Movies Are Prayers

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Movies Are Prayers

So I have been rolling around in my head what to do for a new thread for a while. I read my old reviews and it makes me want to put myself out of my misery. I do enjoy writing about what movies make me feel though and so I stole this idea from one of my favorite critics. He wrote a book with a similar, if not exact, title. I haven't read his book yet but I love the idea because it fits the way I engage with film very well. This thread will probably get a little more personal, and definitely more spiritual, than some people will like but I figure the thread title will keep most away anyway.

I still am not happy with my first review I wrote for the thread but if I don't get it out there I never will so here I go:


Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith

Plot: Takes place during the riots in Detroit 1967. The riots begin after the police take down a speak easy during a coming home party. During the four days of the riots the police respond to what appears to be shots fired from a hotel called the Algiers. The police brutality that takes place in the hotel is the central conflict of the film.

My take: I was in heaven during the first hour of this film. The way Bigelow stages this riot is flawless. The camera movements makes you feel the chaos in a visceral way. The dialogue during this section is splintered which also allows you to be immersed in the chaos. Adding to the realism is the cuts between the characters in the film and raw footage from the actual riots. Definitely gives you the feeling that you are watching a news cast.

The time spent in the Algiers is also very good but it is where the script has some missteps in my opinion. Lots of great acting and some very emotional moments but they hit the nail straight on the head a couple too many times with some character moments. The standout characters are Dismukes (Boyega) and Krauss (Poulter). They represent the best and worst of what is transpiring so certainly give us our entrance into the compassion and hate we will be feeling during the Algiers sequence.

Dismukes is an especially interesting character. He acts just as most people looking at these situations from the outside would say you should act. He tries to be a help to the police. He tries to intervene when he knows people from the neighborhood are headed for trouble. The fact that all his effort ends up feeling futile and how that manifests itself through him makes for a great character arc. It really hits home the empathy that this film ended up drawing from me in an unexpected way.

The last third of the film is the weak link but no less important than the rest. Things begin to settle down and we see the way the situation at the Algiers wraps up. This is where Dismukes gets his most interesting moment. It also leads us to what will probably go down as one of my top ten favorite endings. We end on a song of worship from a character. I don't even remember any of the words of the song but the earnestness that it is sung with and what it means for the people in this neighborhood and the character who sings it brought a tear to my eye.

Detroit is a prayer of freedom: It is so easy to see the vandalism that results from these riots and judge the participants. I admittedly have done so and there are people in the film from the neighborhood that do so. Why destroy your own neighborhood and hurt the businesses that are run by people who are under the same oppression as yourself? It is an easy question to ask and a fair one. I think the answer is probably hidden within that very question if we look deep enough. How trapped, marginalized, and exhausted must a person feel to destroy their own home? We are doing a disservice to the people and events if we dismiss this as criminal behavior. Obviously this type of violent reaction is not productive in and of itself. It should make the oppressor take notice in a way other than judgment though. The people of Detroit wanted and needed freedom.

What would you do for freedom, and more importantly what is true freedom? Why when we have come so far in our culture, so integrated, and so rich are we still fighting the same fights that we have always been fighting? Will we ever come to a place where everyone feels completely equal and finally free? The answer in the physical realm is undoubtedly no. That answer is unfortunate but it should be apparent when we have smart and educated people calling multi-million dollar athletes slaves. Or when we have spiritual people calling our government religious oppressors when there is a tax free building of worship within walking distance of your chosen place of residence. I daresay man has never been more free than he is in modern western culture. Yet still we fight, spit, and accuse.

It is frustrating, and probably even more so to many people because the answer to this human condition is a spiritual one. We will never find the answer in a broken world. That is because we were not made to be broken. We were made for a spiritual existence and that is very hard to accept or find in our state.
In short we could find some peace in this place if we turn our prayer for freedom into a spiritual one.

I am so pleased that the film Detroit was made. I have been pondering it for weeks and it has really opened my eyes to some of the things that are happening in our culture right now. I couldn't recommend this film more. I am surprised I am not hearing more about it, and would love to hear some other views on it even if they are opposing.

Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.- Martin Luther King Jr.

You can't win an argument just by being right!
This thread will probably get a little more personal, and definitely more spiritual, than some people will like but I figure the thread title will keep most away anyway. :
That's cool. Looking forward to it.

I thought I was about to read some weird stuff but its just a review thread

Oh my god. They're trying to claim another young victim with the foreign films.

Plot: Coming of age story with some beautiful left turns that will either leave you in awe or bewildered. Probably both.

My Thoughts: The first time I watched Tree Of Life I was pretty stunned. I really didn't have a good grip on the film or even how to begin to process it. Something about it struck a strong chord with me though because about an hour later I had to show it to my mom to see what she thought. I thought I would only show her bits and pieces but we ended up watching the whole movie. This was my first time returning to it but it has never been far from my mind since. I have read a bit about it, listened to some podcasts that reviewed it, and occasionally just brought some of the images up on my computer just to let them wash over me a bit. It is certainly safe to say the film has made an impression. I feel safe in saying that I consider this the most spiritual film I have ever seen.

It is not surprising that I am having trouble finding the words to describe a film that has so few. The Tree Of Life is the most beautiful film I have ever seen visually. Because of the left turns the film takes it is easy to forget,when you haven't seen it for a while, how much time we spend in a very small amount of space with a small family. The film is no less striking in these moments than it is when we are seeing the creation of the universe. I love the way the block and home that this family lives in is crafted. The cinematography is always lit perfectly as we are permitted to simply bathe in the images.

In addition to the beauty of the images the story of this family rings true. The struggle of the mother with her husband as she take on the burden of raising three boys. The father certainly comes across as the most flawed character and he crosses the line at points. If we are honest with ourselves who has not crossed the line in times of frustration with our families? A moment that I am ashamed to say struck a familiar chord with me is when the father is upset with one of his boys for how he closes a screen door. He tells the boy on a few occasions not to slam the door, but of course the boy doesn't listen. Not because he doesn't want to listen but because how the screen door is closed is simply not important to him and it doesn't even occur to him until his father has to bring it to his attention again. I have experienced this type of frustration with my boys about more than one, two, or even three things in our house. I let my frustration get the best of me just as this father does, not because I don't love my children but because in those moments I feel that my priorities should be their priorities. I have my sound reason, just as Pitt's character does. He doesn't want the door to get broke. He wants his son to respect the quiet of those around him. Not bad reasons, but they remain a mystery to the boy as they do mine. It creates very natural conflict that are the things of life. The beauty of Malick and this film is he easily conveys this with many many less words than I just typed. It allows it to resonate more with me. It allows me to bring my own frustrations and emotions to the film. It allows me to reflect on the things I need to change in my life to become a better father and the type of father my children deserve. The Tree Of Life succeeds on this level in every scene that involves this family whose journey we are observing.

The mother, played by Jessica Chastain, on the other hand brings pure joy to the film and her children. She is always seen as nurturing and fun loving. Never being upset when her boys are tracking mud or bringing critters into the home. She is a joy to watch as she interacts with the children, her home, and the world around her. I like the juxtaposition between the mother and father. It makes the world feel very grounded in reality. Whether Malick's choice to make the two characters polar opposites is a thematic choice or the way he view his parents really doesn't matter because the experience the children have with both is something I dare say almost everyone has experienced in one way or another.

In the Tree Of Life Malick shows our world as being outside of time while at the same time being completely grounded in time. I think this may be what attracts me to the film most. This family is at the same time 100 percent significant and insignificant. Insignificant because in the grand scheme of a universe that is infinite they will not be remembered. Significant to each other and a creator who is outside of time. Who loves them enough to allow them to be both as cruel and loving to each other as they choose because their eternal existence is where they will find true peace and it is what they were created for.

If there was ever a film that allows itself to be open to interpretation, this is it. Despite that I can't imagine how anyone could not read the beach where everyone is together as heaven and the flicker of light as the intelligence that sets it in motion. As I was watching it rang so true with me and is why I call it the most spiritual movie I have ever seen.

Tree Of Life Is A Prayer: I Thessalonians 5:17 says pray without ceasing. This can be a pretty difficult concept to grasp as time beings. When I think about films as prayer this is the film that lines up with that verse. One of my favorite moments in Tree Of Life is when the mother is asking God where he was in her moment of grief. She asks and immediately Malick cuts to the creation sequence. This is no accident. Malick is showing how God is outside of time. He is there and he cares but not on our physical time frame. God cares first and foremost about our eternal existence. This is also why I love the picture of heaven that Malick creates. A place where time is obsolete.

Outside of time prayer without ceasing is possible. We are called to live in such a way that our very being becomes prayer. Another example of how we miss the fact that God has created all things for our benefit. Prayer can be one of those aspects of God that we look at as him demanding things of us for himself. When we learn what true prayer is it becomes clear that it is for ours.

Tree Of Life has become one of my favorite films. It brings out all the best emotions in me while watching and makes me think about the spiritual nature of humanity in a much deeper way.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in his time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Almost certainly God is not in time. His life does not consist of moments one following another...Ten-thirty-- and every other moment from the beginning of the world--is always Present for Him.-C.S. Lewis

The world doesn't owe you a damn thing
This was rather serendipitous since I was conversing with Citizen about a movie he reviewed; The Spiral Staircase that was actually shot in Detroit and we were both trying to find out WHERE and, of course this movie appeared multiple times in our fruitless research.

Pretty amazing and soul-searching review of Detroit. I knew OF the incident, but never about the details of it during the riots and I love how you're taking this to a more intimate level.

I'll be back to read your second and coming reviews - I am unable to, or to go more in depth with what I did read.

You always call your threads stuff so i don't open them haha. This is the first time i've seen it, not watched either of your first two movies yet but i'm looking forward to future posts.

It's time to have some fun
Though provoking review, Sean. Your review makes me want to give The Tree of Life another chance. I started watching it once but didn't finish it. I have always been curious about it and I do love slower esoteric films.