Archives For Film

Have you ever noticed the relationship between Cast Away and Back to the Future? Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic might not look like Cast Away but, in fact, they share a unique motif. Clocks and other references to time pervade the earlier film – which is fitting since it’s about time travel. Marty McFly finds himself trapped in the past, trying to get back to the present in a classic race against time.

But references to time also saturate Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film. The opening FedEx logo proclaims “the world on time.” And it’s Chuck Noland’s purpose as a FedEx analyst to invent ways to beat the clock. Like a package himself, he’s rushed around the world to ensure that the system only ever speeds up. Clocks loom over events. Music taps out a quick time. But then Chuck is marooned on a deserted island with his only timepiece stopped. From here, there’s no conversation. No musical score. Not even the sound of insect or bird. Alone in the silence, Chuck finds all the time in the world. It’s a contrast which is foreshadowed in this opening shot. Here the slogan “the world on time” is rushed to the truck but then retrieved upside down and moved at a more leisurely pace. The film’s main idea.

But the island also represents a different time. Chuck arrives, overdressed and overweight, still planning on delivering those packages. But when the surf batters his one hope of escape, he makes a cave his home and let’s go all but a single delivery. He then makes a friend in an object that resembles an idol. And just in case we haven’t recognized the makings of a caveman, he’s shown painting on his cavern wall. When, at last, he resorts to this extremely primitive surgery, the film jumps four years where his transformation into a native is complete.

Do you see it? Chuck has gone back in time. He’s eroded back to the timeless existence of ancient man. And perhaps nothing speaks to that timelessness more than his charting of the annual course of the sun. The figure eight that it makes is our sign for infinity – eternity. Chuck has come to know the world before our enslavement to the clock. And it’s this earliest view of time which is key to his escape and return. To get back to the present in Back to the Future, Marty McFly must connect his time machine’s mast to a precisely clocked bolt of lightning. And Chuck likewise must release his mast at a precise turn in the season to harness the power of the wind.

But Chuck’s return, while echoing back to the future, is also different from Marty’s. Marty finds his present better than the way he left it while Chuck finds it’s moved on without him. And here in the difference lies the why of Chuck’s symbolic journey back in time.

There’s a great deal about Cast Away worth taking the time to see. Why the allusions to the Back to the Future? How does Wilson fit in? And what’s the significance of these film’s ending reference to roads?

I’ll be back next time with a continuation of my take on Cast Away. In the mean time subscribe, comment, and share. And check out some of my other videos.

I’ve been thinking about No Country for Old Men (2007); a great film with an ending that, like most Coen brother films, is rather odd.

A couple years ago, I was struck by it’s similarities to the Seventh Seal, a 1957 film about the silence of God. After years spent in crusade, a knight returns to his homeland. The figure of death comes for the knight on the beach whereupon the knight challenges him to a game of chess. They make a deal. As long as the knight holds out, death will not take him and if the knight wins, death will let him live. For the rest of the film, the knight uses his reprieve to search for meaning and certainty. He wants to know, not just to believe, God exists. He fears the silence of God means God isn’t there and his life (mostly lived in crusade) was therefore meaningless.

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men also has a figure of death offering reprieve through contest. As with the classic depictions of death, No Country’s villain, Anton Chigurh, wears contrasting black attire with a kind of hood (his strange haircut covering his forehead and ears) and employs the use of a harvester (a cattle gun in place of a scythe). Chigurh is a clinical automaton of destruction. He casually stalks his prey, killing anyone else who takes note of him. He’s clean and principled. Not at all, as someone says in the film, like a man. And as with death, he operates by the invisible hand of chance. This is symbolized in the one reprieve he offers some victims – a coin toss. If they “call it.” he lets them live. And if they get it wrong… Well, you know. But one thing they cannot do is refuse to play. A refusal to play is an instant loss.

These life and death stakes along with the uncertainty in the coin toss is No Country’s defining metaphor. Just as in the Seventh Seal, No Country wrestles with the problem of knowledge and faith. Here’s why the film, with its shots of arid landscapes, men on horseback, wearing cowboy hats and boots etc., feels like a western; No Country in its depictions of amoral violence disabuses us of the classic westerns moral guarantee. The virtuous-man in the white hat does not necessarily defeat the corrupt man in black. In essence, No Country for Old Men calls to mind the good old days of the Hollywood western (good guy defeats bad guy) and in doing so offers our modern era as those days very own dystopia (good guy isn’t guaranteed to win and often doesn’t). Now it’s just the flip of a coin. Nothing in life is certain.

This loss of his youthful certainty and meaning weighs on the aged Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, the film’s main character. Bell remembers the good-old days and is himself an embodiment of the good old days. His occupation, southern accident, small town location, goofy deputy, and his clear reluctance to use a gun, point to Sheriff Andy from the Andy Griffith Show who likewise typified classic Hollywood’s moral guarantee. Like an aged Andy Griffith, confronting the heinous crimes committed in our world, Sheriff Bell finds himself an exile from those simpler black and white days.

