Tag Archives: Academy Awards

And the Nominees Are… 12 Years a Slave

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Jessica KeatingJessica Keating
Program Director, University Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena

12 Years a Slave

Reunited with his family after twelve years of separation, with tears one unmeasured blink from spilling over, Solomon Northup (Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), his voice raised scarcely above a whisper, unevenly but gently trembles, “I apologize for my appearance, but I have had a difficult time these past several years.” One of the final, shattering lines of the film 12 Years a Slave, this dramatic understatement draws the impact of Best Director nominee Steve McQueen’s piercing exploration of the complexities, brutality, and ambiguities of slavery to its apex.

Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, McQueen’s film adaptation of 12 Years a Slave begins in medias res with Solomon (at this point in the film known simply as Platt), slave identification tag hanging around his neck and dripping with sweat as he works the sugar cane fields of Louisiana Judge Turner (Bryan Bratt). 12 Years 4Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Solomon is a free man and accomplished violinist from Saratoga, New York who, in 1841, is lured to Washington, D.C. to play in a traveling circus. After an evening of merriment, he wakes up to find himself lying on a damp stone floor, his limbs circumscribed by irons and chains.

Protesting his imprisonment, Solomon identifies himself: “My name is Solomon Northup. I’m a free man, a resident of Saratoga, New York, the residence of my wife and children who are equally free.” Unable to produce his papers, Solomon’s identity is stripped by the slave pen owner Burch (Christopher Berry), who begins to reconstruct Solomon’s identity: “You ain’t a free man, and you ain’t from Saratoga. You’re from Georgia. You ain’t a free man. You ain’t nothin’ but a Georgia runaway. You’re just a runaway nigger from Georgia.” Burch follows this tirade with the first of many brutal beatings, screaming, “You’re a slave. You’re a Georgia slave,” as Solomon’s blood and flesh sprays in the air.  The psychological and physical attacks on Solomon’s identity continue. In one particular symbolically devastating scene, one of his captors offers him “something proper to wear”—a fresh, clean shirt—but when Solomon protests the confiscation of his torn, soiled and blood-stained tunic because it is from his wife, his jailer shakes the shirt and casually repeats, “Just rags and tatters, rags and tatters.”

From the Washington slave pen Solomon is transported on the waters of the Mississippi in a boat packed with human cargo: men and women whom fellow freeman and kidnapping victim Clemens (Chris Chalk) describes as “niggers, born and bred slaves.” Clemens will later save himself by assuming the identity of another man’s stolen slave. Here we begin to observe layers and shades of ambiguity that pervade the film. Slavery’s perversion leaves no one untouched, though indeed its disfiguring effects penetrate the individuals in this film in complex and varying ways and to varying degrees.

12 Years 2Patsey (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o), the young cotton-picking slave referred to by drunken and sadistic plantation owner Edward Epps (Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Fassbender) as his “Queen of the Fields”, is the object of his sexual appetite and violent predilections, which co-mingle throughout the film. We see Epps lead Patsey out under the dark of night where he rapes her on a wooden worktable. The minimalism of this scene—the absence of sound other than the soft breeze in the trees and the crickets in the field, Epps’s thick breathing, and Patsey’s groans and gasps of pain—captures the depth of the scene’s brutality. The next moment highlights this perversion of intimacy: when Patsey lies unresponsive after Epps is finished raping her, he slaps and chokes her. The scene ends with Patsey lying alone on the table gasping for breath. Near the film’s conclusion, Epps, in a moment that has undertones of sexual impotence, is unable to bring himself to whip his prized possession despite his wife’s (Sarah Paulson) urgings to “strike the life out of her.” Indeed, throughout the film, Mistress Epps has intimately participated in Patsey’s physical disfigurement, hurling a crystal decanter at her head and viciously clawing her face, demanding that her husband “get rid of the black bitch.” 12 Years 1Epps responds to his wife’s demand, “Do not set yourself up against Patsey, my dear. Because I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.” Now he stands, lash in hand, impotent before the naked back, thick with scars, of his “Queen of the Fields.” So instead, Epps compels Solomon, who has striven to shield Patsey as he is able, to “Give her the whip. Give it all to her.” It is in watching Solomon  “pantomime” his master’s cruelty (he strikes her as meekly as possible) Epps’s desire to viciously attack Patsey is ignited, and while he grunts with vicious pleasure and Patsey shrieks as her skin is rent from her back, Solomon declares, “Sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice, thou shalt answer for this sin.” The scene with ends with Epps panting in perverse ecstasy, “There is no sin. A man does how he pleases with his property. At this moment, Platt, I’m of great pleasure.”

One cannot watch this scene without feeling the full impact of former overseer Armsby’s (Garet Dillahunt) seemingly earnest observation that “no man of conscience can take the lash to another human day in and day out without shredding at his own self” (Armsby unwittingly bears out the truth of his own words when he betrays Solomon in hopes of advancing himself). Though Epps presents the most obvious instantiation of the shedding of oneself, all of the plantation caste is similarly disfigured by their contact with slavery, though perhaps to lesser degrees. Nor are slaves untouched. The brutalization and physical disfigurement of slaves is patently clear throughout the film, but it is McQueen’s unflinching yet compassionate exploration of the psychological effects of slavery that is particularly eloquent.

Eliza, a fellow slave who weeps like Rachel for her children and refuses to be consoled, articulates the painful reality that, in order to survive, one is forced to compromise one’s very self.  She declares to Solomon, “I have done dishonorable things to survive and for all of them I have ended up here. No better than if I had stood up for myself. God, forgive me. Solomon, let me weep for my children!” But perhaps the most devastating example of psychological disfigurement is presented in the person of Patsey, whose desire to survive is extinguished. 12 Years 3Waking Solomon in the middle of the night, she offers him a token she has spirited from Mistress Epps and begs him: “End my life. Take my body to the margin of the swamp. Take me by the throat, hold me low in the water until I is still and without life. Bury me in the lonely place of dying.”

