Mamas Day Movies

My sister often asks me for film recommendations for different holidays. I like themed movies so I try to come up with a perfect one, but oftentimes I just redirect her to About Time, which works for all occasions and never gets old. This year, I’m preemptively posting some for Mother’s Day. These films deal with more than just physical motherhood, but with the call to spiritual motherhood that’s written in every woman’s heart.

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1. Marie’s Story: based on a true story, Sister Marguerite works at a convent school for deaf girls. When a blind and deaf girl named Marie is rejected from the school because the mother superior doesn’t feel they are able to help her, Sister Marguerite takes it upon herself to become the girl’s personal teacher. Marguerite becomes a second mother to Marie, guiding her as it were, out of the dark, silent womb she’s been living in her entire life into the light of communication and communion with others.

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2. Babette’s Feast: two puritan sisters in late-nineteenth century Denmark take a refugee of the French Revolution into their home as a cook and when she wins the lottery, she spends it all on cooking a luxurious feast for the sisters and the other members of their church. The feast, gratitude expressed materially, works as a reordering of the senses toward a sacramental vision of life. I don’t know of anything more profoundly motherly than a marriage between physical and spiritual nurturing. Also, it’s Pope Francis’s favorite film.

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3. The Painted Veil: based on a book by W. Somerset Maugham, this film set in 1920s China centers on the character of socialite, Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts), who marries bacteriologist, Walter Fane (Edward Norton), simply to escape her stifling life at home. Once married, she continues to live selfishly and begins an affair with another man. Her husband punishes her by taking a position in a remote cholera-ridden village, but it’s in that environment, that Kitty is able to grow, to learn to live for the other rather than the self, and to come into her own motherhood. “When love and duty are one, then grace is within you,” says the Mother Superior of the convent and orphanage where Kitty volunteers at. I think those words sum up motherhood most fully lived out.

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4. Tree of Life: Confession–I’ve only watched about half of this film because *hsp alert* I can only handle so much emotional tension in a film at one time. However, Jessica Chastain’s portrayal as the ethereal and nurturing mother of three boys in Terence Malick’s film/spiritual-daydream/visual-existential-voyage is beautiful. She embodies her vocation as a mother both in the physical aspects of rocking babies and cooking meals for her family, but also in trying to maintain a sense of peace and stability in her husband’s emotionally volatile shadow.

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6. Cinderella: this is just a visually stunning film to watch, but I also love the long extending influence of Cinderella’s mother’s words to her: “have courage and be kind”. These maternal words of advice help Cinderella grow up with an inner strength that those around her lack and help nurture virtue in her.

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5. Room: I probably won’t ever watch one because of my sensitivity to sexual abuse in films, but it’s come so highly recommended from reviewers I trust that I couldn’t leave it off this list.

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6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell: okay, another one I probably won’t ever watch because of the violence, but if you’re looking for a film that shows the unwavering love and grit of mothers, this seems like the one for you.

And some fun bonus ones: Matilda (because Miss Honey), The Sound of Music, Little Women, It’s a Wonderful Life (because Mary Hatch), and if you’re in the mood to watch a hilarious and terrible mother, Love and Friendship.

What films that explore spiritual and physical motherhood would you add to this list?

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers!

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Mamas Day Movies

The Crown, the election, and the Solemnity of Christ the King

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The release of the Netflix series, The Crown, coming soon and possibly purposefully after the election was welcomed by those of us all too happy to dip into another country’s removed and far more decorous politics.

I binged through the show at an embarrassing pace. In my defense, my computer, on which I blog and work, died an unceremonious death one day and left my evenings free to read and watch Netflix. But I’m not complaining. It’s sumptuous and beautifully acted and had me reading an unhealthy amount on my phone about the ins and outs of the British royal family.

However much it may stray into fiction, the show gives us an intimate view of the personal lives of the royals. That human and flawed internal life in relation to the external life of the Crown—holy, dignified, and immutable—was incredibly fascinating to me.

Philip kneels before his wife and queen at her coronation and, on camera, looks to the world unremarkably dutiful when it was actually a tense and difficult moment for him.

Elizabeth and Philip seem to ennoble all they touch at home and abroad and yet the peace within their marriage is subject to strains of exhaustion, over-scheduling, and family drama that any married couple might feel.

Elizabeth is expected to and appears to keep calm and carry on through scandals and drama within the government and within her own family, but she relies enormously on moral support from her husband and sister and mother to carry out her duties for the good of her country.

It’s made me reflect on marriage and monarchy as very general concepts but also in the very specificity of my own life. I’m of course the queen of nowhere and no one but my tiny home and family. And yet, the amount that my husband and I are willing to humble ourselves to one another and bear one another’s burdens also has long lasting, though far subtler, reverberations for the whole world. After all, our children carry whatever environment we raise them in, be it imbued with love or fraught with fear, out into the world.

Yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King. The election and all the ugliness it’s brought out has made me feel this urgency in my heart to actually live out in concrete ways the truth that our allegiance lies first with Christ the King rather than any earthly power. So, painful as it is for Philip to kneel before his wife and painful as it might be to sometimes metaphorically kneel to my husband, i.e. bite back my urge to snap at him when I’m upset or tired, it’s actually to the Crown, the heavenly Crown, to the truly holy, dignified, and immutable kingship of Christ, that I kneel.

So if this election’s got you down (and frankly, if you’re like me, would have got you down no matter the outcome), exercise your civic duty by volunteering, donating, and speaking out in constructive ways in the name of the oppressed and vulnerable, rather than just reposting and complaining in your echo chamber. But also worship your true King by loving the people in your own small kingdom well.

The Crown, the election, and the Solemnity of Christ the King

Film Review: About Time

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I’m pretty sure About Time, which follows protagonist, Tim Lake, as he navigates work, love, marriage, and family life with time travel thrown in, will convince any vocational on-the-fencers that they’re called to marriage. I watched the film just weeks before my wedding and it bowled me over into a heap of achingly blissful sobs. How could it not? It movingly and wittily centers on marital and parental love and it was only a matter of time before I’d be eternally vowing myself to a life of that.

Every time I’ve seen it since, it never fails to make me joyously reaffirm my marital vows–the highest of compliments for a film. But it doesn’t just flatly affirm the goodness of love, marriage, and family. It touches on something more nuanced that’s been on my mind ever since I first realized my changed identity as someone’s mother: the relationship of time and family life.

Here are a few things on that theme that stick out to me:

Parents are the keepers of time in their children’s lives

He always seemed to have time on his hands. After giving up teaching university students on his 50th birthday, he was eternally available for a leisurely chat or to let me win at table tennis.
All in all it was a pretty good childhood. Full of repeated rhythms and patterns. By the time I was 21, we were still having tea on the beach every single day. Skimming stones and eating sandwiches, summer and winter, no matter what the weather…And every Friday night a film, no matter what the weather.

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These are some of the first lines of the film which opens in the loveliest way–placing us in the midst of a happy, idiosyncratic, imperfect, but love-filled family (in idyllic Cornwall to boot). When I begin watching this film I always think, “That’s what I want my family to look like.” But this life of repeated rhythms and patterns doesn’t just happen its own. Rather, it’s a parent’s responsibility to structure their children’s and their own time in a meaningful way.

I don’t think it’s too bold to say that parents are tasked with the reclamation of time as a sacred element of human life. Modern life sets upon us the pressures of instant connectability and a never-ending influx of information. We become sick with the glorification of busyness as work increasingly spills into personal life. Our children’s inner lives begin to dim when every moment of their lives is crammed with activity.

And so within the home, we must reclaim time for contemplation, for leisure, for recreation. And that atmosphere is precisely what the teas and the table tennis matches and the family dinners all create in the film. That’s why Christian parents, in particular, are meant to live out the liturgical year in their home both daily and seasonally.

Children teach us something about the nature of eternity

No one can ever prepare you for what happens when you have a child. When you see the baby in your arms and you know that it’s your job now. No one can prepare you for the love and the fear. No one can prepare you for the love from the people you love can feel for them, and nothing can prepare you for the indifference of friends who don’t have babies…Suddenly, time travel seems almost unnecessary, because every detail of life is so delightful.

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I’ve written before about the weird and wonderful stretching of the metaphysical confines of time and space in pregnancy. And equally wild is the baby’s actual arrival. Because you’re going about life linearly hitting different milestones and achievements and then this new, intense human being emerges (out. of. your. body.) and time feels as though it stops and everything is suspended in this new dimension of reality: slow and sweet and grueling and frenetic all at once.

The film does an excellent job of highlighting how having a child is both miraculous and commonplace.

The scene after Tim and Mary’s first child is born is a tender one and I love the choice of Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” playing at that moment. The name of the song translates to “mirror in the mirror” referring to an infinity of images connoting the profound transcendental weight that moments in time carry.

We then follow more commonplace, miraculous moments in Tim and Mary’s new life as parents that show how children only magnify the love of one’s community and offer more opportunities to come together, pause, and celebrate–a foretaste of eternity.

It is the ordinariness in our lives that reveals the extraordinary

We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.

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Director, Richard Curtis, got the idea for About Time when he was talking to a friend about how they would want to spend the last day of their lives.

“We just want a very normal day at home, giving breakfast to the kids… seeing friends, having dinner with the family,” he explained.

