Archive for July, 2006
Last week The Mink recommended a movie from a couple years ago that I’d never seen: Stage Beauty, starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes. We watched it, I liked it, and Porpoise mostly liked it, even though it’s a period film. Other than that, it’s a movie that’s hard to classify: not entirely comedy, not entirely drama. It’s too enjoyable for an “artsy” film, too high quality to be mere star-driven fluff. It raises gender issues and deals with them in interesting (and intentionally incomplete) ways, but above all, it’s a paean to acting.
The period in question is the Restoration (Rupert Everett gets to don a huge wig for the role of Charles II). Real historical personages such as Nell Gwyn and Samuel Pepys (pronounced “Peeps”) make significant appearances, but don’t expect the movie to be an accurate historical representation of the 1660s. The filmmakers know what makes a narrative, and they’ve gone for it, whether it matches “fact” or not.
Stage Beauty’s main character, Ned Kynaston, was indeed a real actor, one famous for playing women’s roles. The movie begins by showing him at the height of his popularity, and then follows the reversal of his fortunes as Charles II decrees that men shall no longer play women’s roles upon the public stage. Ironically, Kynaston’s love-stricken dresser Maria (Danes), who copies his every gesture and inflection, ends up usurping his role as Desdemona.
The fascinating thing here, and the thing that makes this movie rise above a simplistic celebration of “girl power,” is that Maria can’t actually act. Not in the highly stylized 17th-century method, nor in what we today would recognize as “realistic” acting. When Kynaston, desperate to continue acting, first tries a man’s role, he can’t do it either. Many of the movie’s reviews imply that Maria and Kynaston end up teaching each other how to be a real woman and a real man. Wrong. They do teach each other to be better people, but most of all, they teach each other to be better actors, to create something beautiful out of what they’re given.
From what I’ve seen, a lot of reviews just don’t get Stage Beauty. Even the NY Times’ A.O. Scott, whose writing I love, is completely off: “And just as the theater is cured of its perverse affectations and artificialities, so Ned, once he shares the stage (and his bed) with a real woman, is straightened out. He is turned from a fascinating, changeable creature into a regular guy, and in satisfying itself with this outcome, the movie spoils some of its beauty.”
Nope. The movie is not really about Ned Kynaston shifting from a homosexual to a heterosexual identity. The very last lines of the movie could tell you that. Maria asks Kynaston, “Who are you now?” and he replies, “I don’t know.” Smiles, and repeats, “I don’t know.” He doesn’t know who he is, but he’s discovered that he still has a place in the world, and that’s enough. During these lines, Maria and Kynaston, hands linked, are pushing back and forth gently, creating a tension in their arms that keeps them upright. It’s half-wrestling, half-dancing, and it speaks volumes about the delicate balance of identity between the two. It’s a balance they’ve created not just as “man” and “woman,” but as two individuals who strive to create beauty out of limited resources.
The best Stage Beauty review I’ve read comes from Salon.com’s Stephanie Zacharek (and her piece is more like an essay than a review, so of course I would like it, since that’s my style as well).
Crudup and Danes do a marvelous job in their respective roles. Crudup has a chameleon-like ability to change his appearance and mannerisms based on his apparel. Of course, he never really looks like a woman, but you can see why 17th-century audiences would be willing to accept him as one. And Dormouse and I have agreed that he pretty much personifies our ideal of masculine beauty (and I imagine that’s part of why he was cast).
Stage Beauty is pretty bawdy, as Restoration-era anything tends to be, but sometimes the bawdiness isn’t just there for humor, but rather to underscore that identity confusion isn’t all playful “performativity”; it can be painful, too.
Oh, and I do need to mention that Samuel Pepys gets some of the best lines in the movie. Pepys seeks to reassure Kynaston that some of his best roles have been as women-playing-men (Rosalind, Viola, etc.), and Kynaston launches into a speech: “You know why the man stuff seemed so real? Because I’m pretending. You see a man through the mirror of a woman through the mirror of a man. You take one of those reflecting glasses away it doesn’t work. The man only works because you see him in contrast to the woman he is. If you saw him without the her he lives inside, he wouldn’t seem a man at all.” Pepys gets a rather blank look on his face and hastily replies, “Yes. Well. You’ve obviously thought longer on this question than I.”
Apparently Stage Beauty was a play before it was a movie, which is probably part of why I like it, and part of why it works so well as an ode to theater. Thanks to Mink for recommending it!