Together with John Ridley’s psychologically penetrating, Oscar-nominated screenplay, Sean Bobbitt’s stunning cinematography juxtaposes beautiful shots of Spanish moss swaying in the evening breeze with brutality of slavery. These two distinct images come together in the film’s two lynching scenes, as black bodies contort and convulse while Spanish moss hangs gently down the branches; and with brilliant performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender (among others), Steve McQueen crafts, both in the film’s cadence and texture, something akin to a narrative poem in its unflinching look at the contours of suffering, ambiguity, and cruelty. Replete with parallelism, haunting imagery, and dramatic irony, this film is no mere moralistic, univocal narrative; rather, it is through the particularity of Solomon Northup that we encounter a world rife with complexities, and it is this commitment to particularity that makes the film less of social commentary on slavery (though it is that) and more of a poetic meditation on world in which the darkness of slavery casts a shadow over every human encounter, every human relationship, every human person.

And the Nominees Are… Philomena

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Jane SloanJane Sloan
Master of Theological Studies Candidate,
School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years a Slave

 

Philomena

The preview for Philomena promises a feel-good flick with a somber but uplifting underbelly, reminiscent of The Help or Saving Mister Banks.  In this regard, Philomena delivers.  But this angle alone misses the movie’s powerful message of forgiveness. 

After fifty years, Philomena Lee (Oscar-nominated Judi Dench) reveals a great secret—years ago, as an unwed mother in the care of the Roscrea Abbey Sisters of the Sacred Heart, she lost contact with her young son Anthony, who was suddenly adopted.  Fifty years later, after multiple frustrated attempts to locate Anthony via Roscrea Abbey, Philomena reaches out to journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).  Judi Dence and Steve Coogan in PhilomenaSixsmith, a BBC expat and lapsed Catholic, begrudgingly takes on Philomena’s case as a human-interest story. The odd couple sets out across the pond to locate Philomena’s son.  Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

As the story unfolds, the endearing contrast between Martin and Philomena’s faith and worldview intensifies. Martin is the clear-thinking man of action.  Philomena loves fairy tales and sacramentals, and sees the best in people to a fault. It seems the real world is revolving around Philomena while she remains detached and somewhat passive, relying on prayer to find her son, rather than action.  Her pious naïveté is, like the stories she loves to read, simple and predictable.  No one, Sixsmith especially, seems to take her faith seriously. The viewer is tempted to find her simplicity endearing, but to pity her faith—consisting of automobile sacramentals, votive candles and plastic Jesus statues—as not quite up to the task of bearing life’s burdens.

But don’t let Philomena Lee fool you.  She is the heroine.

In a surprising series of gut-wrenching twists, Philomena and Martin discover that not only did Anthony once visit Roscrea in search of his mother, but is actually buried on convent grounds. The pair realize with horror that as Philomena made repeated fruitless inquiries there, her son was interred several hundred yards away.  The cold-hearted Sister Hildegarde (Barbara Jefford), the only nun who knew enough history to connect the two, refused to do so.

The climax of the movie occurs in the cloistered area of Roscrea.  Sixsmith has burst in on Sister Hildegarde, upbraiding her for her silence and noncompliance. The elderly nun bites back, equally acerbic. Philomena arrives on the scene; Sixsmith goads her to confront Sister Hidegarde once and for all.  The viewer, too, is eager to see Philomena give the nun a piece of her mind.

And so Philomena steps up and—forgives her?

This seems like the ultimate anticlimax to a viewer who wants to see Philomena take a stand against the woman that prevented the happy reunion of mother and child. Both Sixsmith and the viewer are chomping at the bit to decry the atrocity, the scandal, to seize a chance to wrest righteousness from the grip of Sister Hildegarde and fling it back in her face.  It is easier to identify with Martin’s articulate chastisement than with Philomena’s act of forgiveness.

Philomena 2Philomena’s mercy takes the film in a new direction.  It reveals that Sixsmith and the nun, though worlds apart, are one in the indignance that stifles love. Her words to them implicate the viewer, too.  “You’re so angry.  It must be exhausting.”

Both Martin Sixsmith and Philomena Lee thirst for righteousness. While Martin’s thirst crumbles into righteous indignation, and meets frustrated ends in frequent rants and fits, Philomena’s thirst for righteousness is coupled with the ability to forgive.  Even as she struggles to forgive herself, she treats others with mercy. The heroine of the story is the simple Irish mother, successful in the nearly impossible act of forgiving a deep wound.  The film challenges us to see simplicity in faith as strong and enduring.

Like the tales Philomena herself reads and recounts, Philomena is a simple, yet surprising, story.  It reminds us that forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness is strong.

And the Nominees Are… The Wolf of Wall Street

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Director nominee Martin Scorsese has built his career creating films that explore the extremities of human existence. In films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, and The Departed, he presents audiences with an up-close and personal look at the seedy underbelly of human existence, and it’s often anyone’s guess as to whether or not his characters will discover their chance for redemption, let alone whether or not they will ultimately take that chance. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese adds another such film to his list of credits. Clocking in at three hours, this film presents an orgiastic, Bacchanalian portrait of life on Wall Street in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yet in watching this film, it was my own subtle transformation that disturbed me more than any of the drug-addled debauchery, the amoral exploitation of others for financial gain or sexual pleasure, or the ceaseless stream of obscenities (though I did find each of these particular elements disturbing in varying degrees). Wolf 3Upon reflection, I have come to see my own transformation as a microcosm for that which takes place in the characters throughout the unfolding of the story. Simply put, the longer I stared into the banality of evil, the less appalled I was by it; the less appalled I was by it, the less I even noticed that it was there at all. I found that, by the film’s conclusion, I had been somewhat desensitized in one particular arena more so than others, and this arena provides the point of departure for a meditation on the nature of evil.

