Salty Air

The air is lighter, takes on a friendlier quality here. 

The ocean peaks over the low-rising building roofs, sending it’s stream of healing sea air

There is salt in the air particles; but the air feels cleaner, purer, ALIVE.

The sun beats down, but instead of pounding the earth below, it’s a more gentle pat on the shoulder.

This place feels like home. It’ll be home for good, even as the years continue to fade away, deeper into history.

San Clemente will always be home.

"Silence": And Questions of Faith and Suffering

Note: This post will feature light spoilers.

“Silence,” the latest effort from Martin Scorsese is, first and foremost, a masterpiece. The filmmaker’s incredible skill for mining dramatic character moments is in full display here, as the story follows the story of two Jesuit priests on a mission to Japan. Their job isn’t primarily to share the gospel, but to find and retrieve their mentor, Father Ferreira, who they hear has apostatized from the faith. The film follows the harrowing journey of the two, Father Rodriguez and Gruppe, who find themselves amongst Japanese villagers who follow Christ in secret. 

They worship at night, quietly, to avoid drawing the attention of the Japanese inquisitors, who ruthlessly hunt down Christians and brutally torture and murder them for their faith. Those who were willing to deny their faith in Jesus were compelled to step on a bronze image of the Christ, and to spit on crosses as an act of rejection. This is a fairly common occurence, until the arrival of the priests, whose presence draws the extra attention of the inquisitors. These Christian hunters eventually capture the priests, and punish the villagers mercilessly in front of them. They offered to spare the lives of these Japanese believers, only if the priests apostatize, and deny their Christ. The film depicts in graphic detail the emotional and spiritual struggle that these priests go through. It is a sobering story of the cost of faith, and the suffering that may come from persecution. There is one scene in this film that left me sobbing openly, the powerful images on the screen hitting very, very close to home for me, as a Christian.

Without delving too much more deeply into the plot, however, I wanted to point out some key questions the film asks. At what point should you deny your faith to save your followers/others? Will denying Christ by word not matter, if your heart still believes? Can one be forgiven if he denies Christ?

———

In attempting to answer this, I admit to needing so much grace to be able to live this out in my own life. I also need to give the assist to John Piper for this answer, and the double assist to my friend Luke, for sending me this article. Piper addresses the question of “if [you deny Jesus] to save our life, even though we don’t mean it, is it punishable?” He cites Matthew 10 here:

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)

Jesus seems to make it very clear, here. When this situation plays out on film, Scorcese’s use of internal monologue and dialogue really emphasizes what a difficult question this is to answer. Essentially, the Father Rodriguez resists the call to deny Christ; this denial, however, directly correlates with the torture of his fellow Christians, right before his very eyes. They ask, would you not make the sacrifice, and deny your Jesus, to save the lives of your fellow Christians?

What does one do then?

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

No, it would appear that not even your own flesh and blood is more worthy than Jesus. To deny him may somehow save your earthly life, but would lead an even more fearful spiritual death.

———

In the film, there is a villager who denies Christ to save his life, only to repent and ask for forgiveness. But we see in the film that this initial decision to deny Christ follows him for the rest of his days, a never-ending specter that continues to haunt him.

I would propose that a denying of Christ is symptomatic of a heart that is proud. An overwhelming desire to live on, for family, for friends, to accomplish more in the world while alive, is to deny God his mysterious power. It is a self-facing decision: I am too important to die for Christ; I’m too important for my family to lose me. 

Conversely, a life devoted to Christ fully may say this instead: I am not essential; only God can fully take care of my family, can do his work in spite of me and without me.

“Silence” invites viewers to sit closely to the idea of denying one’s faith. It is an utterly uncomfortable experience, by design. It delivers emotional gravitas to the decisions that the characters make. We are left feeling cathartic joy and sheer despondence all at once, as we witness the characters making their choices. I think that Christians who watch this film will not come away from the experience unchanged. I think that “Silence” is one of the most important films about Christianity and faith in a long, long time.

I finally watched "The Godfather"

I’m going to start with a crazy, crazy confession: I had never seen the Godfather, start to finish, before today. Nuts. I had a friend in college who loved the series and would have it on the TV from time to time, but I never was able to sit through the entire thing without nodding off or deciding to make my second packet of instant noodles of the day.

Today, as part of a series of Film Camps my friend Mike and I have been embarking on, I finally was able to view the film from start to finish. Below are a few impressions:

The Earned Beats

Coppola is a master at the craft of cinema. Here, it is eternally evident. There was not a single emotional moment, not a single line of dialogue, not a single murder scene, that did not earn itself. Every character we come across in this film had importance to the plot. The audience is given ample time to understand their motivations, and the reasons they act the way they do. This was a breath of fresh air to me, after a year of blockbusters that had messy plots (Suicide Squad), even murkier character motivations (Batman Vs. Superman), and a lack of earned emotional beats (Midnight Special, the two aforementioned films, and a host of of others, etc. etc. etc.) There isn’t action, for action’s sake, in this film. It is all purposeful. The Godfather is very easily now one of my all-time favorite films because of this.

The Look of the Movie

I mean look at this shot!

I mean look at this shot!

Oh, that look. That deliciously cinematic look! I watched the Coppola Restoration version of this film on blu-ray, and wow, did it look pretty. The film retains a lot of its natural grain, and the colors and dynamic range of the film footage is gorgeously done. It sends you, delightfully, right back into 1940's New York. Film-shot movies from before the 21st century always, always carry this inherent, whimsical magic to them, and this version of the Godfather charmed this new viewer to no end. I’m fairly certain I audibly gasped once or twice at just how beautiful this thing looked. So enthralled was I, that I just had to look up some background on this particular version and found that these films had been preserved and restored to their original, theatrical versions by film preservationist Robert A. Harris.

“The final product, which the studio is calling “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration,” combines bits and pieces of film recovered from innumerable sources, scanned at high resolution and then retouched frame by frame to remove dirt and scratches. The color was brought back to its original values by comparing it with first-generation release prints and by extensive consultation with Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, a cinematographer (“E.T.”) who is also a leading historian of photographic technology.”

I am such a NERD about these kinds of things. He had to hunt down tons of different prints of this movie to make this happen? Wow. I wish this much care was demonstrated for all other all-time classic films. This film is a treasure, and this blu-ray release gives the viewer an offer you can't refuse. I’m so glad I have now watched it all the way through.

 

 

Some (Good) Things That Changed in 2016

Below are a collection of random thoughts at 2:30 in the morning, on a sleepless night, on the eve of 2017. Below are a few things that changed for me in 2016, assembled in no order in particular.

  • I took a few social media breaks. In the past, it would be a weekend without Facebook here and there, but I’d remain logged in on Twitter, my favorite platform of choice. This year, I abandoned even Twitter for a spell. And you know what? It was quite nice.
  • Movies weren’t so good this year, but there were a few really good ones mixed in there. Jackie maybe will stick with me the most this year, emotionally. Rogue One was the most profoundly disappointing. The rest were just bad… some of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time. (That’s right, I’m looking right into your cold, heartless eyes, Suicide Squad)
  • I became a grad school student. At this time a year ago, that was not on my radar at any stretch. 
  • I became a church staff member. At this time a year ago, that was not on my radar at any stretch. 
  • In fact, it was an abandoned dream… a dream I thought had been trampled by circumstance and trial. But God had much better, far more appropriate plans for my life. As always.
  • 2016 was actually a really good year for me. I am very grateful.
  • I became less interested in having the latest and greatest in tech, but instead, focused on the tech that works best for me.
  • I can’t remember the last time a new record charged me and ignited my heart. Music hasn’t been so good these days, and that bums me out.
  • Filmed a short with my friends yesterday. After a molasses-like week of staring idly at a screen, that was great.
  • It's A Wonderful Life. I watched it twice this Christmas season, and wept and wept both times. Because of this scene. You know, the one:

"I want to live again. Please God. Let me live again."

Oh yeah. By the way. I think God is in the business of restoration. Been thinking about Ezekiel 37. The dry bones came to life because God willed it, and he invited Ezekiel to call it into being in prophecy. I’ve seen him revive my own dry bones, and I’m thinking he’s got that in store for a lot of people in 2017.

He restored my heart in 2014, he extricated cancerous cells from my spiritual body in 2015, and he gave me a good hard kick in the pants in 2016. What will he do next?

"O Beautiful..."

I feel like this year's Independence Day is an opportunity for us to put down our agendas and remember a truly great nation. America, a country so long regarded as a beacon of hope, an open door for the wayward soul, has felt so far from that grandiose vision in recent days. A country founded on the proposition that all men are created equal seems to have lost sight of that creed completely.

Today, I pray that we unite and remember. I believe for a brighter tomorrow for America. I think that a country founded on God's principles can't ever, ever deny it, no matter how badly people want to. I yearn for a return to Faith for the nation, for liberty to ring true as one of its great virtues, all the while knowing that true liberty comes in a Country beyond our borders, beyond our earthly boundaries. Faith and hope for to that great Country gives me faith and hope for this one.

Happy birthday, America. Stay beautiful.

Some Stream-of-Thought Thoughts

50 people dead. I don’t care much anymore as to what kind of people group victims of senseless murders are a part of. I care that they are human beings just like me. I care that they once cried, were once daughters and sons, and once tasted great food and smiled with quiet delight, all incandescent lights of life that lived in this crazy world. But they’re gone.

I don’t want to politicize or pontificate. It all feels so hopelessly foolish. I can only pray for a world that, as it stands now, feels so far away from help; too far gone for healing. But I can pray to a God who loves each and every precious soul. I pray for God to ease their family’s pain and to spur good people to act. I pray for wisdom, to guide in what to do, because I simply feel numb and frozen by painful sorrow.

Lord, how long? How long must we sing our broken songs of broken hope?

Unspoken

Sometimes, a smile says a lot.

I'm sitting in a Starbucks unwinding from a busy work day, reading my book, working towards my goal of reading about two books a month (Still on track). Across the way, a student (judging by his ball cap, he's from Cal State Fullerton) is studying away. It's a very typical, quiet weeknight in the buck of stars.

At some point though, we both look up and make eye contact. I smile and nod. He smiles and nods in return, an unspoken connection. I feel that I am saying, "Yeah, me too!" in a silent show of solidarity. He seems to say, "Good luck, man!" in reply. We don't know each other. We may never see each other again, but I find that it's kind of cool that for this hour or so, we are very much the same. We like coffee and we're getting some work done.

Good luck to you, man. Wish me luck, too.

Rough

I suppose we all go through certain stretches of time when no amount of rest or coffee could keep us from feeling like the world is descending into a quagmire of weariness. The past couple weeks have been my personal quagmire. I was not certain what it was until Angela told me that it was probably my introverted nature needing real rest.

It's all true. There have been a lot of social outings I've participated in during the past couple weeks; all great, but all energy consuming. Compound that on top of being a high school teacher and staffer, and I have realized how desperately I need to put on some film soundtracks, read, study, and write. 

 

Glad I get to do that right now, before the craziness of the work week resumes in... hm, about 16 hours or so.

Captain America: Civil War (Non-Spoiler Review)

I was very privileged to be able to go see an advanced screening of “Captain America: Civil War” last night. Marvel has been very forthcoming with this film, showing it to critics last week, nearly an entire month prior to release. Last Thursday night, Marvel hosted a series of early screenings across the country, and I was able to secure tickets to the showing in Culver City last night. Below are some of my raw, as-spoiler-free-as-possible thoughts on the film.

——

NOTE: None of what is discussed below is in any way spoiler material. If you have seen any of the trailers for this film, then you should be just fine. But if you haven’t, stop reading now. It’s best to go in completely dark.

Juggling an ensemble cast in any movie is a tall order. Juggling this particular ensemble cast of heroes is an even taller order. To create compelling, moving story arcs for every member of this ensemble cast? Nearly impossible. 

Tell that to the Russo Brothers, though. The dynamic director duo crammed a whopping 12 superheroes into their latest Marvel extravaganza, “Captain America: Civil War.” I have maintained a healthy dose of skepticism that they would be able to pull this off, despite their masterful effort with the previous “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” However, I learned that this skepticism was completely unnecessary. What viewers will likely come away with after seeing this film is an awe at how effortless and sublime the storytelling is in this movie. The flow is as good as you could hope for in a movie of this size.

This film finds the Avengers fighting the latest world-threatening adversary, once again brandishing their other-worldly talents and powers to do good. What we come to find though is that all is not so rosy in superhero land. As we see from the events shown in the previous films, this supergroup has taken part in some high-profile, destructive international incidents; their efforts to save lives have endangered the lives of countless innocents along the way. The United Nations call for an accord to be struck, putting the Avengers under the authority of a governing body. What follows is a film that is essentially a family quarrel, in which the Avengerssplit along the fault line of whether they ought to be held in check, or to be able to act freely and save lives without the bonds of bureaucracy. The titular Captain America, Steve Rogers believes that the “safest hands are still our own,” electing not to agree to the accords, putting himself and the rest of the Avengers who side with him into the camp of fugitive heroes. Tony Stark, the Iron Man, decides to submit to authority, wracked with guilt over the damage he and his masked fellow heroes have caused while unchecked.

The film delves into the psychology of these heroes masterfully. The most ensemble-y of all the Marvel Avengers storyline movies so far, “Civil War” is generous in ensuring that all of these characters get a fair amount of development and storytelling. While the returning characters are helped by their prior film appearances, the arrivals of new characters into the storyline were sure to be a challenge to handle. But viewers need not fear. 

The debut of a certain fierce, feline-suit-wearing crusader is fraught with regality. Black Panther is strong, dynamic, and even a sympatethic character; a welcome, epic rendition that will be met with uproarious audience approval. But one of the true showstoppers of this movie is indeed the introduction to a friendly, neighborhood web-slinging wunderkind. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is just fantastic. But more on that in a month. Hah.

The action sequences are imaginatively choreographed, without the cynical sameness that has begun to plague other superhero movie franchises. The destruction carries actual weight, the punches and kicks feel weighty and realistic. The camerawork of brothers Russo and cinematographer Trent Opaloch is equal parts nauseating, equal parts breath-taking, a mishmash that works in some areas but doesn’t in others. All things considered, there is a very long, very drawn-out action sequence that neither FEELS long, nor drawn out. The winking sarcasm and pure comedy of these characters as they duke it out is so classic Marvel, and works to absolutely hilarious success.

There is so much more to unpack, and I cannot wait to see this film again next month and chat with folks about it. Be assured, be ready, everyone. They knocked this one out of the stadium and into the parking lot.

 

9.5/10

Let's talk." - God

(A quick life testimony thing)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been suffering some shoulder pain. I’m not certain, even now, whether it was rotator cuff strain or shoulder tendinitis, or some other malady. I searched on Google for solutions and a means of self-diagnosis. In the end, I was able to find only that I should ice it and hope for the best.

Last Thursday, I took a walk after work. My customary routine when doing post-work exercise is to pull up a few podcasts and get some entertainment/education going; exercise for the brain and body. As I gingerly held my left arm close to my body, avoiding any unnecessary strain to my injured shoulder, I felt prompted to pray. I felt like God said, “Hey, let’s talk. The podcasts can wait.” Since I was also doing a fast that week with Angela, I decided it’d be a good time to translate that spiritual energy towards praying.

I told God a few things, and decided to put on some worship music as I continued my walk through my usual trail. As I listened and sang along, I felt urged to lift my hands, an act that would’ve sent blistering pain down my left shoulder. But when I did so, I felt a light sensation, and nothing more. I could lift my hands unrestricted as I listened/worshipped God. It’s kind of crazy. Ever since then, my shoulder has ached less and less with each passing day. Amazing.

Sometimes, all God wants to do is talk. And do healing power in our lives. No big deal.

HUGE deal.

When you can't regroup...

Do you ever just feel the overwhelming desire to regroup? Life has dealt you a heavy blow. You’re throwing in the towel. You’re about ready to give the day up and start over tomorrow.

Except, the days bleed together into an endless milieu of… Life. Life is the great equalizer, in step with Time, the great enforcer. You feel the need to withdraw… to take some time. But Life flows on and on, until you realize existence feels a lot like survival.

Those days happen. Perhaps they exist to remind us that we are still alive. Because, I suppose, death is when we come to end of our struggles. But while we still draw breath, we’ll keep taking blows. But we can pick that towel up, wipe the sweaty brine off our faces, and punch back. We can indeed start again, tomorrow.

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Spoiler-Free Review)

Note: No major plot points are discussed, aside from what is seen in the trailers.

I wanted to. I really, really did.

I really wanted to love this movie. Batman is an icon, and Superman was a symbol. I don’t think any self-professed fan, whether hardcore comic reader or just a kid who grew up with the various animated series, would say they didn’t’ want to love this movie. Who doesn’t want to see Batman duking it out with Superman? Who doesn’t want to see crazy, insane Lex Luthor? Wonder Woman? I’m in. I’m sold! 

But at some point, the charge of a storyteller is to create or write characters that mean something to the audience. When we tell stories, our goal is to get the listener to care. “Batman Vs. Superman” attempted to get us to care about Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Lex Luthor’s assistant, Superman’s mom, Lois Lane, and… well, you get the idea. DC attempted Avengers-level character-cramming, after only one previous film: “Man of Steel.” But it turns out that you simply cannot tell a story of the scale DC/Warner Bros. are looking for in 2.5 hours. 

Aside from a very brilliant opening montage, which skillfully told the Bruce Wayne origin story and recapped the events of Man of Steel through Bruce’s eyes, I don’t think any other story elements were as clearly told. 

The premise, oh that sweet, sweet premise could’ve been such a wonderful commentary on power and corruption. How does a being, Superman, with absolute power answer to the government? Or should he? How does one stay truly good, when he has the power to wipe everyone out if he went rogue? The movie does a great job of getting us to empathize with Clarke Kent as he struggles within himself with this issue. He’s just a good guy trying to do good things, but the world sees him as a threat that needs to be controlled. But after about 30 minutes, the film no longer addresses this.

Bruce Wayne’s characterization is solid. It’s made clear why he wants to go after Superman; the guy played a part in wrecking his building in Metropolis. But when Lex Luthor enters into the scene, with his own evil mustachio-twirling scenes, the plot gets muddle. Is this about one hero’s revenge? Or is this about a villain manipulating them both? It turns out that this movie isn’t really about anything. The characters' motivations are never clearly known to the audience so you're just left baffled at the decisions they make. There are also side plots and cameos that really do nothing to advance this story. Yes, yes. They are meant to build the universe, but I feel that this came at the expense of telling a good stand-alone story.

This was Man of Steel 2, a Batman solo movie, a Wonder Woman origin story sort of movie, a Batman vs. Superman movie, and a Justice League prequel tv series all put together as one. Oh, and a Lex Luthor solo movie. There was just... so much going on. A bunch of random storylines kept together by a thin thread of dumb, overly destructive CG action does not a good film make. You thought the utter CGI destruction in “Man of Steel” was excessive? They doubled down on that stupid here. It was messy, confusing, and mind-numbingly nauseating.

None of it felt right, and none of it gelled. Batman was awesome. His suit and his sleuthing skills were top notch. Superman was every bit the empathetic hero we all wanted him to be. But we should’ve gotten more of these two, considering the title of this film!

10 Cloverfield Lane (Spoiler-free Review)

I will be the first to admit that I did not see Cloverfield back in 2007. The viral-marketing, found footage phenomenon was something I chose to forego, due to less-than-shining reviews I heard from friends. So going into seeing a film with Cloverfield in the title, I really had no idea what I was expecting to see. Was it a kaiju monster film? An isolation film? I had no idea.

