Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist



Faith and Film: The Immigrant

The ImmigrantHello there folks,

This past week, my wife and I were able to watch The Immigrant by James Grey. We have not been incredibly impressed with many of the films we’ve been watching lately, but this one left a lasting impression. Today, I want to talk about this film for both its artistic merits and the real-world subject that lies very close.

At its heart, The Immigrant is a story about how far one girl will go to ensure that she and her sister can live a better life in America. When her sister is held on Ellis Island for suspected lung disease, Ewa (Marion Cotillard of Inception and Dark Knight Rises) gets caught up in a world of theft, theatre, and prostitution. She relies on a “good Samaritan” (Joaquin Phoenix), an unreliable magician (Jeremy Renner), and her distrusting relatives to save her. Each, in turn, prove unable to save Ewa or her sister.

Faith is present throughout the film. Surprisingly, when Ewa confesses to a priest about her sins, he points Ewa towards a stern, yet forgiving God who only wants her to give up her sins. The film asks an interesting question about the ethics of committing sins and potentially condemning oneself in order to save another. The self-condemnation for salvation carries notes of Christ’s self-sacrifice, if a broken and sinful version. Unfortunately, Ewa is able to trust several untrustworthy characters, but does not trust in God to help her sister. This is her downfall throughout.

Now, it seems impossible today to ignore the issue of Syrian refugees in the news. The world has turned its face to Syria in the wake of a civil war that has displaced over 10 million people, or about half of Syria’s population. These are people who have no home to go back to, yet are being turned away everywhere they go. The desperation of the refugees has built to a place where many are risking the lives of their families in order to cross seas and closed borders.

How should we, as people of faith and as artists, respond to this humanitarian disaster?

First off, we can’t ignore it. If we do nothing, then we leave the fate of these vulnerable people to governments who may not have God’s will at the heart of their agenda. The refugees will face further closed doors and dangerous illegal voyages until they reach safety or death.

And even if they make it to a more stable country, we still can’t leave them to fend for themselves. Ewa’s story, based upon the stories of James Grey’s grandparents, could become that of many seeking a new life. Syrians could find themselves in the West, only to be forced into prostitution and other crime just to survive.

Jesus taught us to look after the poor and the destitute. Matthew 25:40 tells us, “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” If we welcome refugees into our countries and into our lives, we are showing the love of Jesus to Syrians and the world.

Yet, I have heard many objections against opening our borders because of threats to our national security. Unfortunately, Jesus never gave us the clause, “unless it’s going to be dangerous, or scary, or inconvenient.” We are commanded to love as He loved. Jesus loved those who nailed Him to a cross. We are never going to see real world change unless we are willing to take risks in our love.

We may end up allowing terrorists into our country through our compassion. But what if these militants are swayed by our love and concern? What if we are able to save one who is far away from God?

It isn’t an easy conversation. Fear is real and at least somewhat justified. We have been living with fear of terrorists since 2001.”But perfect love casts out fear,” (1 John 4:18). If we can love and welcome refugees and immigrants, perhaps steps can be taken to really drive out the fear that has gripped our society for almost 15 years.

What do you think? Can our love overcome the darkness that encroaches at the edge of our society? Can we step out in faith and love to serve those who need us most right now?


Faith and Film: Frozen

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterThis post probably should have been written forever ago. As big Disney people, my wife and I were excited for the newest fairy tale movie from one of the greatest animation studios of all time. We weren’t able to see it in theatres right away because our son was born around the time it came out, but it was the first movie we went to as soon as our boy was old enough to stay a couple hours with Grandma and Grandpa.

Were we disappointed? No. Did we jump on the Frozen bandwagon, proclaiming its virtues for all to hear? Nope. While I enjoyed much about the movie, there are some issues that we had with it. Today, I want to discuss some of the themes we found in Frozen and start a discussion around their significance for those of faith.

First, I would like to say that I’m not really sure who the protagonist of this film is. The story generally follows Anna, but Elsa has the more complete character arc. Let’s take a look at both of these ladies and see what connections we can make from them to the eternal story.

Anna is a very relatable princess. She is likeable, dorky, and completely devoted to her sister. She has to deal with the hurt of her sister’s rejection, the loneliness after her parents’ death, and her bumpy search for romance. Anna sounds like many young women I know. And throughout, she maintains an optimism that we can learn from in an age of apathetic pessimism. As far as young heroines go, Anna is one of my favourites.

Elsa, on the other hand, has a very different set of problems to deal with. Her near-fatal encounter with her sister as a child created a deep-seated fear of herself that her parents were never able to help her with. She grows up fearing emotion and connection, much like other people I’ve known.

Elsa_(Frozen_2013)However, once Elsa’s powers are made known to the public and the people, just as expected, reject her as a monster, she flees to the mountains where she sings “Let It Go,” which currently has over 200 million views on YouTube (just the one video of it. There are several with views in the tens of millions). This is where we find my main issue with the movie. Elsa is different from others. Her difference alienates her from everyone she knows and loves. Her answer is to let go of everything holding her back, including her family, her people, and her responsibilities. She plans to cut everyone out and live by her own rules: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” I’ve spoken before about my distaste for such relativistic individualism, and this song epitomizes what I think is wrong with society right now.

To be fair, I don’t think the movie agrees with the message of the song. Elsa is shown that she can’t run from her fears, she can’t create her own little world safe from everyone else. She must learn that love is the way to conquer all her fears. However, since “Let it Go,” is such a beautiful, catchy, and self-affirming song, it has been adopted by the general public completely unattached to its context in-story.

On the other side, Frozen has one of my favourite definitions of love that I’ve found in any movie. Olaf, the magical snowman, tells Anna that love is about putting someone else’s needs before your own wants and needs. It is, by its very nature, sacrificial. While this may be hinted at in other fairy-tale movies, this is the first time (at least, that I remember) of love being given such an excellent treatment. Our culture currently tells us that love is an emotion, the bubbly, heady feeling you get when you are around “the one.” But the Bible tells us that love is action, not emotion. It is the choice to put others before yourself. Jesus, in John 15:13, tells us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is the choice to sacrifice for others.

I believe that this is the major theme of the entire film: love as sacrifice. The shallow, instant “love” that Anna feels for Hans at the beginning is shown to be false, and it cost neither of them anything, (however, “Love is an Open Door,” is an amazing song…). The true love that breaks the curse is a sister choosing to die for her beloved sibling: Anna lays down her life in order to save Elsa’s. Even the comedic relief, Olaf, is willing to melt for those he loves.

Frozen promotes many things I can get behind. Courage to fight for those we care for. Love as a far more powerful force than fear. The importance of family and friends. Despite some of the storytelling flaws that I think it could have ironed out, the overall thrust of the story is one that I would love my children to adopt. However, despite the popularity of ‘Let it Go” and Queen Elsa in general, I think it is the Princess Anna who really shines as the heroine worth emulating in this story.

We could all do with a little more courage, love, and optimism, I think.


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