Braveheart: A brief review

braveheart-film-1995

A couple weekends ago some friends and myself hunkered down for a movie epic: Braveheart. Over the next several hours our eyes and ears were deluged with Scottish accents, massive battles, and gorgeous music–a winning combination under most circumstances. In the following few paragraphs I want to review this movie epic. However, a word to the wise: I am ignoring any debate of historical accuracy since Scottish history is not a subject I am well versed in.

From a cinematic point of view Braveheart is incredibly well executed. The balanced approach of director Mel Gibson between the gritty reality of Medieval life with the joy, love, and pride of those who lived is very well done and keeps the movie from becoming overly depressing or exhausting. Also, Gibson makes ample use of the Scottish countryside as a beautiful backdrop for the film, and the movie avoids excessive use of slow motion shots which were common during the 1990’s (think Last of the Mohicans).

braveheartWhile the movie is well executed from a cinematic perspective, the plot is not quite so polished. The narrative follows a basic revenge plot-line: someone the main protagonist loves dies in the early portion of the movie and provides the impetus for what unfolds throughout the rest of the film. While this is all fine and great and provides for entertaining moviegoing, one main aspect was bothersome in my opinion. Through events that occur early on in the film, it is made clear that Wallace is taking vengeance on the English for the death of his love. However, Wallace is later shown to sleep with the English princess, and she is carrying his child by the end of the movie. For a man who is portrayed throughout the film as seeking vengeance for his dead wife, to have such a scene of adultery seems to go against everything that Wallace represents in the movie. While this event is probably Hollywood doing their thing, it hurts the credibility of Wallace’s character tremendously. However, despite this one instance of cliche Hollywood immorality, the film offers a compelling and inspiring story.

Finally, the music of Braveheart is one of the best parts of the whole film. With a swelling score written by James Horner,the film embodies (in my opinion) some of the best movie music ever produced. With a combination of orchestra and more traditional Scottish instruments, Horner manages to produce pieces of music that are emotionally charged and full of energy and life. In fact, it is one of my favorite sets of music to listen to whenever doing schoolwork.

Braveheart is a movie epic in every sense of the word: expansive shots, a compelling story, and a soaring soundtrack. Despite some annoying flaws in its plot (ignoring any historical ones that is), the movie is an inspiring tale that leaves the viewer wanting more. For me, the film raised an interesting question: what would I be willing to die for? William Wallace (in the movie) was willing to die trying to give his countrymen freedom–largely driven by a desire for vengeance on the English. However, haven’t we as Christians also been called to die, but for an even greater cause than national freedom? Living in a country and time whenever people rarely talk of death, and the norm is to “accept” differences regardless of belief or behavior, this concept of being willing to die for a cause is one foreign, but much needed, in modern American culture and Christianity.

Defending a Galactic Empire

As many could attest, I grew up a Star Wars nerd. In many ways I still own that title. Over the years I cheered on Luke Skywalker and the rag-tag band of Rebels as they fought against impossible odds. I made elaborate scenarios with my action figures or model ships as a kid, and in battle after battle the good guys always won. The Rebellion was victorious, and the faceless soldiers of the Empire were defeated. However, as I started to enter my teenage years I couldn’t help but notice my perspective on Star Wars changing – most notably in respect to the Galactic Empire and the Rebellion.

Warning: If you’re already wondering if you should stop now, the answer is probably yes. This is me indulging in something I haven’t discussed in a long time.

