This blog is a continuation of a four-part series on film written by Jake Kelly. For more information about Jake and to review the earlier movies, check out our blog post for Part One HERE. Part II HERE. and Part III HERE.
- Edge of Tomorrow
“Battle is the Great Redeemer. It is the fiery crucible in which true heroes are forged. The one place where all men truly share the same rank, regardless of what kind of parasitic scum they were going in.”
The Edge of Tomorrow is a quasi-futuristic sci-fi action-film starring Tom Cruise as William Cage, an officer in the military for public relations and marketing. After Europe is attacked by a massive assault from alien terrestrials, nations of the world join together to create a unified military defense against the aliens. With new technology and advancements in weapons and gear, the world decides to launch a surprise operation on the enemy front in western France. When Cage is given orders by the general leading the attack to go into battle with the first wave to film the war on the front lines, he demands to be relieved of his order citing that he has had no previous battle experience. After threatening the general with blackmail, he leaves the office only to be arrested by a group of soldiers and knocked unconscious. Waking up handcuffed on site of the central military barracks, Cage learns that he was demoted to a private and labeled a deserter, someone trying to flee the war effort. With no way of escape, Cage goes into battle the next day which turns out to be a slaughter. As he is about to be killed, he grabs an explosive nearby to also kill the alien. We see Cage die with the blood of the alien splattered all over him. Unforeseen, Cage wakes up again handcuffed on the army base. He realizes that he somehow went back in time to the previous day. After dying again the next day in battle, just like before, he sees that he has the ability to go back to the same point every time he dies. As he uses this advantage to strengthen his capabilities as a soldier, he finds Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a well-known hero in a previous battle with the enemy, and asks for her help. Cage suddenly learns that Rita had the same ability at one point and tells Cage that she knows how they can defeat the aliens from winning the war and obliterating all human life.
I like Edge of Tomorrow; however, I wouldn’t label it as some Oscar film filled with an ingenious story, brilliant cinematography, ineffable moments, and so forth. It’s just a simple film that succeeds greatly in what it hopes to do. It’s a fun, adventurous, novel action film with smart comedic relief. Being something new and creative, it really sticks out to me. I like sci-fi films but I enjoyed this more than usual. I felt that the aliens were a great design piece to the film: they are cool, well-designed, killing machines. The weaponized suits were another great element of the film. Many games of my childhood already developed this idea of humans wearing futuristic robotic suit weaponry. The film creates suits that feel real, are effective, and are necessary to kill the alien antagonists. I think Edge of Tomorrow also uses editing in a brilliant way to tell the story. We know that our character “Cage” is going to die and repeat the same day. It takes creative editing to live 300 days through a man’s life in an hour and a half. I believe it’s an action-adventure film that anyone can and should enjoy.
I think some of my favorite scenes revolve around Cage trying to get Rita to open up about her life. Since she once had the ability to “reset the day”, she understands what it is like to lose people in war, even multiple times. In the movie, we are with Cage and Rita as they make their way to an abandoned farm house with a helicopter in the back field. They aren’t able to find any keys and decide to take a break. They go into the house and Cage dresses a wound on Rita’s shoulder. At this point, we know that they have gone through a lot: they were able to get off the battlefield, find a vehicle, and then find a part of civilization that had not been compromised. In this moment, Rita talks about just resetting the day because she is tired. Cage quickly stops her. He says that they should just wait ten more minutes and then look for the keys to the helicopter again. So, they go back to making some coffee and relaxing. Cage pours a cup for Rita. As she pulls it in, Cage asks if she wants some sugar. She gives a slight smile and confirms his ingenuity. Pulling in again, he stops her. “Wait, you like three packets,” Cage says with joyful remembrance. Rita changes the look on her face. As Cage starts pouring the sugar, he realizes what he did. Rita asks, “How many times have we been here before?” Rita realized that Cage wasn’t telling her something. He had lived the moment before and knows what’s going to happen. Rita gets upset and asks, “You know where the keys to the helicopter are, don’t you?” Cage pulls them out of his pocket. As she gets more upset, Cage tells Rita that she never survives past this point and he just doesn’t want her to die. If he is able to stop the invasion, the day will not be reset and Rita will not come back. However, Rita doesn’t care anymore. She sees herself as a soldier and doesn’t believe in becoming familiar with people, because it let her down in the past. I enjoy Cage’s perseverance in trying to get to know Rita because it makes him a caring personality, but it also creates a chess game for Cage in which he has to out-wit his female soldier mentor.
Does every film have to be an Oscar “best picture” film? I don’t believe so. In fact, there’s a perfection in a film like Edge of Tomorrow that draws more viewers to itself rather than most Oscar films. Simplicity, fun, action, comedy: these are traits that make films more approachable in our current time. Instead of pondering existential ideas or having to mull over what a director was trying to say in a movie, most people like to watch something that will uplift them. We want to free ourselves from worry or other problems in the world and just laugh about something good in life. I don’t think all films should be like Edge of Tomorrow, because there are stories that are going to be harder to listen to or watch. In our modern era, we definitely need both. Sometimes we need to think deeper about life and the journey we are on. And sometimes, we need to just sit back and enjoy a simple well-told story. We just need more simple well-told stories that are worth our time.
