We are a people of stories. We hear stories from our parents and from the time that they are born, we read and tell stories to our children. We search the internet desperate to know the real story behind a song or who is dating whom. We watch the political talk shows so that we know the entire story behind each political jib and jab.
The authors of the Bible knew that telling the stories, history and tradition of the faith would connect people to the Holy. They offered telling passages that told of heroes and tragedies of a flawed people to whom God as connected by covenant. It’s interesting to me that we prefer our stories to be cleaned up a bit. Especially in this political season, we expect the past stories of our leaders to be free from dirt, imperfection and sin. In the scriptures and particularly in the Old Testament, we usually get the real story — warts and all. Why is it that we have this sanitized expectation of life stories when, in reality, we are so flawed in living them out? And, of course, the movies and films we watch are all about criminals, heroes and regular people living into and beyond their flaws. And, isn’t that the story of the Bible, too?
I thought of this as I watched two of the latest films out today. First, I saw Argo. It tells the story of the U.S. embassy personnel who made it out of the embassy before it was overtaken by the Iranians in 1979. It is a stirring, edge of your seat drama. Granted, some license was taken — it’s not a History Channel drama — but it did so to explain the tense and difficult time that the CIA, Canadian government, and the hostages had in getting out of Iran. Filmed in an edgy, quick cut-a-way style, and using actual archived footage, I was easily taken back to the time of the hostage crisis and can remember many of the events in the movie.
From it’s opening moment until the end of the film, I was completely drawn into the story. The characters are easy to empathize with. The chaos of the decision-making processes of the government in developing a rescue plan and how to execute this plan safely is astounding in it’s lunacy. Producing a fake film as cover for a CIA op was a brilliant but very risky move. You see the stress that each of the characters is under. By the end, even though I knew what was going to happen, I was ready to cheer as the final plane lifts off. There is lots of bad language in this film. It contributes to the story a bit and I’m sure it is how these events lived out — with people who weren’t choirboys.
Next, I went and saw Seven Psychopaths. Starring a really fine ensemble cast, this was also a film about a movie in a movie. It involves a screen writer struggling to write his latest screenplay and his psychopathic friends who try to help him accomplish this. I was drawn into this dark comedy — and it is VERY dark and VERY funny. Told in a Pulp Fiction-esque sort of way, the film is full of ridiculous plans, stories and characters. But, it is well told and the film style is edgy and fun to watch, but not dizzyingly so. (I must admit that one of my favorite actors is in this film — Christopher Walken. Every word that comes from him is film gold.) There are some oddly touching moments followed by murderous, graphic violence — all told around the kidnapping of a mob leaders dog. It is definitely an R rated film.
I like to put films and their stories in the context of life experiences. Sometimes, it is very hard to do this. I was taken back to the time when Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump both vied for the Oscar. It was easy to see that Gump would win the Oscar instead of Pulp. Pulp Fiction has no real redeeming characters that you can empathize with. Gump was filled with them. Both films told their stories brilliantly but it was clear that Gump wouldn’t leave you stressed out that you enjoyed the film, as opposed to Pulp Fiction. I left kind of worried that really enjoyed Pulp Fiction.
In Argo, it’s easy to get drawn into cheering for each of these people. It’s a good histo-drama. In Seven Psychopaths, there really are no real character connections to be made — even the ones who have a strong faith. They are deeply flawed but, in an unusual way, you end up cheering for them, too. I won’t draw any direct comparisons to any biblical figures but one can easy point to some very violent Old Testament characters and historical incidents outside scripture that mirror actions of some of these people in Seven Psychopaths. Just as one is drawn into the battle scenes of the Israelites and the violence of the Crusades, one can get drawn into this story, as well. But, I want to be clear, Seven Psychopaths isn’t a movie of faith. It will disturb you. But, it is a very good movie.
I can recommend both movies, but I do so very carefully. Argo is just captivating. Seven Psychopaths is a guilty pleasure. And, each film would be happy I reviewed them exactly as such — warts and all.