Ten from 2011

Before the new year gets any older, Richard and I offer up some of our “favorites” from 2011. If you’re not familiar with our cinematic looks back, we’re picking out what we thought were some of the most spiritually/theologically/religiously compelling films (that we had the chance to see) of 2011. We’re not saying these are the BEST films of 2011 (although some of them are), but rather that they stuck with us and had us talking about them well after we saw them. We’d also be interested to hear about films that captured your theological/spiritual/religious imaginations this past year.

The list here is not really in any particular order. There are several films that we suspect might have made the list had we had the time to see them. Some of these include A Separation, Take Shelter, Melancholia, Shame and others. Unfortunately, writing and defending dissertations, prepping a book for publication, and planning an around-the-world journey cut into our movie-going this year. You can read more about why we chose each film after this snapshot:

  • The Help
  • Higher Ground
  • The Adjustment Bureau
  • Of Gods and Men
  • Tree of Life
  • Hugo
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Courageous
  • Red State
  • Drive

The Help: This little movie about African-American domestic workers in the Civil Rights-era South packed a wallop at the box office and started a national conversation about how we view the history of race relations in post-Obama America. It also contains some of the best acting performances of the year, and if the SAG and Golden Globe nominations are any indication, the film is an early favorite for Oscar consideration.
One of the major criticisms of the The Help was that it offered a too-gentle rebuke of the segregation era, allowing audiences to feel easy superiority over the most shockingly racist characters. There is some truth to this critique, but to focus on the film’s shortcomings as an accurate portrayal of the segregationist South is to miss its liberating message of resistance to oppression using elements of feminist/womanist theology.

The feminist/womanist theological principle practiced throughout the film is “table fellowship,” in which faith and life are seen as an ever-expanding circle of hospitality in which more and more people are drawn in. The revolutionary action of the characters begins with a kitchen conversation between the black maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) and the white reporter Skeeter (Emma Stone).  This simple beginning soon grows to include a close friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer) and later, many of the maids in Aibileen’s neighborhood. As the women sit around their tables sharing food and coffee, trust is created and they begin to share stories, starting with the more general and humorous, and gradually delving deeper into soul-bearing confessions of pain, hardship, and hope. In a line that summarizes the central theme of the movie, one of the characters says, “We’re not doing civil rights, we’re just telling stories.” And of course, the women in this film are doing both.

Perhaps the most important legacy of the film is that it helps us remember that the Civil Rights movement, for all its national heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, was also made up of thousands of ordinary women and men who transformed society through small acts of courage.

Higher Ground: One of several excellent independent spiritual films that did not receive wide release this year (others which Pop Theology missed in the theaters included The Way and Another Earth), Higher Ground is Vera Farminga’s directorial debut. An adaptation of the Carolyn S. Briggs memoir, This Dark World, the movie immerses us in the faith journey of Corinne (played by Farminga) and the culture of 1970’s charismatic Christianity. The film skillfully portrays elements of the Jesus People movement, which combined the radical experiential practices of the hippies with evangelical Christianity. The community Corinne and her husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard) join sees no conflict between living as hippies in upstate New York, eating 70’s health food, talking graphically about having meaningful sex with their spouses, and going to prayer meetings at house churches. Jesus is their drug. Eventually, Corinne and her family have difficulty integrating their faith with the rest of their lives. Feeling spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually oppressed by the church, Corinne begins chafing against the community’s leadership and the patriarchal “spiritual headship” Ethan tries to get her to submit to. Soon, she must decide whether or not she will remain in her marriage and in her church.

A poignant scene happens after one of the members of the community tells Corinne that if she doesn’t get right with God, she’ll be left outside of the Kingdom with the dogs (a reference to Rev. 22:15). Corinne returns home to visit the church of her youth, where an old hound sits on the front porch. When she walks back out of the church and follows the dog to an adjoining field, dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds rush around her. What the member of Corinnne’s church didn’t realize in criticizing her is that dogs are symbols of fidelity. Throughout art history, and specifically in religious paintings, the presence of dogs often signified faithfulness and devotion.  Far from being “in the doghouse,” Corinne’s journey is still one of faith, even as she is forced to live it out on the margins of the Christian community to which she belongs. The film captures Corrine’s struggle beautifully in the final shot, in which she stands in the doorway of the church, physically and spiritually divided as to whether or not she should leave. The film demonstrates the great tragedy of institutional religion—people must often choose between their relationship with God, and their relationship to their faith community. It’s a shame that so much of Christian religion has become antithetical to Bishop Ireneus’ teaching that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