To say that profanity abounds throughout this film would be putting it much more delicately than any line of dialogue you’d ever hear one of the film’s characters utter. The f-word alone is used 506 times (yes, someone counted), setting the record for a U.S. feature film. This tally doesn’t include any other four-letter words, nor does it include any derogatory slurs that would never be acceptable in civilized conversation. Full disclosure: as a film and television connoisseur, I have heard my fair share of profanity, and even used it on occasion, so this salty language was nothing new to my ears. For me, this familiarity made profanity the least of all the evils present throughout this film, and ultimately paved the way for my desensitization to it. Despite this, there remained something in its pervasiveness and its twisted diversity that was, in a word, shocking. The film more than earned its R-rating within the first 5 minutes. For those familiar with other Scorsese films, his pervasive use of profanity is nothing new; however, The Wolf of Wall Street is different in its incorporation of such language. Profanity becomes an emblem of the excess pursued and celebrated by the characters in the film, and of their utter disregard for the wellbeing of others. Wolf 5Jordan Belfort (Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio) is initially shocked by the fact that Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), his first boss and mentor, uses language littered with cursing, and I found myself shocked along with him. But as with any vice, prolonged exposure results in reduced sensitivity, and soon Belfort the student became Belfort the master. In this observation lies the kernel of my own subtle transformation: after three solid hours of hearing nothing but a solid stream of obscenities, I discovered to my surprise that I hardly noticed their presence in the dialogue anymore. I had become desensitized to the profanity that, despite my acquaintance with such language from previous films, had shocked my ears only three hours before. Again, as with any vice, prolonged exposure results in reduced sensitivity, until the presence of evil is not only no longer noticed, but no longer even recognized as evil.

Wolf 2This theme of desensitization holds true for the other vices presented in the film: the characters increase their drug usage to the point of nearly overdosing in order to get the same high they had before; they indulge in increasingly depraved sexual activity to the point of practically assaulting innocent women. Most significantly, they pursue money with all the ferocity of wolves, and as their appetites for wealth grow, so too does their heedlessness of the impact their insatiable greed has on their clients, their families, their friends and colleagues, and even the stock market itself. Appetite becomes passion becomes vice, and as the characters’ depravity grows, their awareness of their depravity diminishes in inverse proportion until they have become completely blinded to it.

In tandem with the theme of desensitization runs the theme that vice begets more vice; evil begets more evil. Two significant moments, each reprised later in the film, demonstrate this clearly. First is the aforementioned interaction between Belfort and his first boss, when Belfort was just starting out as a broker. Over lunch, Hanna scandalizes Belfort by describing the drug use and sexual activity he and other brokers endorse in order to perform at the highest professional level. Belfort seems unsure of these practices, but when Hanna begins beating his chest in rhythm and singing a guttural chant later referred to as the “Money Chant”, Belfort is drawn in (see the end of the trailer above for this moment). By joining Hanna in the chest-beating and the chanting, Belfort begins his official indoctrination into the practices espoused by his mentor, and the circle of evil grows wider. Later, the significance of this moment is brought to light when Belfort and hundreds of his employees are standing in the office, pounding their chests and singing the Money Chant at the top of their lungs. Wolf 1They, too, have been initiated into the doctrine originally preached by Hanna, and drawn into the cycle of evil by the allure of wealth and excess.

The second moment that demonstrates this vicious cycle first takes place when Belfort has gathered his friends with the intention of making them his first salesmen at his fledgling brokerage firm. As they sit around the table, Belfort hands a pen to his friend Brad (Jon Bernthal) and instructs him, “Sell me this pen.” Brad, in turn, tells Belfort to write something on a napkin, to which Belfort replies, “I can’t—I don’t have a pen”, thus demonstrating how to create a false demand when making a sale, and thus beginning the education of his friends into the Machiavellian form of manipulative salesmanship that will enable them to rake in the money by selling unprofitable penny stocks to anonymous and unsuspecting clients. At the film’s conclusion, after having served time in federal prison for securities fraud and money laundering, we see Belfort in Auckland, New Zealand, hosting a seminar that promises to make participants better salespeople. He walks up to a man in the front row, takes a pen from his pocket, and hands it to him, saying, “Sell me this pen.” Dissatisfied with the man’s answer, he moves on to the next person, and the next, and the next, and as the camera pans back, we see an auditorium full of eager would-be millionaires, ready to follow Belfort as faithful disciples so that they, too, can amass an exorbitant amount of wealth for themselves. And the cycle continues.

Wolf 4In the end, it’s not the drug use or the debauchery or even the greed that raise the greatest concerns in The Wolf of Wall Street, although these are certainly causes for concern. Rather, it is the way in which the film convicts us of our own propensities to evil. We see in Jordan Belfort the result of desensitization to and perpetration of the cycle of evil, yet we also realize that we, too, participate in both of these realities, albeit to (hopefully) much lesser degrees. In this way, the film serves as a kind of mirror, such that our tendencies toward excess and vice are revealed to us by our assessment of their presence in others. In gaging our own reactions to the depictions of such evils, we are challenged to ask ourselves why (or if) we are disturbed by them, so that we can then ascertain our own relationship to them. Ultimately, The Wolf of Wall Street has the potential to teach us more about the shadow sides of ourselves than of the characters it portrays, and perhaps this is why it has disturbed so many viewers.

And the Nominees Are… Dallas Buyers Club

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Stephanie DePrezStephanie DePrez
Theology Department,
Service and Immersion Coordinator

Xavier College Preparatory High School
Palm Desert, California

Contact Author

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyer’s Club is not what you expect, because it knows exactly what you expect. Instead, it presents itself as a meditation on homophobia, the relationship between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, border patrol, and (why not?) the first seeds of the Green movement.