July 30th, 2006
Dormouse and I went to see The Devil Wears Prada this afternoon (without the accompaniment of Porpoise, because he finds Anne Hathaway “disturbing to look at for an extended period of time”).
The general critical consensus has been that Meryl Streep is stunning as Miranda Priestly (Supreme Meanie editor of Runway magazine), and that the fashion is drool-worthy, but that the rest of the movie is fairly mediocre.
As far as the fashion, Dormouse and I spent much of the movie whispering “Eww! What is that?” back and forth, so no doubt it’s haute couture (a.k.a. ugly).
Streep is fun to watch, and not just because she plays overbearing and snide with flair, but also because she adds a few more complex layers to Priestly. She’s not just evil. As Priestly’s assistant Andy Sachs (Hathaway) points out during the movie, Miranda’s demanding personality wouldn’t even be an issue if she were a male editor. She would simply be judged by the quality of her work. Priestly does at least make choices and take responsibility for her choices.
Andy, however, as she is drawn further into Priestly’s orbit, keeps telling herself “I have to do this” (as in, “I have to answer my cell phone even when my boss calls me fifty times a day” or “I have to miss my boyfriend’s birthday party when my boss wants me to assist her at a Runway party”). Priestly does at least teach Andy that she is constantly making choices, that no one is forcing her to do anything.
However, half the time, the movie seems to want to punish Andy not for failing to take responsibility, but for caring too much about her career. None of her other friends—not her chef boyfriend, not her artist best friend—seems to struggle with balancing work and personal life. It only seems to matter for Andy because the time-consuming career she’s chosen is fashion—and possibly because she’s female. Dormouse pointed out during the movie that no one would question Andy’s need to devote time to her job if she were in med school.
Now, I’m not a person who wants a fast-paced, time-consuming career, because I just couldn’t handle it. I can’t produce good work without a fair amount of play. But neither do I think someone who is more naturally suited to a demanding job should be scorned for that. Whether or not Andy is suited for such a demanding career isn’t a question that The Devil Wears Prada really deals with. Instead, when she makes the simple “right” decision and walks away from Runway, she is “rewarded” by getting her boyfriend (and his grilled-Jarlsberg sandwiches) back in her life.
The movie was entertaining, but it didn’t leave me that much to write about. Maybe Dormouse and K can chip in.
July 29th, 2006
Last night I drove to Irish dance practice, listening to NPR as usual. And lo, as I was seconds away from my destination, they began a story about a medieval Psalter just recently discovered in an Irish peat bog (see the same story as reported in the Washington Post). What could I do but intentionally drive past my turn and meander around side-streets until the story was over?
In case you don’t already know, I’m a nut for the medieval history of Ireland and the British Isles, particularly for hagiography (stories about saints’ lives). Kind of a weird obsession, I know. It began, naturally, when I discovered stories about saints and otters.
The best otter tale is that of the seventh-century St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne: for that one, I refer you to the Venerable Bede.
But there’s actually a saint-and-otter story that directly relates to Psalters and bodies of water. Celtic Christian monks often prayed standing in cold water, to keep themselves awake. One day St. Kevin (“Coemgen” in the inscrutable Gaelic spelling) was praying in a lake at Glendalough when he accidentally dropped his psalter into the water, and the book “sank some distance in it; and the angel came to help him. Thereupon an otter came bringing him his book in its mouth.”
Hurrah! I love it that the angel uses an otter to help Kevin out. Smart angel.
Anyway, whatever careless 9th- or 10th-century monk dropped his book in a peat bog clearly didn’t have any otters around (as far as I know, otters don’t hang out in peat bogs).
I’m disappointed that the news articles about this amazing find don’t mention other great archeological finds from Irish peat bogs, such as the victim of the “triple death.” The so-called Lindow Man, found in an Irish bog, gave proof to the theory that, for the ancient Celts, sometimes killing a person once wasn’t enough. Instead, he had to have his head clubbed, his throat slit, and be drowned. Sometimes I consider reviving the good old triple death tradition for people who particularly irritate me.