The Adjustment Bureau: The late writer Philip K. Dick continues his reign as the perhaps the most influential inventor of science fiction scenarios for Hollywood with this year’s The Adjustment Bureau. The film takes the simple statement, “God has a Plan,” to its logical (or absurd) conclusion. If God has a plan, and humans have some level of choice, it must be possible to go “off plan.” If that’s the case, then God must be constantly making “adjustments” at the micro and macro level. So what if, the film asks, in order to keep the cosmic clockwork moving, God needs not miracles or angels, but something more like a bureaucracy? That’s where the Adjustment Bureau comes in. These are the men with hats and grey suits who keep history going in the right direction. And, like any bureaucracy, the underlings don’t know the whole story. They’re organization men. Their main purpose is to keep The Boss happy and move up the ladder, not to question the morality of their actions. And sometimes mistakes are made. Blame is shifted. The fixers in the corner office have to come in and clean things up. The Adjustment Bureau agents in the film are played quite entertainingly by John Slattery (Roger Sterling from Mad Men), Anthony Mackie, and the incomparable Terrence Stamp. The boys from the Home Office are straight-laced and ruthless, as they try to keep Matt Damon’s character, David Norris, a Congressman, and Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a dancer, from finding the happiness together that would put them “off-plan” for the important contributions the two of them are supposed to make to the world.

The crux of the film is free will versus predestination, Calvin versus Aquinas, Plato versus Aristotle—a romantic comedy of Western metaphysics. Even the main characters—the spontaneous dancer in love with the calculating politician—represent the interplay of philosophical opposites. I suspect some people may object to the sheer, brutal Calvinism of the Bureau. More “advanced” theological minds may suggest that we don’t think this way anymore, that we have matured in our view of humans as co-creators with God, or even beyond the idea of divine interference at all. But I’m not sure this is completely true. Having spent the last ten years of my life in the midst of theological education and religious leadership, the “will” of God weighs heavily on seminary students, ministers, and committed laypeople. Religious types are unfailingly intuitive, often following the dictates of their conscience against what seems logical or systematic.

It all comes down to theodicy and theological anthropology. If you believe in a God who is present, who intervenes, or has been incarnate in human form, to some extent you believe in the Adjustment Bureau. What I like about the film is it suggests human error and random chance are the inevitable result of a species struggling to maturity. This world is all part of The Plan, not the result of The Fall. The film even suggests human beings can change God’s mind—which is not at all incompatible with Jewish and Christian scriptures. The film suggests God and humanity are on an adventure together in which the spiritual is becoming known in the material world. This is a messy process: at times tragic, at times joyful, at times absurd. A metaphysical romantic comedy indeed.

Of Gods and Men: In the Pop Theology review of this film, Richard Lindsay carried on a conversation with Catholic educator and former novice at a Benedictine monastery, Mike Campos. Mike’s insights into the film are truly enlightening and we highly recommend the article. Of Gods and Men is technically a 2010 release: it received the Grand Prix (the second prize) at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but was not distributed in the United States until February 2011. The film is based on a true story about French Trappist monks in Algeria killed by Islamic militants in 1996. The death of the monks is a cold historical fact, but what makes the film moving on a deep spiritual level is its account of why, given ample opportunity to escape, the monks stayed in their isolated community under the continuing threat of death. The film allows us to get into the rhythm of monastic life as the brothers work, eat, study, and pray together. Not at all a cloistered community, the brothers have become integrated into the life of the small village outside their monastery, and the difference in faiths between the Christian monks and the Muslim villagers has been overcome by their dependence on each other. The monks sell honey in the local market, provide medical care, do acts of charity, and give and receive advice from their Muslim neighbors. The village and the monastery are soon forced to a crisis by the invasion of Islamic militants, who demand a more fundamentalist approach to the faith. Even the Muslims of the village, who do not share the fundamentalists’ zeal, are in danger of torture or beheading. Conditions continue to deteriorate for the monastery, bringing both threats from the Islamic militia and unwanted attention from the Algerian army. The brothers must then wrestle with the possibility of abandoning their monastery and the village or staying and facing almost certain death.

