‘For God knows the secrets of the heart.’ (Psalm 44:21) Each of these four films tries to maintain a certain bonhomie, a spirit of levity and jocularity and camaraderie, but some succeed more than others.
‘Daddy Day Camp’: Rookie Director Fred Savage draws upon his Disney background to try to make a film thoroughly kid-friendly, meaning the adults are inept buffoons and there will be jokes about passing gas. There’s a tender underpinning to this movie, about fathers and sons reconciling, and we think we want to see the cruel, arrogant, greedy bully get his comeuppance, but somehow our heroes forget their innocence along the way. In the end, it’s all about winning, and humiliating as well as defeating your opponent—not really the primary focus of Christian Education.
‘Becoming Jane’: Any movie that starts with the minister and his wife in bed on Sunday morning, warming up memorably for the upcoming service, can’t be all bad. OK, the minister (James Cromwell) does, shortly thereafter, proceed to preach about the inferior social status of women, but we so quickly fade from that stilted sermon scene that we’ve already quit listening, anyway. From that impish beginning we are quickly ushered into a stilted period piece featuring family conflict and gaping social discrepancy. We are introduced to the couple’s young adult daughter, Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), who demonstrates first her passion for writing, and then, her obsession with the only available bachelor who doesn’t fawn over her. The doomed romance (discouraged by both families) is supposed to lay the groundwork for all the tension and irony in her classic romantic novels, except that Hathaway, while pleasing to the eye, seems too insipid and dispirited to convincingly become the kind of rebel-novelist who burst on the English literary scene at the turn of the 19th century.
‘La Petit Jerusalem‘: Much of this cinematic ground has already been plowed, in ‘Fiddler On The Roof, ‘Yentl,’ and ‘A Price Above Rubies.’ In this small-scoped French film, a strictly orthodox family in modern Paris struggles with what it means to be Jewish in a Gentile culture. We witness traditional solemn family rituals, in Hebrew, no less, the token random public beating, and the predictable doomed romance with a Goy (gasp!), and the unexpected gratuitous nudity to occasionally relieve us of all the scarves, phylacteries, fringes, long skirts, and pretentious solemnity. Perhaps a failed cultural capitulation is more interesting than ‘happily ever after’? The family s! eems to trust tragedy more than happiness, anyway.
‘Ladron Que Roba a Ladron’: Yes, we’re rooting for one gang of thieves over another, but our heroes are smarter, handsomer, and seem to have much more fun. (See ‘The Sting,’ ‘Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,’ ‘The Thomas Crown Affair,’ and the entire ‘Ocean’s’ series.) They’re capable of romance, too, even a little self-parody, and best of all, they make like Robin Hood (or Zorro), restoring the hard-earned money of ‘the little people’ who were hoodwinked out of it. (Wait a minute, we can’t be construed as patronizing, because we’re one of them.) Despite the duplicitous deeds we’re watching, we chuckle because the cruel, arrogant, greedy villain gets his comeuppance, but despite the apparent lightheartedness, there’s a racist undertone: they choose this particular Hispanic ‘mark’ because he exploits ‘his own people.’ Oh, you mean that if he exploits somebody besides ‘his own’ it’s OK? Well, at least we catch a thief actually praying in a sanctuary once, claiming that despite his misdeeds, his heart’s in the right place. But wouldn’t God be the Judge of that? (Psalm 44:21)
Questions For Discussion:
1. Have you ever rooted for a band of thieves? Why?
2. In what instances have you known religion to be a significant obstacle in relationships? Is the solution to downplay the importance of religion?
3. Have you ever been listening to a sermon and thought, ‘Wow, there is some real intelligence reflected here.’ Is it because of something you didn’t comprehend, or something that made you understand more clearly?
4. What are your memories of church camp?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas