Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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‘Unknown’ ‘sort of’ makes sense; ‘Adjustment Bureau,’ and conversations about God and religion
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the April 7, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
There is a wonderful short book published in softcover by Vintage Books in 2007 at $12.95 list price titled Do You Believe? –
Conversations on God and Religion. The author is Antonio Monda, an Italian journalist stationed in the United states writing for
the paper La Repubblica. He also teaches film at New York University.
Following an impressively thoughtful Introduction, Monda
interviews a wide spectrum of mainly writers and persons connected with the world of film. He asks several of the same questions to
different people. There is a cross-section of believers and non-believers.
In the Introduction there is a powerful quotation from G.K. Chesterton, the British author from the beginning of the last
century, on the apostle Peter. He writes: “When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its
corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward – in a word, a man. And upon this rock
He has built His Church and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of
this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic
Christian Church was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest
The Chicago author Saul Bellow gives one of the most interesting interviews under the title, “I Believe in God but I Don’t Bug
I was impressed that several of the respondents said that their favorite religious author was Flannery O’Connor. In fact, Toni
Morrison remarks that O’Connor is a great artist who hasn’t received the attention she deserves.
Martin Scorsese, the film director, explains how his Catholicism has affected his films, even though he answers the question
“Do you believe in God?” with this response: “I don’t think I can give a precise answer. I think that my faith in God lies in my
constant searching. But certainly I call myself a Catholic.”
The most impressive chapter, titled “I Have a Wounded Faith,” belongs to the response of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. In
that chapter he answers the question, “How would you define your faith today?” Wiesel states: "I would use the adjective wounded
which I believe may be valid for everyone in my generation. Hasidism teaches that no heart is as whole as a broken heart and I would
say that no faith is as solid as a wounded faith.”
Do You Believe? is a thoughtful book that I found well worth reading.
A cartoon in the March 7, 2011 issue of The New Yorker has a woman who is talking to her psychiatrist. She remarks:
“First, I did things for my parents’ approval, then I did things for my parents’ disapproval, and now I don’t know why I do things.”
The new film, loosely based on a yarn by Philip K. Dick titled “The Adjustment Bureau,” attempts to answer that question. The
film is a combination of a thriller, a romance, and a discussion of free will, with science fiction overtones.
David Morris (Matt Damon) has been running for a U.S. Senate seat from the state of New York. He has just lost the vote count
and is in the Men’s Room practicing his speech to his disappointed supporters. Surprisingly, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) appears out of
one the stalls. (Somehow I missed why she was in the Men’s Room.) The two principals of the film begin to talk to each other and are
attracted to one another. David goes out to give a speech quite different from the one he had intended because of his meeting the woman
that might become his beloved.
We find out later that a man in a dark fedora soon thereafter is suppose to spill coffee on David before he gets on a bus going
to work. The man named Harry (Anthony Mackie) seems to doze off and runs after the bus. What happens is David meets Elise on the bus
and finally gets her phone number. Because Harry has botched his appointed job, his superior, named Richardson (John Slattery from
TV’s Mad Men), meets with David and explains that the men in hats are part of the Adjustment Bureau and do not want David to
fall in love or even see Elise again. We later find out that if they see each other it will destroy the plan in which David would
eventually become the President of the United States and Elise would become one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time.
So the issue is, does David go along with the plan or is there free will in which he and Elise could be together come what may?
David is not supposed to tell anyone about the Adjustment Bureau or he will lose his mental capabilities.
Lots of complications happen along the way, but Harry who is sort of a helpful guardian angel, fills David in on the
possibilities and the tricks-of-the-trade if he wants to pursue his true love.
There is lots of running through New York City. Wearing a hat like the guys from the Adjustment Bureau, David is able to open
doors that go through into interdimensional spaces. For example, walking through a normal doorway wearing the fedora may lead to the
island the Statue of Liberty is on.
Now, the ending appears a little too pat to me. But I have to give first-time director George Nolfi and Universal Pictures
credit for taking on a topic that has such strong philosophic and religious overtones.
I enjoyed the experience of grappling with the whole free will question. There is not a lot of violence in The Adjustment
Bureau and the combination of genres should reach both male and female audiences.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 – Parents Strong Cautioned because of brief strong language,
some sexuality and a violent image. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.
At age 58. Liam Neeson continues his role as an action lead in the new film Unknown. The movie takes place in Berlin
with much of the action in the famed Hotel Adlon which was the hotel upon which the famed 1930s movie Grand Hotel was based. The
Hotel Adlon was the place where Michael Jackson dangled baby Prince Michael II off a balcony.
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones, from TV’s Mad Men) arrive from the U.S. at the
Hotel Adlon. An important suitcase with speeches for a conference has been left at the airport. Without telling his wife, Martin
rushes in another taxi driven by Gina (Diane Kruger) to the airport. A large refrigerator falls out of a truck and forces the taxi to
careen off a bridge into a river. Gina eventually is able to save Martin from death. As the medics arrive she leaves quickly because
she is undocumented.
Martin is in the hospital for four days and has some trouble remembering things. He eventually releases himself and rushes to
the hotel to try to find Elizabeth. After much hassling with hotel authorities he reaches Elizabeth at a fancy party for the conference
on agriculture. Elizabeth tells the hotel people and Martin that she does not know who he is and she is with another man (Aidan Quinn)
who she says is her husband. The staff begins to believe Martin is mentally confused and calls the police. Thus for Martin begins a
journey through Berlin with several people continually trying to kill him.
I must admit in watching the film, for a person who did not speak German and had never been to Berlin, Martin knew very easily
how to use the phone and train system. The time several years ago when I was in Berlin, I had to ask help from Germans how to use the
train system. There is no easy English help in the machines. I never tried the pay phones but they looked pretty complicated also.
Martin finds Gina and they eventually work together to find out the truth. Martin also hires a former Stasi agent, Ernest
Juergen (Bruno Ganz). There are several car chases and part of the Hotel Adlon blows up. There is lots of violence as mysterious
killers keep trying to kill Martin and anyone around him.
Many reviewers have said the trick in this film is obvious. I must admit I did not see it coming. So in the end things sort of
make sense. For once followers of Islam are not made into the enemy. It turns out it is those giant faceless corporations wanting to
control food production are the bad guys.
Liam Neeson does a credible job as the “everyman” character lost in a world where everyone is against him. January Jones seems
rather flat compared to her performances in the Mad Men series. Diane Kruger plays the taxi-driver-friend adequately. Bruno
Ganz is excellent as the former East-German spy. The German actor, Sebastian Koch, who was in the memorable German film The Lives of
Others, has a small part as a German agricultural scientist and parent.
If you’re looking for an entertaining thriller that has lots of action and you can take the considerable movie violence,
Unknown is the entertainment for you.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for a child under 13). The Catholic News Service rating is A-III – for adults.
(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)
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