Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Timely Post

It was not until I had begun typing that I realized how timely this post was, so I went back and change the title and decided to run with it.

As part of my ongoing attempt to bring myself up to the proper level of culture and general knowledge that I would be getting from a normal college, I have begun to read the New Testament. The following are my general thoughts on the subject, in no particular order. While none of them are particularly original, they all interested me at the time:
  1. There is no possible way that I can read this without a bias. Even ignoring any prior conditioning I have, I'm simply not reading this as an article of my faith that it is morally useful to appreciate. Quite the opposite. So any comparisons to Tanach are simply not going to be fair.
  2. That said, I'm not overwhelmingly impressed. It's nice. It's certainly nice and sweet and preachy, and just jam-packed with all sorts of quotable quotes. And that's it. I can see sweet, moral people being all inspired by its sweet, moral lessons, but it doesn't feel like it has any meat to it. For me, it's rather like my high school Navi class (and I'm sure they'd both love the analogy): full of pretty lines and "how can we apply this to our lives?" without firm guidelines or anything real. I'm sure there are people who like that sort of thing; I'm just not one of them.
  3. The story of John the Baptist's head is exactly- I mean uncannily- like the story of R' Yishmael the Kohen Gadol. I mean, isn't John even the son of the Kohen Gadol or something? And the girl and the face... There's got to be some copying or joint source there. I bet there's a doctorate somewhere out there on that very subject.
  4. Wow, there's a lot of stuff about faith and the world to come. A lot. I actually like worldviews that have less of an emphasis on both. Which seems to be more common in Tanach than in modern Orthodox society.
  5. It's quite repetitive, isn't it? I mean, aside from the Gospels being the same things in slightly different wording, each gospel has multiples of each story. Twice with the loaves and fishes, at least three predictions of the Crucifixion, countless lepers and demon-possessed. I wonder if there's Bible criticism on this stuff.
  6. They, like the gemara, are really, really big on Eliyahu. There doesn't seem to be any such emphasis in the later bits of Tanach, except for that one quote at the end of Zechariah.
  7. I keep getting annoyed at Jesus for being egotistical and self-centered and overconfident. And I know that when you're G-d, you're allowed to wander about and think that you're so special and that it's better for people to bathe your feet than help the poor and that loving their families more than you is evil and whatever, but it's still really annoying when it's coming from the mouth of a character who is technically human. (Maybe it's my sidekick sympathy kicking in) You just want to tell him to get over himself. And I guess one could have the same objections to G-d, but to me it's quite different when you're incorporeal and infinite and so forth.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Many movies annoy me. Quite a few bore me. Some offend me. But Enchanted may well be the first movie that left me not only irate, but also genuinely puzzled how anybody who saw it could be otherwise.

You see, the charm of fairy-tales and chick flicks is that they don't ask certain questions. Boy meets girl, boy and girl overcome wicked stepmothers or their modern substitutes, boy and girl ride off happily into the sunset and everyone applauds. And if somebody cynical chooses to sneer and ask questions like "But what do they know about each other?" "What sort of basis do they have for a relationship?" "Can they even have a normal conversation with each other?" "What's going to be in thirty years when they're both ugly?", well, that's between me and whichever unfortunate person I'm ranting to.

But Enchanted decided to ask those questions. And I was really pleased. Here, I thought, reading the brief plot blurbs in ads, here would be a fun, crazy, charming movie where Disney gets a chance to laugh at itself and its skewed vision of romance, where fairy tale people learn about the real world and real world love.

Spoilers ahead, I suppose. But only for those who were naive enough to believe the above.

After the opening Disney-fairy-tale part of the movie, I was excited. The musical number was pure classic Disney, overdone enough to be read as a brilliantly subtle self-parody. The gritty little chipmunk worried me- grittiness was enough of a pseudo-twist that it almost made you think that they meant the whole thing. But still, my bubble remained unburst.

The real-world. The divorce attorney who's getting engaged. A very promising speech about love being about knowing the other person, understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Yay, I thought, they really are going to talk about how silly- and ephemeral- fairy tale love is.

As the attorney chatted with his daughter about women accomplishing things in the world and why that's nice, I turned to my friend and said, "What they had better not do- and actually I have enough respect for them to have faith that they won't do this- is have this man become involved with the princess."

Yeah. Really, I don't know why I bother with my tireless optimism.

But I kept hoping, even as the chance grew smaller and smaller. Right on through the silly scenes. Despite even the catching and the bath towel, I truly hoped. I think it was Nancy who shattered that hope- Nancy, without enough personality to make the viewer sad when Robert would break off a five year relationship (five years!) for the girl he met the day before.

It was then that I realize that this movie was not a self parody. It was not correcting the foolishness that every Disney movie innocently propagates; it was going to deliberately and in cold blood, with malice aforethought, support, justify, and embrace every single one of them.

And so there was no hope left to be shattered by the rest of the movie, nor was I thrown off by the clues that almost suggested the lesson that I had once hoped for: the support for dating and actually getting to know your partner; the brief re-emergence of Nancy as a kind of sweet person; Robert having the courage and decency to break off the kiss.

No, it was clear that if the movie was going to preach against giving your life to somebody you had known for a day, it was definitely going to come down clearly in favor of giving your life to somebody you had known for two days. In favor of believing that love can conquer all, no matter the marital difficulties that have thrown you into bitter divorce proceedings. In favor of happily ever after and true love's kiss.

And what made it all more painful is that the movie had so much. It was a clever premise, and it was executed cleverly. The musical number in Central Park, the vermin cleaning song, the prince were all terribly fun. And if they never actually crossed over into self-parody, they could have done so easily. Even at the end, there were places when I could daydream of the movie being saved from itself. I even saw one brilliant ending where nobody kissed the princess and she died and then paramedics burst in, gave her CPR, pumped her stomach, and she ran to Robert and he told her that a day of song and dance doesn't trump five years of commitment and understanding....

But despite what Enchanted may have to say on the subject, many dreams don't come true. And the dream of Disney presenting a mature, balanced, moral, clever, self-deprecating love story is apparently one of them.