Monday, October 31, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: Does the Bible Support Abortion?



I have a new article up at  

Does the Bible support abortion?

I’ve started to notice a trend among my students: a hot take on an ancient Biblical text will go viral on social media (e.g. TikTok) and this will be used to defend an unorthodox position.

So far I’ve encountered how Joseph from Genesis was transgender or how Jesus was non-binary. Most of these statements can be easily dispatched by their sheer ridiculousness.

However, there is one that I thought was worth addressing: abortion and the Book of Numbers.

In chapter 5 from this book from the Old Testament, Moses instructs the people about what to do if a husband suspects that his wife is pregnant by another man.

The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and tell them: If a man’s wife goes astray and becomes unfaithful to him by virtue of a man having intercourse with her in secret from her husband and she is able to conceal the fact that she has defiled herself for lack of a witness who might have caught her in the act;
or if a man is overcome by a feeling of jealousy that makes him suspect his wife, and she has defiled herself; or if a man is overcome by a feeling of jealousy that makes him suspect his wife and she has not defiled herself— then the man shall bring his wife to the priest…
The priest shall first have the woman come forward and stand before the LORD. In an earthen vessel he shall take holy water, as well as some dust from the floor of the tabernacle and put it in the water. Making the woman stand before the LORD, the priest shall uncover her head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, that is, the grain offering of jealousy, while he himself shall hold the water of bitterness that brings a curse. Then the priest shall adjure the woman, saying to her, “If no other man has had intercourse with you, and you have not gone astray by defiling yourself while under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse.
But if you have gone astray while under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you”—
so shall the priest adjure the woman with this imprecation—“may the LORD make you a curse and malediction among your people by causing your uterus to fall and your belly to swell!
May this water, then, that brings a curse, enter your bowels to make your belly swell and your uterus fall!” And the woman shall say, “Amen, amen!”

This passage has been used by the pro-abortion side to show that God is okay with abortion in certain circumstances. Here, it is argued, if a woman conceives a child from adultery, then an abortion is forced upon her by her husband and God.

It is important to understand that even though this is an extreme case, any inconsistency in the the Church’s pro-life ethic could be fatal to Her teaching against abortion. If even the Scriptures allow for some exceptions, then surely the Catholic Church must also, correct?

So does the Bible support abortion?


The easy thing to do would be to simply dismiss this passage as “Old Testament thinking.” I see this happen several times when we encounter passages that make modern people uncomfortable. It is of paramount importance to read each passage in its particular context as well as the context of the New Testament, where Jesus brings perfection to the Old Law.

And the context of this particular law is very interesting.

One of the most interesting things of note is that the Hebrew word for “adulteress” (nō’āp̄eṯ) is found in this passage, nor is the penalty for adultery, which is death.

I recently went to a synagogue and heard a very enlightening talk by a rabbi who said that an important principle in Jewish Biblical study is that “God does not stutter.” This means that all the words in the passage are important. In this case, the words that are not present also matter. The entire reason for the woman to go through the ordeal is because her husband suspects her of infidelity without any evidence.

Let us imagine a concrete situation during this time. A woman has a jealous husband. His jealously leads him to an irrational paranoia. When she becomes pregnant, he is convinced that she has been unfaithful. If he could prove her unfaithfulness, she would be executed. But without evidence, he could still accuse her. Women had limited ways to defend themselves against such accusations. Is she guilty until proven innocent?

Instead of a trial, she is given this ordeal. Dust from the tabernacle floor is mixed with water and she is given it to drink. It is very important here to point out that this holy water/holy dust cocktail is not an abortifacient. This is not the equivalent of an abortion pill, whose sole purpose and intended end is the killing of the unborn baby. The water and the dust are not imbued with a special magic. Instead, they are ways to call upon God for judgment. In fact, this is a unique law in the Torah. Every other judicial decision for crimes (e.g. murder, theft, adultery), involves a judgment by the chosen judges followed by the prescribed punishment if found guilty. But as the Medieval Jewish scholar Nachmanides points out, this is the ONLY decision of this type that is dependent upon a miracle of God. It is not the husband, wife, nor the priests who impose an “abortion.” Instead, only God’s miraculous intervention can make the curse stand.

Returning to our concrete situation, if you are an innocent woman whose husband has accused of infidelity, this law from Numbers 5 is actually a path to quick exoneration. Since the water/dust does not cause an abortion, drinking it will free you from the judgment of your husband, the judge, or the community at large. Compared to other infidelity ordeals, this one is much better than those of contemporary cultures at the time.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sunday Best: Ranking the DCEU (Update 2022)

  With the release of Black Adam, I thought that it would be a good time to evaluate the movies in the DCEU. Next year (2023) we are looking at adding 4 more movies to this franchise: SHAZAM!: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle, and Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom.  We've also been told that they are developing a new Superman movie, for which I am the most excited.  This could shake up things a great deal.  Also, in this list I am adding the TV show Peacemaker since it is officially a part of the canon.  (much of the text below is a repost)

It is no secret that DC struggles to have the same success as Marvel in the film.  Success leads to greater output.  And so you can see the marked distinction between DC's 11 theatrical films (and one straight to streaming) to Marvel's 29 theatrical films (and 8 Disney+ streaming series).

If I were to put my finger on the basic difference between the two it is this: 

DC is director-centered

Marvel is producer-centered

DC hires directors with strong visions like Zack Snyder, Patty Jenkins, David Ayer, Cathy Yan, and James Gunn.  They give these directors great latitude to do what they want.  The problem is that when you give creative people no restraints, you will get the extremes of greatness or awfulness.  The great movies of the DCEU are some of the best super hero films ever made.  The bad ones are some of the worst.  And you cannot try to constrain the vision after-the-fact.  This leads to the muddling of the work as in the theatrical Justice League and Suicide Squad.

Marvel, on the other hand, holds tight rein of their directors.  They give them strict guidelines as to what can and cannot be in the movie.  This is so much so that often some of the action sequences will already be determined and pre-visualized even before a director is chosen.  This is why some directors like Edgar Wright and Joss Whedon drop out of big projects.  But the result is that you have a product that has mass appeal for the largest audience.

In other words, Marvel gets on base while DC swings for the fences.

Now, this is not a hard and fast rule for both companies.  Aquaman and Black Adam very much followed the Marvel formula and we can see in Phase 4 some experimentation with the MCU, but generally these views apply.

With that in mind, here is an updated ranking of the 11 DCEU films:

13. Birds of Prey:  And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Harley standing on a giant clamshell, surrounded by the other characters, in a spoof of Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

In my Film Flash for The Suicide Squad, I said that it was the worst of the DCEU films.  But I had completely forgotten about Birds of Prey. 

As I wrote previously: "Birds of Prey is a failure on every single level of film-making.  This movie isn't so much a movie as it is a rant.  Nothing is fun, nothing is funny.  As a comic book critic I follow says, the movie is filled with 'LOL so random!' humor that it never actually approaches anything like real comedy.  All of this would be tolerable if we connected on any level to the characters, which we do not.  There is nothing enjoyable, likable, approachable, or sympathetic about any of them.  And while I know that movies tend to deviate from their comic counterparts, what they did with Cassandra Cain is a complete waste of a fantastic and interesting character.  

"What makes it worse is that the movie is completely and utterly smug in how it presents itself, right to the final frame of the film.  The only time the movie has life is during some of the action sequences, particularly in the jail breakout.  For a moment we get a glimpse of what a real Birds of Prey movie could be, but it quickly collapses under the weight of its own inanity."

12. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad (film) poster.jpg

This one is still fresh in my mind and it may get better over time, but it is so morally rancid that I don't see it getting much better.  Unlike Birds of Prey, there is some real talent in the writing and directing and there are moments that are very good.  King Shark alone was entertaining enough.  But this bright bowl of nihilism never takes off the way it could.

11.  Peacemaker

This movie keeps the same tone as The Suicide Squad, which is not a good thing.  I know that it's horribly unfair to make moral judgments of an artist based on the art, but I get the sneaking feeling that James Gunn enjoys the idea of hurting people.  There is a glee that this show takes in causing pain.  The "heroes" are straight-up murderers and this is never properly addressed.  The only thing that makes this slightly better than The Suicide Squad is that it peels just a few layers back on Peacemaker to reveal an actual character.  

