Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Mud" (2012) vs. "The Way, Way Back" (2013)

Two movies that are remarkably similar in basic plot: somewhat shy, socially awkward boy on the threshold of growing up, with no good father-figure, navigating life and trying to find his place, searching for meaning, finally meets a man that he can emulate, look up to and admire. Why did I love one and hate the other? Why is one a 5/5 stars, and the other 1 star (or, actually, 0, if that's allowed...) What did one get so right that the other got so wrong? Let me count the ways...

Allow me to introduce our young stars: as I already mentioned, our 14-year-old heroes are both a little shy and awkward. They are quiet, serious, intelligent, sensitive and deep-thinkers. 

Here's Liam James, as Duncan from The Way, Way Back and Tye Sheridan as Ellis from Mud

At the beginning of The Way, Way Back we see Duncan in the very back of his mother's new boyfriend's station wagon. The boyfriend, Trent, played by Steve Carrell, asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10.. Duncan eventually answers with "6" to which Trent counters with "3." He then prompts him to improve on that number while he stays at the beach house that summer while Duncan shoves his ear-buds back in to escape.

At the beginning of Mud we meet Ellis, driving around and selling fish with his dad, who seems to be a bit gruff and callous. After selling the fish, Ellis goes with his best friend, Neckbone, to scout out an old boat that was deposited on an island in the upper branches of a tree by a flood a long time ago. I didn't connect with Ellis as well as Duncan because it took almost the whole movie for me to begin to understand him. I felt for Duncan and had a connection with him in the first 5 minutes. None of the characters from Mud really resonated with me at all. That's 1.

Note: Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen either of these movies, and you're interested in seeing them, I suggest that you not read on. Here are my sister's spoiler-free reviews for Mud and The Way, Way Back from her blog, How To Watch A Movie.

Enter the new father-figure/role model/mentor. Duncan in The Way, Way Back gets Sam Rockwell in the form of irresponsible water-park manager Owen. He's goofy and a bit immature, but sees that Duncan needs him  and needs an escape from his "family," so he gives him a job for the summer. His acceptance and encouragement helps Duncan grow, and escape his despondency. Owen also matures through the movie, and by the end has become a bit more mature and responsible. Whatever his flaws, he truly cares about Duncan, and was a good influence.

Ellis in Mud isn't quite so fortunate in his father-figure/role model/mentor. Matthew McConaughey plays Mud, a murderer and a fugitive from the law, living in the boat up in the trees. He seems nice enough, the murder was for the sake of his girlfriend, anyway, and he convinces Ellis and Neckbone to help him by promising to give them the abandoned boat once he leaves. As Ellis discovers later in the movie, Mud was just using them as messengers and for supplies, he didn't really care about them. He comes to care for them later, but so far as I see it, his influence on Ellis was only bad. He made him a thief, a liar, and guilty of harboring a fugitive. And he even broke his promise about the boat. That's 2.

Duncan and Susanna at the water park.
Both boys and both men have their own love interests. In The Way, Way Back, Owen has Caitlin, his assistant manager at the water-park. She's a bit frustrated at his continued immaturity and irresponsibility, but loves him anyway and tries to motivate him to be better. Duncan is attracted to the beautiful Susanna, and she is consistently nice to him in spite of his awkwardness, which also helps him come out of his shell. I found both relationships to be sweet, and being a die-hard romantic, I'm happy that neither relationship really ended, they are left with the potential for an eventual happily-ever-after. More so in the case of the adults than the teens, but still a cute ending.

May Pearl and Ellis on their first "date."
In Mud, the adult relationship is Mud and his girlfriend, Juniper, the girlfriend that he was willing to murder someone for. Juniper is revealed to be unfaithful, she leaves Mud for other guys, but then comes back to him, and over and over again, he takes her back. Mud set up this rendezvous point, intending to take her with him when he escapes the law. Ellis, apparently a hopeless romantic, tries to help reunite them. He also has his first romantic experience with older girl May Pearl. She encourages and strings him along, and then turns on him, dumps him and makes fun of him in front of her friends. Juniper also leaves Mud again for another guy. That's 3.

Cold, selfish, annoying and conflicted Juniper from Mud.
 From all this, you could see why a romantic like myself would find Mud tragic and unpalatable, with an unfortunately pessimistic viewpoint about true love, but that's not all. Besides unhappy endings in Mud, and the poor character that Mud is, and how unsuitable he is to be a role model for Ellis, and the fact that I didn't connect with any of the characters in Mud, I think the absolute worst part is the lack of change and character growth in Ellis. Perhaps the whole reason I didn't like him is because he doesn't seem to change over the movie, or if anything, he gets a little worse. (After all, he started off an honest kid, and Mud turned him into a thief and liar.) At the end of the movie, Ellis is at the new apartment that he and his mom have just moved to after his parents separated, and he sees some older girls going into an apartment across the street, and smiles. Really, Ellis? You didn't learn your lesson about older girls?

Ultimately, I think that Mud sends the message that life is hard, true love doesn't exist, and no one is really a good person. I can agree that life is sometimes hard, and no one is really a good person (without Christ), but I don't like to watch depressing entertainment and I definitely disagree on the point that true love doesn't exist. The hard parts of life and bad characters can serve to sweeten the good characters and happy parts of life, so I'm not saying that they don't have a place in a movie, but when there are no good characters, and no cheerful sides to the story, I'm not going to enjoy it. Mud had no redeeming aspects for me, and I didn't enjoy it at all. Watching it was about as enjoyable as sitting and staring at real mud. That's 4.