Anyway, the other important thing many articles fail to mention (but which the NPR report included!) is that the Psalm legible in this 20-page Psalter is Psalm 84 in the old Vulgate numbering. All Protestant and most current Catholic translations use the Hebrew numbering system, and thus this will probably appear in your Bibles as Psalm 83. A shame, in a way, because Psalm 84 is a much “nicer” Psalm. Psalm 83 is all about vengeance against God’s enemies. It does make me wonder why this particular Psalm was so important that it appeared in its own book (since books were still so costly, many monks simply memorized the Psalms). Perhaps our Irish monks were afraid of the Vikings, who began to attack monasteries during this time?
July 27th, 2006
I usually don’t write about politics on The Ottery, for several reasons: (1) The Ottery is my outlet for fun. Politics aren’t much fun. (2) I don’t want to draw the attention of Internet trolls. (3) I don’t want to alienate my current friends and readers, because it’s pretty certain that whenever I take a position, someone’s going to disagree with me. Disagreement is great. But, so many times, I’ve seen online political disagreement disintegrate into name-calling. I don’t want that, and I don’t think that my readers would either.
So, with that in mind, I offer the following links not only as political commentary, but as an expression of humanitarian concern, accompanied by some interesting spiritual reflections.
The topic is Israel’s recent war against Lebanon. Whomever you side with, I’m sure that most of you are saddened by this most recent, most bloody, outbreak of Middle East violence. I’m particularly troubled by the death toll among Lebanese civilians.
I offer for your reading two short editorials on Christianity Today’s web site, both written by Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. The first piece challenges unthinking pro-Israel sentiment among evangelical Christians; the second challenges our impression of Hezbollah (while not at all condoning its terrorist actions), as well as our interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable.
May we learn to see the situation truly and clearly, and may the bloodshed soon cease.
July 26th, 2006
My parents picked up their new Sheltie puppy yesterday morning. His name, in case you haven’t read, is Tirian (from C.S Lewis’s The Last Battle). He’s apparently a pretty strong-willed little guy, but also very affectionate. Not to mention adorable.
Proud big sis has to share Tirian’s photo with all and sundry:
Looks just like me. Big nose, big feet . . . well, okay, I guess the resemblance ends there.
July 25th, 2006
This week one of our Netflix selections was the DVD of bonus material for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Given our obsession with adopting Georgie Henley (no luck there yet), we most enjoyed a short documentary focusing on the children playing Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
Director Andrew Adamson had good taste: he said he knew, as soon as he saw Georgie’s audition tape, that she would be Lucy. Why, then, did she and the three other children (not to mention their unsuccessful competitors) have to spend a year and a half in the audition process before casting decisions were made? I mean, sure, you want to make sure that you’re not getting obnoxious little child actors, but a year and a half? That’s torture for any child. They could have spent that time getting a head start on Prince Caspian, which is due to be released an eternity from now. Georgie may be a teenager before they get to my favorite book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Speaking of casting children for adaptations of fantasy books, many of you have probably already heard that the movie of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass will star a little girl named Dakota. Not Fanning. Her full name is Dakota Blue Richards, and there are no images of her available on the Internet.
The more interesting Golden Compass news is that Nicole Kidman may be joining the cast as Mrs. Coulter (ah, but will her golden lion tamarin be as charming as a certain undead monkey?). Several sources say this rumor is “confirmed,” but IMDB still lists her connection as “rumored.” The same goes for Paul Bettany, who may or may not be playing Lord Asriel. Anyway, I thought Jillian and Dormouse would be very happy about these rumors.
I’m really enjoying the fact that I can talk about Lewis-based and Pullman-based movies in the same post. Because, as you may know, Pullman hates Lewis. His famous 1998 essay “The Dark Side of C.S. Lewis” critiques Lewis for filling The Chronicles of Narnia with Christian didacticism . . . and yet The Amber Spyglass, the third installment of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is one of the most didactic bits of twentieth-century fiction I’ve ever read. It just happens to be atheist (or perhaps satanic, in the technical sense, would be more accurate) didacticism. The characters kill God because he’s a Fascist. Pullman says that it’s a cheap trick for Lewis to “kill off” his characters in The Last Battle and assert that they’re all right because they’ve gone to heaven, yet Pullman kills his characters off and then asserts that they’re all right because they’ve disintegrated into happy little dust particles.
I could go on and on about how silly Pullman’s critique of Lewis is, but instead I’ll refer you to Alan Jacobs’ Lewis biography The Narnian. Jacobs is also very familiar with Pullman, and, like me, he was intrigued with The Golden Compass because of its vivid alternate-world creation. (Porpoise and I were reading the Pullman books at approximately the same time that Jacobs was, so we were able to trade reactions as our disappointment grew with The Subtle Knife and finally The Amber Spyglass.) If you don’t have time to check out The Narnian, take a look at Michael Nelson’s article from The Chronicle Review.
On a completely different note, but one still related to my original topic of casting rumors, a movie adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (which I know nothing about, except what I’ve read on Amazon) is set to star Eric Bana as Henry VIII, Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, and (possibly) Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn. Wow—that’s a lot of pretty people in one movie. Eric Bana as Henry VIII? Kind of hard to picture. Not much rotundity there. Also, since Bana is 6’3”, Portman is 5’3”, and Johansson is 5’4”, I’m imagining that a lot of scenes featuring between either of the sisters and their love are going to have to be carefully angled to make up for a foot of height difference. Heels can only do so much. But, hey, hurrah for casting petite people!
July 22nd, 2006
Mama Chipmunk just sent me clippings from their county newspaper, The Lovely County Citizen. Among them was this gem of a photo, which is now hanging up in my office:
(For a larger view, go to the Lovely County Citizen page and scroll down past the nuns–no, I’m not kidding.)
In other important local news, Ronald McDonald has been stolen from the Eureka Springs McDonald’s. The police blotter avers that the culprit is not the woman who stole baby Jesus from the town nativity scene last Christmas.
I miss Arkansas.
July 20th, 2006
A search for Irish-saint dog names led me to a Sheltie blog with the following terrible, delightful wordplay (see Presto Dog for the full list):
The following breeds are now recognized by the AKC:
Collie + Lhasa Apso = Collapso, a dog that folds up for easy transport
Pointer + Setter = Poinsetter, a traditional Christmas pet
Great Pyrenees + Dachshund = Pyradachs, a puzzling breed
Pekingese + Lhasa Apso = Peekasso, an abstract dog
Irish Water Spaniel + English Springer Spaniel =Irish Springer, a dog fresh and clean as a whistle
Labrador Retriever + Curly Coated Retriever =Lab Coat Retriever, the choice of research scientists
Newfoundland+ Basset Hound =Newfound Asset Hound, a dog for financialadvisors
Bloodhound + Labrador= Blabador, a dog that barks incessantly
July 19th, 2006
The world may be in turmoil, but today I’ve been bouncing up and down in glee (when not reading the news): Pop Otter and Mama Chipmunk are getting a Sheltie puppy next week. Even though I’m a thousand miles away, I’m thrilled about my new little “brother.”
This 13-week-old male puppy will need a name, and I am hereby opening The Ottery for suggestions. Preference given to Lord of the Rings or saints’ names, but I think we’re especially inclined towards names that have something to do with Easter. To understand why, you need to know the story of how we got our previous Shelties. I’ve enlisted Pop Otter to tell the story from his perspective, since he’s become quite accustomed to telling it from the pulpit.
So, without further ado, here’s Pop Otter:
A Shetland Sheepdog does not just wag its tail, but its whole body. It is the best picture of joy that I know. Mama Chipmunk and I are about to acquire our fifth wagger, every one a gift from God.
Our first was Rowsby Woof, who came to us in 1978 and on whom we practiced our parenting skills before the arrival of the Otter. Rowsby was beautiful, although not so stunningly so as the male Shelties in our lives. She was cute, but not so overwhelmingly so as the other female we have owned. What she had above the others was a clever quirkiness and inventiveness that filled our days with funny stories. I will spare you for now. Be careful that you have some time when you ask.
Pippin was our next Sheltie, a beautiful, beloved, high-spirited puppy, a constant delight and a constant challenge. He welcomed each day with zest and joy, and he was determined not to let things sink into the humdrum.
On a December morning, I was in the back yard playing with Pippin, when I heard a distressed call from the front of the house. Mama Chipmunk and Otter had just discovered that a vandal had thrown rocks through our car window during the night. I came through the yard gate, and Pippin came bolting right behind me, ran straight to the street, and attacked the first moving vehicle he saw head on. He died at the vet’s office. He wasn’t yet one year old.
We were crushed. A church friend gave us some money toward our next dog, but we were not ready.
During Holy Week that following spring, Otter, age 8 in human years, came to me and said, “I have been praying that Pippin would be raised from the dead.”
Gulping a bit, I asked, “And what do you think will happen in answer to your prayer?”
