Monday, 19 February 2007

A sign (Half Nelson)

So there I was - in the middle of giving a sermon - when someone asks me to explain how a certain movie (Amistad) fit in with what I was talking about. I had never seen it and was struck speechless! I asked the congregation to give me a rousing Amen that this was evidence that I did not, in fact, watch enough movies. It wasn't as rousing as I'd hoped -but I heard something.

If that were not enough of a sign that it was time to start this blog - a place of reflection on movies and other cultural offerings from perspectives hopefully informed by theological and psychological backgrounds, offered dialogically between two brothers on different continents - then the very next day, a friend and colleague (thanks dan) emails a challenge to several of us to get out there in the blogging world. Where the action is. Where real life happens. (OK some of my cynical ambivalence about this enterprise is showing through.) Could that possibly be coincidence - Never! It has to be a sign. So here I am, God.

And perhaps also part of the good timing - I have actually seen a movie recently worthy of comment - Half Nelson.

Normally, I prefer my movies a little less grim than this. Hope is there, but this is not a bright, shiny movie. But I loved some of the juxtapositions that the movie creates so well. In fact, it really does everything very well. Perfect blend of a central story surrounded by so many stories just well-enough hinted at to matter and make you think without being told more than you need to know. The acting is great. If, like me, the preview almost scared you away either because it was one more cool teacher in a ghetto movie, or because of other implications (I don't want to give a spoiler) - don't let it.

The philosophical foundation of the movie is handed to you in Mr. Dunne's teaching - History is the study of the change that results from two opposing forces. Dialectic tension. While there is some sense of the Enemy being The Man or The Machine, that Enemy is really not a character in the drama. The heart of the film is the tension and relationship between two worlds that are both victimized by the The Man. The despairing world of whites who aren't inspired enough to face the scale and complexity of the issues, and the African-Americans who in their own ways are trying to survive. More specifically in this case - the drug users and the drug sellers. The scene that plays back and forth between Dunne's night with his alcohol-loving family and Drey's evening with "family" (her brother's pusher friend who is looking out for her) is one of the brilliant perspective-shifting moments. A lot of thought gets opened up by this kind of movie. Of course, my good old moralist self kept wanting someone to actually name that drugs were a central part of how The Machine kept people down - but I'm not sure why I still wanted that when the movie made the point so clearly.

So, Vic, what do you think? Are you ready for this?


  1. Now this is what I'm talkin' about, Walt!

  2. We finally watched Half Nelson last Saturday. I agree with all your comments. I thought it was a great little film (except for the amateur-like hand-held camera work which just irritates me more and more with every film that uses it). One of the great things about a film like this is how the discussion afterwards just goes on and on. Change is one of my favourite topics for discussion so this made it even better, though some of the stuff seemed rather obvious as opposed to original. The only problem our group had with the film was the inappropriateness of the relationship between the teacher and his thirteen-year-old student, which had a negative impact on some of the positive redemptive scenes in the film. What did you think of this?