The Common Good
March 2011

From Escape to Reality

by Gareth Higgins | March 2011

Reviews of 2010 films, and looking ahead to 2011.

The strongest motif of 2010's great movies was that of escape: From reality, in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island -- a prophetic witness to what happens when we refuse, in theologian Donald Shriver’s words, to love a country "enough to remember its misdeeds." From fear, in Clint Eastwood's poetic meditation on death and the supernatural, Hereafter, and in Gaspar Noé's astonishing Enter the Void, which attempts nothing less than making the audience experience what death might be like. From social restrictions, in I Am Love, where Tilda Swinton discovers that money certainly isn’t democratic. And in 127 Hours, from having your arm trapped under a huge rock.

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2011 brings a slate of movies that will shock and awe, and disappoint, to be sure. We’ll have the end of Harry Potter, yet another Twilight, and a continuation of the Transformers saga (whose last entry qualifies as one of the worst films ever made, so I’m excited to see if it can be surpassed). But on the hopeful side, The Adjustment Bureau looks to be a thoughtful exploration of choice wrapped up in a science fiction conspiracy thriller; Of Gods and Men is already acclaimed as a magnificent drama of Cistercian monks attempting to resist violent fundamentalism; and The Way Back is the return of Peter Weir -- one of the finest directors, responsible for Witness, Fearless, and The Truman Show -- with the tale of another escape, from a Siberian prison camp in 1940.

Terrence Malick, a director so perfectionist that he’s only directed four other films in 40 years, will present Tree of Life, a film about which we know very little. But every one of his previous works has told us something new about ourselves. At the end of the year, Scorsese will release Hugo Cabret, based on a magical novel about growing up. He’ll do it in 3D, too, which, given Scorsese's visual imagination, might justify this questionable format. So the year’s not looking too bad (despite the fact that someone has chosen to make a movie called Kill the Irishman, which doesn’t exactly fill this Belfast-born writer with confidence).

But the film I’m most looking forward to in 2011 won't actually be released until next year -- Steven Spielberg is working on his Lincoln biopic, with a screenplay by Tony Kushner. Kushner and Spielberg previously collaborated on Munich, one of the most thoughtful and moving presentations of the cycle of violence. Lincoln should be released in time for the 2012 presidential elections. Let’s hope it can serve as a cultural touchstone for the kind of change we need: not escape, but an honest facing of reality. Cinematic truth may yet set us free.  

Gareth Higgins is a Sojourners contributing editor and executive director of the Wild Goose Festival. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Carrboro, North Carolina.

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