She replied, “It says in the Bible if you have faith that you will get what you ask for.”
“Yes, it does,” I replied, “and I believe what the Bible says, but sometimes the answer comes in a different time or a different form from what we expect.”
“Oh, I know that. I think that it will come in the form of puppies.”
I noticed that she used the plural and wondered about it. It was a busy week, and I didn’t get around to telling Mama Chipmunk about the conversation, but the Sunday after Easter, Mama Chipmunk came home with a nice cash gift from a church member who had said, “This is not a gift for the church, or for a ministry, or for anything you need. This is a gift for your family for something useless that you would all enjoy together.”
Mama Chipmunk said, “I can’t think of anything that fits better than to start a puppy fund.”
She started to put the money in a covered bowl on a shelf. When she opened the bowl, she found the money we had put there as an emergency fund for the house sitter when we went on vacation the summer before. It exactly doubled the fund. I reminded her of the previous gift. We were close to having enough money to buy a Sheltie puppy. Tuesday evening, we were on the way out of the house to go to a school program and the phone rang. It was the breeders from Cabot, AR, who had sold us Pippin. “We heard what happened to your dog, and we would like to help. We have two puppies that we can’t sell to our usual customers. One is oversize and the other is undersize. We would like to give you your choice. Could you come look at them?”
We made arrangements to go to their house after the school program. There I watched Mama Chipmunk falling in love with the feisty little female and Otter falling in love with the affectionate big male. I said, “Could you give us a few weeks to complete payment for the one you don’t give us, but not tell us which one you give us and which one we buy?” They agreed. Then I thought, “Puppies! Just what Otter prayed for, and they could only have come from God.”
The puppies, very quickly named after favorite Lord of the Rings characters Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, chose to spend their first night by the pantry, and Otter chose to spend the night on the floor with the answers to her prayer.
Otter’s editorial note: I remember thinking that maybe they would miss their littermates, and so I tried to make them less lonely. My thought process was undoubtedly influenced by having been called “the bald puppy” when I was a baby, and having heard the dogs referred to as “the fuzzy children” all my life.
A further “coincidence”: when we got Tom’s and Goldberry’s paperwork, we discovered that they were born on Mama Chipmunk’s birthday.
Tom and Goldberry never had as much pizzazz as Pippin, but they were our most affectionate Shelties. They loved people and would drag us across the street to greet anyone they knew and trusted, including small children! Adding to affection, Goldberry mastered “cute,” while Tom worked on “regal.” But, throughout their lives, they were for us signs that Jesus knew where we lived. And they have reminded us that life in Christ is a constant adventure in which we may and must trust our living Lord through cross and loss, through resurrection and victory.
Christmas 1989 was quite different from Christmas 1988. Our canine tokens of God’s grace outshone all the packages.
Puppies may seem a small subject to gain the attention of the Lord of the universe, but it is through small subjects that Jesus builds the faith that changes the world.
Time has passed, and the scenes have changed. Goldberry died of a heart condition in 1999, and Tom followed in 2003. Since then, Mama Chipmunk and I have been waiting for the right time for a new puppy. It’s been our longest Sheltie-less period since 1978, and we’ve sorely missed our canine companions.
This Monday, our day off, I decided to call a well-known Sheltie breeder who lives less than two hours from us, intending merely to establish a relationship and look ahead to a future puppy, one that did not meet their show standards and would be available at family pet prices. When the owner said that they happened to have an over-sized male puppy available, my heart was flooded with memories of that earlier oversized male Tom. Then the owner said that the puppy’s father, when not using his formal name, was called “Thomas.” We made arrangements to visit that very day. Mama Chipmunk had been more inclined toward a smaller female. But three things happened: (1) The puppy was at the vet’s when we arrived, and so we had to play with the older dogs which included the puppy’s currently high-flying sire and another male, a recently retired Westminster Best of Breed. The dogs turned out to be delightful and well adjusted pets as well as famous dog royalty. (2) The puppy arrived and proceeded to work the famous Sheltie puppy heart-melting routine. (3) One of the owners mentioned that the puppy was born on Easter Sunday.
Sold! We plan to pick the puppy up next Monday.