This change in perspective came in no small part due to the >shudder< prequel trilogy. I’ll try to say as little about this as possible, but sufficit to say this is what I gleaned. The Republic was a bloated, ineffective government that couldn’t even settle a simple trade dispute. (Episode I) This ineffective government came with a strong-arm group of self-righteous Zen cultists who would slice various parts of your body off if you dared disagree with their Zen ways – or the will of the Republic, whichever excuse was more convenient. In other words, they wouldn’t tolerate anyone not as tolerant as they are. Sound familiar? Their self-contradicting code taught that emotions – good or bad — were to be totally denied, except for every time it was convenient for them to feel one. Compassion is an emotion they were certainly tied to, but for the most part Jedi were navel gazers and self-congratulatory philosophers rather than doers of any concrete good. One might almost say they were useless academics. Not only that, but they openly contradicted their own ideals constantly. I physically face-palmed in the theater (which was mostly empty, mercifully) when I heard Ewan MacGreggor spew the line “Only a Sith believes in absolutes Anakin!” Really. Congratulations, you have just given an absolute statement, proving once and for all that the Jedi code is a load of bunk.

Only-a-Sith-Deals-in-Absolutes

So, how does this lead to a justification of the unjustifiable? How does one justify a Galactic Empire?

Consider in the first place Chancellor (and later Emperor) Palpatine. He used the system of government – blighted and corrupt as it was – to rally star systems to a common goal. That goal was ultimately peace, but like any peace it had to come at the cost of some blood. By skillful maneuvering, Palpatine was able to orchestrate a system that would stop listening to the inane prattle of self-serving bureaucrats and allow a single individual to act swiftly and effectively. The stroke of genius is that he did this with the support of the Galactic Senate. This change did not seem to bother the citizens of the Republic at all. In fact, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, the only people who seem to be disturbed with this turn of events are the people trying to prop up the failed system – and thereby their own cushy representative positions.

Just imagine all the things that would never get done if our congress looked like this!
Just imagine all the things that would never get done if our congress looked like this!

The next aspect of what makes the Galactic Empire defensible is its military prowess. While might does not make right, the Empire was able to establish and maintain a cohesive defense force to protect its citizens. This is not something that the Republic was able to do. Under the Republic, most systems were left to fend for themselves in terms of defense. Coruscant itself (seat of the Republic) like Rome had not seen a standing army within its borders for ages. What this ultimately meant was that the most the Republic could do if one planet were to invade another was to pout about it, say “stop it” in the senate, and if you were really naughty they would send some Jedi to negotiate/rearrange your face. Never mind that Jedi were actually not a political arm of the Republic, but I digress. At the end of the day, the Empire shows a lot more regard for its citizens and their well-being than the Senate did. If you wanted the Senate’s attention, you’d better have had something really good to bribe them with.

The Galactic Empire under Palpatine, Vader, Tarkin and others corrected this oversight. Using their military prowess they were able to defend previously defenseless worlds, drive out pirates, and bring the Hutt crime syndicates more to heel than the Republic ever could. Palpatine, Vader and Tarkin all had this in mind: peace. Vader admitted as much to Luke at Cloud City: “Join me and we shall end this destructive conflict!”

Basically this message, but delivered in not quite a politically correct way. In other words INFINITELY MORE AWESOME.
Basically this message, but not delivered using  politically correct terminology. In other words INFINITELY MORE AWESOME.

It’s commonly heard that the Empire is tyrannical. We’re told as much in the opening scrawl for A New Hope, but there’s little evidence on screen for this being the case. We do not see slavery onscreen, we do not see random acts of violence on the part of the Stormtroopers upon citizens. (Nomadic scavengers operating illegally, yes, but not on citizens.) On the contrary, the trouble makers seem to only be the Rebels. All in all, the Empire seems more interested in capturing its key oponents rather than killing them. Vader’s focus in all three of the original films is on capturing Luke. He allows Han to be captured. On Cloud City, it was his design that Leia and Chewbacca remain as prisoners. While he was merciless on incompetent officers, there are plenty of historical examples of such discipline. Another example of how the Empire is not interested in constantly subjugating local populations is Endor. There were Imperial stations there, but there was no evidence of aggression between the Ewoks and Imperials until Luke and the gang showed up and convinced them that the Empire must be evil.