Sweet special moment as Owen comforts and encourages Duncan.
The Way, Way Back, in contrast, is a great story about a boy growing up, with some hard times, painful moments and bad characters, but the contrast is there - Duncan also has sweet moments, encounters good characters, and in the end, is improved by the experience. He grows, and changes, and by the end of the movie, you feel that Duncan is going to be just fine. The messages I get are that there is hope for love, there are some jerks in the world, but there are also kind people, and life may be hard, but hard times can strengthen you, if you'll let them.

I look for hope, real love, and Christ-likeness in every movie. The Way, Way Back has its flaws, to be sure, but I found in it what I like to see. After seeing The Way, Way Back, I found Mud to be a waste of my time. I'd rather just watch The Way, Way Back again, instead.

Have you seen either or both of these movies, or maybe you just read the spoilers? What do you think? Agree or disagree with my analysis?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Genuine - 2014

I've heard of picking a word for the year, or a Scripture verse for the year, and while it always seemed like a nice idea, until recently I have only been able to pick a word or verse in retrospect - "well, that word would have fit, or this verse would have been good..." It may have taken me around 4 months into the year, but I finally have a word for this year: genuine.


Genuine - adj. \ˈjen-yə-wən
:  actual, real, or true : not false or fake
:  free from hypocrisy or pretense :  sincere and honest

Several years ago, I think I was pretty genuine. I would say what I meant, I wasn't afraid of confrontation or friends disagreeing with me. Then I spoke up about something, honestly thinking that almost everyone would actually agree with me, and instead, I incurred the disapproval of many adults, and alienated a few of my closest friends. It was a big change, and a turning point in my life, I think.

Even though it was painful, I can see that it was a good thing that I learned who they truly were. I was deceived about what kind of friends I had, and now I know they weren't truly my friends, or the kind of people I'd want for close friends, anyway. Seeing through their artificiality made me more determined to be myself, although I haven't been putting it into practice very well for the past few years. It's a little scary to realize that you can so quickly be rejected by those you thought were your friends, but isn't better to have real friends who truly know you, and love you anyway?

I'm tired of feeling like a fake, tired of wondering if the people I'm around actually know me. I'm not going to try to be who others want me to be, or try to be the kind of girl that attracts friends. This year, I intend to be the person that one person, the most important person, wants me to be; I'm going to strive to be who God wants me to be. 

I think I was on the right track before, but I let the disapproval and loss of my former friends derail me. I started to doubt myself, and doubt my stance on certain issues. Then I let bitterness and self-pity take over my heart. But finally, I forgive. I've let go. I'm ready to get back on track. I want to follow God, and say whatever He leads me to say, no matter what the response might be.

If I'm just chatting with people, I want to be natural and not self-conscious. I may sometimes be a little silly, or say something dumb, but I don't want to be afraid to speak up. Likewise, in important issues, a person of genuine character wouldn't keep quiet in the face of lies and deception. I want to have the courage to speak the truth, and be a genuine follower of my Lord.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:3-9

Because of the wonderful mercy of God, those of us who are born again through our resurrected Savior have a glorious inheritance in heaven. We can rejoice in that, even though our short lives may be filled with trials. Those trials are to test the genuineness of our faith! And that genuine faith is for the praise, glory and honor of Jesus. May my faith be found genuine by the testing.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. - Romans 12:9-13

This is the passage that I have chosen for my scripture of the year. This a very concise set of instructions that gives me a great starting place in being genuine. I'm excited and inspired, and after a few years of the bondage to what other people think of me, I feel so free and relieved! I'm looking forward to who God will lead me to be, and living genuinely the rest of my life.

Do you have a word for 2014? Or a special scripture verse for the year? 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

We were studying John in our Sunday morning Bible study class recently, and something stuck out that I had never caught before. Of course, I've heard the story of Jesus and read the book of John many times, but I never understood this part before, and now that I do, I'm amazed!

To begin, one must have an understanding of how crucifixion works. The position of the arms when someone is being crucified makes it very difficult to breathe. The person had to push up on their nailed feet to draw a partial breath, and the strain caused the lungs to fill with fluid, until finally, death comes by suffocation, sometimes many days later, which is why they broke the legs of the thieves to speed up the process. I had heard this before too, but still missed the important point.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:30

From this verse, it's easier to think that Jesus may have been killed by crucifixion. That's what I used to think, that Jesus had allowed the cross to take His life. But for further detail, look at the verses about His death in Mark: 

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” - Mark 15:33-39

If Jesus was about to die as the result of crucifixion, He would not have been able to cry out "with a loud voice" or "utter a loud cry" right before He breathed His last. As our study leader explained, when someone died by crucifixion, the last sound was usually a gurgling as the lungs completely filled with fluid. That is why the centurion, who watched Him die, was convinced the He was the Son of God, the centurion knew He could have lived much longer if He still had breath enough to cry out so loudly.

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." - John 10:17-18

These verses from John make it clear, that He was given the power by God the Father to die at exactly the moment He chose. He allowed Himself to be spit upon, tortured, mocked, beaten, scourged and crucified, but ultimately, "NO ONE" took His life from Him. The cross didn't kill Him, humans didn't murder Him (although they tried), He voluntarily sacrificed His life for us. What amazing power! Truly, He is the Son of God. He laid down His life at exactly the right time to be our eternal Passover Lamb.

Greater than that, though, is that He rose from the dead. He was given power to lay down His life, AND to take it up again! We have been given new life through His resurrection. Because He died, we are dead to sin, and because He lives, we are alive with Him!

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. - Colossians 2:13-15

Hallelujah, He is risen! Have a wonderful Resurrection weekend, everyone!