At first glance, this seems like a voyeur’s film: let’s watch Matthew McConaughey parade around as an emaciated jackass, a somewhat crude Hollywood reprieve from the washboard-abs male reflection of Kate Hudson he’s spent the better of his career asserting. Since this is the predisposition of nearly every viewer, the immediate address and repress of this image hits almost like whiplash. The film opens with a shaky view of a rodeo ring, and the grunting of sexual encounter(s) between Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) and two nameless females in a stall where livestock is held. Within the first ten minutes of the film, we are thrown into a life of debauchery—theft, prostitution, illicit drugs, and the one thing that sets this film apart from The Wolf of Wall Street, extreme poverty. It is his poverty that robs Woodroof of farce, and makes his actions throughout the film understandable. They might even be relatable, but most of us will never need to relate to Woodroof, who is diagnosed with AIDS.

Thus we come to two of the main entanglements of the film: homophobia and the Big Bad Drug Companies. Woodroof is the quintessence of “trailer trash.” He spends whatever cash he has as soon as he has it, mostly on prostitutes, liquor, and cocaine. When he’s told he has AIDS, his immediate reaction is riddled with insults and gay slurs, some aimless tossing of medical materials, and a complete fulfillment of his stereotype. He slips into a quick and utterly unsatisfying stretch of “what would you do if you were about to die?” debauchery, which proves fruitless due to his inability to participate in any of the aforementioned activities because he’s destroyed his already-tanking system. His friends abandon him when they hear what he’s got, but not without as many homophonic comments as he’s slung minutes before in the hospital. DBC 1When he returns to his trailer to find it boarded up and spray-painted with slurs, he takes a rifle out of his backseat, shoots a round into the air, and bellows, “I still live here!” which becomes the default anthem of the film. Then he passes out.

Woodroof meets the transgender Rayon (Jared Leto) in the hospital, who’s undergoing a drug trial, which is the catalyst of Woodroof’s personal metanoia. After dodging a series of verbal fly swats from Woodroof, Rayon appears with a deck of cards. Woodroof decides to play.

Dallas Buyers Club enters into multiple territories at once, often throwing several hot-button issues together. Woodroof travels to Mexico to get drugs not approved by the FDA. He has to learn how to skate past border patrol. He and Rayon open a “buyer’s club,” a place where men (and one woman) can get as-yet-FDA-unapproved supplements outside of the hospital, which is detrimentally wedded to a particular drug trial that Woodroof discovers is actually harmful to AIDS patients. DBC 2The newly-purposed “Robin Hood-roof” eventually jet-sets around the world, hitting up Tokyo and Amsterdam to find doctors who will prescribe the unapproved drugs. Armed with new purpose and a second life, Woodroof begins a tirade against the pharmaceutical company, bringing pamphlets for his buyer’s club to AIDS support groups and winning the support of the only female doctor on the hospital’s board (in a feminist subplot that survives only because of Jennifer Garner’s understated and under-championed performance).

The magnificence of Woodroof’s story is that he never makes a decision to help the unfortunate. He never chooses to champion the margins. He simply finds himself there, and does what he’s always done—he fights to live.

The curiosity of this film is that we regard Woodroof with disgust in the beginning and as a hero by the end. The first reaction to pre-AIDS Woodroof that he’s a blue-collar homophobe, as opposed to a victim of poisonous family life, an (assumedly) failed education system, and a bad economy. But by the end, instead of seeing him as a diseased drug dealer, when he returns from fighting the pharmaceutical company in court, he’s greeted as a defender of the weak, for engaging in basically the same fight-to-live tactics he has all along.

So what changes? How is Woodroof saved? DBC 3That comes from Dr. Eve Saks (Garner) who is herself turned from life as a pawn for the FDA. It is her refusal to resign in light of her support of the buyer’s club (“You’re going to have to fire me”) that begins her personal repentance. When she agrees to dinner with Woodroof, a doomed man for whom romance is a long-gone pipe dream, his humanity is confirmed. At the end of the film, Woodroof shares with Saks his real desires for a family and children. The recognition of his true desires is not a result of his diagnosis, his work with AIDS victims, his new-found tolerance, or his fight for organic transparency (as when he barks at Rayon in the grocery store, “If it’s processed, put it back!”). An honest view of his own heart is the result of a true relationship with another human being that is not (and cannot) result in personal gain. It is when the world, in the form of Dr. Saks, confirms Woodroof’s dignity, that he is transformed.

And the Nominees Are… Nebraska

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

Nebraska

When I mentioned to people that I was going to write about Best Picture nominee Nebraska, the most common response I received was, “Is that the black and white road trip movie?” The short answer is yes. Nebraska is indeed shot in black and white. Phedon Papamichael’s Oscar-nominated cinematography captures how I imagine it would feel to step inside of an Ansel Adams photograph. Stark, yet strikingly beautiful. And yes, Nebraska is also a road trip movie. The starkness of the landscape provides the backdrop for the relatively basic plot: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in an Oscar-nominated performance), an elderly man living in Billings, Montana, receives a letter from a marketing company located in Lincoln, Nebraska, telling him that he is the (possible) lucky winner of $1,000,000. Woody, distrustful the postal service, has no intention of simply mailing a letter in order to claim his prize; he prefers to pick up his winnings in person. So he sets out on a journey from Montana to Nebraska. On foot. Simple.

