Friday, April 11, 2008

I Am Legend, Gridiron Gang, & Freedom Writers

In the recent weeks I will admit that I have been slacking off with my posting schedule. Class and work have been a little overwhelming. But that does not mean that I’ve not been thinking about the films I’ve been watching. We have seen a few remarkable films as of late.

I Am Legend – I remember seeing the preview for this film in the theatre before Ocean’s 13 and immediately I wanted to see the film. And yet, the film preview says little about the actual movie. I have had this fantasy since I was a kid about being able to go anywhere, into everyone’s homes and look around. If I was the only person left, where would I go? What would I do. I think that is what intrigued me about I Am Legend. In actuality, the film struck me as a strange cross between solitary and forgotten Tom Hanks character of Castaway and the cult classic from 1969, The Night of the Living Dead. Theologically what struck me about IAL was certainly the sacrifice of the one that many could live. Smith’s character becomes a sort of Christ figure through that sacrifice. One of the other keys themes centers in the topics of anthropology and what makes someone human. Without giving too much away, we are right to consider what are the quintessential marks of humanity, and without those marks, what do we become?

Freedom Writers & Gridiron Gang – Both films tackle the violent nature of inner city youth culture and how our society can train and educate these broken young men and women. Both are loosely based on true stories where one individual through personal sacrifices and dedication to these impoverished young people invests in them giving them hope. Gridiron Gang uses the football, still a violent sport, to inspire a team mentality to overcome the divisions of individualism and competing gang mentality. Freedom Writers overcomes the same challenges but through a more generous and caring self investment through their teacher played by Hillary Swank. Both are worthy films to explore how racism still divides us today and the violent nature of our youth culture. Gridiron Gang recalls both Coach Carter and Remember the Titans. While Freedom Writers recalls Stand & Deliver, Lean on Me, and most notably Higher Learning but also many others.

These films are needed reminders of our responsibility towards the other. In many ways, Freedom Writers is about calling and vocation. Swank’s character ends up divorcing her husband played by Patrick Dempsey as she has taken on 2 part-time positions to pay for supplies for her students that the district cannot or will not give her. But one of the key exchanges is his lack of understanding of what in many ways is played out like a calling upon her life. He selfishly fails to understand her commitment to these kids because they are not, from his perspective, her responsibility. The film suggests that these kids have been largely disowned by everyone who encounters them and she becomes the only one who invests her life into them from which a mighty change in their personal life is portrayed. The theme of vocation in a poignant scene with Swank’s father played by the grizzled Scott Glenn, that this calling is a burden upon her. Not that this weighs her down, but is her role to carry and fulfill. This is a beautiful image for the pastor and Christian in general. There is a certain burden and heaviness of life that comes with matters of faith, education, missions, and preaching. I have felt it as I prepare my lessons. I have felt it in my unworthiness and lack of knowledge. It defies casual understanding. She states that in this role, she feels most like who she was created to be. What a wonderful image and thought. For us, as Christians, utilizing our unique giftedness to care for and serve in God’s Kingdom, we will meet challenges but we will simultaneously becoming who we were meant to be in ways we cannot even fathom when we begin.