In this chaotic new world, Bell becomes increasingly averse to risk. His opening monologue says it all.

“The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”

In the end, Bell quits, undone by fear of losing his life for nothing. His last straw comes when he is forced to “call it.” In returning to the scene of a murder, Bell finds the door’s lock punched out, evidence that Chigurh has also returned to the scene. Bell looks into the circle. In the reflection, the film shows Chigurh standing on the other side of the door, waiting for him to make his move. Bell hesitates, considering what to do. This is in essence the western dual or Chigurh’s coin toss. Will it be heads or tails? Will he enter or turn tails and run? Is Chigurh there or not? Bell chooses to enter and confront Chigurh. But Chigurh is no longer in the room. On the floor, Bell sees a dime showing heads. Bell has called it. He can live another day. But he sits down in the dark a broken man. This risk was too much. He won’t risk again.

In the end, he sits at home, pondering with his wife the emptiness of his dreams.

“Two of ’em. Both had my father in ’em… The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night… It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it… And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up…”

Given that he’s quit the fight, waking up from his dreams refers to Bell’s loss of faith in the reality of some good place where his father has gone before him.
Is Bell right to give up? Does the film agree with him? Given life’s uncertainty it could very well be that he’ll never find security with his father. Heaven may not exist. This disordered world may never be put right. But is uncertainty a reason to give up on the dream? To lose faith?

I think the film actually condemns his decision to quit. The film, appears to me, to be alluding to pascal’s wager. Not as a pragmatic reason to believe in God, per say, but as a pragmatic reason to risk. Given the certainty of death, a failure to “call it” is an instant loss. Given the inevitability of death the only option is to bet it all on hope of that better day.

Life has always been uncertain. Young men live by risk because they don’t know what they can lose while old men die for fear of losing. There is No Country for Old Men.

Have you noticed how the second Star Wars trilogy (episodes I-III) parallels the first (episodes IV-VI)? Here are a few examples.

A New Hope (IV) and the Phantom Menace (I)

  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker leave their family on Tatooine to be trained by Obi-wan as a Jedi.
  • Obi-wan is killed by a Sith lord in front of his apprentice Luke just as Qui Gon is killed by a Sith lord in front of his apprentice Obi-wan
  • Both films climax with Skywalkers (Luke and Anakin) in a space battle in which they blow up the enemy space-station
  • Full cast appears in triumphant award ceremony

The Empire Strikes Back (V) and Attack of the Clones (II)

  • Male leads are separated during “romantic” chapter of the film.
  • Both Boba and Jango Fett follow heros in Slave I through astroid field while heros hide behind an asteroid and escape with the garbage.
  • The first begins with a battle against giant robot walkers and the later ends with battle against giant robot walkers
  • C-3PO is dismantled in a droid factory
  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker lose an appendage and get a robotic replacement.

Return of the Jedi (VI) and Revenge of the Sith (III)

  • The original title of Return of the Jedi was Revege of the Jedi
  • The Emperor makes his first real appearance both these films
  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker wear a black glove to cover their robotic hands.
  • Luke battles Vader while Palpatine watches just as Anakin battles Dooku while Palpatine watches
  • Luke cuts off Vader’s robotic hand in light saber duel just as Obi wan cuts off Grevous’ robotic hand in the same way
  • Ewoks battle from tree homes on Endor just as Wookies battle from tree homes on Kashyyk
  • Vader unmasked in the former while Vader is masked in the later
  • Ends with funeral

The list of parallels goes on. You can find a more complete list here webpage.  It’s pretty clear that the two Star Wars trilogies were arranged in a parallel a-b-c-a’-b’-c’ pattern.

Parallel Patterns in the Old Testament

I bring this up because I think it’s interesting that at least some people still recognize and value such implicit parallels. For the ancient writer and reader it was no different. These parallels in Star Wars are great illustration of the way the biblical writers structured some of their writings.  Here’s what David Dorsey says in his extremely helpful book the Literary Structure of the Old Testament.

Parallel arrangements are relatively common in the Hebrew Bible. They generally feature two sets (or panels) of units, in which the units of the first set are matched in the same order by those of the first set (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ or variations).  When a parallel scheme has an odd number of units, the unmatched unit can be placed at the end (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ II d), center (a-b-c-d-a’-b’-c’), or (more rarely) beginning (a-b-c-d II b’-c’-d’).