Speaking of the Rebellion, it doesn’t seem to be very popular. The Rebels always seem to have pathetic numbers. This implies that the Rebellion as a whole is fighting a battle that most citizens of the Empire do not believe needs to be fought. New projects were open for billions of engineers and laborers in Imperial shipyards and the Death Star, and the economy was likely surging due to better protected shipping lanes. Jobs were up, the galaxy was more secure, and yet there was a tiny group of people fighting to reinstate a failed system. Technology also advanced under the Empire, as new ship designs and communication systems were being developed to support better galactic infrastructure. All in all, it doesn’t make much sense to join a group fighting against an Empire that has brought about positive change galaxy wide.

Finally, consider the lowly Stormtrooper. Many were initially clones, but later ranks were bolstered by naturally born humans who considered it an honor to answer the Empire’s call and take up their roles as soldiers, peace-keepers, or police. Behind every gleaming white helmet was a man (or woman, to be fair) who had a life story and a family somewhere. (This is certainly driven home in Shadows of the Empire, but I digress.) Each one of those white clad troopers is a human being, but the armor is what makes them effective at deterring bad behavior and ensuring order. The Rebellion seems to have very little compunction about killing these people. Is it right to do so simply because you can’t see the face behind the helmet?

headgear

These considerations do open up a fundamental quandry for those who believe that the Rebellion is morally right: do the benefits of better economics, better defense capabilities, and equality across planets make the Empire and the Sith a force for good in the galaxy? If so, why is it acceptable for the rebellion to fight against their duly elected government which has brought so many benefits to the galactic citizenry? Finally, and possibly most importantly, did Lucas even consider some of these questions before showing the Empire as the bad guys? Did he not think through these political and philosophical factors to their logical end, or did he simply not care?

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I detail why the Sith are actually more philosophically consistent than the Jedi.

Many thanks to Wookiepedia for background articles on various parts of the Star Wars universe.

My Garden

Still, beneath a soft-lit sky

Of pale, grey clouds where songbirds sing,

Pale lilies droop; flowers dye

The ground with hues of sun and sky;

And blossoms of gentian blue

Delicately lift their heads high.

 —

Rose leaves shadow lush, green grass

Which whispers soft as creatures pass.

A turtle stalks, a crevice

Cutting with his bulky, hard mass

Among the supple grass blades

That bend and spring as he passes.

A Glance At Absurdity

Last Spring, I had to opportunity to attend the Actors From The London Stage’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. At first glance, it was a deceivingly simplistic performance. The company, which rotates performers, consists of only five actors at a time who present on a stage without a set and with only minimal props. But when examining the play they were to perform, one great complication obviously arises. There are five actors, and twenty-one named characters listed in the Dramatis Personae, along with assorted “Lords, Pages, Foresters, and Attendants.” How this group of assuredly talented actors and actresses was going to cope with this plethora of persons was surely on everyone in the audience’s mind as they filed into the theatre.

Yet, overall the mood was merry. It is no small thing to have a prestigious company of actors perform a famous comedy by one of the most famous writers in the English language. The spectators were ready to watch Rosalind (Jennifer Higham) run away to the woods with her best friend, Celia (Joannah Tincey), and to watch with “sighs and tears” as Rosalind dallied and fell in love with Orlando (Dan Winter). In the words of Rosalind herself, the audience was prepared “to like as much of this play as please you…” (5.Epilogue.13-14) The play began, and fortunately ended, with riotous applause.

One of the most unique items about the Actors From the London Stage is that they are self-directed; the is no boss-man behind the scenes, and each actor has equal input into the production. While the group’s lack of a director could be seen as detrimental to an all-encompassing vision, and the miniscule company as illogical, it came out all right. Shakespeare himself has no one overarching text, and his plots verge on the absurd more often than not.

