The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of “Hell Burns”

I was recently introduced to the blog of Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, Hell Burns (I do love a good sense of humor). Sr. Helena specializes in the theology of the body and reviews films through that lens. I have many of the reviews linked below. Check it out.  Unfortunately, in the final analysis, I do not think Sister and I can be friends; she did call Blade Runner 2049 a “blistering disappointment” after all. Joking aside, Sr. Helena provides much thought-provoking commentary which can be divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

the good

The following are links to reviews that I especially liked: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Silver Linings Playbook, Warm Bodies, Here Comes the Boom, The King’s Speech, Sherlock Holmes, and District 9. There were other reviews she wrote that could easily be added to this list, so the list I have included here is an exercise of restraint on my part. It also presents a diversity of movies and her surprise toward some of them. Nothing else to say on my part. Why add to what has already been said well?

the bad

After reading her review, I’m not sure what was blisteringly disappointing about Blade Runner 2049, and the issues raised deserve a little more consideration than they were given. I found the movie to be thoughtful and respectful of the story that came before. A driving question in this film is what makes us human. While the materialist framework for the question was wholly inadequate this did not bother me for two reasons: First, it was expected. Second, the inability of a materialist to truly work with the kind of questions being posed reveals the inadequacy of the position itself, prompting a broader consideration of the question. Regardless of what one thinks of the movie, in an age of writers/directors making prequels and sequels that utterly ignore the story that has been entrusted to them, 2049 is a rare light of filmmaking humility rather than the self-aggrandizing egoism that pocks the Hollywood landscape.

I am completely dumbfounded by the review of Noah. Sister simply gushes over this movie, calling it “the best Bible movie ever made” and “the ultimate example of ‘cinema divina.'”

Jack Black - I can't even

She insists upon this from exercising “a Judeo-Christian read of ‘Noah’. And it almost totally works.” Um, no, it doesn’t. It honestly worries me a little that someone of Sr. Helena’s background has embraced this movie so whole-heartedly. She says, “Sadly, it seems Catholics don’t know their Bible well enough to critique this film.” I wonder, however, if such a statement is a rock which can be thrown back. The film does seriously depart from the Noah story. You see, the (ahem) devil is in the details (the details of the story not the movie). Aronofsky’s handling of the character, Noah, and his relationship with God are abysmal. So important is Noah’s character and relationship to the story that to depart from this anchor is to radically change the story, which is exactly what Aronofsky did so horribly. In her review, Sister hardly addresses the radical change in Noah himself (such as his becoming homicidal) and confuses the mentioning of God throughout the movie for God permeating the movie. It’s one thing to be mentioned a lot; it is another to actually be there. Though “the Creator” was mentioned throughout the film, His presence was certainly lacking. My own review of Noah delves into both of these issues. It also fleshes out that ever-so-important detail that Aronofsky completely rolls over. You can read it HERE.

Other film reviews that make my bad list are AvatarTwilight (as well as Breaking Dawn, Part 2), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. (An aside concerning Twilight: For anyone who enjoys the vampire mythos, a strong sacramental worldview, and questions that drive into the human and divine, I cannot recommend enough the very fine book, Jennifer the Damned. It was described to me as the antidote to Twilight and it is.)

the ugly

Sr. Helena shines in the good, but it’s in the ugly that I particularly like her. These are the reviews where we wrestle with the truth that one size doesn’t fit all. Is all nudity and sex in films bad? Is all graphic violence bad? If not, when are they good and acceptable, even if they’re not necessary? What about those films with nudity, sex, and violence that don’t seem to fit the conditions of acceptability and yet don’t strike us as morally unacceptable? What of magic? What of guidelines for parents who want to exercise responsible guardianship as the primary educators of their children? None of these questions are easy, and it is some of these questions that I would like to look at in future posts. Sister here doesn’t give many straightforward answers. In my responses, I won’t either. But the question of the portrayal of the body in art – and especially in film and television – is so vitally important today that consideration must be given at the very least. Sister Helena does this from the perspective of the theology of the body. A more fundamental question, however, may be: “Are Christians capable of a right understanding of the theology of the body when they have grown up in a culture that is both hyper-sexualized and prudish?” Capable? Yes. Easily? Not by any stretch of the imagination. And this includes those who specialize in the theology of the body. It is for this reason the questions above are so difficult.

Some reviews that wrestle with these questions that I would like to look at in the future are: The Book of Eli (question of violence), Ex Machina (question of nudity), Game of Thrones (sex, nudity, violence, and magic), and Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (question of magic). In the meantime, I hope you enjoy perusing Hell Burns.



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