Sunday, February 19, 2012


Brandon, thanks for responding, as always.

John has already written a Facebook response to one of your points on DOGVILLE, and I tend to agree with him on it. The citizens of Dogville have rejected the concept of grace and Grace herself and exposed their vicious and morally reprehensible natures in the process. Grace, who is in control of their fate at the end, decides they do not deserve to live and should be wiped out. It sounds like you were looking for some New Testament style forgiveness, but this is Old Testament wrath all the way, baby. I can't blame you for wanting room for forgiveness or roundness to the characters, but I still feel that the film is deliberately exaggerated to serve its several functions and makes no pretense of being a character study. As I was mentioning, I think the film is part LVT prank, part Bertolt Brecht social critique/moral provocation, part Biblical allegory, part anything else you want to add. The characters are more symbolic than flesh and blood, but on purpose.

However, I do have to say that your WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and its bastard brethren comment is quite fair and something I don't think I have an argument against. The only reason I can give for why I like DOGVILLE but loathe other modern feel-bad cinema is that to me DOGVILLE is trying to be funny and provocative whereas something like KEVIN is just trying to rub your face in the dirt and pass it off as character study. Perhaps you don't see a difference between the two, but that's all I can come up with. Great point.

THE RETURN OF THE KING could have been higher and maybe should have been. I never know with these damn lists.

I'd love to call out some of the picks for your list, but I haven't seen most of them, for shame. It isn't that I don't have any love for SCHOOL OF ROCK, but only that I've never seen it. Nor WINGED MIGRATION nor VICTOR VARGAS. Sorry.

I've already expressed my, perhaps misguided, annoyance with FINDING NEMO. I don't know...I've never liked it.

I don't remember a single thing about MYSTIC RIVER. I should probably watch it again at some point.

Everything else we seem to agree on. I have forgotten most of CABIN FEVER except for its terrific ending, which has stayed with me all these years. That got it the honorable mention alone. There's probably room for it on my list if given another viewing.

ELF is wonderful, and I completely forgot about it until Chris wrote me a comment. I quickly added it to honorable mentions once I realized the mistake, but really I'm gonna go ahead and put it in the top 10. It rules, and I don't care what you have to say against it, Brandon Potter-Grinch-Scrooge.

Ben, I'm aware that LOST IN TRANSLATION has already caused a big stink on here before my time, and I'm not about to add to the smell. I actually worshiped it back when I saw it for the first time (I remember being really mad that Bill Murray lost the Oscar to Sean Penn–in fact, I still am; damn that Penn!). I tried watching it again a couple years ago, and it had lost something for me. I still like it, but not as much as I used to. Still, I can't fault you for liking it so much. Who cares what any of these other goons say.

For the rest of your picks, same problem as with Brandon's. Haven't seen THE BEST OF YOUTH, NORTHFORK, THIRTEEN, THIS GIRL'S LIFE, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, or SWIMMING POOL. And though I haven't seen any of these, I somehow managed to see ANGER MANAGEMENT, BRUCE ALMIGHTY, and TERMINATOR 3 instead. Ahh to be 14.

Just looking over a list of films released in 2003:

Any GIGLI or MALIBU'S MOST WANTED fans out there? Speak up.

I should have added INTOLERABLE CRUELTY to my honorable mention list. I found it funny, but haven't seen it in a while.

I slept through nearly all of HULK. Apparently so did everyone involved in making it. I watched the whole thing of DAREDEVIL. I wish I had been asleep instead.

BIKER BOYZ, anyone? AGENT CODY BANKS? HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett?

2003: an intrepid, trailblazing year for cinema.


  1. "It sounds like you were looking for some New Testament style forgiveness, but this is Old Testament wrath all the way, baby."

    I know that you're just using a common shorthand here. And I know that you weren't looking for any sermons thrown your way.

    But... the above perpetuates ignorance and (possibly more importantly in the current context) pisses me off.

    Jeff, it's been too long since you've read your Bible. The same God of the "old testament" is the God of the "new testament" and He hasn't suddenly become some big softie as revealed by/in Incarnation. 

    Re-read the Gospels and the Epistles (and Revelation) and you'll find lots of talk of judgment and vengeance. Re-read the Law and the Prophets and you'll find major strands of forgiveness/deliverance. Start singing the Psalms. It'd do you some good.

    I was going to point out that Dogville seems like a skewed re-telling of (one aspect of) the Christ story.

    "He came unto his own and his own received him not." 

    Then, within one generation, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in 70AD. By Jesus. As described (prophetically spoken/written) all over the NT. Days of Vengeance.

    If anything, in general, the NC brings the possibilities of greater wrath/judgments. Hebrews 10:26-31

    Put that in your non-bible-reading-Marcionite-assumptions-liberal-distorted-dispensationally-confused-Godspell-Superstar-wannabe pipe and smoke it 'til you're sick. Then, repent.

    By the way, tomorrow is International Pipe Smoking Day. Pipe party at my place.

    Keep in mind the fact that I still haven't seen Dogville. Nothing I say about it should carry any weight at all. I haven't really addressed the film at all, but peripheral barely-related concerns. Then again, you're the one who slipped bible club into film club this time. 

    I'm tired of letting things slide. I'm tired of people saying stupid things about the Bible, whatever side of the line they're on.

    [To be clear (because this is the Internet, after all), the above is written in love, as always. And playful always, even as I'm completely serious.]

    Peace out.

    1. I am actually reading The Bible right now. I'm in Leviticus and there are some very dense and intricate rules being laid down by God towards Moses and his people. But, I was also raised Christian, so I've read lots of The New Testament, though I haven't read it in a while so my memory isn't so good on it. How do you not draw a distinction between the representation of God in say Leviticus and God in the New Testament? If you don't draw a distinction then shouldn't you be strictly adhering to those laws laid down in the Old Testament just as strictly as you believe in the divinity of Christ? Not trying to "get" you or anything, just earnestly asking.

    2. I'm having trouble with blogger comments. Let's try this again...


      I'll try to answer your questions further sometime else. I knew that you were reading the bible (I remember talking in Autumn Leaves). Briefly, of course there is a distinction between Leviticus and the Epistle to the Romans (to take one for instance). The closest NT equivalent to Leviticus is probably Revelation, since both books essentially consist of lots of divine dictation. Saying that you have to distinguish between Leviticus and Romans doesn't mean much, though. You also have to make a distinction between Leviticus and Genesis and Leviticus and Ecclesiastes. Why is this a problem? Why would we want everything the same and simplified? Truth is multi-perspectival and so of course we get different perspectives on truth from within the canon. Also, Leviticus is clearly the background for much of the Gospel action. Leviticus is all over the NT. Jesus is constantly running into "unclean" folk. Instead of their uncleanness defiling him, he reverses the spread of death and makes these persons "clean." The entire ceremonial law is highly symbolic, a sort of liturgical drama. A lot of people read "unclean" as sinful and that's just wrong. Should I be strictly adhering to the laws in Leviticus as set down in Leviticus? That's a lot more complicated. My gut answer is, "Yes Absolutely, BUT these things have been fulfilled and transformed. "Strictly adhering" happens through union with Christ." Read The Letter to the Hebrews. Yes, there's been a radical change. But, the "ceremonial" law was never a universally binding rule for all time. Abraham could eat all of the pork he wanted. So can I. And I do. Yum. Pork. And, of course, nothing I wrote above ought to have suggested that I don't "draw a distinction." Yes, there is a "distinction." That doesn't mean that God's character has changed at all. As I've said, Leviticus undergirds all of the NT and is essential in understanding (one aspect of) the life/work/death of Jesus.

      Vern Poythress' Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses is available free online. I recommend it. Here's a snippet from a chapter on Hebrews:

      I'd also love to give you some lectures that treat Leviticus more in its original context and a little less typologically (though this element is undeniably true from a Christian perspective and has been a belief of all orthodox branches of the church for 2000 years now).

      My point above, though, was simply that there is a whole lot of wrath in the NT (and that contrasting the OT with the NT in this way is a gross caricature and, as you admit, a complete oversimplification). I probably shouldn't have even jumped on you for it, seeing that this is film club and not bible club, but I was irritable and felt provoked.

    3. No, you should have jumped at me, and I'm glad you did! Getting taken to task is important whenever necessary. Plus, it's helpful to be informed when wrong or when not fully understanding the depth of what I am referencing. Next time we hang, I want to pick your brain about some more of this stuff, and would be glad to listen to your lectures. Thanks for taking the time to set me straight :)

  2. Gotta say I disagree, John. The Old Testament is the torah; it's a completely different book. Out of curiosity, is the word Yahweh used in the New Testament at all? Jeff does have a point about the difference in God's behavior from Old to New Testament; seems like you're splitting hairs a bit.

    1. Of course you disagree, Chris. I'd expect no less.

      "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

      That includes you, my friend. You think that I'm woefully caught up in ancient hokum. I know that you suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

      Back to the matter at hand, there *may* be a difference in God's behavior, but there is no difference in his character.

      Also, strictly speaking, Torah is the five books of Moses, not the entire OT. If you want to use it to cover the entire OT (a term that any modern Jew would reject), then I'll just go ahead and use it to cover the entire canon, from Genesis to Revelation. The entire collection is God's revealed Law-Word. Profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Torah.

      As far as your YHWH question, I've heard quite a few different answers to that. I'm not sure if you'd be happy with any of them if you are already assuming a radical discontinuity. As I've hinted at above, though, there is a deep sense of continuity evidenced and presupposed in the NT.

      Anyhow, here's a quick response to your question: Jesus Christ is YHWH. (Yes, Jeff, this includes the giving of Leviticus. I think that if you have a "Red Letter" edition of the bible, then most of Leviticus should be in red ink. Then again, I think that Red Letter editions are stupid).

      Beyond that, Greek Jewish usage was to substitute KYRIOS for YHWH in the text (as the Hebrew ADONAI had been used before it). This usage is evidently sanctioned by its continued use throughout the NT. If it's good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me. Most English bible translations continue this trend and use LORD throughout the OT wherever the name YHWH is found.