Both this and The Suicide Squad make me very nervous over the fact that James Gunn has been given creative control over the DCEU.  (I'll more on this later)

10. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 poster.png

This is an incredibly flawed sequel, but it is one that I still enjoy.  It is bright and colorful, but often forgets that it is an action film.  I know a number of people who think this movie is awful and I really don't have an excuse for all of its mistakes.  I can say that despite its shortcoming, the movie has enough good moments for me to enjoy.

9.  Suicide Squad

A colorful collage of the characters, in the shape of an explosive mushroom cloud
This was a bold choice for this franchise's 3rd film.  And the risk almost pays off.  The premise is unlike anything in the mainstream of super hero movies beforehand.  You had charismatic performances by Will Smith and Margot Robbie.  Heck, even the perennially unwatchable Jai Courtney was amazingly fun to watch.  But the movie suffers from three things:
a. a Joker performance that, while not terrible, suffers in comparison to Nicholson and Ledger
b. a incredibly uncompelling villain
c. a moral black hole in the middle of the movie from which the film never recovers.

This movie actually improves from its original standing having watched the much worse sequel.  

Shazam, a hero in a red costume with a gold cape, uses his phone while blowing bubblegum. To his left, the words "Shazam!" and "Just Say The Word" can be seen.

As I wrote earlier: "SHAZAM! is primarily a comedy with big action set pieces.  Because of the highly subjective nature of comedy, enjoyment of the movie will probably vary a bit more than standard super hero films.  But the humor is broad and varied, with plenty of silly jokes and slapstick.  The main source of the film's humor is in the concept of a young, immature child with the powers of someone like Superman.  The comparison to the Tom Hanks movie Big are unavoidable and the filmmakers lean heavily into it, even making a funny visual reference to that movie during a scene in a toy store."

7. Justice League (Theatrical)

Justice League (film) poster.jpg
I was never someone who hated Joss Whedon's Justice League.  In fact, I saw it multiple times in the theater because I like it so much.  Whedon was given a terrible task of trying to completely change and already completed film.  As a result, the movie is very uneven.  Still, the movie is not nearly as bad as everyone claimed it to be.  But the film does suffer in comparison to Zack Snyder's original vision which we can now all see.  Of the two, this is the inferior one.

6. Aquaman
Aquaman (film) poster.jpg

As I wrote earlier, there are two things that make this film so enjoyable:
"The first is Jason Momoa.  This man is a bonafide action movie star.  He is a charisma machine.  Like Dwayne Johnson, he connects to the audience in a simple way by letting you feel like you are in the good guy's corner and are part of his team.  His effortless charm is horribly disarming.  If that was the extent of his ability, however, Momoa would be another interchangeable movie tough guy.  But this man act.  ...

"The second is director James Wan visual direction.  Aquaman is a great action movie.  Wan knows how to film the up-close-and-personal fighting as in the movies sub rescue.  He also knows how to film a thrilling chase, as we see in the Black Manta sequence.  And he knows how to create the epic scope of an full-scale battle.  In a movie like this, the visuals must not only be dynamic, they must also be cool.  This is essential to get us to buy into these mer-men battles.  The over-the-top nature of the sequences makes it easy for the film to collapse under its own ridiculousness.  But Wan hooks you in and makes you want to see what new visual feat he has planned next.  The scope is like something out of a Peter Jackson fantasy."

5. Black Adam
Black Adam (film) poster.jpg
Since this is the newest, this film has the most potential to slide up and down on this scale.  At this moment, I am still filled with good-feelings towards this film.  Dwayne Johnson makes the film incredibly watchable.  It is very similar in tone to the MCU style that we find in Aquaman, and the script could be smarter, but I see myself watching this film many more times in the future.  

In fact, I might go see it again in theaters before it leaves.

4. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (2017 film) poster.jpg
As super hero origin stories, this is one that was done right.  While it has familiar story beats to other films that have come before it, it feels epic and iconic.  I have seen so many comic book movies, but the No Man's Land scene might be one of my favorites of all time.  Wonder Woman is a fantastic hero whose strength and femininity, courage and innocence, are all wrapped together to make a great movie.

The third act villain falls apart a bit, but the movie still holds up.  When you compare it to the sequel, you can feel how this one holds up better.  All of this is held up by Gal Gadot's charisma.

3.  Zack Snyder's Justice League
Grayscale poster with the ensemble characters

This is one of the most satisfying super hero film experiences I have had.  After years, we finally were able to see Zack Snyder complete his vision, of which we only received glimpses before.  The result is a much improved story that fills out the characters, their relationships, and the performances, and this includes what we find with the villains.  This would be higher on the list if it felt like a finale.  Instead, Snyder ended his movie with an epilogue that looks too much into an uncertain cinematic future rather than into a "Happily Ever After."

2.  Man of Steel
Superman, bearing his traditional red and blue costume, is shown flying towards the viewer, with the city Metropolis below. The film's title, production credits, rating and release date is written underneath.
There are so many moments in this movie that still give me chills.  People knock on the movie for Superman not being the pillar of optimism and hope that he normally is.  But that was one of the things I loved about the movie.  Superman has to rise above the cynicism of the age that he was also raised in.  He is called to be more, to rise above.  And he does.  Even though he stumbles, he rises.

1.  Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
The two titular heroes, Batman and Superman, stand face-to-face confronting each other, with the film's logo (a red bat symbol combined with the letter 'S') behind them, and the film's title, credits, release date and billing below.
My love for this movie only grows and grows.  Zack Snyder fully committed to make a movie that used these iconic characters to explore deeper questions about life while still being focused on that iconography.  The movie, to my mind, is unappreciated genius.  And I am more convinced of this with each viewing.  One of the best things about Zack Snyder's Justice League is that you can see the trajectory of the characters, particularly Batman, over the course of the series.  With that, knowing that Batman v. Superman is the Dark Knight at his moral lowest, it is a pleasure to see him rise again to the hero he should be.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Film Review: Black Adam


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Those who are frequent readers of this blog know that when it comes to comic book movies, I am very easy to please.  I am not a snob when it comes to content or lore.  Perhaps my bar is set too low, but if the movie can nail the core of a character while giving me some action-movie thrills, then I am satisfied.

On that score, Black Adam delivered.

And while I think this was a good, fun movie, I can't help but be a little frustrated.  With a few simple tweaks, it could have been a great comic book movie.

Black Adam stars Dwayne Johnson as the titular character.  In the fictional Mid-East country of Khandaq, the people are being oppressed by the oligarchical foreign group called Intergang.  But the people remember the ancient legend of a young slave boy from thousands of years earlier who was granted the power of the gods by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou) and freed the people from oppression.  There are those in modern Khandaq who are resisting the regime like Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), her funny brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), and her skateboarding, comic-book-loving son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui).  When Adrianna unwittingly sets Adam free, they cannot tell if he is a liberating hero or a murderous monster.  When word of his return reaches the States, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) orders the Justice Society (not to be confused with the Justice League) to capture him.  This superhero team consists of alpha-male Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), wizend wizard Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), free-spirit Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and rookie Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo).  As the conflicts between Adam and the Justice Society as well as Intergang escalate, a new evil arises that could threaten them all.

Johnson has been trying to put together a Black Adam movie for years and he was right to keep pursuing this.  I loved him in this part.  He uses all of his smolder and charisma to bring the right amount of stature and menace to the part.  His first line nails the character.  As Intergang soldiers are firing a barrage of bullets at him, he grabs one and looks at it saying disdainfully, "Your magic is weak."  He doesn't overplay it, he simply observes their inferiority.  

Throughout the movie, Adam moves with a masculine and destructive energy everywhere he goes.  The humor that comes through the character is wisely played straight.  Adam likes to simply walk through walls like tissue paper.  He tends to fly vertically rather than in the traditional horizontal position.  And he has this wonderful habit of simply hovering near you so that you never forget that he is the one in charge.

In the comics, Adam is a complete foil to the modern Shazam.  Whereas Billy Batson is a kid full of child-like wonder at his powers, Adam is a world-weary warrior who constantly looks at his enemies with the dismissive disdain of buzzing mosquitos (and he dispatches them with a similar level of dispassion).  Like the character the Punisher in Marvel, Black Adam scratches an itch in fans of the superhero genre to have the characters sometimes just cut loose.  I particularly liked one of his earlier scenes where he tears through an army to The Rolling Stones song "Paint it Black."  

The Jaume Collet-Serra (who recently worked with Johnson on Jungle Cruise) does a good job with the big action set pieces.  Although I have to say after watching Top Gun: Maverick a number of times, I find I am less satisfied with CGI as opposed to practical effects.  Regardless, Collet-Serra knows how to competently stage a scene and how to let Johnson's charisma take over.