Parallelism frequently occurs in Hebrew poetry.  Note for example, the a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ pattern in Psalm 19:1-2 {19:2-3}:

a the heavens

b tell of

c God’s glory

a’ the sky

b’ proclaims

c’ his handiwork

a day by day

b they pour forth

c speech

a’ night by night

b’ they declare

c’ knowledge

The pattern can also be found in larger unites.  For example, the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4, although primarily linear (first day, second day, etc.), exhibits a secondary parallel pattern (a-b-c II a’-c’c’ II d):

a light

b sea and sky

c dry land

a’ lights

b’ fish and birds

c’ land animals and humans

d Sabbath

Whole books may likewise be arranged in this way.  The seven parts of Jonah are primarily linear in arrangement (following a chronological order), but also exhibit a secondary parallel pattern (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ II d):

a Jonah’s commissioning and disobedience (1:1-3)

b Jonah and pagan sailors: Yahweh is merciful (1:4-16)

c Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s mercy: praise (1:17-2:10 {2:1-11})

a’ Jonah’s recommissioning and obedience (3:1-3a)

b’ Jonah and pagan Ninevites: Yahweh is merciful (3:3b-10)

c’ Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s mercy: resentment (4:1-4)

d Yahweh’s lesson (4:5-11)

Parallel Patterns in the New Testament

But its not just in the Old Testament.  I’m fascinated by the way the Gospel writers conveyed meaning through the arrangement of there parts.  Here’s one very significant example.

We all know that Luke begins his story with two annunciation scenes.  But did you know that Luke uses parallels to arrange them in a meaningful structure.  Look at this:

a Description of Zacharias and his situation (1:5-10)

b Angel’s message to Zacharias (1:11-22)

c Zacharias returns home and Elizabeth reacts to the news (1:23-25)

a’ Description of Mary and her situation (1:26-27)

b’ The Angel’s message to Mary (1:28-38)

c’ Mary goes to Zacharias’ home and Elizabeth reacts to the news (1:39-

d Mary’s sings a song

When we miss the pattern we miss some of the message that Luke’s attempting to convey.  And the same goes for other patterns in the New Testament.  For more on how Luke uses this parallel pattern to convey meaning check out these two posts: What Happens When You’re Filled with the Spirit and Why God Shut Zachariah’s Mouth.

If you’re looking for a film to watch with a nonchristian friend this Easter you don’t have turn to an adaptation of Gospels to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  Christ figures are literally everywhere on the silver screen.

Unlike the figure of Jesus portrayed in a gospel film, a Christ figure is any character who parallels the life, death or resurrection of Jesus.  Depending on the similarities, the reference may be painfully obscure or glowingly transparent.

John Coffey, for instance, in the Green Mile is most certainly a Christ figure. Did you catch that his initials are J.C!  And if that doesn’t convince you, he also heals, raises the dead and is executed by the state for a crime he didn’t commit.

But Christ figures also play central roles in films like

  • Les Miserables
  • Shane
  • Superman
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Aliens 3
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sling Blade
  • Gladiator.

And that’s just a few.

My goal here though isn’t just to point you to films that make an implicit reference to Jesus.  For that we would need a little more time.  Instead I want to narrow the focus to films that also allude to His resurrection.

Here’s a list of ten, plus an extra thrown in for good measure.

  1. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  2. E. T. (1982)
  3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  4. Braveheart (1995)
  5. The Truman Show (1998)
  6. The Iron Giant (1999)
  7. The Matrix (1999)
  8. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2003)
  9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
  10. Thor (2011)
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) 

What do you think?  Which of these films most suprised you?  Are there films you believe have been missed? 

And by the way half of these films found their way into a short video I put together called the Longing of Man.  Check it out!  I think you’ll enjoy it.


Sometimes a beginning foreshadows the story.

Denzel in the rain

The hair-raising opening to the 2012 movie Flight, for instance, encapsulates the rest of the film.

When a sudden malfunction sends his plane into a nosedive, Captain Whip Whitfield though heavily intoxicated and high on cocaine manages to crash-land in an open field.

Beginning: The initial malfunction or what the film later refers to as an “act of God” represents the crash of the plane which will send Whip’s personal life in like manner spiraling out of control.

Middle: His impaired efforts to recover the plane stands for his subsequent attempts to hide his alcohol and drug use from authorities while  personally losing himself to his addictions.

End:  And finally the plane crash with minimal loss of life foreshadows the joy and the tragedy in the film’s ultimate conclusion.  (I’m not going to spoil it for you.)

The Bible

Such beginnings were not unknown or unused by Biblical writers.

Luke, for instance in his nativity (Luke 1), juxtaposes the accounts of Zachariah and Mary to stress the important contrast that will unfold throughout his story.

Like Zachariah, rich, powerful, male, Jews by and large reject God’s message while the poor, the powerless, women, and Gentiles, represented in Mary, receive it.  As a result the voices of the powerful are taken from them while the dispossessed begin to sing.

But the whole Bible, though made up of various authors, is likewise is fittingly foreshadowed in its opening scenes.

In the Beginning God creates Man (male and female), gives them a law and a land but Man disobeys the law and is ejected from the land.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s the story of Israel.

Genesis 1-3 is not just a history lesson about origins.  It’s a summary which directs our attention to the Bibles main theme.

Today when we read Genesis 1 it seems incredible.  How could the earth have a morning and an evening before there was a sun?  Why would God jump from the fish to the birds without first creating animals on land?  And perhaps the biggest question, why would God who has the power to create the earth instantly take six days and then a holiday?

Such questions become less of an issue, however, when we see how the details of the account foreshadow the Bible’s larger narrative.

God is building.

What he’s building is a temple.

A temple in which He will indwell His own Idol – Man.