Reflections on Filmmaker Terrence Malick and His Rumored Life of Christ

(L to R) Terrence Malick, Christian Bale/Wikimedia Commons

According to various reports, filmmaker Terrence Malick is working, at least in part in Italy, on a movie about the life of Christ … but no one knows quite what it will be.

Malick (IMDB page here) is known for an eclectic string of films, including the crime drama Badlands (1973); romantic drama Days of Heaven (1978); epic war film The Thin Red Line (1998); the experimental epic family drama The Tree of Life (2011), a deeply philosophical film that attracted praise from many Christians for its Biblical themes (and confusion from other quarters); the love story To the Wonder (2013); and 2015’s Knight of Cups, an experimental drama about a depressed screenwriter’s sojourn through Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Regarding The Tree of Life, Catholic movie reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus wrote:

The Tree of Life blends an impressionistic portrait of a Catholic family living in a suburb of Waco, Texas, in the 1950s (and glimpsed in later decades) with a majestic procession of images from distant galaxies to microscopic organisms, exploding volcanoes to wounded dinosaurs. There are also surreal images and flashes of magical realism. Some critics have felt that Malick would have done better to omit the IMAX eye candy and focus on the human story; others have argued that it’s the cosmic grandeur that works and the banal human story that bogs it down.

Most recently, Malick released A Hidden Life, a biopic of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer, husband and father, who was executed for refusing to fight on behalf of the Nazis during World War II. The Church beatified him in 2007.

Now, according to reports, Malick is tackling Christ. From Aleteia:

“What does Christ want from us?”

According to Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick posed this question to his fellow director in a letter after seeing Silence, the former’s long-awaited film about Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

The filmmaker has reportedly been shooting a new film titled The Last Planet, which “narrates various passages in the life of Christ, with the representation of evangelical parables.” One Italian website captured on-set images of “a man with a donkey” approaching “a sort of face in the sand” in the coastal town of Lazio, and quoted one person on set as saying that “the film is about humanity, starting from the Big Bang to the Apocalypse.” There are not a lot of other details available at this point, except that Malick has apparently been shooting around Rome as well as Iceland (a shooting location for The Tree of Life and Voyage of Time), and that actors Ben Kingsley and Björn Thors have been spotted on set.

FTP’s producer-at-large, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 graduate of USC’s film school, is a Malick fan and was very exited to hear the news. So, I threw a few questions his way about the enigmatic filmmaker, an Illinois native who attended an Episcopal boarding school, then Harvard, Oxford and the American Film Institute Conservancy.

What’s your personal history with the films of Terrence Malick?

KUNA: I saw my first Terrence Malick film, the WWII film The Thin Red Line (TRRL), while attending the University of Notre Dame. It was a life-changing experience, to say the least. I began thinking in more philosophical terms towards the end of college, as theology interested me more and more. One would think ND’s top-flight philosophy and theology departments would have activated that desire, but for me it was film.

According to reports, Malick is filming a life of Christ. What do you hope it might be?

KUNA: Given his propensity to explore creation, whether through Job’s tour of the cosmos in Tree of Life, or in the documentary Voyage of Time, my best guess is that he takes up Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega. We see Christ working His redemption through the beginning of the universe until its apocalyptic end.

Some mainstream filmmakers use Christian themes and imagery, even Bible stories, without being believers themselves. Where do you think Malick fits in this spectrum?

KUNA: If memory serves me, Malick comes from a Syrian Christian background. He is a believer, although I can’t attest to how much he practices. One of his actors Jim Caviezel (Pvt. Witt in TTRL) once said if St. Pope John Paul II had practiced filmmaking instead of writing philosophy while serving as pope, he would have been a director like Terrence Malick.

What could filmmakers striving to put a Christian message into their films learn from Malick?

KUNA: As impressionistic as his films come off as, each one, like a soundly crafted homily centers around one underlying dramatic question. So, there’s always some subtext a filmmaker, whether Christian or not, will layer on. Make the subtext about one thing, and then write your story around it.

