By Hillary Senour
As we grow closer to the season of Advent, thoughts naturally tend toward the nativity scene. What Christmas would be complete without the figures of Mary and Joseph gathered around the Christ Child in a manger?
In a similar manner, ‘Mary of Nazareth’ provides viewers with a glimpse into the lives of all those who make up the scene around the manger.
With striking scenery and gorgeous costumes, the film depicts a perhaps more colorful portrayal of Mary’s life while at the same time remaining true to the overall message of the Gospel.
Like a child getting to hear the story of how his parents met, ‘Mary of Nazareth’ paints viewers a beautiful image of the sacrificial love between Mary and Joseph that built a foundation for the loving home in which our Savior was raised.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is the treatment of Mary and Joseph’s courtship. The film shows a young couple very much in love with one another and with the Lord. Rather than painting Joseph as an elderly man to indicate his guardianship of Mary’s purity, he is portrayed as a handsome young man giving the idea that Mary was just as much a keeper of Joseph’s purity as he was Mary’s.
When Mary accepts Joseph’s marriage offer, we see just how much care and attention he puts into building a home for them. Day by day, he works to build the walls and roof that will shelter his beloved bride and their eventual family.
However, when Joseph receives news from Mary that she is pregnant after her long trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth, his disappointment and heartbreak are apparent. He takes his anger out on the home that he worked so carefully to build for his new wife until his hands are bleeding.
It is only when the angel appears to him in a dream instructing him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife that he seems to recall Mary’s instructions before her trip: Do not put faith in me, but in God.
Although the movie follows Mary’s life, we learn more about the people she serves than we do her. Throughout the film she is instructing friends and family to look to God for answers; not to her or their own human understanding.
When Joachim and Ann struggle to understand their daughter’s nonsensical explanation for her pregnancy, she leads them to a deeper level of faith by simply stating, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
A theme that is seen throughout the film is how even in her deepest struggles, Mary gives herself over to God’s will, not her own. One of these deeply touching moments comes when she prays over her “sleeping” Son for God to allow her to suffer in his place. However, in the end she echoes her Son’s words that he will speak in the Garden of Gethsemane that not her own will, but God’s, be done.
As Jesus grows we see Mary’s concern – but not despair – grow as well. She is the first to know that her Son will suffer from early on, but it is as if she realizes what the depth of his suffering will be with each passing moment.
The film is perfect for the start of Advent, but since it serves as a kind of visual meditation spanning from Mary’s childhood to Christ’s Passion, it’s appropriate for any part of the liturgical year.
To learn more about the film and to find or host showings in your area, visit the official website, maryfilm.com.
By Elise Harris
Inspired by the true story of Eugene
Allen, one of the first black men to serve in the White House, Lee
Daniels’ “The Butler” details the life of Cecil Gaines, who
served as a butler for eight consecutive presidential administrations
from 1952 to 1986.
Opening with a young Cecil and his
father working in the fields of a cotton plantation, the film begins
with the rape of Gaines’ mother by the plantation owner and the
murder of his father who tries to intercede. The story unfolds from
there as the boy is taken to work in the house by the owner’s elderly
mother, who teaches Gaines how to serve. He eventually leaves the
plantation in order to find a better life, and more opportunities. He
eventually moves to Washington D.C. and works his way up to serving
at the most prestigious hotel there. After some years, Gaines is
spotted by a White House employee, who is impressed with his ability
to serve as well as his cadence and neutrality when speaking with
politicians of all different party affiliations.
All this happening withing the first 15
or 20 minutes of an over 2-hour long movie, the rest of the film
focuses on Cecil’s struggle to find his place within a rapidly
changing culture, as the fight for racial equality escalates. The
main plot lays out the tension between Gaines and his family, as he
quickly becomes immersed in his position at the White House, seeking
to hide from the issues that he does not want to face. He is
estranged from his son, Louis, and distanced from his wife, who turns
to drinking as a way to cope with Cecil’s stubbornness. His son, who
becomes an active member of the Freedom Riders, participating in
protests and rally’s in the nation-wide effort to show that skin
color doesn’t matter, sees his father’s role as subservient, while
Cecil, who has always been taught to bow his head in the presence of
whites, sees his position as respectable compared to the radical
actions of his son, who seemed to have made a career out of getting
beaten and put in jail.
As the fight for civil rights unfolds,
the political tension, as well as the personal drama that Cecil is
facing, culminate when the black community earns equal treatment and
the right to vote, and Gaines is finally able to confront the issues
that he did not want to face, and restores the relationships with his
family that had remained strained due to his own personal pride.
Focusing mainly on the juxtaposition of
Cecil Gaines and the dynamic of his family alongside the political
tension in the White House, a lot of which was due to the civil
rights movement, the film creatively displays the effectiveness of
both approaches to the issue; that of Gaines, the silent butler who
becomes well-liked and trusted by many of the president’s that he
serves, and who eventually confide in him, being touched by his
sincerity, as well as the activity of his son Louis, whose
involvement in protests and marches edifies the presidents,
encouraging them to enact the policies that led to full racial
At the culmination of this story of
struggle and triumph, is the election of Barack Obama as president,
which is cast as the ultimate fruition of the black’s struggle for
acceptance in society. Although the contrast between the cotton field
at the beginning and Obama’s election shows how drastically the
situation of blacks have changed in America, the film gave the
impression that Obama’s election to the presidency was based solely
on race, at least amongst the black community. Although the movie is
trying to portray the significance of the election of a black
president for the black community, especially in Cecil’s personal
life, which accurately reflect the significance for real-life butler
Eugene Allen, the election scenes left me feeling a little bit like I
was watching a campaign commercial, and I question if the movie
actually depicts what the film-makers hoped to portray.