      Here are a few links for some context (one from a Roman Catholic and one from a Reformed Baptist and one from Wikipedia(!), just to show that there is broad agreement on the issue:

      As far as splitting hairs, I do have a sexy new moustache. I need to get a photo up on FB soon.

  3. I have yet to incur the wrath of God...but you can grow a moustache and I can't, so maybe there's something to be said there.

    Right, God is God, there's no character change. But since Jeff and I view the Bible as a piece of literature and not the Holy Book, we view God as a fictional character. It was lazy for me to suggest the the Torah was the Old Testament. Definitely. So I'll rephrase, why are the five books of Moses in the Bible? In them, God makes a covenant with Moses saying that the Jewish people are the Chosen People. In the New Testament, Jesus says that you just need to believe that he is the son of God (which presents us with one of the main differences between Christians and Jews). "Sorry God pulled a 180 on you there, Jews!" More laziness, perhaps, but there's some truth to it.

    I would never deny the consistencies from the OT to the NT. If there were glaring holes between the two, perhaps less people would believe it. The people who wrote the Bible weren't stupid.

    I was raised a Methodist (but never paid too much attention at church), and then I took one class on the Bible in college; yes, I'm going to be a little ignorant on the subject (as is Jeff). And I'm glad you acknowledge that there's ignorance on both sides. But I'm not too ashamed of my ignorance, because at least I don't have a bastardized idea of the Bible while simultaneously calling myself a Christian. That's what annoys me most. You don't annoy me because you know your stuff and you're quiet about it.

    Loudmouth Christians suck. Loudmouth atheists can suck, too, so that's why we'll probably only have these kinds of conversations once a year.

  4. I'm going to sidestep your question about why the Pentateuch is in the bible (partly because I think that it's a weird question). I think it comes down to you assuming disorder and discontinuity again. I started writing a response and realized that I was rehearsing all of covenant history from creation to fall to each succeeding covenant. The short answer is that there is no conflict where you see conflict. Buy me a beer sometime and ask me the same question and I'll give you an earful. I'll briefly say now that the NT isn't doing anything that hadn't already been done several times in the OT (but it's also doing marvelously new things that had never been done before in this way). A new covenant always transforms and moves forward. Those who don't follow the forward momentum are screwed. Shemites (Noahic Covenant) become Hebrews (Abrahamic Covnenant) become Israelites (Mosaic Covenant) become Jews (Restoration Covenant) become, in the fullness of time, Christians (New Covenant).

    Not only are there no glaring holes, there is a satisfyingly coherent narrative.

    You're absolutely right to "view the Bible as a piece of literature." I can think of no greater literature. Seriously, the structural literary depths are astounding. (For example, The Gospel of Matthew. You don't have to buy all of Leithart's arguments. You should see, though, that there are abundant allusions and parallels, types and antitypes, and that the story here is rich. I suppose that the temptation would be to see all of this obvious structure and read it as fiction. But, that's silly. God is the master storyteller and we live in a storied world. Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker is probably still the best piece of literary criticism that I've ever read. You should read it.

    Instead of debating all of this haphazardly in the film club comments section, I'll make you and Jeff an offer (which you can both either take or refuse individually).

    I'll pick three books for you to read. You pick three books for me to read. We'll take self-maledictory oaths obliging us to read these books by the end of 2012. The three books I pick will be hand-picked with the intention of educating you about the bible. The three picks that you pick can be whatever you'd like (from Hitchens to Darwin to Proust to Faulkner). Of course, if you both take me up on this, it will be entirely unfair because I'll have to read six books while both of you are only reading three. I'm game if you are.

    The idea of a self-maledictory oath is serious so I don't know why I like to make it playful. Last year, I "covenanted" with some friends to read the entire bible in 90 days. If I failed? I had to run naked through the Ithaca Commons. I finished in the 90 days (I think it was 82 days), but I was totally prepared to be arrested and publicly humiliated for streaking should I fail.

    1. How about we start with one book instead of three?...for now. Would your pick be the Dorothy Sayers book?

      As far as me picking a book for you goes, I'm not exactly sure. I don't read atheist literature, and I don't really care what Christopher Hitchens or others have to say on the subject.

      I'm an atheist because I believe science has made and will continue to make God obsolete. I also have never felt any sort of presence of God in my life. Honestly, I prefer to read existentialist lit (Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus), but I'm not sure how much that would do to help our conversation here. What do you think?

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  6. I was waiting to see if Jeff would bite, but he's been silent.

    Mind of the Maker isn't my pick. It's an excellent book, but it's focus is on the creative process and our discussion is more generally about the bible, its contents and its literary structure.

    If I was forced to pick one book (on this topic), I'd pick James Jordan's Through New Eyes. This isn't a work of apologetics trying to convince you of anything. It's a work of biblical theology, outlining the symbolic language systems and narrative flow of the bible from within an orthodox Christian position.

    I'll seriously read whatever you'd like on any topic. I've read some Sartre and Nietczhe and a bit more Camus. In a sense, I am a fan of Existentialism and Theatre of the Absurd especially.