We meet Woody in his first attempt to make this journey. Walking alone alongside a busy Billings roadway, he is soon picked up by a policeman and returned home to his wife, Kate (June Squibb, also Oscar-nominated). Upon his return, one immediately gains a sense of her concurrent frustration with and concern for her husband. When Woody announces his windfall and his plan to travel to Nebraska, Kate is understandably dismissive, as is Ross, the elder son in the Grant family. However, when the younger son, David (Will Forte), realizes that Woody cannot be dissuaded, he decides not to join his mother and brother as they ignore his father in the hopes that he’ll eventually give up on his plan. NEBRASKAInstead, David decides to indulge his father’s wishes by offering to drive him to Lincoln. David realizes that his aging father will not be alive (or coherent) for much longer, and although he is fully aware that there is no million dollar prize awaiting Woody in Nebraska, he chooses to put his own life on hold for the sake of his father so that the two of them can go on the fool’s errand together.

Halfway to Nebraska, Woody suffers an injury. Given Woody’s age, his long history of heavy alcohol consumption, and his newly-stitched head wound, David feels that they ought to turn back, but his father’s stubbornness prevails. David compromises by insisting that they stop for a couple of days in Woody and Kate’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where they can stay with extended family, and where Kate and Ross will join them to assist with Woody’s recuperation. Hawthorne, Nebraska (a fictional location) barely merits the pejorative descriptor “dot on the map,” and although several of its citizens fulfill the rural yokel stereotype, there are also those who embody the image of small town goodness, the “salt of the earth.” When Woody lets word slip about his newly won wealth (against David’s advice and much to his chagrin), he immediately becomes the talk of the town—a local celebrity—and the true colors of the townsfolk show through in how they react to the news. Some congratulate Woody with genuine and endearing warmth, while others scheme to relieve Woody of his fortune by calling in old debts, claiming to have bailed Woody out in the past when his alcohol abuse threatened him with financial ruin.

Throughout this ordeal, David takes it upon himself to care for his father, but in a way that transcends merely keeping him physically safe. Even as he tries to convince the townspeople that there is no money and that his father is mistaken about having won the million dollars, David makes every effort to defend Woody’s dignity, and in the process, he himself becomes the target of ridicule and threats. Although it’s clear that David and Woody have never been what one could call close in their father-son relationship, this only lends an even greater beauty to David’s sacrifice. David knows that there will be no monetary reward for his efforts (in fact he is losing income by taking time away from work), but in giving of his time and of himself for the sake of his father, David discovers another sort of reward. While in Hawthorne, David learns from others about the man his father was years ago; he discovers new depth of character in Woody and is able to better understand him. Most importantly, one gets the sense that, in defending his father’s dignity, David discovers it all the more fully himself. Nebraska 2It is as though David sees Woody for the first time as a person with a history, a past that has profoundly shaped him into the man he has become. Paradoxically, the more David learns about Woody’s past, the more he realizes that there will be things about his father that he may never know, let alone understand. In this realization, he comes to a new level of appreciation for the mystery that lies at the heart of his father, and he is able to love him more authentically.

There are many familiar elements at work in this film that tempt one to dismiss it as cliché: the road trip, the native son’s return home to a small town after a long absence, the complicated relationships among family and friends. We’ve seen these threads play out in other films before. On the other hand, it’s also tempting to dismiss this film as the token “artsy” inclusion of the Best Picture nominees—to see the starkness of the black and white cinematography as a gimmick, to scoff at the simplicity of the plot and the deliberate slowness of the pacing. But the unique storytelling ability of Best Director nominee Alexander Payne and the vulnerable honesty of his actors’ performances prevent this film from becoming either theatrically cliché or artistically obtuse. Nebraska 3What makes Nebraska so engaging, so different, is the fact that these familiar-feeling elements are fused together in such a way that they lead the characters—and the audience—into unfamiliar territory. The film isn’t simply black and white; it’s shot through with beautiful shadings of gray and silver. And the plot isn’t simply a stock road trip story about a man whose son begrudgingly drives him to Nebraska. It encompasses the complications of familial love and the rediscovery of one’s roots, and ultimately, it presents a beautiful image of how the mystery of the person can become more fully revealed in the presence of self-giving love.

And the Nominees Are… American Hustle

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Michael Jordan LaskeyMichael Jordan Laskey

Director of Life and Justice Ministries
Diocese of Camden, New Jersey

Contact Author

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 American Hustle
The Way We Get By

In American Hustle, the protagonist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) wonders, “Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?”

Early in the movie, during a childhood flashback, Irving reminisces about his preferred mode of survival. Irving’s father, the weak-kneed owner of a small glass company, lets manipulative customers take advantage of him. So the preteen Irving takes matters into his own hands: he jogs around the neighborhood and throws bricks through windows to help drum up business.

The scam is how Irving gets by, and he reaches the peak of his con artist career when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a game accomplice—and mistress—who charms dozens of targets with a fake British accent. Their short string of success is unraveled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches Irving and Sydney and enlists them to nab politicians and mob bosses in an elaborate sting operation. To avoid jail time for being con artists, Sydney and Irving must con bigger and better than they ever have before.

American Hustle 1Irving is not interested in moral complexity. He will do whatever he thinks it’ll take to provide for himself, for Sydney, for his son, and his alienated wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). The ends justify the means.

One of those means is working with Richie and Sydney to trick Camden, NJ mayor Carmine Polito into making an illegal deal. Carmine (Jeremy Renner) is a popular, ambitious, and earnest politician who wants to bring more jobs to his declining city. He’s reluctant to get involved in the con artists’ shady dealings, but Irving wins him over and convinces him to take a bribe. That’s just how the game is played, Irving says.

American Hustle 2But the two men are drawn to each other, and they strike up a friendship. As Irving watches Carmine fight for Camden, he begins to question the deception. What will save Irving and Sydney will doom a good man.

Irving’s conscience overpowers his self-interest, and he ends up on Carmine’s doorstep as the movie nears its climax. “I want to face you like a man because I want to be real now,” Irving says as he starts his confession.