Because of the secrecy and utterly surprising nature of this film’s sudden promotion and release, it was basically impossible to get a sense for what the movie or even the tone was. This uncertainty proved to be a key component of the viewing experience. 

What I did end up seeing was a tensely paced thriller feature that kept most of the audience on the edges of their seats for the entire picture. Those in the theater at my screening alternated between shocked, whispered curses and yelps of surprise. The film twists conventional storylines, turns over emotional beats in unexpected ways, and stretches the tension to bow-and-arrow proportions, before firing and surprising everyone. The first two acts are so well-articulated, and the rules of this movie’s world were so clear. The story fraught with nervous tension. Where it falters a bit is towards the tail end of the third act, in which what was a psychological story turned into a more classical expression of disaster films. It just didn’t quite land for me, as tonally, this third act felt like almost a completely different movie.

All in all however, this was an excellent first voyage for director Dan Trachtenberg, who hadn’t directed anything close to a production the size of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Here, he takes the audience on a very authentic experience, despite it’s sci-fi underpinnings. Lest I drift too deeply into spoiler territory, I will simply say that the story crafted by Matthew Stuecken, Josh Campbell, and Damien Chazelle keeps audiences guessing, alternating between set-ups that cohere and set-ups that don’t, artfully leaving us at the mercy of the unpredictable. John Goodman delivers an empathetic yet ferocious performance, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead proves to be an absolute revelation. 

10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent thriller and may stand to remain one of the best movies we will see this year. The suspense is to die for.

Star Wars: Episode VIII has begun filming!

Today, StarWars.com announced that cameras have begun rolling on the next installment to the saga. Episode VIII will once again focus on Rey as she continues her journeys as a fledgling new Jedi. What makes me stoked is the opening statement that says: 

"Rey took her first steps into a larger world in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will continue her epic journey with Finn, Poe, and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the continuing Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VIII, which began principal photography at Pinewood Studios in London on February 15, 2016."

They include Luke Skywalker as one of the principal new characters in this story! I am into this! While principal photography has truly begun today, there have been reports that the film crew started work awhile back, returning to the Skellig Michel island that "The Force Awakens" concluded on. Additionally, it has officially been confirmed that the talented Benicio Del Toro will join the crew. Laura Dern, who starred in some little dinosaur film awhile back, is also in, which just pumps up the excitement level even more, for me.

Here is the announcement video, which is the very definition of "teaser."

Never An Easy Road

It’s never an easy road.
There will always be that heavy load;
The one that keeps us locked in place, 
making us long for more space

Poems are hard
For emotions that are charred
And yet, we try to write
because its like our birthright.

-----

We may have the best jobs in the world, but there will always be something that makes things difficult. We may have the most amazing family in the world, but everyone is fighting and biting, clawing to keep up with the crazy pace of life.

I remember a quote that has no origin:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

It’s almost as old as the golden rule (probably), and yet, I think it is as refreshing and revolutionary today as ever. Before we give in to the temptation to rant about someone at work or church, some teammate or family member, let’s make a pact to try to remember this.

Thankful.

Thankful today for work, for family, and for a reality that is still much better than dreams. Had a few terrible dreams last night and I was never more happy to wake up than I was this morning. I don’t know; sometimes, stopping to look up at the leaves above your head and the several shades of gray swathing across the sky brings you to perspective.

Perspective that life is hard, life is crazy, humanity can be so very horrible sometimes… but that we have hope that reaches beyond the skies. I want to be hopeful. I think it’s how we survive and eventually thrive. Hope in a God who’s not interested in punishing us but in helping us and saving us.

Anyhow…

REVENANT (Movie Review)

Not long into Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” you begin to feel the intense chill of the freezing Missouri wilderness. A film that is based on true events, we follow the journeyings of Hugh Glass, a scout for an American trapping company. Set in frontier land America, during the dead of winter, “The Revenant” never ceases to remind you just how cold everybody in the film is. A brisk, wintery stroll this is not; it’s a grueling trudge through ice, snow, water, and the elements of nature. 

