Category Archives: Movie Reviews

The Theology of Oz

Oz-The-Great-and-Powerful

The other night Karly and I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful. It was alright. The acting was disappointing, especially from James Franco. But the story was pretty good, if a little predictable. My wife, on the other hand, said it was one of the worst movies she’d ever seen—she’s a bit dramatic.

Anyway, you don’t care what I thought of the movie. I’m not Robert Ebert. I’m writing to ask whether anyone else picked up on the barely veiled protestant liberal theology that ran throughout the story? The dude who supposedly (though not really) descended from the heavens, has come to fulfill the prophecy, to overthrow the wicked witch and to restore Oz to its original glory.  Following the Christus Victor motif, which picked up steam among protestant liberals after the feminist movement of the 60s, the problem lies not within the good people of Emerald City, but in their need to be saved from the wicked witch. And in a classically protestant liberal move, that salvation is defined in terms of political liberty.

Oscar’s time in Oz begins with a sort of baptism in the river—protestant liberals are wont to follow Mark, telling the Jesus story beginning with his baptism and avoiding all that awkwardly miraculous stuff in the birth narratives—followed immediately by a night spent in the wilderness with the wicked witch, during which she almost succeeds in tempting him to turn away from his messianic vocation in favor of money and power. In a way analogous to Origen’s version of the ransom theory, the “atonement” happens in this story when Oscar bates the wicked which into “killing” him. But the trick’s on her, because she has only helped him to shuffle off his mortal coil so that he can be resurrected into an infinitely more powerful (and disembodied!) wizard. The resurrection is a hoax of course, but it accomplishes what is needed: that the good people of Emerald City come to believe.  After all, it’s ultimately their faith, not any objective change in reality that will reverse the power of evil.

All the while, Oscar’s own experience in Oz is one of struggling with his own identity and sense of vocation.

That story sound familiar to anybody else? Yawn.

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Top 11 List: Must See Films

Since I took the films page down, just thought I would make a list of some of my favorites. I tried to narrow it down to 10, but these are all just too good to be left out. I hope you’ll rent one or two and let me know what you think, and tell me about some of your favorite films.

Disclaimer: While most of these films, I think, provide for deep reflection on Christian theology and practice, none of them is exactly “family friendly” in content, so make sure you click the thumbnail to read up on the rating information before you choose your viewing audience.

The Apostle

The best example I know of characterization: Sonny (Robert Duvall) is a power and compassionate preacher with a bit of a violent streak. Like a real person, I still don’t know what to think of him.

Changeling

A spellbinding commentary on the corrupt manipulation of the powers of this world, and the mission of the Church.

Death at a Funeral

The British version. If you’re looking for a no-thought-necessary-comedy with a wild and unpredictable story, this is it!

The Education of Charlie Banks

H. G. Wells rightly assessed human history as “a race between education and catastrophe.” This gripping story is also a commentary on the relationship, on an individual level, between education and violence.

Half Nelson

“Simul justus et peccator,” writes Martin Luther, “we are at the same time both righteous and sinners.” Each of us is a mixed bag, capable of both great love and unspeakable evil. This film gives voice to the tension inside of each of us.

Humboldt County

Follows the lives of several people who are at different points along a spectrum of finding their way out of the lives they’ve been handed and forging their own paths. Reminiscent of Jesus’ story of a wealthy farmer who had two sons. However, it’s set on an off-the-grid pot farm in Northern California, so not for the kiddies.

Lars and the Real Girl

This is a beautiful and hilarious story of how a community surrounds someone gripped by what Mother Theresa once called the greatest poverty—loneliness.

Rachel Getting Married

A poignant and redemptive story of how addiction affects a family and of the road to recovery. Also, great music!

Sunshine Cleaning

A whimsical story of redemption.

The Virgin Suicides

A story about the interconnectivity of human experience and the consequence of our choices.

Wristcutters: A Love Story

The story of an afterlife populated by suicides, Wristcutters unwittingly is a caricature of the kind of radical anti-eschatology that views the world as it is—depending on who we experience it—as both heaven and hell.

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