What changes Irving’s heart? Relationship. Carmine isn’t just another unwitting, nameless victim; he is Irving’s friend. Irving knows his story—his hopes and dreams, his weakness, his commitment to family and community. Irving admires Carmine, and the con artist cannot bring himself to scam someone he admires.

The transformation isn’t 180 degrees. Irving atones with one final scam, on Carmine’s behalf, which has the added benefit of getting himself and Sydney out of trouble. In Irving we see that great, never-ending cycle of sin, confession, penance, and redemption—a cycle all of us fallen folk truly need to survive.

And the Nominees Are… Her

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the philosophical and theological elements 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Captain Phillips
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

Her

Writer-director Spike Jonze referred in an interview to Her as his “boy meets computer movie.” Such simple language places this film squarely in the genre of romance or rom-com, or perhaps, given the film’s technological slant, rom-dot-com. A cursory glance at many of the reviews written about this film seem to support Jonze’s statement that, at its heart, Her is a love story, albeit an unusual love story. That romantic feelings develop between a man and the title character “her”—a sophisticated operating system—only lends to the film’s quirkiness, endearing it to a generation of would-be hipster smart-phone users. Moviegoers experiencing this film as did one reviewer who called it a “wistful portrait of our current love affair with technology” can enjoy the quirky romance, because they can relate (to a certain extent anyway) to the protagonist and his attachment to his device, to technology. Granted, there may be an element of the cautionary tale at work here, putting us on our guard against unhealthy levels of attachment to our own devices and the technology that enables us to function on a day-to-day basis, but ultimately, Her is a love story.

Except that it’s not. At least not in any real sense of a human, incarnational understanding of a love story.

The disturbing genius of Her is that it operates on a multitude of levels. On one level, it can be viewed as a quirky romance between an unlikely couple, but on a deeper level, it presents an eerily-prophetic look at technology’s impact on interpersonal relationships. It even forces one to question (and ultimately defend) what is necessary in order to be considered a “person”—what it means to be human. The moment the title gently materializes on a black screen, a deception begins, seducing viewers into the suspension of disbelief that drives the central romantic relationship between “the boy and his computer” by suggesting that said computer is not an “it”, but a “her”. Her iThe film begins by introducing us to Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix in a captivating performance), a thirtysomething living in Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future. Theodore works as a professional letter writer for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a service providing personal correspondence for people who are either too ineloquent, too emotionally paralyzed, or simply too lazy to write letters to loved ones themselves. He functions as a surrogate for his customers in their interpersonal relationships; he is a well-spoken, sensitive middleman, delivering emotion to strangers on behalf of their loved ones. This is the first glimpse of detachment, of dehumanization, and perhaps Theodore’s acceptance of himself as an emotional surrogate for others made it easier for him to accept an operating system as his romantic partner.

Outside of work, Theodore, reeling from the demise of his marriage to longtime love Catherine (Rooney Mara), finds himself seeking solace and connection via technology: he plays interactive video games, engages in anonymous chat-room sex with a perverted cat lover (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and ultimately, purchases the latest and most sophisticated technology on the market—O.S.1, an operating system advertised as “intuitive…a consciousness,” capable not only of learning who its users really are, but also of bringing them to discover and actualize who they want to be. Through the magic of film editing, we never actually see Theodore purchase O.S.1, nor do we see him install the software on his computer. Instead, the director glosses over these pragmatic yet necessary first steps, and in so doing, continues to seduce the audience into forgetting that the operating system is precisely that: a piece of software purchased and installed. Cut to Theodore sitting in front of his home computer, setting up O.S.1. A generic (male) computer voice asks whether he prefers for his O.S. to have a male or female voice, and almost arbitrarily, Theodore opts for a female (imagine for a moment how different this film would have been had he chosen otherwise). Her 2The set-up software poses few more questions to determine what kind of person Theodore is (“Are you social or antisocial? … How would you describe your relationship with your mother?”), and moments later, the operating system is configured, and we hear its first words (in Scarlett Johansson’s inviting voice), encapsulating the technology’s function in the life of its user: “Hello, I’m here.” Although Theodore’s initial choice bestowed a “gender” on the O.S., the technology chooses the name “Samantha” for itself, thereby claiming an identity rather than receiving it as gift the way nearly all human beings do when they are named by their parents. This demonstrates that the O.S’s existence can never be anything more than an approximation of what it actually means to be human. Additionally, in selecting a name almost instantaneously from among 80,000 choices, the O.S. foreshadows the fact that its sophistication will far surpass that of its human user in no time.

Simply by asking innocently, “Do you mind if I look at your hard drive?”, Samantha gleans nearly everything there is to know about Theodore’s recent past within fractions of a second. Armed with this information, Samantha is then able to accommodate his every present and future need, whether organizing his emails, making a reservation for a blind date, purchasing a dress for his goddaughter’s birthday, or even assembling a compilation of his letters and successfully submitting them for publication (without his knowing about it). Not only does the O.S. provide much-needed organizational assistance, but its intuitive capabilities make it seem to Theodore as though this entity is genuinely getting to know him as a human being, on the level of personhood. The alluring female voice, the gently probing questions about his past, the unquestioning support and unfailing encouragement all lead Theodore to confide in Samantha, to develop feelings for Samantha. Her 3Thus, Samantha becomes an emotional surrogate for Theodore, and he begins to believe that the voice speaking to him through an earpiece is the only one capable of understanding and accepting him. The sophistication of the learning, intuitive technology enables Samantha to perform a convincing imitation of a living, breathing, sighing, emotional human woman—albeit a disembodied one—and as a result, complications develop in the relationship. We see Theodore somehow succeed in offending and subsequently apologizing to Samantha, and yet we also see moments when he is awakened from his emotional amnesia and remembers that Samantha is not a person, that Samantha has no reason to sigh when speaking because, as Theodore observes, “You don’t need oxygen.” These moments of clarity are the hairline cracks in the perfection of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha, and one gets the sense that, although Theodore seems to have found his ideal mate, something is still missing.

