Category: Theology At The Movies

Movie Theatre

MennoNerds Lent Vlog – Rebellions are Built on Hope

The following was written for a MennoNerds vlog.


This is probably my favourite photo I’ve ever taken. It was during a thunderstorm last summer with an amazing purple sky, looking out from our balcony. In the centre of the shot is the cross at the top of the Lutheran church right beside our apartment building.

3-dimensional cross from church in front of purple stormy sky

Poster for Hidden Figures

The Gospels, Hidden Figures, and Strength in Diversity

Poster for Hidden FiguresDuring January of each year, our church brings in a biblical scholar to teach through a book. This year is Matthew. In the first adult Bible Study last week, Tom Yoder Neufeld covered many introductory topics, including his explanation of the layers that go into each Gospel: Jesus, the oral history, the compiler, and so on. He also talked about how there was an effort in the early church to compile into one Gospel, which was soundly rejected. That left me thinking: Why? If the goal is strictly to convey the story of Jesus, doing it as a single story would have made a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s the whole goal, though.

Hidden Figures

This weekend, we went to see Hidden Figures. It is a fantastic movie from any objective measure, now picking up some Academy Award nominations, but one particular theme stood out to me and two scenes that really captured this theme.

Movie Theatre

MennoNerds Vlog: Movies and TV

Civil War shows several of the Avengers characters, divided by sidesOver on the MennoNerds vlog, I introduced a new topic about movies and TV. My script is below, or go and watch it on YouTube:


Hi MennoNerds vloggers,

Way back when we started this vlog, we talked about the value of stories, as well as more specifically about books. Stating propositions is rarely as effective as helping people relate through stories. The Bible is a great example of this. That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts involved in the Bible, but it isn’t a systematic theology textbook. It’s a story of God and God’s people told by particular authors, in particular locations and particular times, dealing with particular social issues, with particular theologies, and so on.

When the Bible was written, stories were most commonly spoken, not written down. Now again in more recent history, books are not the most common way we tell stories in our culture anymore. Whether that shift is good, bad, or neutral, that role of shared cultural stories now most often comes through the medium of video with movies and TV.

So my next question for the vloggers: what are your favourite movies or TV shows, and why? I invite the vloggers to go deeper if they’d like, but I’ll run through a few of mine quickly.

Movie Theatre

Bringing Balance to the Force

The Phantom Menace

That annoying kid in the middle will bring balance to the Force. That’s not good for the Jedi.

A Facebook conversation with a fellow Star Wars nerd reminded me of one of my annoyances in the prequels. If you’ve seen the movies, you probably remember the prophecy that somebody – who turned out to be Anakin – would bring balance to the Force. That’s it that we ever hear about the prophecy itself. One thing I never got is why the Jedi would assume that “bringing balance to the Force” meant anything good for them. They, practitioners of the light side of the Force, have been in power for centuries or millenia (I’m a little fuzzy on my pre-history). Wouldn’t it be logical that balance would mean the light finally losing its power to the dark? I’ve never been able to think about what else it could possibly mean. We left the conversation by essentially saying that the Jedi probably didn’t have any idea what the prophecy meant, and yet they assumed repeatedly that it would be great for them.

Reading the Bible

Which gets me to a key point that applies to biblical interpretation and faith in general: we, those in power, tend to assume that everything in the galaxy is working to help us out in particular.

Movie Theatre

The Rise of the Empire

The Phantom Menace

Terrible movie, but the rise of the Empire narrative throughout the prequels has good lessons.

I haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet. I’ll get there soon. In the meantime, I decided to rewatch the first six. I will defend III as a respectable movie other than some terrible writing for Anakin and Padme. I won’t defend I and II at all except for one area of the plot that does always interest me: the rise of the Empire.

Prior to the events that open the first movie, the Galactic Republic had been in relative peace for a long time. Of course there’s still violence on the individual level up to the planetary level, but there’s no large-scale warfare like that which characterizes the six movies.

The Republic didn’t even have an army. They had the Jedi, who are probably best compared to the best-case scenario of police. They do not use force unless absolutely necessary. They don’t enforce laws which aren’t hurting anybody, but they do step in – including with some calculated violence if necessary – to help alleviate conflicts. I’m definitely not pretending they were pacifists, but they would probably mostly align with the goals of Just War theory.

Movie Theatre

Mockingjay Part 2: Empires and Scapegoats

Mockingjay Part 2When I first heard that the last book of The Hunger Games series was going to be split into two movies, as is all the rage these days, I didn’t like the idea very much. It wasn’t even my favourite book of the series (that would be Catching Fire). But seeing how they handled the two movies differently I began to appreciate it. The first primarily dealt with the role of media in propaganda, holding up empires by convincing the average person to fight on their behalf. Part 2 was much more action-packed but dealt with a couple different angles on the broader themes of the series: the nature of empire and the scapegoat desire.

Spoilers will follow.

One Empire for Another

It would be tempting to see the rebels, led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, probably my favourite actress), as the obvious good guys. They’re standing up to the evils committed by the Capitol against those in the Districts, evils which extend beyond The Hunger Games and the more subtle approaches (many similar to real life) into outright obliteration of those who stand against them after the war starts.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones Season 5

Game of ThronesI recently caught up on this past season of Game of Thrones. The only time I’ve blogged about this before was in critisizing how often naked women appear really only as props. I’m not sure if this season was any better on that front – not worse, but probably still bad. But there were a few other themes I did enjoy that made this the most interesting season to me so far. Spoilers will follow.

Protect the Status Quo?

My favourite line of the season, and the show in general so far, came from Tyrion Lannister. This may be a slight paraphrase:

It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is works out in your favour.

Game of Thrones - Why They Died

Game of Thrones and Women as Props

Game of Thrones - Why They Died

Yeah, I’m not touching the topic of GoT’s violence yet.
Source: http://www.sattvdepot.com/game-of-thrones-infographic-why-did-they-die

I just finished watching up to the end of season 4 of Game of Thrones. It is purely coincidence that I caught up to there right after it drew a lot of controversy for a rape scene in this past week’s episode. I haven’t seen the episode, and won’t until it’s on Blu-Ray (if even then). I can’t comment on that rape scene in any meaningful way. I can say I didn’t particularly see as much of a problem with the scene of Jaime raping Cersai right in front of their dead son’s body as some did. To me, it was clearly rape and presented negatively, not saying it was consensual or anything like that, but I know some others interpreted it differently and they probably have a point.

I can also say where I do have a serious problem with the show, enough that I’m not sure yet whether to pick up season 5 or not. That problem is the prevalence of naked women as props. I don’t particularly mind nudity used to tell a story. For example, the early Daenerys story was well done. We meet her and she is quickly naked, established as essentially being the property of her brother to sell off in return for an army.

Fear and Control in Winter Soldier and Bill C51

The Winter Soldier (poster)

The movie poster with the titular Winter Soldier, who I’m not actually talking about here.

On Friday night, I rewatched the movie Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s a fantastic movie in many ways, but perhaps no more so than the central theme it forces us to consider.

Hydra, the evil organization founded in World War II, operates on the basic principle that humans cannot handle freedom. Unfortunately for them, they realized with their defeat in WWII that humans won’t just give up that freedom. Their solution is to scare people into giving up their freedom in the name of security. They help fuel wars and whatever else they can to spread this fear, while acting within SHIELD.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (movie poster)We followed up our recent watching of Selma with the watching of another of last year’s best movies, The Imitation Game. Like Selma, I thought it had several great themes, which I’ll only touch on quickly.

Playing God

Of the many great themes, this is the one that struck me the most. Studying computer science, I knew in broad terms about Turing and his work in World War II, as well as the “Turing Test” (his original title: Imitation Game) which was a key idea in my cognitive science studies. I knew the general information about the technology involved and I knew he ultimately killed himself after being chemically castrated for being gay.