I love that this film is littered with scenes from ordinary life. Going on nervous, thrilling first dates. Waking up in the morning next to your spouse and playfully teasing one another about who is going to get the kids. Listening to your dad read you a favorite passage from Dickens. Coloring monsters with your three-year-old.

Time travel may be the plot device that the film pivots on, but it isn’t really about that. It’s about real time travel. That is, our travels through our days that are made up mostly of small moments in which we may forge love and kinship with one another. These moments make up the framework of our relationships and create a space in which we can delight in one another and be vulnerable with one another.

SPOILER

In one of my favorite scenes near the end of the film after his father has passed away, Tim has one last opportunity to visit him in the past. His father beats him at a game of table tennis and Tim asks him for a kiss goodbye. It’s a moment that moves quickly from hilarity to poignancy. They decide to travel back to a moment from Tim’s childhood where they walk along the beach and skip stones. The two of them have played hundreds of table tennis matches and skipped hundreds of stones together and these repeated ordinary rituals culminate in this last scene revealing an extraordinary love between father and son.

END SPOILER

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Do yourself a favor and watch About Time. Or rewatch it. And think of the remarkable ordinary moments of our days that we all too frequently let slip away unnoticed.

As Mary Oliver says, “Who needs poets if we just offer up to the world our attention.”

P.S. another to reason to watch: to mourn the fact that you don’t live in this house.

Film Review: About Time

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None

 

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Spoiler alert for both Brooklyn and Master of None.

A while ago my sister and I left the babies with our husbands and went to one of those theaters where you can sip mojitos and gorge yourself on fried pickles while you watch your flick of choice. A truly indulgent, wholly recommended experience. We went to see Brooklyn, and even if there hadn’t been alcohol, greasy food, and the plushest of seats, the film would have still stayed with me long after I left the theater.

It’s the love story of an Irish immigrant named Eilis and an Italian-American boy named Tony, and it’s a simple, beautiful ode to the immigrants who built new lives in this country and, in doing so, helped build this country.

A few weeks after I saw the film, I binged the first season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s humorous but often dismal show centering on life as a millennial in New York. Watching the two of them side by side was like a comparative cultural study on young romance.

The first striking difference that caught my attention was how the leads meet in each. In Brooklyn, Eilis and Tony meet at a dance for the young Irish community–an event that is a means of providing a wholesome way for young men and women to foster friendships and courtships. There’s a good-natured priest chaperoning and the whole thing is completely devoid of drama. Afterwards, an innocently smitten Tony walks Eilis home and the scene is marked by their sweet conversation as they begin to get to know one another. In Anna Keating’s review over at The Catholic Catalogue, she notes how refreshing it is to witness a relationship unfolding unhampered by charmless technology there to complicate things.

The very first scene of Master of None depicts Ansari’s character, Dev, and a girl named Rachel in the midst of a hookup after having met at a bar earlier that evening. After the condom rips, they both panic and awkwardly sit in silence in the dark on their phones trying to find an Uber to take them to a convenience store where they can buy plan b for Rachel. When Dev insists on paying for the plan b pills, there’s a strange, inverted chivalry that stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned scene in Brooklyn. There’s more awkward silence in the cab and any dialogue they share painfully underscores how little they know or truly want to know one another.

Most excellently portrayed in both Brooklyn and in Master of None is the dilemma of commitment. Rachel reappears in Dev’s life several months after that first night. They eventually do date, have a long-term relationship, move in together, and talk about marriage. However, they’re both deeply fearful of marriage and have many inhibiting assumptions about it: that happy marriages are built on an easy love free of hesitation or fear and that saying yes to marriage means saying yes to a life of predictability and boredom. Ultimately, they are too scared to say no to other life possibilities, and so they are unable to say yes to one another.

In Brooklyn, when tragedy strikes Eilis’ family and she plans to return to Ireland for a short trip, Tony convinces her that they should get married. Despite her hesitations, Eilis happily agrees. When Eilis goes back to Ireland where nobody knows of her American marriage, she discovers that this place which previously didn’t offer her a hopeful future now does. She is forced like Dev and Rachel and all of us to choose between different possible lives. Unlike the characters in Master of None, however, Eilis has the courage to commit. And unlike in Master of None, there’s a lovely quiet implication that a good marriage is not boring and that people have a limitless depth to their being that makes committing yourself to one person an adventure in itself.

I think this excerpt from Carolyn Pirtle’s review of Brooklyn over at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal sums up well the tensions of having to make these life choices:

“What Brooklyn shows us is that, while it is possible to imagine a plethora of life scenarios in which one might be equally happy, it is also possible to choose—and not just possible, but necessary. For if you never say no to anything, you never really say yes to anything either. Saying yes to the one thing may mean saying no to all of the other things, but ultimately, it gives you the freedom to pour your entire self into prolonging that initial yes over the course of a life by affirming it over and over again.