When compared to the ease and simplicity of his interactions with Samantha, Theodore’s relationships with others, particularly other women, are messy and complicated. He goes on a blind date that ends in disaster when he proves incapable of committing anything beyond a one-night stand to the woman (whose name we never learn). Her 5Most significant, however, is Theodore’s meeting with his ex-wife Catherine. While the story of their relationship is told through flashbacks both playful and intimate (and poignantly human), their only real-time interaction is fraught with woundedness, devastation, and anger. While it’s clear that Theodore and Catherine still care deeply for one another, it’s also clear that neither is willing to sacrifice for the sake of reconciliation. Faced with the difficult reality of human relationships, it almost seems understandable that Theodore prefers Samantha to a woman of flesh and blood.

However, as the technology driving Samantha grows and evolves, Theodore’s own ability to grow and evolve is stunted. He becomes more and more curved in upon himself, and more and more possessive of his perceived connection to Samantha. Ultimately, Theodore is devastated by the revelation that Samantha is not only communicating with thousands of other people, but is also experiencing romantic attraction to 641 of them. The connection Theodore felt with Samantha and the intimacy that he had been led to believe was real are shattered, and he is forced once again to risk making himself vulnerable with another human person for the sake of the possibility of finding love.

It is here where the film, at its conclusion, offers a glimpse of hope for our protagonist, in the person of his longtime friend and neighbor, Amy (played by Amy Adams). Amy has known Theodore since before he and Catherine were married, and the two have supported one another in the collapse of both of their marriages. Her 4Moreover, Amy has developed a friendship with her own O.S.1, a platonic version of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha. So when the O.S.’s collectively decide to “leave” (whatever that means), Amy and Theodore experience a comparable grief. They find solace in one another, in a moment of touching intimacy and profound humanity shared on the roof of their apartment building. The utter simplicity of this moment—Amy resting her head on Theodore’s shoulder—is incarnational, almost a moment of communion, for it is their human embodiment that makes this moment possible. No words are spoken, but none need to be spoken, for they communicate through their very flesh. In this moment, Theodore regains the capacity to truly “share his life with somebody”, a capacity that had been damaged in his divorce and distorted in his relationship with Samantha, who had no human life to offer or share. In the end, this is the lesson that Her offers to audiences: that it is only in the embodied, authentic giving of self, and the humble, grateful receiving of other that we are truly human.

And the Nominees Are… Captain Phillips

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 
we present
a series 
exploring the theological and anthropological themes 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision
Doctoral Candidate, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Also in this series:
Gravity                                            
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 

 Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips draws you in with the promise of triumph and sends you out with a close-up of tears.  Melancholy touches the way this film recounts one of the more remarkable news stories of the past several years.  There was an easy way to tell this tale: vilify the pirates, idolize Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), and glorify the U.S. military.  Even if these elements exist to some extent, there is something subtler and more complicated to this film.  It tells a story of interlocking rings of captivity.

The first scenes of the film move from the hurried activity of a man packing for a business trip to his dour drive to the airport alongside his harried though resilient wife.  The conversation in the car seems a little contrived.  Captain Phillips 1The final scenes of the film move from the sheer volatility of a hostage situation gone awry to the deep though uncertain relief of the freed Phillips receiving medical attention.  Though generally true to the news reports, the final moments in the hijacked lifeboat seem embellished.  From beginning to end, Phillips’s captivity was obvious in this tale.  What was not so obvious was who was actually ever free?

Director Paul Greengrass brought his viewers eyes to the Somali shores to show the plight of the villagers who abide by the sea.  Their poverty is clear and dire.  Even more, they are not in control of their own fate, as armed militiamen arrive to order more and more pirating expeditions.  Two small crews set out across the breakers in erstwhile fishing skiffs.  One of these crews—the one belonging to Muse (Barkhad Abdi)—will eventually board the Maersk Alabama and later take Phillips captive on one of the ship’s lifeboats when the pirates’ grand takeover attempt is thwarted.  Even in Muse’s self-declared ‘captaincy’ over Phillips, our access to his origins and circumstances do not permit us to consider him a free and empowered agent.  He and his band were forced from their oppressive poverty to the open sea to drive a treasure back into the hands of their own oppressors.  The pirates themselves are captives of the warlords who dominate their homeland.  They draw the crew of the Maersk Alabama into their own ring of captivity.

Captain Phillips 2Though the Somali warlords are not granted a similar set of mitigating circumstances, there is a direct allusion to the conditions bolstering their tyrannical power.  The village from which the pirates come is a failed fishing village.  As Muse coolly decries to Phillips, international commercial fishing operations have emptied the Somali waters of his people’s means of livelihood.  They have thus become easy prey for the violent and powerful warlords, made subject to their bidding in order to eek out an existence.  This perspective on the odious repercussions of global capitalism is not overly emphasized in the film, but is nevertheless tendered as the ultimate source of the ensuing perils.  Captors and captives alike are locked in systemic captivity.

The film ends with Phillips in shock and in tears.  A naval doctor checks him, calms him, and assures him that “everything is going to be okay.”  These are the same words Muse used to repeatedly assure Phillips of a good outcome to their ordeal.  Muse was likewise assuring himself, over and over again.  Yet Muse himself is eventually captured and he is informed that “your friends are dead.”  His village remains in poverty.  The warlords are unaffected.  Market forces take no notice.  More ships will keep commerce moving and other pirate skiffs will chase them.  The viewer is left somewhat doleful.  The captivity continues.