By the way, the Westminster winner that we just met has the odd habit of wagging up and down rather than side to side. Our whimsical Creator does something unique each time around. As we drove home from the breeder’s, my eyes several times filled with tears of joy, and those who know me well know that this is not a frequent occurrence. Dogs may seem a frivolous luxury characteristic of a spoiled, prosperous culture, but they have been far more than that for me. I have learned much about God and life through our dogs.
July 18th, 2006
I had high hopes for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, just recently released on DVD. It had won Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Tommy Lee Jones) at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Plus, I really like Tommy Lee Jones’ previous acting work, especially in The Fugitive and Men in Black: he excels at playing law-men who have a tendency to take “justice” to excess. Whenever I listen to my Les Miserables CDs, I think I picture Tommy Lee Jones’ face singing Javert’s lines. In The Three Burials, he not only stars, but also directs his first feature film, bringing to the screen a story that he envisioned and enlisted Guillermo Arriaga to write.
But the single most compelling reason I wanted to see The Three Burials was that I’d read a review comparing it to Flannery O’Connor. Reviewer Josh Hurst writes, “you’d swear Jones had uncovered the great lost Flannery O’Connor story and turned it into a movie.” Okay, I said, I’m in.
Hurst also writes, “As the title implies, Three Burials is a movie about death, but, more than that, it’s a movie about friendship, grace, justice, and above all redemption.” Them’s my themes. Say nothing more.
My verdict after having watched the film? The Three Burials has some powerful moments, but it doesn’t entirely work for me, on its own or on Flannery O’Connor’s terms.
The film’s other theme is the Texas-Mexico border, and it may be even more timely now than when it came out, as a result of the fierce illegal-immigration debate. I would be thrilled if people who support super-strict border patrol would see The Three Burials and begin to question their position—but it’s probably unlikely that many of such folks would watch the film. And those who do will probably be turned off by the somewhat one-dimensional characterization of the border patrol.
Now, as someone who’s spent a lot of time in Latin American literature, culture, and theology classes, I’m inclined to distrust and dislike the border patrol/la Migra anyway. So, for me, the characterization of violent border patrolman Mike Norton, who, we learn early on, killed Melquiades Estrada, fits all too easily with my own stereotypes. Much of the first half-hour of the film is devoted to making sure we dislike Mike: he beats up Mexicans trying to cross the border, he reads Hustler on the job, he sexually uses/abuses his wife.
And this is actually where The Three Burials diverges from Flannery O’Connor: many of O’Connors main characters are depraved sinners, but they, to all outward appearances, are “good country people.” Their sins are sins of the mind, most often sins of pride. By the end of the story, a grotesque epiphany reveals to them the extent of their own corruption.
You dislike O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpins and Raybers and Asburys, but you are also forced to uncomfortably recognize yourself in them. In contrast, Mike is made out to be such a monster that we judge him from on high. This, for me, is the main reason that The Three Burials fails.
The film does improve somewhat once Pete (Tommy Lee Jones’ character), determined to avenge his friend Melquiades’ death, kidnaps Mike and takes him on a journey across the border to bury Melquiades. This means, since Melquiades has already been buried (after Mike had left him out in the open to rot for several days), that Pete makes Mike dig up the body. They ride across Texas and Mexico accompanied by a decomposing corpse.
I didn’t mind that so much, since I was prepared to accept O’Connor-esque bizarreness. Nor did it bother me that Pete, as Porpoise pointed out, was just a tad crazy. You’d expect that of an agent of justice and grace. Because, you see, by the end of the movie, it becomes clear that somehow Pete’s mission has changed from retribution to redemption. He’s an agent of hard grace, grace that shows people their ugliness and makes them change.
However, because Mike has been made out to be so inhuman, it’s hard to believe that he does genuinely change. Again, we’re back to that central flaw of the movie.
The Three Burials, for Jones, was inspired by the real-life murder of Esequiel Hernandez by U.S. Marines in 1997. Now, if I were using this event as my basis, I too would have been so enraged that I would have had trouble depicting the murderers as three-dimensional characters. I just couldn’t have done it. I don’t know if that’s the reason for the Mike-characterization-problem, but it seems plausible to me.
Jones has said that The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is about “the mechanics of faith.” I can see how that was the intent. For me, though, faith, in a story about judgment and grace, necessitates being able to see my own rottenness. And that doesn’t happen here. I just feel righteous indignation.
P.S. To be fair, I may have also had difficulty with The Three Burials because it features gratuitous animal death. Two coyotes and a mule. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it.
July 15th, 2006