Once it became apparent from the program that each actor would be doubling with a multitude of characters, the obvious concern arose over how the audience would keep them straight. As it turned out, before they first lines were even spoken, the company arose from their chairs around the stage and cleverly (and usefully) donned their character’s defining item (a red scarf, a floral scarf, a hat with a feather, etc.) and said their name aloud. This had the unique effect of giving the audience a foretaste of things to come, leading to the audience looking forward to certain characters appearing. A popular favorite seemed to be the hippie version of Hymen, god of marriage (Robert Montford), who was equipped with a tambourine.

In fact, the portrayal of Hymen highlights a positive aspect of the massive amount of doubling as well as the autonomy of the actors. In this production, there was no “bit part.” Each actor added something to their roles, something not necessarily emphasized in the original text. This aspect was particularly amusing in the exaggerated French mannerisms of the courtier Le Beau (Robert Montford, once again), who, after Orlando bid him “fare you well,” (1.2.286), was soundly kissed on both cheeks, to Orlando’s bemusement, and the audience’s amusement.

Of course, diverting as these little encounters were, more impressive was the way in which the production handled the scenes where two characters being portrayed by one actor were on stage together. The most common method was to have the character speak their last line next to another character, who would then hold the other character’s “item” (a floral hat, for example) out in front of them, as a “placeholder.” The audience was then left to assume that the character was still standing there, looking on. Ridiculous as it may sound, it appeared to work fairly well, though it, and the entire production, relied heavily on the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

But, perhaps that was the point. Shakespeare’s plays themselves are rife with implausibility. Rather than seriously attacking or excusing the ridiculousness, the actors embraced it. When Jacques de Boys (Dan Winter, once again) entered at the last moment, and announced, “I am the second son of old Sir Rowland,” (5.4.152) the performers turned to the audience and gasped theatrically, eliciting an appreciative laugh from the spectators, who were invited not only to share in the ludicrousness, but to embrace it.

The company was not afraid to play with Shakespeare in other ways as well. In Elizabethan England, only boys could portray women. In this 21st century production, women (Highmen and Tincey again) filled the roles of attendants to Duke Senior (Patrick Miller), wearing hats bedecked with flowers, basking in the warm yellow light that represented the Green World. This is Shakespeare, after all, where gender is a very bewildering concept.

This, in the end, was the strength of the production. The audience was given the delight of witnessing what occurs when a company is willing embrace all the confusion that might arise from five autonomous actors portraying more than twenty-one unique roles, in a play whose reputation precedes it. The result was an evening of hilarity and passion in the Forest of Arden. Hopefully, some of the magic passed into the real one as well.

 

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Ed. G. Blackemore Evans et. Al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1297-1354. Print.

Notes on Forgiveness

What is forgiveness? Put simply, forgiveness is the restoring of a relationship. Just as it takes two to tango (or so I’m told), it takes two to forgive—both the offended person and the wrongdoer need to want a restored relationship for true forgiveness to take place. This implies repentance on the part of the person who did wrong, but it’s more than this. That’s the beginning, but both people have to want forgiveness and a restored association. Repentance requires both people (or groups) view their relationship as more important than whatever wrong was done. Luke 17.3-4 has instruction to offer on the subject:

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.

The most important point: we forgive because God first forgave us. If you forgive someone but don’t trust them or they haven’t apologized/repented, then that may be something, but it isn’t forgiveness—the relationship isn’t repaired. Forgiveness can be initiated by either the person who was wronged or the actual perpetrator. There are examples of both in the Bible…

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5.23-24 Genesis 33 – Esau initiates the restoration by forgiving Jacob prior to any response from Jacob. Genesis 50 – Joseph forgives his brothers despite no stated repentance on the part of the brothers. Luke 15 – the parable of the prodigal son. The wrongdoer (the son) initiates forgiveness by returning and repenting: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ – Luke 15.21.

The father completes this forgiveness by throwing his arms around his son and then throwing a party.

Other Supporting Scriptures

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15 NIV

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13 NIV

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18: 21-22 NIV

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13

There is a distinction between doing good for others and having a relationship with them—doing good for others can be separate from giving/receiving forgiveness.

“On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” – Romans 12:20 NIV