By the end of the film, viewers can begin to understand, based on the monks’ theology, why they decided to stay, even if few of us might share their courage. As Mike Campos explained in his discussion of the film, “[In monastic life] when one relates with the [religious] community—each other, the villagers, the land, the government, the militia—one simply does not leave and sever. In each brother’s individual struggle over whether to leave or to remain, they reconsider what it means to relate, to love, to embody” their faith. “Their decision to stay exposes a deeper commitment to relationships, individuals and people that transcends the momentary crisis of politics.”

The imperative to continue their ministry of prayer, outreach, and daily work is heightened by the threat, until simply performing the mundane tasks of the monastery takes on great importance as an act of resistance to the violence being imposed on their community. The monks’ actions are wholly contradictory to the Western materialist idea that true freedom can only come through unfettered individuality and a kind of grasping relationship with one’s own survival and personal fulfillment. In their act of self-giving, several of the monks express to each other that they feel a sense of freedom and joy. In this way, the film illuminates the great truth from the Gospels, “Whoever tries to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall preserve it.”

The Tree of Life: Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, this was one of the most artistically polarizing films of 2011. Distinct camps formed between those who loved the film’s long discursions into cosmic history and non-linear narrative of a family told through cinematography rather than words, and those who found the film incomprehensible and self-indulgent. We here at Pop Theology were of the camp that concluded director Terrence Malick has made a spiritual masterpiece, and the best film of the year. The Tree of Life begins with God’s rejoinder to a complaining Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…While the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” From there it places the coming-of-age struggles of a Texas family in the 1950’s, particularly the clan’s oldest boy, Jack, against the entire drama of Nature, including the cosmic history of the Big Bang, the creation of life, and evolution. In the family sequences, Brad Pitt nearly vanishes into his role as the disciplinarian father. His buzzed hair, jutting jaw, the cut of his clothes, even the way he carries himself, are an encapsulation of the mid-Twentieth Century men that were so many of our fathers and grandfathers. He loves his kids and his wife, struggles to feed them, feels frustrated and unfulfilled in his work, and doesn’t have a speck of emotional intelligence to save him. As the mother of the family (played by Jessica Chastain) narrates, “We were told there were two ways of life, the way of Grace and the way of Nature.” As embodied by the mother, Grace sees beauty in all things. As embodied by the father, Nature is self-serving and often frustrated. Rather than embracing the unique spirits and natures of his children, he forces them into a mold based on hard work, self-reliance, and repression of feeling that he can’t even fit into himself.

The dialogue is sparse, mostly overheard or spoken in the characters’ minds. Much of the speech seems to be in the form of questions posed to God. In the midst of the family drama, Malick and his photographer Emanuel Lubezki capture the movement of trees, grass, seaweed, and water; patterns of light on concrete, through glass, and through hands and fingers held against the sun; buildings of steel, wood, and stucco; flocks of birds in flight, jellyfish, snakes, even dinosaurs; and a vast ballet of stars and nebulae. This is accompanied by music from the most celestial composers: Mahler, Respighi, Holst, Bach, Berlioz, Smetana, Tavener, and Górecki, among others. It’s a film that gives the viewer time to contemplate the iconography of the Cathedral of the Universe. The Hollywood melodrama has historically been a means of taking difficult social issues and dealing with them through domestic situations. In The Tree of Life, the entire history of the universe and all the deep questions of humanity are filtered through the life of one family. In this sense, Malick may have created something completely new: a cosmic melodrama.

Hugo: Next to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo is perhaps one of the most visually stunning films of the year. Like few filmmakers have as of late, Scorsese employs 3D technology to serve his story and, by extension, the audience. For the average moviegoer, Hugo will be the most entertaining film history lesson they could have. Other filmmakers have blended film history and fantasy together, but few have done so as movingly as Scorsese. While viewers will no doubt be drawn to and enraptured by the visuals, the film has a captivating story that raises several important “points” about the human experience. Hugo tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan living in the attic of a train station. His deceased father was something of a tinkerer, who had created a mysterious automoton that Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is not trying to re-animate. Hugo hides most often and observes the world around him. His two (potential) enemies are the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the owner of a toy store in the station (Sir Ben Kingsley). His search for the key to the automoton brings him to the attention of the toy store owner. Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the toy store owner’s granddaughter befriends Hugo and draws him further into her grandfather’s life. We soon learn that her grandfather, Papa Georges, is actually Georges Melies, a “father of cinema,” particularly  special effects, sci-fi, and fantasy.

