Monday, March 10, 2008

"Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear"

Since 1992 Westboro Baptist Church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, have been protesting homosexuals. They have done so by picketing the funerals of homosexuals, or soldiers who have died in Iraq. They claim that God has called them to tell America and the homosexuals that God hates them and we are all going to burn in hell.

K. Ryan Jones' directorial debut Fall From Grace(2007) follows this church and its members while trying to get at why it is they are the way they are. It opens with the scripture John 13:34 " I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you". We are then spearheaded into Fred Phelps and his beliefs on America and homosexuals.

The film does a great job of not taking sides. We are not only introduced to Fred Phelps and his church (which is mostly made up of his sons, daughters and grandchildren) but to other Christian pastors who believe Phelps is wrong, the mayor of Topeka Kansas(where WBC is located) and some others who have encountered Phelps along the way.

At 70 minutes the film hits you quickly without giving you time to breathe. It is the perfect amount of time allotted for such a subject because any longer would have become overbearing.

While not taking sides, most will probably view Phelps as a horrible and terrifying human being(as they should). He will be seen this way, not because the filmmakers aim for it to be this way, but because he aims for it to be this way. The bits they show from his sermons are horrifying enough. It is as if you are watching a horror film. Fred Phelps is Anton Chigurh without the cow gun and bad hair cut.

Some of the issues the film brings up are interesting. The film tries to focus on the freedom of speech subject but loses its way a little while getting mixed up in focusing on the Phelps family a little too much. The question brought up is should freedom of speech be allowed even when it is utterly hateful? The film doesn't answer this but it does show the ACLU actually take a case to help the Phelps clan when the President signed a bill that would force them to be so many feet away from a funeral service for a certain amount of time before and after the funeral and during.

The juxtaposition of other Christians railing against Phelps while cutting back to Phelps shows a great divide between the two groups. The film really shines when Rev. Jeff Gannon explains that Fred Phelps is the perfect example of a person that "needs love but is so undeserving of that love".

This films major questions; freedom of speech, separation of church and state are greatly dealt with(although sometimes pushed aside) and well crafted to seamlessly fit into what could also be viewed as a character study of a family so filled with hate and fear that they are blind to what love really is.

K. Ryan Jones, who made this film as a school project by filming the Phelps family for a year, does a great job on a hard to tackle subject. This film has been highly overlooked but is important to America today because of the battles waging about Homosexual rights, especially marriage. It is also important to America because it shows that sometimes tolerance has to go both ways, even when it's this hard to do.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"We Haven't Located Us Yet"

The baggage we carry around with us can weigh us down. It can hold us back from moving on in our lives, and tear us away from those that we love. This is a theme that runs through many of Wes Anderson's films and it seems to culminate in his latest effort, The Darjeeling Limited(2007).

The Darjeeling Limited follows 3 brothers on a spiritual journey through India(riding a train called The Darjeeling Limited). Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman (played perfectly by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman respectively) are all searching for some sort of peace in their lives. They haven't seen each other in a year, since their fathers funeral, But Francis pulls them together to try and see where things went wrong. Along the way they make stops at various spiritual hot spots, but it isn't until tragedy hits that they are again able to come together and gain any sort of wisdom from their journey.

I found that Wes Anderson really poured his heart into this film, it seems, more than any other. The brothers try and try and try to get things right but they continue to make mistakes.

The works of Anderson constantly have some sort of downfall with the father. In Rushmore(1998) Max is embarrassed of his father and his profession, so he looks up to Mr. Blume as a father figure. What Max realizes is that his father loves him and that's all that matters. In The Royal Tennenbaums(2001) none of the children feel connected to their father in any way. He has fed them lie after lie, and it isn't until the father realizes how he has let them down that they can have reconciliation. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou(2004) finds Steve being confronted by a son he never knew he had, and dealing with wanting to be a father.

We go through all of this and see their is always some sort of reconciliation or comfort found in the father by the end. The Darjeeling Limited cannot offer such comfort because before the film takes place the father is already dead. So what we get here is a beautiful story of 3 brothers coming to the realization that they need to let go of the past and embrace the future.

This can be signified mainly by the simple fact that they are riding a train. In film, the train generally is said to signify progress. Mainly in westerns we see this because most of them are set in the time where railroads are first being built. This is why I believe they named the film after the train. This film is the progress of the brothers lives.

All the brothers want is to feel something again, anything. They are so numb from the pills they pop throughout the film that it's amazing any of them can perform a coherent thought. At one point while visiting a temple in India, all three brothers are praying beside each other when Jack asks "do you feel anything yet?" and Peter responds with "I hope so." Through this we can see their emptiness and their need for anything. They don't care what it is but if some of the most spiritual places in the world can't help than what can?

Francis' face, throughout the film, is covered in bandages. He explains that it was from a motorcycle accident, what we find out is that it may not have been an accident. After the brothers face tragedy and seem to make a move at "becoming brothers again like (they) used to be" do we finally see the damage on Francis' face. He cuts off the bandages and says "Looks like I still got some healing to do." to which Jack replies," getting there though" and Peter adds "its definitely going to add a lot of character to you". Through this we can really not only see that he is growing but they are growing together.

The cinematography in this film is absolutely beautiful, it truly captures the feel of India, but also the feeling of the brothers. The camera, as usual in a Anderson film, flows from room to room, or cabin to cabin and just almost seems to be another character.

This story about family and the bonds that tie them together is serious yet funny, ugly yet beautiful, tragic yet hopeful. The ending couldn't have been more perfect.

"Dad's bags aren't gonna make it."