources and components that will tie in with the movie (as “Fireproof” had). These tie-ins are very cool because they actually APPEAR in the movie itself in some form, and you’re thinking: WE NEED THAT!!! I WANT THAT!!! WHERE DO WE GET THAT???

Sherwood Pictures are not “message movies.” (Lordy, Lordy, spare us the “message film.” As the old Hollywood adage goes: “Wanna send a message? Call Western Union.”) Sherwood Pictures are “take action” movies. NEW GENRE ALERT! As the promoters told us: “We want to make our movies a movement,” or rather, the audience will do that. ROCK ON, NEW GENRE INVENTORS!

The tagline of “Courageous” is also tres, tres cool and very TOB: “Honor begins at home.” Short. Sweet. Brilliant. Cops are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? Guys are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? And there’s lots of wonderful and needed ways they do that outside the home, often for the sake of home, BUT there’s no place LIKE home to do it. “Honor begins at home.” So many things pull men AWAY from home: work, demanding work, overtime work, wars, travel, hobbies, volunteer/charitable work, even church work. So many men are tempted to measure their worth and success by the external benchmarks, accolades, promotions and achievements OUTSIDE the home, but, really? A man’s home IS his castle. Everyone’s first vocation is to love their families. “In the evening of life we will be judged on love” (St. John of the Cross). Our greatest bragging rights should always be about our particular vocation to love/our way of loving (married, single, priesthood, religious life). When people ask us what we “do,” we should talk about our vocations, our families first, what we “are,” before what we “do.” “Honor begins at home.”

I think so many men might be afraid of getting too “domesticated” at home, or if there are problems at home, it’s easier to avoid home. Men working away from the home came with the Industrial Revolution. Before there were factories and skyscrapers and cars, men worked where they lived: on farms, in shops, etc. (Think Joseph of Nazareth at his carpenter’s shop, which was probably attached to his house.) Women need to be aware that men need time alone, with buddies, out in nature, whatever, but home is where the heart is, and where the real test of manhood is: being a husband and father. Men sometimes think they have to be "doing" something or "fixing" something all the time, but what women and children desperately need more than anything is simply the PRESENCE of their men--husbands and fathers. Of course, if men don't feel appreciated, they're not going to want to be "present," so it's a two-way street, of course.

“Courageous” asks the question: “How DO we do fatherhood? Who are our role models for it?”

I thought of another tagline for “Courageous”: “Think fathers are important? So does ‘Courageous.’” But of course I’d be wading into the “message movie” swamp with that.


After we get to know and care about the main characters, the movie begins with two awesome action/chase scenes. I don’t know how true-to-life all the cop stuff is, but it certainly is true-to-all-the-other-cop-movies-I’ve-ever-seen. The family life stuff is also true-to-life, often painfully so. There’s a few prolonged belly laughs in the movie (from good character/scene set-ups). There is clever, organic, hidden exposition.

So what about these non-actors? Um, you can’t really tell they’re not actors. Or rather, they’re natural-born actors without formal training. I tried to guess later (with my new best friend, Ken Bevel) which ones were professional actors. Got ‘em wrong. The child actors—as are so many kids today—are phenomenal. Most of them—you guessed it—non-actors from the church.

Ken Bevel is my favorite actor of the bunch (and not just because we’re peeps now). You’ll see what I mean. The dude speaks with such conviction, and perhaps his military training has given him this fixed, penetrating look, that you will hang on every word he says. (Ken shared with the audience that some of his character’s back story is also kind of autobiographical.)

Alex Kendrick (director, writer, actor) is not only believable, but you can tell he’s a very funny guy. One of the film’s promoters said, yeah, he’s so funny that he has trouble focusing when he's on the set.

For those who might turn their noses up at this prospect of non-actors, may I remind you of the post-war Italian film school of Neo-Realism, where non-actors were used to produce some amazingly poignant and enduring films. (See: “The Bicycle Thief.”) I rest my case.

Casting is done with much prayer. They’re not only looking for the best one to fill the part, but will these actors be good spokespeople for the film? Will they be able to handle the fame? Whoa, talk about “neo-realism,” a new way of doing things, and the proper spiritual care and feeding of actors!
And for those who turn their noses up at this way of proceeding:
CARDINAL WOLSEY: “You’d like to govern the country with prayer, wouldn’t you, More?”
THOMAS MORE: “Yes, I would.”
CARDINAL WOLSEY: “And I’d like to be there when you try. You should have been a cleric, More.”
THOMAS MORE: “Like yourself, Your Grace?”
--Robert Bolt, “Man for All Seasons”

Is “Courageous” a religious film? Yup. How does its “religiousness” compare to, say, “Soul Surfer”? Way more religious, although not all the characters in “Courageous” are believers. Each character’s life-situation is extremely current-day. There’s just a lot of honesty about life in “Courageous,” and no easy answers to tragedy. My favorite line is: “God never promised us explanations [to life’s individual events].” Don’t like “religious” films? Go with an open mind and surprise yourself.


Do I have criticisms of “Courageous”? Yes—but I’ll wait till when I release my “official” review, because they will give a little more away, and the criticisms are minor.


It’s a good succession of films: First—MARRIAGE (“Fireproof”), Second—FATHERHOOD (“Courageous”). So I was chatting with Ken (oh, did I mention I know one of the stars?) again after the film, and I said: “We need a film like this for women.” I had even mentioned this to some of the lady movers and shakers present, and they all kind of slid into the same thing: If men get their act together, if good men lead, women will follow. Women will know what to do. Women already do know what to do, but they have been thwarted by men not leading, or bad men leading. By "women following," I don't mean "submissive," but rather "following on" men's lead--women leading in their own way, women's using their "feminine genius" and gifts BECAUSE of the leadership of good men. 1 Corinthians 11:11 We are interdependent on each other! "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21

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