What are your top five Malick films, and why?

KUNA: The Thin Red Line (TTRL) and Tree of Life rank as my top two Terrence Malick films. TTRL because it played such a big part in my journey to priesthood and religious life. Tree of Life wins out, however, because of its depiction of domestic life. I’ve never been near war nor do I ever want to experience it, so TTRL remains somewhat inaccessible in a good way.

To the Wonder sits at #3. It best represents my answer to an earlier question. The dramatic question at the center of the film is conveyed in a literal whisper as the Olga Kurylenko character, through voiceover, mentions her previous marriage in France was declared valid after she sought the annulment process. This means her current relationship with Ben Affleck’s character is irregular.

That the two try to personally affirm the relationship through a justice of peace (and later, a Protestant service) doesn’t quash the objective sacramental reality of her previous marriage. She gradually realizes this and ends the relationship. And as a viewer, I felt good about the breakup.

#4 is Knight of Cups because it’s the most impressionistic and non-linear of all of his films. Truly a work of art. Days of Heaven rounds out my top five. My dad and I watched that twenty years ago and we didn’t know what to think of it. It’s a very personal “like” for me. Most of my present conversations with my 84-year-old father mirror our “left speechless” moment after that film. He’s taught me everything he knows, so most days when I visit him and my mom, it goes, “You want the sports section, Dad? (He nods.) OK, good talk.”

If you could have an hour alone with Malick, what would you most want to know?

KUNA: I think his films should stand on their own, and in some ways, I would not want to receive his personal annotation. Too much film and TV are now litmus-tested as “relevant to the current situation we find ourselves in” … whatever that means. We’ve lost the sense of timeless art for the sake of art, of the Van Goghs who aren’t appreciated in the own time on earth, but nonetheless create art for people yet to be born. Malick is the embodiment of timeless art. So, I wouldn’t need an hour with him, but a mere minute to say, “Thank you.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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How the Rosary and Our Lady Saved Jim Caviezel’s Soul and Career [VIDEO]

Jim Cavezel/YouTube screenshot

Jim Caveizel is well-known for his strong Catholic faith and for his Hollywood success. But he wasn’t always devout, and success in acting is never guaranteed.

There was a point in the early ’90s when Caviezel’s life was really off-track. A chance encounter with Venerable Patrick Peyton, the Holy Cross priest who founded Family Theater Productions in Hollywood — who had a strong devotion to the Mother of God and was known as the “Rosary Priest” — helped bring him back to the Faith. Read more about that here.

The star of The Passion of the Christ, CBS’ Person of Interest and Paul, Apostle of Christ (along with Mel Gibson’s upcoming The Passion sequel, The Resurrection of the Christ) continues to speak out about the power of Catholicism in his life.

Caviezel does so again, in a moving video recorded at the Eucharistic Holy Hour for World Peace Through the Mother of All Peoples in Amsterdam on June 1st, 2019 at the RAI Convention Center, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate posted it on June 5.

Among other things, he talks about Christ and Our Lady, how a rosary made a difference in him getting the first big role of his career, and the physical challenges of shooting The Passion.

Father Peyton would be proud.

Image: YouTube screenshot

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

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5 Family-Friendly Live-Action Movies Available for Streaming

(L-R) Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts in “Wonder”/Lionsgate

Family movie night doesn’t always have to mean cartoons.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of high-quality animated movies out there that parents can enjoy alongside their kids. But sometimes it’s nice to take a break from animation and watch something a little more grown-up.

Are there really any non-animated movies out there these days that are suitable for the whole family to watch together, though? Yes! Sometimes it takes a bit of digging to find them, but here are five family-friendly titles that are available through streaming services right now.

Wonder (2017)

Starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, this PG movie about a boy who has a facial deformity is really quite sweet.