- La Vita è Bella
A current prisoner: “They are looking for someone who speaks German, to translate their instructions.” Guido brings his hand up: “Me! I’ll do it, I’ll translate!” The prisoner asks, “Do you speak German?” Guido responds, “No.”
Translated as Life is Beautiful, this foreign film is set in 1930s Italy around the time of World War II. We start off on mischievous Guido and his friend traveling through Italy when they come upon a woman named Dora, who immediately grabs Guido’s attention. As we follow him and his friend trying to find work around the city, Guido runs across Dora again and again. In time, we realize how much Guido is enamored by Dora as he starts trying to follow Dora and eventually woo her by his creative romantic ways. With what starts out to seem like a small blooming romance, Guido and Dora eventually marry and have a son. When all seems like a fairytale, all is flipped on its head as Guido and his son are taken to a train station to board a cart full of Jewish people headed to a concentration camp. Guido, realizing that he doesn’t want his son to know what awaits them, turns their sentencing into a game that he and his son must win. Caring only for his son and wife, we watch as Guido uses his wit, quick-thinking, and imagination to ultimately save them and their perception of their inhumane predicament.
This 1997 film was recommended to me a few different times and I thought nothing of it. I mostly knew of the movie by name and didn’t really know anything about the actual story. Being a foreign film and having the impression that it was old, I didn’t see this movie until recently. This was rather unfortunate. Being one of the most profound films I have ever seen, I wish I had seen this many years ago. I enjoy this movie for multiple reasons. Life is Beautiful is filled with many fun moments of playful antics, creative wit, and romantic spectacle. The love story of Guido and Dora and how they come to fall in love is very enchanting and fun to watch. Even when there are times when we are prone to think that they won’t be able to make it in the beginning, we see them both break out of their comfort zones for their instinct and desire to be together. On a different note, the movie is not always a walk in the park. The narrative very distinctly calls attention to the inhumanity that Guido, Dora, and their son are gravely unfortunate to participate in. It doesn’t hold back to this difficult event in history. Yet, the movie is not weighed down by the event, because Guido isn’t. Rather, we see love and selflessness create a determination to save others, especially loved ones, at a great cost.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Guido’s son is confused with other German children playing in the streets of the camp. He is taken by a woman soldier to have lunch with the other children. Coincidently, Guido was lucky enough to be helping as a server at a high-rank military party held in a room across from the children. The scene is somewhat tense because his son only speaks Italian and could be made out at any moment. However, the scene becomes more tense by the chance of Guido running into a German doctor he knows. Earlier in the film, this doctor was in Italy and happened to dine at the restaurant where Guido was the waiter. The doctor enjoyed Guido’s company because they would share riddles together. So, when Guido is serving at the military party, the doctor keeps giving him signals about talking in secret. Guido thinks that the doctor could possibly help him and his family get out of the camp. When the chance occurs for Guido and the doctor to talk in secret, the doctor intensely looks at Guido and says, “Fat, fat, ugly, ugly, all yellow in reality. If you ask me what I am, I reply ‘Quark quark quark.’” Guido just stares at the doctor flabbergasted. In this moment, we just watch as his German doctor friend seems completely unaware of what has befallen Guido and his family: that they will die. The doctor even tells Guido that he needs his help with the riddle because he can’t sleep. I like this moment because it pulls us back into the situation that they are in. One group of people seems completely oblivious to the crimes that they are committing against humanity and the other group of people are only left with silence. Guido may be mischievous and use his imagination to help his son and wife but he can’t just stop the future that awaits him and his family. The obstacle is huge but the protagonist has to continually become bigger for the sake of his son and wife.
In his letter, John Paul II writes, “May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.” To me, I feel like this describes Guido’s attitude in this situation. Almost as if we circled back to the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Guido, like Andy Dufresne, holds on to a hope and view of life that seems completely irrational to everyone else. Both Guido and Andy see a beauty and sacredness to life that instills hope and perseverance in them. Whether it be for the fun and comedic performances or to see the resilience of the characters in their situation, I believe Life is Beautiful is an excellent film that everyone should see.
Watching and enjoying movies is a huge part of our culture in the 21st century. It is a recreational pastime that many people enjoy. As Catholics, how do we pick and choose what movies to watch? There are many films that are available to us, whether it be on Netflix, or Amazon, or even on the shelf at a store. I don’t believe movies fit into this category: it’s not mentioned in scripture, therefore, it doesn’t matter what we watch. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I think we should be prudent about what we watch and about what we support in movies. Here are some ideas to think about when you are deciding on your next movie: Try to look for good content that you can think about.