Most of the performances are good.  I liked that Shahi felt like a woman who had been through life's ringer.  She was not simply damsel in distress nor a girl-boss.  Amer might be my favorite character as Karim, or at least he has some of the best and funniest lines of the movie.  Hodge does a good job of matching Johnson's rugged masculinity so that you can believably see how neither would back down.  Brosnan brings an element of refinement to Dr. Fate along with a very subtle sense of sadness, since he can often see the tragic ends of the people he knows.  Swindall brings lots of charisma as Johnson does.  And it feels like they gave Centineo a copy of Tom Holland's performance in Captain America: Civil War and said, "Just do that!"  (which he does very well)

As I wrote above, the biggest detriment to this movie is the script.  The movie makes the mistake of Amon these expositiony speeches, which lead up to him having to give a big inspirational rallying cry to the people of Khandaq, but it just doesn't feel believable. At the beginning he goes on a rant about oppression that made me think of the leader of the Black Panthers yelling at Forrest Gump.  He plays the part that Freddie Freeman did in SHAZAM!, but they also want him to be have more gravitas, which he doesn't have.

 As you can see also, there are a LOT of characters to juggle in a movie where the main focus should be on the mysterious main character.  The script does a decent job of selling the team chemistry, but the actors really are the ones who do most of the work with a script that does not give them a lot of character-building scenes to work with.  Finally, the ultimate showdown feels a lot more tacked-on than integrated.

I will say this for the script: the story gets a lot of things right about how to portray Black Adam.  He says very little for most of the first act.  And even when he does, there is power and danger in what he says.  The screenwriters knew how to write his dialogue and how to use his powers, which makes this movie more of a success.

As a comic book fan nitpick, I was disappointed at how Hawkman and Dr. Fate were presented.  One of the reasons that these two characters are often used with Black Adam is because of their connection with the ancient Middle-East.  But none of that is present in the movie.  There is no mention of Hawkman's previous life as Prince Khufu of Egypt, nor how Dr. Fate receives his power from the Lord of Order Nabu, who was Khufu's chief magician.  I understand not wanting to overstuff the movie with extra backstory, but this seemed like it would tie the characters together in a more profound way.

Thematically, the movie deals with the question about what it takes to be a hero.  The Justice Society insists that killing is wrong.  Black Adam challenges this by saying that sometimes you need to kill people in war.  This main tension between Adam and Hawkman forces both characters to re-examine their own absolute stances with a bit more nuance.  The movie also wants to say something about imperialism and international interventionism, but this is where it stumbles because the script is not sophisticated enough to handle this topic well.  But the heart of the story is Adam coming to terms with who he is and the knowledge that he is not the hero that everyone wants him to be.  He has been given the power of the gods though he feels himself unworthy.

Perhaps I am going a little too deep, but it made me reflect on my own unworthiness as a man and as a Christian.  As theology teacher, I stand before others to instruct them in the Gospel.  And yet I am constantly confronted by my own unworthiness.  When Adam finally confronts this reality, his first thought is to take himself out of the equation.  But one of the things the movie tries to get across is that what makes someone a hero is never giving up and being willing to sacrifice for the greater good.  While Adam is more violent than the traditional super-hero, he reminds us that our calling is to step up and do God's work if we are chosen.

Black Adam is a bold and entertaining movie, one that is probably the best superhero movie or TV show since last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home.  It is a movie that is colorful spectacle that is given greater life because of Johnson's charisma.  

Black Adam may feel unworthy, but this movie is worthy.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


Movie poster shows a woman in the ocean swimming to the right. Below her is a large shark, and only its head and open mouth with teeth can be seen. Within the image is the film's title and above it in a surrounding black background is the phrase "The most terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller." The bottom of the image details the starring actors and lists credits and the MPAA rating.

 One of the reasons it has been so difficult to finish this list is that it is hard to summarize the greatness of these movies in one short article.

And this is especially true about Jaws.

Most people know the dramatic making-of story about this movie.  This was a film plagued by so many production problems, particularly with the mechanical shark that this could have utterly destroyed Spielberg's career before it even got started.  But this was the movie that I think really made Spielberg into SPIELBERG.  He took an untenable situation and decided to use all of his film-making skills to make something so much better than originally planned.

