Saturday, November 24, 2007

Great Movies by: Shane Christensen

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We all watch movies to be entertained and, on rare occasions, we’re lucky enough to be moved in a way, so profoundly, our life can change (if ever so subtly). I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen two such movies in the last couple of months.

The first one, Fast Food Nation, is similar to the movie Crash in how it uses multiple stories and settings that are intertwined by a common thread resulting in a singular climatic statement about humanity, compassion, exploitation, and survival. It is an ensemble piece with a cast that is absolutely magnificent, starting with Greg Kinnear’s bang on portrayal of an idealist that wants to do the right thing while still keeping his job and home.

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Bruce Willis has a small but pivotal role in which his character embodies all that is wrong with today’s free enterprise machination, but is brutally honest at the same time. Yes, the truth does hurt and it isn’t always pretty, and Bruce does an outstanding job with this role which is paramount in making the movie’s defining statement.

The rest of the cast are actors you’ll recognize from movies or television, but might not know their names. Regardless, they all do an outstanding job to make Fast Food Nation both an incredible movie and statement of humanity in today’s era with its economic realities.

The second movie is the German masterpiece The Lives of Others. This movie touched me on so many levels with its statement of humanity and the impact of oppression, exploitation, and blackmail by the State and its officials. It paints a picture that is so complete that I would suggest that if a ‘being’ from another planet landed on earth and wanted to know about human beings as quickly as possible, I would show ‘it’ this cinematic gem.

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Truly great films possess scenes that are so beautifully done that they resonate in your soul long after you’ve finished watching the film. Stanley Kubrick’s final scene in Spartacus shows the title character crucified and dying as his fugitive wife stops to show him his newborn son, and then leaves with the hope of life; the chance to raise their child. As one life ends, another begins.

In Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, there is a scene that is remarkably similar in its statement as William Wallace is slowly tortured to death while being simultaneously taunted/implored to admit his ‘guilt’ so that he can be killed swiftly and mercifully. His response was to look his executioner in the eye and muster up all the strength his dying body possessed to scream out ‘FREEDOM!

In both movies, the main characters stayed true to their convictions, defying a system of oppression that cost them their lives, in hopes of attaining freedom and liberty for future generations.

In The Lives of Others, there are a NUMBER of scenes that convey the same sentiment,and although its setting is in a specific country (East Germany), its theme is universal - a portrayal of humanity and its struggle against oppression.

Many of the great films I have watched over the years deal with this human struggle and the reality that life is both hard and beautiful. It can be filled with contradictory realities such as pain and pleasure; heartbreak and deep, undying love.

And ultimately what the films portray is that the human struggle for freedom and opportunity is universal, regardless of when or where we live. And this struggle is painted beautifully in both Fast Food Nation and The Lives of Others.

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