Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’;
Stephen Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

Virginia Woolf wrote the landmark book of an upper-class woman, Clarissa Dalloway, in post-World War I England. The book, Mrs. Dalloway, was particularly significant in its inner reflections of the main character going through one day in her life as she prepares for a London dinner party.

The powerful contemporary writer Ian McEwan, who most recently gave us the mind-bending novel Atonement, has now written his homage to Virginia Woolf in his new novel, Saturday.

Saturday is the story of noted neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, who is preparing one Saturday for a dinner party with his wife, two children, and father-in-law. Like Mrs. Dalloway, the entire story takes place during one 24-hour day in London.

We see the story totally through the eyes and mind of Dr. Perowne. We know his thoughts and introspection on his life as a doctor, on sports and music, his family, and an anti-Iraq war rally with hundreds of thousands of marchers on a brisk February day in 2003.

As a dedicated scientist, Henry sees the world in a very scientific way that leaves little room for God. As an atheist, he sees no need for a God in a world of great medical achievement, and at the same time, a world filled with tragedy.

For me, Ian McEwan is asking lots of the same questions that Marilynne Robinson struggles with so powerfully in her faith-filled novel Gilead. The questions are similar, but the two authors come down on opposite sides. With lyrical language filled with scientific exposition, McEwan shows the believer how a non-believer reflects on the value of material goods and progress while still having an ethical center that is close to being extraordinary. Henry doesn’t have his act all together, as we observe his tin ear for his daughter’s poetry. But his sober reflection on removing the things of his institutionalized mother poignantly tells of the precious items of our lives that are so quickly given or thrown away upon our deaths.

Saturday appears to be a thoroughly thoughtful psychological reflection on the life of modern man and woman. About three-fourths of the way through the story, however, it dramatically becomes a spine-tingling thriller. The introspective center of the novel changes to an action-packed mystery that is riveting.

In the end, Saturday is about love and family, science and the creative arts of poetry and music.

The characters are full-blown and you really care for them. A believer may well wish one could pass on the gift of faith to them. But these are people any of us would like to know, with their goodness and woundedness. From his position of non-belief, Dr. Henry Perowne helps believers better understand the world we live in. From a faithless position he tells us a great deal about a creation that we believers both struggle with and rejoice in. In his nonbelieving way, I believe Henry has a great deal to say to say to we who are believers.

Saturday, by Ian McEwan, is published in hardcover in 2005 by Doubleday, as a Nan A. Talese book; $26.

*****

Film Review

Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds opened over the long Fourth of July weekend with a domestic total of $113.3 million. This was less than last year’s Spider-man 2, which made $180 million on the same weekend. It made for the 19th consecutive weekend of box office receipts totaling less than those of 2004.

War of the Worlds is adapted from the original H.G. Wells novel. Orson Wells made the story come alive with his Mercury Theater radio broadcast of the late 1930s. That autumn, many people listening to the competing Charlie McCarthy program turned the station when a less-than-exciting performer came on the McCarthy show. The result was that the new listeners thought the newscasts on the fictional broadcast were real newscasts. There was panic in New Jersey, where the fictional invasion was centered. The previous film version, starring Gene Barry, was released during the Cold War, in 1953.

The newest version of War of the Worlds is within the context of 9-11 and the London bombings of recent weeks.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a container-lift man on the docks of Brooklyn. He is working class, but one would assume his job is a very high-paying position. He heads home one afternoon to welcome his angry teenage son, Robbie (Justin Chatwin), and his lovable daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning). They are being dropped off as their Mom and stepdad are heading to Boston for a vacation. It becomes obvious that Ray is rarely around his children and clashes big time with his son.

The movie moves rapidly into loud crashes of thunder and lightning shaking the neighborhood. Soon giant holes develop in the roads as freeway overpasses ripple into rubble. Early on, a neighborhood Brooklyn church falls dramatically to the ground.

In a somewhat unbelievable plot twist, Ray and his kids are able to take control of what looks like the only car that still is able to run. They head toward the suburbs, where the children’s new home is located. There they go through a terrifying night and eventually head into the fleeing crowds, who take over their car.

One of the most dramatic scenes is where our fearless three get on a large ferry boat that is attacked by the now visible three-legged Martian monsters. Robbie separates from his family as Rachel and her Dad end up in a scary-looking basement, with a very strange old man played by Tim Robbins. I am told this series of scenes is similar to the original novel.

Personally, for all its digital craft, I didn’t find War of the Worlds holding my attention and interest in a suspenseful way. We know in many of Spielberg’s movies there is a troubled relationship between father and son. It is very clearly present in this film. I normally like Dakota Fanning very much, but in War of the Worlds she screams constantly, which does not necessarily add to the terror of the film.

If I understand the ending at all, when Rachel, early in the film, asks her Dad not to take a splinter out of her hand, we are hearing the key to the eventual end of the invasion.

War of the Worlds is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film is filled with almost constant sci-fi violence and disturbing images. The United States Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates War of the Worlds L – for a limited adult audience.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, as well as a regular contributor to this publication.)


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