Aside from that, and the fact that it
dragged on in places, the movie shows an honorable search for virtue
and to do what is right, as well as the willingness to sacrifice for
something that you believe in. It promotes family values, and the
importance of reconciliation, while illustrating at the same time the
consequences of refusing to face our own personal fears, difficulties
and sins. It is a movie worth seeing – one in which the sacrifices
and efforts of those who fought tirelessly to earn their equality are
brought to light in a truly eye-opening way.
“The Butler” opens in theaters nationwide Aug. 16.
By Michelle Bauman
When it opens in theaters on Christmas Day, Les Misérables will evoke laughter, tears and applause from audiences while presenting a message of forgiveness and love that is desperately needed in our world.
Over two-and-a-half hours in length, the film is a faithful adaptation of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s acclaimed 19th century novel.
It stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a French man who spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. When he is finally released, he has become a hardened, bitter man, swearing he will never forgive those who have harmed him. Driven out of society because of his criminal status, he is ridiculed and unable to find work.
Valjean steals the silver of a benevolent bishop who is kind enough to offer him food and shelter. But when he is caught and threatened with a return to prison, the bishop defends him, saying that the silver was a gift freely given, while later telling Valjean that he must use it to “become an honest man.”
This undeserved mercy shown by the bishop transforms Valjean. In a powerful conversion scene, he kneels before an altar, wrestling with his hatred for the world and the newfound forgiveness he has experienced, and eventually allowing the power of this mercy to make him a new man.
Years later, Valjean – now a respected mayor – finds that he inadvertently allowed a woman working in his factory to be cast out, forcing her into a life of prostitution. As she lays dying, he vows to care for her daughter, Cosette. He raises the girl, who comes of age during a period of social unrest in France, all the while running from his past crime.
In contrast to Valjean stands police inspector Javert, perhaps the most intriguing character in the story. Although he is the antagonist, he is not an embodiment of evil, but rather a personification of what happens when justice is completely divorced from mercy.
Javert is best summarized by his declaration, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked.” Obsessed with enforcing the law, he becomes consumed with the hunt for Valjean, who has broken his parole in leaving behind his tainted criminal identity.
Rather than the greed and self-interest that is often seen in modern villains, Javert’s commitment to justice leads him to willingly accept the possibility of punishment when he thinks he has mistakenly reported the wrong man. He believes that he is serving God by strictly enforcing the law and prays that he may find Valjean so that justice may be served.
However, this blind worship of justice renders Javert incapable of forgiving Valjean, whom he can only see as a fugitive “fallen from God, fallen from grace.” It is impossible for him to grasp the idea that Valjean may ever be able to change from his thieving ways.
When a twist of fate leaves his life in Valjean’s hands and the former convict frees him rather than killing him, the look on his face makes it clear that he cannot understand forgiveness, and he vows to continue hunting Valjean.
In their final confrontation, Javert is puzzled by his inability to pull the trigger on Valjean. Haunted by the forgiveness he was earlier shown, his failure to comprehend mercy ultimately leads to his ruin, a tragic depiction of the consequences of justice untempered by mercy.
Éponine is another fascinating character and a moving example of how real love demands self-sacrifice. The daughter of the unscrupulous innkeepers that provide the story’s comic relief, she falls in love with the young revolutionary Marius. When she discovers that his heart belongs to Cosette, she is devastated.
The key moment comes, however, when Éponine witnesses a gang preparing to attack the house where Cosette and Valjean are hiding. If she remains silent, Cosette may be taken away or even killed, and she may have a chance to win Marius. But despite the evident pain of her unrequited love, she chooses valor over vengeance, saving Cosette and Valjean by screaming to alert them.
Éponine later disguises herself as a young man to join Marius at the barricade, where she saves his life in a courageous display of sacrificial love. Although a minor character, her role is both heroic and deeply touching.
Anne Hathaway also delivers a tear-jerking performance in the role of Fantine, the factory worker who is cast out when her supervisor discovers the existence of her young daughter, Cosette. Desperate to support her child, she sells her belongings, hair and even teeth before being driven into prostitution.
Hathaway’s skeletal appearance is startling, albeit fitting for the role. Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is absolutely chilling, as is the look in her eyes when Valjean promises that he will care for her child.
With palpable emotion from Valjean’s first paternal smile at Cosette to the final desperate battle at the barricade, Les Misérables delivers a powerful message of mercy and love.
Rated PG-13, the film deals with heavy themes including prostitution and the violent death of children, but it largely avoids graphic and gratuitous depictions, instead choosing more tastefully to show glimpses of these atrocities, which are enough to convey an idea of their horror.
Featuring an all-star cast including Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Helena Bonham Carter, the movie is sure to be a hit at the box office. It is a refreshing change from so many of the shallow films coming out of Hollywood.
With dazzling performances, bold visuals and heartfelt renditions of beloved songs, Les Misérables can be a tool for evangelization, telling a story of redemption and grace that is much-needed in the modern world and pointing to the ultimate discovery that “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
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