Leonardo DiCaprio turns in what could be the finest acting job of his career as the indomitable Hugh Glass. His character, we learn, has a son that is half Native American from his marriage to a Pawnee woman. This is one of the many things that draws the ire of his crew mate, John Fitzgerald, who is played by the ever-imposing Tom Hardy. The two square off at the beginning of the movie with words, Fitzgerald constantly resentful that Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) trusts Glass’ wilderness instincts instead of his own. The company is forced to abandon their crude settlement after they are ambushed by the vengeful Arikara tribe, who mercilessly kill much of their crew, while making off with a number of the animal pelts they had worked so hard to acquire. As the party regroups and moves on, Fitzgerald continues to yowl about their lost pelt profits and continues to loudly voice his mistrust of Glass’ navigational skills. He is a truly unlikable character, solely selfish and out for his own profit.

Early one morning as Glass is out on a routine solo scouting mission, he is assaulted by a gigantic grizzly bear. Typically in a sequence like this, most filmmakers elect to utilize creative camera angles and other tricks to imply to the audience that something grisly (pun partially intended) is going on without showing too much gore. But in “The Revenant,” we see every excruciating scratch and bite in grotesque detail, as Glass gets torn apart by this bear. Glass, through sheer physical will, is able to eventually get off a gunshot, taking his Bowie knife to the bear and killing it. He sustains what appear to be fatal injuries and is later left to the care of his son Hawk, a young fellow trapper named Bridger, and Fitzgerald. They’re tasked with seeing the heavily wounded man through until his death before rejoining the rest of the group. Fitzgerald, however, grows impatient and decides to take matters into his own hands, killing Glass’ son and attempting to bury the injured man alive. However, Glass survives this premature burial and spends the second half of the film focused solely on survival, as DiCaprio’s character crawls, slogs, floats, and grinds his way back from the dead.

Every ounce of production excellence shines through in this glorious film. The wound makeup is astounding; every gash we see on DiCaprio’s body feels real and believable, and I could feel myself getting chills as I absorbed through my eyes just how cold everything was. It helps that every scene is shot on location, in the real, actual cold. Every grimace DiCaprio makes as he jumps into icy water or plows through piles of snow, is real. He may not have had to “act” his way through this one; he lived it. I found that it was very convincing.

I also just wanted to take this moment to talk about the filming process itself. We learned before the film released that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Iñárritu decided to film every shot with only natural light. In films, most of the time, you’ve got external lights that help keep the scenes more visible and aid the cameraman in their process. In this film, the camera crews relied only on the sun and campfires/burning torches for lighting. We see that this was quite the achievement. The film is vivid and clear, bringing to sheer and utter focus the brutality of man vs. nature, and man vs. man. Lubezki's use of light is a master class in the use of lighting. Combined with Iñárritu’s insistence on filming in so many exterior locations, the result is a gritty, realistic image that completely sells this haunting story. Combining absolutely masterful camerawork with the primal acting of DiCaprio and Hardy, “The Revenant” is an absolute triumph in filmmaking technique.

Real Life Character Arcs

Everyone loves a good character arc. The success of many movies, books, comics, TV shows, and plays is predicated on the ability of the writers to create characters with great arcs. The Hero’s Journey provides a very solid template for this, but I won’t go into that too deeply here. But do we allow for this type of character development in real life?

We often assume that our stuck-up friend will always be that “stuck-up friend.” Our thoughts are filled with: “Oh her? She’s so fake. I could see right through her niceness.” “Yeah, that guy is so dramatic. He’s always embellishing his stories to make him seem cooler than he actually is.” The list could go on, and on, and on.

These types of characters populate not just our regular lives, but are present in TV and movies and everything else. In movies, our character experience growth and progress. But do we ever stop to think that likewise, our friends and family members are growing and progressing as well? Maybe so.

I resolve to grow in patience this year, for those around me and for myself as well. I resolve to celebrate great stories in life, and to perceive people as in a state of transit; we are all on journeys. No matter where people are in those journeys, let’s celebrate that our arcs are still being told; our stories are playing out in real life!