film critic

Hope Three Ways

THE CINEMA YEAR came to a magnificent crescendo with three films filled with what the world needs now. Hugo, Take Shelter, and The Mill and the Cross have little in common on the surface other than their quality; look deeper and you may find love-filled, theologically profound, hopeful invitations to live better.

Take Shelter is about a man terrorized by nightmares of impending doom and eventually unable to function as a loving father and husband. It’s a powerful portrayal of individual trauma and communal ignorance that takes very seriously the conventional—and counterproductive—response to recent global uncertainty. Toward the end is a sequence that could be seen as a representation of what mystics call a dark night of the soul. Then something like a conversion experience happens. Without easy answers, Take Shelter’s refusal to caricature mental illness and its embrace of the gifts of wounded people make it both a realistic and comforting story about fighting to become more human in a dehumanized world.

In The Mill and the Cross, that dehumanization appears in rich close-up, for this film takes place inside a painting, “The Way to Calvary,” the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel’s astonishing reimagining of Jesus’ walk to the cross through a 16th century European valley. Filled with indelible images of brokenness and love, The Mill and the Cross constitutes a religious icon. Two scenes continue to reverberate long after watching. In one, a hopeless woman observing her “heretic” husband’s execution does nothing but weep, because she lives at a time when tyranny is unquestioned. In the other, the clumsy peasant dance that writer-director Lech Majewski uses to stand in for the resurrection evokes the hope that artists such as Bruegel demand of us: to recognize that the privilege of being alive is worthy of something better than what we often give it.

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Two Thumbs Up for Ebert and "Life Itself"

Mr. Ebert in 2004."I have no interest in megachurches with jocular millionaire pastors," Ebert writes. "I think what happens in them is sociopolitical, not spiritual. I believe the prosperity gospel tries to pass through the eye of the needle. I believe it is easier for a Republican to pass through the eye of a needle than for a camel to get into heaven. I have no patience for churches that evangelize aggressively.

"I have no interest in being instructed in what I must do to be saved. I prefer vertical prayers, directed up toward heaven, rather than horizontal prayers, directed sideways toward me," he continued. "If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect our own deserve."