This doesn't take anything away from the screen-writers who crafted a wonderfully character-based film at the heart of what is essentially a monster movie.  But if you gave this script to any other director, you would not have one of the greatest movies ever made.

The genius of the movie is how Spielberg makes you an active, not a passive participant in everything that is happening.  Because the shark could not work, Spielberg had to rely on inference, always implying the shark's presence without showing it.  By doing so, Spielberg forced you to use your active imagination to conjure horrible images in your head.  When the young woman at the beginning gets attacked, we can see the terrifying effect above the water.  This causes us to to imagine the even-worse cause below the waves.  And this happens throughout the entire movie.

But Spielberg knew when to show the shark and how much to show.  He credits his editor with making him hold back as much as he did.  It was here I think that he learned the real power of editing to make an image powerful or bland.  He also knew how to use those visuals to create the right rhythm of thrills for the movie.  He did this famously by adding the jump scare in Ben Gardner's boat.  The entire scene is filled with wonderful shadows and powerful beams of light until the terror hits.  For me, the scariest moment is when the shark breaks through the windows of the sinking Orca.  It feels like any remaining safety for our characters is completely shattered.

I am personally fond of the way he shoots the town of Amity.  Yes, there are selfish and self-centered people there, but the town is brimming with quaint, small-town life.  The world is bright, with American flags and picket fences.  As I understand it, the book depicts a town with a seedy underbelly.  But in Spielberg's film, Amity may have its problems and its issues with greed, but you can see how much he admires this simply, ordinary life.  

He expertly ratchets up the tension in the next shark attack.  Without music or any real dialogue cues, he gets you inside the twisted insides of Brody as he looks and hopes to heaven that he is wrong about the shark.  Watch how he hides the movement of the camera with his cuts so that you barely notice that you getting uncomfortably close to Brody as he looks at the waterline.  

You can see this again on the Orca as Quint sees the movement of the line.  Notice all the of tension Spielberg is able to build with a simple pull on some fishing wire.  He takes you immediately into Quint's perspective.  You see things the way Quint sees them.  He fancies himself as the truly observant one while the others are oblivious.  And on this occasion he is correct.  Little by little, Spielberg threatens you with this phantom menace of the shark.

Throughout the movie you also see the emergence of Spielberg's fondness for the single-take shots.  This once again pulls the audience in and makes us feel that we are someone who could be actually at the location, standing with the other characters and eavesdropping on their conversations.

Spielberg actually filmed an earlier introduction of Quint that is charming and comedic.  But he wisely removed it so that he could create one of the greatest film entrances of all time.  And it is a risky choice.  The literal nails on the chalkboard are so repellant that it risks turning us off completely to the character.  But it perfectly sums up the character's complete disregard for any other person or their comfort.

Please allow an extended quote from an article I wrote eight years ago about Jaws:


Ultimately, the movie is about Martin Brody becoming a real man.  We first see him waking up in a very cozy, domestic bed with simple life problems.  He says in the movie that he retreated to Amity Island to escape danger.  This is a man who avoids danger.  They make a big deal about how he never goes into the water.  He lets the mayor push him around and change his original decision to close the beaches.  He only lets Hooper cut open the tiger shark and go out to sea because he's drunk.

It isn't until his son is attacked that he gets the guts to confront the mayor and force him to take action.  What is so important about this moment is that it occurs not before the 3rd act but only half way through the movie.  This is only a step on his character arc, not its resolution.  Part of manliness is overcoming fear.  But that isn't all.  This is where the second half of the movie is so insightful.

On the Orca you have 3 men: Quint, Brody, and Hooper.  They represent Id, Ego, and Superego respectively.  I don't mean to say that the movie is a simplistic allegory, but you cannot deny the psychological space these characters make up.

Let's first look at Quint.  He is a man of pure passion.  He feels and then acts.  Look at his introduction in the movie.  Have you ever wanted to scratch a chalkboard even though it hurt your ears?  Quint shows no hesitation and goes full throttle on the board, holding nothing back.  He cuts through polite society like a knife.  He has no manners, insulting anyone and everyone around him.

But he is strong and decisive.  He acts on instinct and doesn't question it.  When the shark first encounters his line, he barks orders and intuitively understand that the shark is smart and has gone under the boat, even when smarter people like Hooper tell him differently.  He barks abuses and others act.

This is because passion is powerful.  There are very few things that can motivate us to action like emotion.  It is like the fuel that gives energy to the engine.  Your GPS might know where to go, but without gas, you are inert.  Quint acts with fire and strength.  He makes the other men feel inferior and weak.

But Quint is not the image of manliness.  He is broken.  Listen again to that amazing, Oscar-worthy monologue by Richard Shaw as Quint about the USS Indianapolis:

There are so many wonderful things to pick out here.  Notice how it the story has no logical structure.  He says they didn't know what the sharks looked like because no distress signal had been sent.  Also notice how he doesn't really think about the story, he just feels it.  His mood swings wildly.

But I think the most important part is this line: "So, 1100 men went into the water, 316 come out, sharks took the rest."

Quint never actually says that he was rescued.  He says he most frightened waiting for his turn, but he never says he got out.  Quint was never saved.  He never got past that event and he has gone a bit mad. Rationality and willpower have no real place in him.  He lost those in the terror of the waters.  The sharks took his sanity.

This is why he refuses to get a bigger boat.  This is why he destroys the radio (and by doing this cripples the free will by removing the ability to choose rescue).  This is why he pushes the engines even though Hooper tells him they will blow.   And if that is all there is to a person, they will burn out and die.  I will speak more on this later.

But let us turn now our attention to Hooper.  He is the intellect or superego of our trio.  Brody calls him in with all of his expertise in sharks and Hooper is the on-the-spot expert.  Martin listens to him as his intellectual superior.

Hooper is also curious and sarcastic.  His main weapons are his wits.  A big deal is made out of his scrawniness as he's physically intimidated by fishermen like Quint.  He feebly tries to get men out of an overloaded boat and mutters, "They're all gonna die," under his breath.

But he needs to see and examine things.  He goes through the remains of the first victim.  He cuts open the tiger shark.  He swims to examine Ben Gardner's boat in the middle of the night.  These things could be considered brave, but I would say it speaks more for his need to know.  The intellect needs to have knowledge to feed it.

But Hooper is not the image of manliness either.  He has a lot of tools at his disposal and has a wealth of knowledge.  The problem is that he is ultimately weak.  I don't mean that he is not willing venture out.  But he has an inability to succeed on his own.  He drops the tooth in Ben Gardner's boat.  He drops the poison javelin.  He lets Quint beat him down about the engines.

This leaves us with Brody.  He represents the ego or the will.  And one of the main reasons he is not the man he should be at the beginning of the movie is that his will is weak.  As written earlier, he lets himself get pushed around.  And he is terrified of making the wrong decision.  Notice how he shuts down after Mrs. Kintner confronts him.  His job is to make choices and he made the wrong one, which resulted in a boy's death.  He loses all confidence.

Except for confronting the mayor, he constantly defers to others.  He leans on Hooper's intellect.  He tells Quint "You're gonna need a bigger boat."  Notice it's not "We're gonna need a bigger boat."  He is rely on Quint to kill the shark.  He follows Quint's lead and direction.

Martin begins asserting himself, but again assertiveness is not the same as manliness.  Notice how he impotently empties his pistol into the shark to no effect.  The will by itself cannot accomplish what it needs to accomplish.  Neither can the passions or the intellect.  But the will is the central and key aspect to manhood.

By themselves, each of these three qualities will lead to ruin.  Notice how Quint dies.  He made reason his enemy.  He cannot think his way out of problems.  Notice how blank he becomes when the shark takes down 3 barrels.  He is not open to new ways of thinking (though he comes close by helping Hooper with his cage).  And so Hooper's oxygen tank roles over his fingers, showing reason and logic rejecting him.  He reaches out for the will to save him, represented by Brody.  But the full weight of his passions are too much and he slips. into destruction.  He was damaged by his past and became a being of pure passion.  But that passion ended up leading him back to the fate that he never really escaped to begin with.  By not listening to reason or the will he is burned up.

Hooper must hide.  He is not the thunderbolt that Quint is and cannot save himself.  He has enough knowhow to think his way out of a trap and to avoid confrontation.  But he will be overwhelmed.  The same is true of pure intellect.  You can know what is right and have the correct knowledge of how to do the right.  But if you don't have the power or the will to do it, you are stuck.