Scorsese beautifully re-creates some of Georges Melies early silent films, providing us with an imaginative glimpse “behind-the-scenes” of classic, silent films. He also integrates scenes from these actual films into his own.  More than that, the other plot lines in the film, specifically the Station Inspector’s attraction to Lisette (Emily Mortimer) and Monsieur Frick’s (Richard Griffiths) attraction to Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour), actually play out like silent films that Hugo, and the audience, watch develop over the course of the larger narrative. I could go on and on about the beauty of Scrosese’s film (and perhaps I should), but I think it is especially relevant to this discussion because it provides insight into the artistic medium that we are most fond of here at Pop Theology and one of the most influential in pop culture at large.

Of course, Hugo’s experiences carry with them several important reminders. All of us, even the orphans in hiding, have value and purpose in this life. We “fit” into the grand scheme of things (whatever that may be) in integral ways. Part of this should be to help remind or tell people of their own worth and value. Of course, we need to be reminded too…much like Hugo does with Papa Georges. As always, these reminders play out much more beautifully on the 3D big screen. Perhaps it sounds trite here, but in a world built on devaluing ourselves and the other, this message could not be more profound or prophetic.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Few filmmakers could make a documentary, let alone a feature film, about 32,000 years old cave drawings entertaining. Werner Herzog might be the only one. Though Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an informative look back to a distant time and place, it is simultaneously a timeless, contemplative reflection on the nature of human identity. In 1994, three independent explorers discovered a cave in southern France, the entrance of which had collapsed some 20,000 years ago keeping both it and its hidden treasures preserved all along. The cave houses some of the oldest, if not the oldest, works of art known to humanity. The prehistoric drawings in Chauvet Cave feature images of bison, mammoths, lions, deer, rhinoceroses, and even a bison/woman hybrid. Alongside these images lie the bones of various now-extinct animals and beautiful, glittering calcium deposits. Scientists suspect that early humans did not live in the cave but perhaps used it for painting, ritual, or religious purposes.

In conversation with the documentarian, Jean Clottes, one of the earliest scientists to study the caves, tells Herzog that he feels like homo-sapien (the man who knows) is a far too inadequate description of the human species. Rather, he argues, we might best be described as homo-spiritualis (you define it). He also argues that two things are apparent from his studies of the Chauvet Cave drawings: these prehistoric humans understood fluidity and permeability. That is, distinctions like male and female or person and animal or human and nature or even this world and the spiritual did not matter. Humans could “communicate” with the “other side” and with nature. Hybrid artworks like the partial bison/woman figure at Chauvet point to a blurring of the lines…or a fluidity of life that escapes most of us today. Of course, the spiritual and/or religious assumptions about that time can run in countless directions.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is as beautiful a film as the drawings on which Herzog focuses. It benefits from cinematography that is as moving and haunting as the score that accompanies it. My only regret is that I missed it in 3D, a version of the film that would have no doubt lent both a sense of size and texture to the cave drawings that I missed out on by watching it at home. The medium of Herzog’s art, film, also opens up questions about the permanence of his work and, by extension, our role as observers in relation to the drawings. With a film as moving as Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one hopes that it has as permanent a place in the history of humanity as the drawings that grace its frames.

Courageous: One of these films is not like the others. We recognize that it will be laughable to many readers that we included this film on our list. There’s so much wrong with Sherwood Pictures‘ filmmaking philosophy, but there’s so much, at least technically, right with this film, especially when compared to their previous releases. At heart, there’s nothing wrong with Sherwood Pictures or the Kendrick brothers’ messages of being better spouses or, here, parents. So much of it just gets lost in the execution and prostelytizing.

In Courageous, the Kendrick brothers focus on a group of law enforcement officers and the trials on the streets and their troubles at home. To varying degrees, they have dysfunctional families spanning absentee fathers to keds feeling like they cannot connect with their parents at home. When tragedy strikes one of the families, the father, Adam (Alex Kendrick), enters into a six-week study period where he turns to Scripture to find inspiration to be a better husband and father. In fact, the scene in which Adam consults with his pastor is one of the best scenes in all of contemporary Christian cinema as the pastor leaves space for Adam to grieve. As a result, he crafts a resolution that states as much. Adam presents it to his friends David (Ben Davies), Shane (Kevin Downes), Nathan (Ken Bevel), and Javier (Robert Amaya), all of whom agree to sign it and hold each other accountable to its standards. When Nathan shows it to his wife Kayla (Eleanor Brown), she tells him that they need to make it official…that something like this requires a ceremony. So the four men dress up and participate in a ceremony in which they each recite the vows in The Resolution before God, their families, and each other.

The on-screen theology of Courageous is a bit more complex than Sherwood’s previous films as the filmmakers present it in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The characters here are far more sympathetic than the leads in Flywheel, Facing the Giants, or Fireproof. While their Christian faith is important to their lives, they do not seem to expect God to do everything for them. They take initiative in their lives. Javier may pray to God for help in finding a job, but that does not stop him from pounding the pavement in search of one. Adam cries out to God in anguish over the death of his daughter, but he also searches scripture for inspiration to be a better husband and father in order to help Victoria and Dylan heal. These are characters who put their faith in action rather than passively waiting for God to solve everything. Unfortunately, the requisite moment of salvation scene that has become a fixture of sorts in Sherwood Pictures’ films is far less subtle, bringing the flow of the film to a screeching halt.

Richard pointed out that Courageous shows, with more clarity, the evangelical Christian claim that Hollywood does not reflect the values of a large segment of the American population. The kind of characters and actors in this film would never be in Hollywood films. They look like normal people. People pray all the time in real life. They go to church. They struggle over personal morality. Hollywood rarely depicts any of this. When they do, it’s always the stereotype of the hypocritical religious leader or mindless followers. To some extent, Hollywood claims to reflect America, and in some ways claims to “invent” America. To the extent that they ignore white, or even more diverse, Red Staters that go to church, it fails to reflect real life in America. What Sherwood is doing in making this kind of independent film is the same thing small-time gay, or ethnic, or women filmmakers have been trying to do in countering the dominant narrative that Hollywood creates. The difference is that Sherwood probably sees themselves as the “real” America, rather than one perspective among many, which is what they really are. They are really a kind of ethnic cinema.

Red State: Speaking of red states, only one other film on the list is as disturbing as Kevin Smith‘s (that religious provocateur) Red State. It deserves a spot on this list because it reveals the violent potential inherent in religious fundamentalism and just how quickly it can all go awry. At the same time, it reveals his prophetic nature as a filmmaker and makes his immanent “departure” from the filmmaking world all the more unfortunate.  There’s a tradition of reading some of Jesus’ more intense sayings as prophetic hyperbole. That is, when Jesus in Mark 9:47, “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,” he doesn’t really mean that we should all run around plucking out eyeballs or cutting off body parts. No one…even the most conservative Christians…believes that. Jesus is being hyperbolic here in an effort to encourage his followers to take their lives, and the inevitable sin in them, seriously. Just because we don’t take this passage literally, doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously. I would argue that this notion of prophetic hyperbole is an appropriate lens through which to view Kevin Smith’s latest film, a disturbing thriller about an extremely violent, fundamentalist Christian sect.

There are really only three things that mark this as a Kevin Smith film: rapid dialogue, a wealth of cursing, and some dark humor. Other than that, he’s in some pretty new (aside from the commentary on religion) territory. He’s doing a gritty thriller, action movie unlike anything he’s ever done before…and he kicks the proverbial door down with it. Unlike so many action movies that make the audience feel like they’re sitting in the middle of a blender, Smith and director of photography David Klein somehow manage to keep everything in extreme focus even as the action is moving at break-neck speed. There might have been a few actors who could have fit these roles, but I doubt that the film would have been as effective without the cast Smith assembled here, particularly Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, and John Goodman. Parks won’t get, but certainly deserves, an Oscar nod, especially for the lengthy sermon scene in which we first meet him. The hymns and scriptures roll off of his tongue like poison-laced honey.