You should watch good films. Movies are a category of art. You are watching a story unfold through a visual means. I think you should try to watch good art. Movies that have bad stories, horrible production quality, bad acting, etc., should not be labeled and lifted up as good art. There are movies that are poorly made. Some movies are created with an agenda and the art of the film “takes the back seat”. Don’t elevate poor quality films. For example, no one puts a statue of Mary or a saint in a church when they know it looks bad. The statue may be about the gospel and the saving work of God but the statue is held up to a quality of aesthetic goodness. Because movies are a category of art, they should be well made and be desirable to watch. Don’t stick to watching certain movies just because they only have a good message. Try to find good art.
Most movies are a representation of reality. The writers are creating worlds that mirror their own or worlds that in some way resemble reality. Authenticity is almost always desirable. However, because we are watching a visual story, there are some realities that are not good for our eyes. Some of us can watch Saving Private Ryan and it’s as if we feel we are on the beach while D-Day is occurring in Normandy. Yet, we don’t have the stomach to see the wounds that many of the soldiers receive as they rush to the top. It’s of the highest honor and courage what the men at Normandy did. Yet, some of us can’t be there. In The Shawshank Redemption, we are in a prison with some very bad people. We hear and see them do things that are inhumane and unbearable to watch. Some of us don’t have the heart and eyes to be in that prison with the characters. We wish the best for Andy Dufresne and his friend Red, but we choose not to be with them.
My scriptwriting teacher in college, Chris Riley, would say: “Are we bringing our audience through a filthy sewer only at the end to hand them an aspirin?” Content is a difficult part of storytelling. Sometimes directors think that they are just telling a story, when really they cause people to see or think about things that hurt them as a person. Do we really need to see this character being beat to death? Do we have to watch this couple engage in sensual activity? Is this needed in the story? Is it necessary that we see this and that?
With the great problem of bad content in film in our modern era, there is good news: we have a way to look up what will be in a movie before we see it. Websites such as the International Movie Database (IMDb) and others like it have pages dedicated to informing people of what content is found in a given film. So, before you watch a movie, look up the content. Will the content harm you as a person? Is it bad for society? Somewhere in the process of deciding, you need to ask yourself, “Will I at some point find myself at the end of a sewer holding an aspirin?”
I believe that a lot of us watch films and, after leaving the theater, don’t really think about everything that the movie asks us to think about. Directors and writers usually have a theme or question in their film. Sometimes, we have to think about what the movie is trying to say. Is the director making a point about this or that? Like I mentioned above, the movie Whiplash seems to ask the question, “Does the end justify the means?” Terrence Fletcher yells and berates his students to be better drummers. By the end of the narrative, we see one drummer become a better musician. Does yelling and abusing a student become justified just because the student is now better at their talent?
Not every movie is going to make us think. As I finish the movie Wayne’s World or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, I don’t really start thinking about themes and questions from the movie. Some movies are really for relaxing and not having to think about things. When I got out of the movie Spiderman with Tobey Maguire, I remember that I immediately thought of the quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though it’s not some Oscar film, I still left the theater thinking about the concept of our ability as people to do good things with what is given to us. With such a powerful quote, isn’t it silly if we came out of the movie only thinking about how cool it would be to have a superpower?
The Academy Awards (Oscars) and other award shows are not always fun to watch. We think critics and film people can be stuck up and actually have somewhat of a bad taste when it comes to movies. This is completely wrong. Critics are not always fun but they do give insight about things that work and do not work in films. Sometimes certain movies are lifted up on a pedestal because they have narratives that get us to think about life in new and profound ways. There are a lot of good stories in film available to us. Some of those stories are written for us to chew on. Sometimes we’re not supposed to get everything in one sitting. It’s just like preferring to read Lord of the Rings to the Twilight books. Even though the former may be more difficult to read, we know the books have very insightful things to say.
Maybe one of the most important things in thinking about movies is asking if a movie is honest. Some movies tell us something is good when it isn’t in reality. Many movies lift up immoral lifestyles because it is funny to joke about. Some movies tell us that bad choices don’t lead to unhappy and unfulfilled lives. In talking about truth, beauty, and goodness, it’s important to note that some movies will use beauty to hide truth. Sometimes the good of a perceived action is used to hide truth. We need to be aware that some films are completely false in their premise or conclusion. Some movies will twist truth, beauty, and goodness and we should be on our guard for these situations.
Stories are powerful. Movies and TV shows can affect us. I believe that we can love movies and TV, like we like other types of art. However, we must be smart about what we watch. I would like to borrow the words of well-known Catholic radio personality Patrick Coffin: “Be a saint. What else is there.” We must realize that our ultimate goal is to be with God and to be more like God. As we strive to imitate Jesus and the saints, let’s be smart about the road we are on and be careful about where we stop to take our rest.