Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Wrestling with Spiritual Truth

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008): This controversial documentary starring Ben Stein had quite the publicity before it even hit theaters, mostly centering around atheist PZ Myers being ironically expelled from a pre-screening of the film. The film centers around scientists and professors who have been "expelled" from the scientific community for supposedly one reason: they talked about or published information about Intelligent Design (ID). Stein interviews a number of scientists and professors about ID, evolution, and freedom of speech in America. In fact, the film's point seems to be just that: we are losing our freedom as Americans if we don't allow ID to be a significant part of the scientific community.

I appreciated some of the aspects of the film. Near of the end of the film, Stein explains that an evolution-only society leads to atheism, which in turn could lead to events like the Holocaust or Communism. There are clips throughout the film of the Berlin Wall, Stalin, and Hitler. This logic makes sense to me: if life is truly about survival of the fittest and learning to create the best possible species, then events such as the Holocaust have a plausible reasoning. To be fair, horrible events throughout history have also been done in the name of religion (the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.), so it's not only atheistic/evolutionary thinking that can lead to sin. But if other ideas besides evolution are truly being stifled, it is scary to think what may come from it.

I did have some significant issues with the film. A huge one is that they never actually explain the scientific reasoning behind ID. They never prove that it should even be considered a legit scientific idea; they simply assume that it is. There also seems to be a distinction between ID and creationism, but that is never defined either. I fear that people will not be challenged to think for themselves from this film, but will rather choose to blindly accept anything the film says simply because they are conservatives or Christians. I myself am a Christian and believe that God created our world; I also believe that critical thinking skills, intelligent dialogue, and wrestling with tough questions are much more valuable than being spoon-fed. If the film is watched with open and evaluative eyes, it could spark some really great discussion.

Leaving content and controversy behind, the film is simply not that great; it is fairly boring for large parts of the film, and Stein lacks the controversial gusto of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. Also the filmmakers seem to shoot themselves in the foot--they spend a great deal of time arguing for a fair and intelligent discussion, then choose to blatantly ridicule the evolutionists with (admittedly humorous) random 1950s black-and-white film clips. It hurts their argument when they don't engage in conversation, but rather only make fun of the evolutionists. Overall, it is not a great film, but definitely one that could spark some good conversations. (5 out of 10) 

(For some solid reviews of Expelled, click here and here.)

Horton Hears a Who! (2008): I love Dr. Seuss. And not just because he writes whimsical and heartwarming stories, but because those stories are filled with valuable spiritual truths. In Horton, a big elephant hears a tiny voice coming from a speck of dust. That speck turns out to contain an entire civilization of Whos. Their world is in the danger of being destroyed unless the speck can be placed in some safe location. Horton is committed to saving the Whos by bringing them to the top of a mountain in his jungle. It's a great kids film that also got me laughing with its random humor and awesome life lessons.

I am doing a teaching series in May called "Jesus Goes to the Movies." It's about finding using discernment and finding spiritual truth in films and culture. Horton is going to be one of the movies I will be speaking about. I love the quote from the kangaroo (the villain): "If you can't see it, feel it, or touch it, it doesn't exist." She has such black-and-white thinking throughout the film; anything that doesn't fit into her paradigm, she rejects. Then there's the whole relationship between the Mayor of Whoville and Horton. The Mayor can't see Horton, has no real concept of what an elephant-in-the-sky is, but still chooses to believe in him. It's a great example of faith being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. And Horton's commitment to the Whos, even when it costs him, is remarkable: "I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant (or God) is faithful, one-hundred percent!" The final moral of the story is that a person is a person, no matter how small. Or where they live. Or their economic status. Or their religion. I could go on, but the point is that people are valuable and worthy of love and life, no matter what kind of people they are. Great kid's film. (7 out of 10)

Dan in Real Life (2007): My wife and I watched Dan in Real Life together this week, and it really touched her. I am beginning to realize that my wife loves a certain kind of story: she loves stories about families. This film centers around Dan, a widower and father of three girls, who falls in love with a woman in a bookstore, only to later realize that she is dating his brother. Hilarity ensues. Steve Carrell gives a great performance as a man wrestling with his emotions and learning how to stop living by formulas and just get messy in life. It's not quite as funny as I expected from a Steve Carrell/Dane Cook movie, but it what it lacked in laughs it made up for with some touching performances. I really like Juliette Binoche as an actress, though I hated her hair in this movie...yes, that's a weird thing to say, but her hairstyle annoyed me the entire film. Anyway, a good clean film for a rental. (7.5 out of 10)


  1. I thought Dan in Real Life was okay. Totally unoriginal, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

  2. hey, we just saw dan in real life (library rentals are the best!)...I liked it (KT- we must have similar taste =). sweet and clean and just sweet. sorry to be repetitious. i was a little surprised, too, that it wasn't funnier however.

  3. I'd like to recommend a new movie called Soul Masters. It is quite unusual and has appeal for the deeply spiritual and those looking for any level. The movie introduces viewers to a unique and powerful form of healing,and the physician-healer-spiritual masters who are using their extraordinary power to perform what many would call miracles
    The movie is introduced through the eyes of the director who travels to China to document this unusual form of healing after one of the masters, Dr. Zhi Gang Sha, does an extraordinary healing on her seriously ill father.
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