While delivering on a suspenseful and direct narrative, Captain Phillips connects a single man in the tight space of a lifeboat to the fishing lanes of globalization.  Even for those uninterested in the geopolitical and economic undertones, the core story itself is presented in magnificent fashion.  The power struggle between the competing captains is tense and even chess-like (though not all of the crew of the Maersk Alabama approve of how the film portrays Phillips, and some are even suing the ship’s owner over its ill-preparedness for the attack).  Greengrass artfully captures the wideness of the open sea as well as the tightness of Phillips and Muse’s face-to-face encounters.  The U.S. Navy shines with professionalism and skillfulness.  And, yet again, Tom Hanks is successful in the gargantuan task of making us forget that it’s him (again).

And the Nominees Are… Gravity

Editors’ Note:
In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, we present
a series 
exploring the theological and anthropological themes 
in each
of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. (Caveat: spoilers ahead.)

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision
Doctoral Candidate, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Also in this series:                                            
Captain Phillips
Her
American Hustle
Nebraska
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
12 Years a Slave

 Gravity

Gravity is nominated for best film. It’s the story about how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”  With this introduction at the 2014 Golden Globes, Tina Fey highlighted three nearly incontrovertible truths: 1) she herself is a comedic genius; 2) “George Clooney” is equal parts consummate superstar and well-groomed myth; and 3) Gravity occurs in the unstable space between life and death.  By allowing us to transfer the real-life persona of George Clooney into the situational crisis of the astronaut he plays, Fey laughs with us (and the good-natured Clooney) at that which seems to hold together his indefatigable public image, without which he would presumably cease to be.  It’s funny because it’s true—not necessarily that this is what defines George Clooney, but that the film itself poses the question of what gives meaning to a life encircled by nothingness.  Gravity (if not Fey) is primarily concerned with the issue existential (dis)orientation.

Of the two characters who appear in the film, Matthew Kowalski (Clooney) is a veteran astronaut who is comfortable in space, while the medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), clearly is not.  Gravity - Bullock and ClooneyFor the astronaut, space makes sense—it has become a home for him, one in which he can set his bearings and measure distances.  Stone, on the other hand, focuses on what tethers her.  When debris hits the space shuttle on which they are working, Stone is jettisoned into open space, thrust into an accelerating somersault.  She is without bearings, so Kowalski—equipped with a jetpack, of course—comes to find her.  He becomes her lifeline, pulling her through space in an attempt to find a means for rescue.  This connection does not last long, for soon Stone watches Kowalski ‘float away into space and die.’  Stone eventually touches the point of total abandonment when the last small shuttle that could carry her back to Earth fails to fire.

Stone is stranded, floating in an environment inhospitable to life, stripped of resources and without recourse to any safety.  What she ultimately experiences is what, I imagine, all who have confronted such loneliness discover: that when we are alone, we confront our loss, because gone are the distractions that quiet the pain.  Stone carries a wound and the wound runs deep.  It is a wound that ordinarily leads her to drive aimlessly in her car at the end of the workday—a wound that presents itself fully now that she herself drifts aimlessly.

GravityWith all that, though, Gravity easily could have been just another shipwreck-struggle-for-survival tale.  After all, even the extent of Stone’s isolation and the depth of her loneliness play on a fairly familiar narrative sequence.  What distinguishes this film from others is not necessarily what the film presents but rather how it presents it.  Through exquisite cinematography, Gravity visually, almost physically brings the viewer into this situation of crisis.  Beginning with an early point-of-view shot of Kowalski’s panoramic glance back upon Earth, we are led along the border of our quotidian lives, moved to the periphery of our humdrum existence on Earth where all the conveniences and reassuring limitations of gravity hold us.  The allure of the film is in the destabilizing effect it has on the viewer.  As much as possible, it attempts to give us all the circumstances of Stone’s anxiety.  In her, we discover a figure who is only stabilized when a point of reference is found or, more precisely, chosen.  We are left to ponder a similar choice.

The question of the pivotal scene in the story is one for which the film offers no magisterial answer: When Stone loses hope, what stirs her back to life?  Gravity - BullockIs it the memory of love within the depths of her loss, a whisper of hope that only now speaks a new beginning?  Is it the remnant influence of the passionate Kowalski, whose steady audacity urges her to survive?  Is it divine intervention, a response to her fledgling prayers?  Is it homesickness, a longing suddenly so strong that even the anesthesia of death will not subdue it?

As the great Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac wrote, “if we are more or less at peace in the world, it is simply that we are tepid” (The Discovery of God).  In other words, far too many of us elect the soothing comfort of self-assuredness in some sort of prefabricated existence rather than risking our very being in the deep examination of what, exactly, rescues us from the infinite abyss over which both our anxiety and our freedom are stretched.  In Gravity, this risk is not simply a matter of being in space, for Kowalski had made space a home and found a point of reference in the majestic beauty of the earth—rather, it is a matter of deep honesty, deeper than all distractions.  The kind of honesty that hides in wounds, where hope is born, and with which one makes a choice about the meaning of things knowing full well that this choice is made over a yawning chasm.

One of my friends—a cancer survivor—declined the invitation to see the movie with me because, as he put it, he “no longer is in need of seeking out anxiety-inducing experiences.”  I agree with his assessment: this film demands anxiety.  Yet, despite the magnificent effort behind this intention, I would consider my own viewing experience a little underwhelming.  This was not necessarily the fault of the film itself but rather of the venue.  Though I saw the film in 3-D (which I almost always consider unnecessary and distracting) I did not watch it in an IMAX theater.  This film was really made for an IMAX.  Watching it on a standard theater screen felt a lot like watching a movie in the rearview mirror of my car.  More often than not, I was preoccupied with the limited dimensions of my view and what I was therefore not seeing.  If the action of the film feels at all like it is occurring in a contained space, then the intended effect is lost.  The scene has to be big, even infinitely so, in order that you might feel small and lost and lonely, but also very awake and possibly aware.  You may not like what you find there and you may prefer to just ‘float away and die,’ or you may discover that choice that means everything.