Nathan Jacobson autopsies The Adjustment Bureau, directed and written by George Nolfi (Universal Pictures: March 4, 2011).
Into the ever-expanding catalog1 of films predicated on our anxiety about the extent of our free will, enter The Adjustment Bureau, perhaps the most cerebral and ambivalent of the lot. The film envisions a world in which human action is directed, though not quite determined, by a confluence of chance, free will, and the nearly ubiquitous superintendency of "The Chairman", a quasi-religious, mysterious power that influences human actions through the intervention of a minion of "clerks" who alter circumstances (and occasionally thought patterns) in order to keep the course of human events in line with "The Plan". This is not, as some have supposed, a film about human pawns and a grandmaster who determines their fate. Rather, The Adjustment Bureau explores how the course of human events might be guided or "nudged" by such a master when the chess pieces themselves are free agents pursuing their own ends. As it turns out, this decidedly more difficult endeavor requires constant "caretaking" or "meddling", depending on how you judge such interventions. The film itself remains surprisingly ambivalent toward this state of affairs and offers a provocative and nuanced picture of human agency, of our wills as simultaneously malleable and free. Indeed, the various kinds of interventions in The Adjustment Bureau provide a backdrop for considering just what should and should not be considered a violation of the will. Finally, though it wisely avoids any explicit religious references, the film portrays a world that bears a striking resemblance to a particular theological proposal regarding the relationship between God's sovereignty and human free will, namely open theism.
"Avatar: A Postmodern Pagan Myth" at Godawa.com (Accessed Mar 10, 2010), pp. 9-10.
As a postmodern multicultural narrative, Avatar suffers the condemnation of its own accusations. It’s attack on Western civilization and elevation of primitivism through the journey of the hero, is by its own multicultural standards, a “white savior” racist myth. It reinforces imperialist notions of scientifically ignorant primitives being saved from superior forces by a white man who is anointed above them (remember Jake’s transfiguration?), condescends to be one of them, and redeems them through his superior technological and cultural transcendence. As one political writer concluded: “The ethnic Na’vi, the film suggests, need the white man to save them because, as a less developed race, they lack the intelligence and fortitude to overcome their adversaries by themselves.”
Nathan Jacobson » Philosophical Moments from Caprica, Flash Forward, and Community.
Recently a number of philosophically arresting moments have managed to insert themselves into the television landscape. True to form, Ronald D. Moore and company continue to address contemporary political, philosophical, and religious questions in the alternate world of Caprica, territory he brilliantly charted in his groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica. If the pilot is any indication, Caprica promises to explore even more pointedly themes of religious and ethnic tolerance, terrorism, technology, and the nature of the soul. ABC's FlashForward, clearly aimed at continuing the legacy of Lost and retaining its audience, has somewhat disappointed so far, but has nonetheless woven several provocative existential questions into its narrative, including one powerful Sartrean moment in particular. On the comedic front, NBC's Community had the temerity to devote an episode to whether humanity is intrinsically good or evil, and did so superbly. I'll admit to being prone to vegging in front of the tube even when the viewing is less cerebral, but a couple of these moments had me off the couch cheering for the writers.
"Avatar and the Faith Instinct" at National Review Online (Dec 30, 2009).
Cameron wrote Avatar, says Podhoretz, “not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.” What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts. Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers. I’m certainly one of those cranky right-wingers, though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy. But what I find interesting about the film is how what is “pleasing to the most people” is so unapologetically religious.
director Larry Charles, writer Bill Maher (Thousand Words: 2008), 101 min.
If you consider a wide sampling of the reactions to Bill Maher's and Larry Charles' Religulous, two distinct themes emerge. On the one hand, reviewers consistently note that the filmmakers were deliberately manipulative in their survey of religion: in whom they chose to interview and feature, in asking baited questions, and finally, in their merciless splicing and dicing in the editing room. And so, not surprisingly, religious people come off as goofy, gullible, and worse. On the other hand, a number of reviewers note what they take to be an earnest search by Maher to understand people of faith. As Maher puts it himself at the outset, his quest is to understand how otherwise intelligent and rational people can continue to believe in fantasies like talking snakes and a virgin birth. It's a worthwhile question, and there are moments in the film when Maher displays some genuine curiosity about it. Nonetheless, these two observations about Religulous seem to be incompatible. And regrettably, by the end, it is clear that Maher and Charles set out not on a quest for understanding, but rather to proof-text their presumptions. Religulous is funny enough, and at times thought provoking. On the whole, however, Religulous is a "mockumentary". A hit-piece. It is a quest that begins with a predetermined destination in mind and manages to arrive there by scrupulously avoiding any detours that might have derailed the script.
Phillip E. Johnson, Adapted from Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.
People who only want unbiased, honest science education that sticks to the evidence are bewildered by the reception they get when they try to make their case. Their specific points are brushed aside, and they are dismissed out of hand as religious fanatics. The newspapers report that "creationists" are once again trying to censor science education because it offends their religious beliefs. Why is it so hard for reasoned criticism of biased teaching to get a hearing? The answer to that question begins with a Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee play called Inherit the Wind, which was made into a movie in 1960 starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly and Frederic March. You can rent the movie at any video store with a "classics" section, and I urge you to do so and watch it carefully… The play is a fictionalized treatment of the "Scopes Trial" of 1925, the legendary courtroom confrontation in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution. Inherit the Wind is a masterpiece of propaganda, promoting a stereotype of the public debate about creation and evolution that gives all virtue and intelligence to the Darwinists. The play did not create the stereotype, but it presented it in the form of a powerful story that sticks in the minds of journalists, scientists and intellectuals generally…