This is where Brody becomes the model of manliness.  He is the will.  And manhood is primarily defined by the will.  His will starts weak but then becomes strong.  As the Orca sinks he does not give in to simple fear.  He acts.  He plans.  Watch how he positions himself ready despite going down.

But he is not simply acting as pure will.  Movies like The Matrix Revolutions tried to make the will alone the mark of humanity.  But Brody has integrated both the passions and the intellect in its proper place.  Notice how he kills the shark: with Quint's rifle and Hooper's oxygen tank.  He takes the role of Quint by aiming and firing and acting.  He even mutters and shouts obscenities to himself like Quint.  But he uses Hooper's brains he actually has a plan.  He is not simply shooting wildly.  He is actually aiming for the tank to blow up the shark.

Brody becomes a man by using his passions and making a friend of reason.  Even in the end, all three are needed.  He and Hooper kick their way to shore.  But Quint's barrels are what keep them afloat.  The passions need to keep us afloat, but they must be our servant, not our masters.

And thus Jaws gives a true vision of manhood: someone who is a creature of action in close union with reason and can muster the passions to bold action.


All of this is done with perfect way Spielberg executes his vision. Going back to Quint's monologue, not only it is a marvel of acting and writing, but notice how Spielberg films it.  He knows when to keep close on Quint, but through much of the speech, you can Hooper looking on in horror and awe, priming the audience to mirror his emotion.  

The sense of isolation is completely intentional on Spielberg's part.  They filmed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, but he was always insistent that they film facing away from the coastland.  It really isn't until towards the end of the movie that you can see any land in the distance.  You needed this feel so that our characters feel alone.

This is a human story in the truest sense.   Human beings seek to overcome the deadliness of nature.  In our safety we often forget that there are forces out there that seek to destroy us, not because they are evil, but because nature is violent.  But this is not a simple domination of nature.  This is survival so that man can be more at home in the world.  Notice Brody's last words in the movie: "I used to hate the water."  It is said in the past tense.  By facing his fears and destroying it, the water is no longer a place of terror.  Brody is now at home in the water.  

Speaking of that final moment, it is visually arresting.  Our heroes are swimming off "into the sunset" away from the camera, which is a classic "goodbye" shot.  It is preceded by Brody asking Hooper "Can we get in on those?" meaning the barrels.  They use Quint's barrels to make it back, so in a sense, Quint is with them.  Not only that, but Brody consults with Hooper's intellect before making the choice.  We see again the full mature integration of Brody's passions, intellect, and will.  That shot is at their level.  In that final moment, Spielberg once again keeps us as active members of the audience, swimming along with our heroes on their journey home.  The actually final shot that exists behind the credits is a essentially a landscape where our heroes are completely swallowed up.  The purpose is to show us the peaceful serenity of the land that has been restored because of the hero's journey.  

You cannot overlook John Williams' iconic score.  It is beautiful in its simplicity and its versatility.  But people often overlook the more adventurous parts of the score where the shark is being chased or in the shark's final approach, which are equally delightful.  But as always, it is Spielberg who knows how and when to use the music for maximum effect.

All of this analysis only serves to highlight the elements of greatness in Jaws, but it does not capture the main reason it has endured: the movie is fun!

I don't use that word to belittle it as a slight amusement.  But Jaws is completely thrilling to the emotions, both with its thrills and its humor.  It is a horror movie, but you leave feeling like you've watched a great adventure.  You feel larger and more alive after sitting through Jaws.  

I could go on and on about this movie.  It is the movie that pushed Spielberg into the realm of "talented" to "genius."  Instead resting on his laurels with this film or trying to repeat the same experience, he did what every artistic genius does: learns from his experiences and uses it to make something new.  

This is one of the few movies that I am going to watch for the rest of my life.  

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Film Flash: Black Adam


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Fun, like a Fast and Furious superhero film.  Smarter script could've helped make it great


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Lack of Updates - October 2022

 Hello Dear Reader,

Thank you for your continued patience this last month.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a dear family member was taken to hospice.  For the last month, our evenings and weekends were given over to visitations as this family member began the final leg of their journey.

This family member went home to Heaven two days ago.  

Once again, your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.  As when my mother passed, these next several days will be given to our grief and preparing the final farewells.  

Thank you again for your patience and I hope to once again return to writing regularly in the near future.

God Bless,

Catholic Skywalker