Based on a bestselling book, Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, who enters mainstream school for the first time in fifth grade. The story follows him and his family as he adjusts to school, to dealing with bullies, and to recognizing what true friendship looks like.

Wonder is on Amazon Prime and Hulu right now.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

This one is a fascinating look at a culture and way of life very different from our own. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a Netflix movie about a boy in a poverty-stricken village in Malawi who builds a wind turbine and uses it to bring much-needed water to the starving villagers’ crops.

This movie does have a little violence and a couple uses of rough language, but nothing too intense. (Also note that it’s part English, part foreign language with English subtitles.)

The Railway Children (2000)

This Masterpiece Classic adaptation of the novel by E. Nesbit is a fun and clean old-timey story about three children who move to a cottage in the country with their mother. Between the movie’s many trains and the occasional horsey appearance, this one’s a great choice if you have younger kids and don’t want to be bored to tears yourself by traditional young kid programming.

The Railway Children is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Unicorn Store (2017)

This Netflix movie is a little out-there, but it’s pretty fun. Unicorn Store is Brie Larson’s directorial debut about a free-spirited young woman who just might fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a unicorn (she also stars, along with Samuel L. Jackson in a pretty wacky role).

It’s very unique, and it doesn’t go at all in any risque directions like you might fear. The one issue to be aware of, though, is that it has more language than the usual PG-rated film (several uses of the s-word).

The Perfect Game (2009)

The Perfect Game is a baseball movie that’s based on the true story of the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series. The movie follows a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico, along with their down-and-out coach, who’s finding a new outlook on life through his coaching. The best part about this movie is that it’s interspersed with Catholicism, as the boys are devout Catholics, and they even bring their priest with them to their tournament.

There are some occasionally cheesy one-liners, but nothing objectionable morally speaking. It’s available on streaming on Amazon Prime.

Image: Lionsgate

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

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NBC’s New Afterlife Drama ‘The InBetween’ Is a Bit of a Letdown

‘The InBetween’/NBC

When I saw the commercial for NBC’s new hour-long crime-solving series The InBetween, I was immediately intrigued. It seemed that this was a show about solving crimes with some help from people who have died. And the whole in-between aspect hinted that this might have something to do with a Purgatory-type concept. So I eagerly tuned in to see just what was going on here.

The InBetween’s premise is kind of confusing

The show’s main character is a 20-something woman named Cassie, who works as a bartender and often experiences unpredictable visions that have to do with crime cases her detective foster father is investigating. These visions, though, are a lot more of a psychic/clairvoyant nature than anything with a bent toward Christian concepts of the afterlife.

It seems that in this show, some people get stuck in the InBetween after they die. By the end of the second episode, it’s still not clear what this InBetween scenario really means. But after Cassie hints to one dead guy that he’ll go to hell once he’s out of this InBetween, he says that he doesn’t think it’s as simple as that.

Equally unclear is the rhyme or reason behind how Cassie’s visions work. Sometimes she just sees people; sometimes she’s actually experiencing the same things that the crime victim experienced. And conveniently, whatever she sees just happens to go along with the case her foster father is on … not in any kind of a clear or obvious way, but in a convoluted, puzzling way that ekes out the storyline into a full 42-minute episode of detective-ing. The show is otherwise unspectacular.

Apart from the confusing nature of the premise, I’m not a huge fan of the somewhat ditzy main character. She seems to just be kind of floating along through life, coping with her visions and also hooking up with her coworker. Also, her foster dad? He’s “married” to another dude.

And Then There’s the Spirit Girl

Also, there’s a spirit preteen-girl side character named Abigail (it’s unclear if she’ll be a regular on the show or not) who is dead after her grandpa killed her in a pretty messed-up abuse situation. There are all kinds of cringe-able issues here: Abigail talks about how she’d love to kill her newborn baby sister and describes what she’d do to her graphically. Then, Cassie says, “Oh don’t do that. Focus instead on your twisted, sexually abusive grandpa who’s in jail for accidentally killing you.”

Cassie then delivers a message to the grandpa, saying that his dead granddaughter will smother the breath out of him someday. And then as Cassie leaves, she fondly watches as Abigail begins to choke the guy (unseen to everyone but Cassie) out in the prison courtyard. Fun stuff.

I’ll be skipping this one

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a clear-cut, theologically correct portrayal of the afterlife here. Nor do I think that’s necessarily a must for a show like this to be good. But it’s hard to even know what the rules are in this world, after watching two whole episodes. If the moral and story quality were good otherwise, I’d be interested to see exactly where it goes and just what their idea of life after death is.

But between the confusing afterlife premise and the overall mediocrity here, I’ll have to pass.

The InBetween airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

Image: NBC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Toy Story 4’: Pixar Has Done It Again [UPDATED]

‘Toy Story 4’/Pixar

I was five years old when the first Toy Story movie came out. It wasn’t the absolute favorite movie of my five-year-old self by any means, but I definitely liked it. My favorite part of it was always the mini-love story of Woody and his girlfriend, Bo Peep. Five-year-old me really wanted to hear more about them.

A few years later, when Toy Story 2 came out, I liked it even better than the first one but was still wanting to know more about Woody and Bo Peep. I was an adult when Toy Story 3 came out. And even still, I was disappointed at the throwaway line from Woody used to inadequately explain Bo Peep’s absence: “We’ve lost some friends over the years … Bo Peep …”

And then, at long last, the five-year-old in me was thrilled to learn that Toy Story 4 would tell me more about Woody and Bo Peep’s love story.

Move over, kids. I’ve been waiting TWENTY-FOUR YEARS to see this movie! (In reality, I took my five-year-old to go see it with me – there, now I look a little more normal).

Toy Story 4’s premise

If you’ve seen the other ones, including the tear-jerking display of Pixar’s genius that is Toy Story 3, you know that Woody and the gang now belong to a little girl named Bonnie.

So after first flashing back nine years to show us just what happened to Bo Peep back in the day,Toy Story 4 shows us the gang in Bonnie’s house, just before she starts kindergarten. And in this house, Woody is no longer a favorite.

But, showing true growth of character over the course of the franchise, Woody isn’t beside himself over this. Instead, he’s just looking to do all he can for this little girl, even if that means she doesn’t always pick him for playtime.

Bonnie is about to go to kindergarten orientation (who knew that was a thing? Not this former homeschooler …) and she’s a little scared about it. So Woody helps make sure things go smoothly for her. Which results in her making a “new friend” named Forkie out of a spork and some googly eyes.

When Bonnie’s family decides to take a road-trip in the last couple weeks before school officially starts, hijinks ensue among the toys. And in a pretty forgivable story-quality lapse into coincidence territory, Woody ends up stumbling upon his old friend Bo Peep.

Bo Peep has been doing just fine

It seems Bo Peep has been living as a “lost toy” for some years. And she’s OK with it. More than OK with it, she prefers this life after already being outgrown by two different kids.

I suspected (and feared) from the trailer that this current stage of Bo Peep’s life might show her in a bit of a woke, feministic slant. After watching it, I’d say my suspicions were right, but the movie steers just clear of being annoying about it. They walk right up to the line of where I would start thinking, “Okay, let’s not get agenda-y here …” and stop just in time, in my opinion.

This is a good story

Apart from my concerns in the Bo Peep wokeness arena, there was literally nothing I didn’t like about it.

It was hilarious, for both adults and kids — my five-year-old was dying when the plush toys fantasize about attacking people, and I kind of was too!

There’s also a bit about conscience in a conversation between Woody and Buzz, and it’s a recurring joke because Buzz misunderstands. But it can be a nice conversation starter for parents and kids afterwards.

And then the character of Woody has grown into a true hero in this film. He makes a very big sacrifice of self in order to make sure that Bonnie’s favorite new toy Forkie gets back to her. And then, oh man I don’t want to spoil it because I didn’t foresee this ending of the Woody/Bo Peep love story, but let’s just say I cried over it (stop it Pixar, stop it! But not really …).

Go see it if you can

I don’t see movies in the theater very often, between the expense and the inconvenience.

But this really is a good one, and I felt it well worth the time and money. Especially if you have a kid you can introduce to this fantastic story that’s been wowing us for over two decades now.

UPDATE: Since seeing Toy Story 4, it’s come to my attention that the film actually contains a brief scene showing a kid being dropped off by two moms. It’s so quick and in the background that I completely missed it, so it would definitely go over most younger kids’ heads. But still, ugh. I would have thought twice about taking my kid to see it if I’d known. 

Click here for the Fandango link to find showtimes in your area.

Image: Pixar

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

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BASED ON: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Contrasts Real Faith With Gilead’s Fake Faith

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’/Hulu

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE, a Hulu Series based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. Content warning: Mature themes of violence and sexuality.

Margaret Atwood writes in the preface to a recent edition of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale — currently a hit series on Hulu — that she disagrees with some critics who claim the work contains anti-Christian themes … unless, of course, in her dystopian world, Christianity has morphed into something it was never intended to be: a religious police state that dictates fertile women slave away as surrogates for the barren wives of government officials.

The story’s fictional country of Gilead, thus, resides at the center of the story as a theocracy. The semiotics of Gilead conveys the externals of religion, but little to no internal conversion has actually taken hold among the ruling populace. And no true conversions will be permitted — as, in the first episode, a cassocked cleric, presumably of Catholic persuasion, hangs over the city walls with other enemies of the state.

The show’s first season confirms what I’ve always suspected about even the subtlest appropriating of religion. Think of European flags. While some nominally Christian countries incorporate the cross into their national flag, this may actually be a way of keeping the transformative power of the Gospel in its place, relegating faith to historical signage.

Atwood’s novel ends in the same ambiguous way as season one of the Hulu show: June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), the voice of the story enters a van. Will it take her to safety in Canada, or merely transfer her to another host family in another part of Gilead? Subsequent seasons of Tale, are thus original to Hulu. (BTW, this September, Atwood releases a sequel, The Testaments picking up the story 15 years later.)

What interests me the most is the show’s continual juxtaposing of sincere and artificial faith. The second season reveals the van indeed took June to freedom. She holes up in the abandoned offices of the Boston Globe, which have been repurposed as a safe house, until she acquires transit out of Gilead. With time to explore, she discovers the bullet-riddled and blood stained walls where Gilead soldiers executed Globe journalists. Acting seemingly on instinct, June lights a series of candles and lines the wall with them. The scene reminded me of All Souls’ Day and marked a moment of spiritual truth to redeem Gilead’s suppression of journalistic truth.

I referred to instinct as June’s sole motivation, because her faith had not been revealed until season three. A subtle praying for the dead seemed to be the decent thing to do for the kind, decent character June is. In hindsight, there was now a mustard seed planted in June’s backstory.

In the season-three episode called God Bless the Child, handmaids and their newborns gather in a compulsory religious ceremony. A few participants show fervent zeal, most others stifle feelings of unease. The big set piece contrasts with flashbacks from June’s daughter’s private baptism. The only ones gathered for this intimate sacrament are June’s mother, the father of the child, a godparent and the priest.

The handling of personal freedom marks the difference between the two rites. In Gilead, the heavy-handed government forces religious observance. In a formerly free America, June and her fellow faithful present the baby for baptism of their own volition.

So, to Atwood, who created this sci-fi world, I say, “Bravo.” To the showrunners of seasons two and three, who added a layer of authentic faith to subvert Gilead’s fake one, I offer a full-throated, “Praise be.”

Image: Hulu

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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