And of course there’s the whole religion thing. As we mentioned above, Smith is engaging in prophetic hyperbole here. He doesn’t believe all conservative, radically evangelical Christians are gun-toting nut-jobs. Even as Abin and his Five Points community closely mirror Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, Smith gives Keenan a line in which he tells his superior that, unlike the Five Points congregation, the Phelps community hasn’t amassed firearms. However, like Phelps, Abin and his followers reveal the ability of some Christians to embrace the letter of the Word without understanding its Spirit. Abin can quote scripture until kingdom come (an event he’s eagerly awaiting), but he leaves no room for the love or grace of God to move among either his congregants or especially unbelievers.

In a rather subtle way, Smith refuses to damn “the opposition,” even as they are eager to damn him. Towards the beginning of the film, Travis et al’s high school teacher lectures on the Constitution. Of course her major discussion point is the freedom of religion and as the scene fades out, the class touches on the Second Amendment. While she claims that Abin and his crew have every constitutional right to express their beliefs, she certainly thinks the world would be a better place without them (“The Nazis have even alienated themselves from Abin and Five Points”). Unlike this teacher, Keenan (and Smith?) view the opposing sides in much more complex ways. In a time when we have political candidates running on, essentially, theocratic platforms, Red State reveals yet again the danger of fundamental religious absolutism, especially when it has access to multiple forms of power.

Drive: There’s nothing specifically religious about Nicolas Winding Refn‘s film about a mysterious get-away driver, but it does raise some potentially large spiritual and theological issues. Like Red State, Drive can be brutally violent, but its characters’ experiences of that violence are much more ambiguous. In this world, shit happens, people get caught in the wrong places at the wrong time, and seemingly quiet, docile characters snap in brutal fashion without any warning. The great thing about Drive is that it refuses to tell us almost as much as it tells us. The film “focuses” on Driver (we don’t even get a real name for Ryan Gosling‘s character), a young man who drives stunt cars in movies by day and get-away cars by night. He’s quiet and punctual (either side of the agreed upon time for you to do your job and you’re on your own). He develops a gentle friendship with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives alone with her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Their husband/father Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison…of course, for what we’re not exactly sure. When Standard is released from prison, he signs on for one last job for a mobster to get free of his debts. Driver agrees to help him out. Things go drastically wrong, and Driver finds himself more deeply involved with gangsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) than he had initially planned. Despite the risks, he plays it out to the bitter end to save Irene and Benicio from harm.

Even though there’s little action here, a key interest here for the filmmakers seems to be violence. While there’s not a lot of that either, compared to other crime, noir, or “car chase” films, the violence present in the film is, thankfully, unflinchingly realistic. Some of the violence comes from expected places like gangsters lashing out at people who might stand in their way. Some of it comes from characters being in the wrong place at the wrong time, e.g. Christina Hendricks‘ Blanche. Far more interesting are the sudden eruptions of violence from Driver, not because they are exceptionally graphic but because of what they reveal about and add to his personality. For the majority of the film, Driver keeps everything (his surroundings and personality) in check. But when they both get out of control, he reveals a volcanic level of violence that he’s been reining in for both his (perhaps) and Irene and Benicio’s benefit. If we can put it this way, the violence here is “good” because it is realistic, disturbing, and consequential. We see flowing blood, exploding skulls, and the like…most of which are conspicuously absent in most PG-13 or R-rated films.

With its avoidance of cartoonish violence and the accompanying implications of heroism and humanity being bound up in violent actions, Drive also sheds light on the “dark side” of a frequent theological interpretation of many films and genres. There’s a tendency among many Christian critics and viewers of “hero” films to view the lead character, say Batman or Superman, as a Christ figure. The problem is, the great majority of these characters are almost always violent and consistently so. This is something that Jesus never was, and, unless you subscribe to Mark Driscoll’s theology, something that the Christ is not. There could be the temptation her to view Driver as something of a Christ figure: he’s an outsider, mysterious, his arrival is inexplicable, he defends the vulnerable, he (potentially) sacrifices himself. But his treatment of his enemies, and most importantly the way in which those actions are portrayed in the film, both finds the comparison wanting and should shed light on the problematic comparisons that are so often made in other films.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to share some of your favorites from 2011 below.