And one more quote that I find apt and would like to share:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien

If I had to pick just one, I would whole-heartedly recommend Brooklyn as my movie night pick, but if you’re like me and enjoy thinking about cultural issues and social trends over a bowl of popcorn, I’d recommend both. Happy Monday!

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Our movie nights tend to go something like this:

I scroll endlessly on Netflix, adding a bunch of movies to my watch-list that I may at some point be in the mood to watch but am not currently, ask my husband what he wants to watch, am met with feigned indifference hiding a hankering for a foreign art film and, while maybe in the depths of my heart I want to watch something heady as well, my immediate desire is for something light and fluffy, so I suggest a lot of options of that sort and all get shut down. After roughly an hour and half of going back and forth like this, we decide on a tv show which feels less like a commitment than a film even though we usually watch enough episodes to equal a film and a half.

I made my 2016 watch list to help with this indecisiveness. 90% of the films are recommendations from The Catholic Catalogue. Certain people like to tease that I won’t watch a film unless it has the TCC stamp of approval but whatevs. Those ladies know what they’re about.

The other night, on The Catholic Catalogue‘s recommendation, I picked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and my husband and I both loved it. I think it’s the best possible answer to The Fault in Our Stars.

There may be legitimately good things about The Fault in Our Stars. (Don’t ask me. I read the book to see what the hype was all about and found the writing nearly unbearable to swallow.) However, the reason it succeeds so well is because it feeds adolescent (and not so adolescent) girls’ raging desires for romance. And a youthful romantic story driven by the urgency of death makes it all the more compelling (yolo and all that).

But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which also deals with teens and cancer, is all about friendship and maybe that’s why it hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity. (Though I suspect the cult around John Green has something to do with it.)

We worship coupledom as a culture, and, in the microcosm of high school, that worship is intensified. The majority of young people believe that members of the opposite sex cannot have deep platonic friendships, that to have feelings for another person necessitates pursuing a relationship with that person, that they can’t not be in a relationship at all times, and, as depicted by The Fault in Our Stars, that a romantic relationship is the end all be all of life. (Oh and things like this do not help.)

I don’t want to absolutely discredit the teenage experience of romance, but so many young people are pursuing romantic relationships without healthy relationships to look up to and emulate and without genuine guidance from older friends and family members with their best interests at heart. I think that far more needed than sex ed courses focused on instilling a hellish fear of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in teens and supplying them with condoms because our expectations for them are so low is a cultural conversation about friendship and the dignity of the human person that might inspire them to love rather than use one another. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl contributes to such a conversation.

The main character, Greg, has spent his life avoiding real friendships. He refers to his best friend, Earl, as his co-worker since they make films together. He is on good but superficial terms with all the cliques in his high school so as to escape notice. When his mom makes him spend time with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia, he is resistant. But he does and they quickly become friends.

Greg’s fears that becoming friends with another person will make him vulnerable are soon realized. Again and again, Rachel challenges Greg’s comfortable invisible existence and shallow ties to other people. The possibility of death forces them to truly get to know one another and for Greg to face the possibility of having his heart broken.

However, with true friendship comes not only vulnerability but a richer experience of life. Greg discovers the joy of helping a friend, who is often weak, exhausted, and discouraged, enjoy what might be the last months of her life. When Earl shares their films with Rachel, Greg is angry that he has betrayed something of theirs that is so personal to her. What he doesn’t expect is how liberating and gratifying it is for someone you care about to appreciate those deepest, most vulnerable aspects of yourself.

Earl, who also becomes Rachel’s friend through Greg, for the first time is able to transcend his objectification of girls (at least momentarily) and see Rachel’s unique dignity. In their film tribute to her, he tells her: “It’s just crazy how patient you’ve been. You know, I know if it was me that had cancer, uh… I’d be upset and angry and trying to beat everybody’s ass half the time. So I’m just, I’m just amazed at how patient you’ve been. You, you make me feel blessed.”

Romantic feeling–and much less, sex–don’t have to be essential elements for a relationship between two persons to involve emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and moral companionship. In fact, for emotionally immature people, sensual romance can cloud their vision and obstruct the path to that companionship. Perhaps Greg and Rachel’s (and Earl’s) friendship doesn’t develop in all those aspects but it does show us that young people have the capacity to pursue deep, meaningful, and life-changing friendships.

Of course I can’t finish this review without these oft-quoted lines from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Be forewarned that there is crass teenage humor in this film. Nevertheless, it would make for a great youth group or theology of the body club movie night and discussion…or for a stay-at-home-date-night for people like me and my husband who went to public high school and hated being there lololol

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl