My Boring Analysis of Encanto

I call this boring because I am one of those boring people who has to analyze every dam’ movie she watches. I mean it: I have to. My mind has not processed a movie until I’ve articulated to someone exactly what I think was going on in it. I don’t know why I am this way. I think it’s biological. I’m sorry if it drives you crazy. If it drives you crazy, don’t read this post.

But first, my new favorite YouTuber

Not too long ago, I discovered podcaster A.D. Robles. His videos are really enjoyable because they’re short and he has a masculine, streetwise, no-nonsense way of calling out what he calls “Big Eva” (short for evangelicalism) for compromise, heresy, firing on their own troops, etc.

A.D. is no-nonsense, that is, except when he puts on shades and tries to be “Smooth A.D.” He can never sustain it, though.

I happened to listen to A.D.’s reaction to Encanto before I saw the movie myself. It was fun to hear him notice how the movie handled Latin culture, as he is Puerto-Rican-American. Anyway, his video was primarily about how some Big Eva pastors or writers had, predictably, said that Bruno is a type of Christ. Consider: Bruno tells truths that people don’t want to hear, and he is ostracized for it. A.D.’s assessment of this theological point was summed up by the video’s title: “This Is So Stupid.” You cannot just call someone a Christ figure, he points out, just because they have one or two things in common with Christ. He’s not wrong. I’ve heard that people tried to draw parallels to Christ from Edward in Twilight, and if that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.

Anyway, go find A.D. on YouTube if you want to be entertained for a few minutes by his take on Encanto. But I finally watched it, and here is mine.

Family Relationships: A-

With A.D., I think Encanto was a pretty good movie. Where it really shone, of course, was the portrayal of the relationships in a family that is loving but also kind of dysfunctional (and aren’t they all?). It showed, for example, how people can get locked in to perceived roles in the family that aren’t 100% accurate. (Abuela blaming Mirabel for everything that goes wrong, and Mirabel even accepting this perception of herself for a while.) It showed how one sibling or cousin can think that the other has it all, but have no idea what they are secretly dealing with (as Mirabel finds out for both Isabel and Luisa). The symbolism of the house itself literally shaking and falling apart captured the emotional feel really well. I especially appreciated the scene at what was supposed to be Isabel’s engagement dinner. The tension, the anticipation that some family members were feeling, the desire of everyone to keep Abuela happy, and meanwhile a terrible secret was spreading like wildfire from one family member to another, and literally causing the floor to crack … if you have lived in a family, I guarantee you have sat through at least one dinner like that. I think this is what makes “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” such a perfect song. Just the phrase “we don’t talk about,” captures exactly what it’s like to be in a family.

Gospel Parallels: C

I am not quite as contemptuous as A.D. over the attempt to make a Christ figure out of Bruno. But actually, I think Bruno has more in common with John the Baptist. He speaks truths that people don’t like, yes, but he doesn’t see everything or have all the answers. He is in exile, just as John the Baptist lived out in the wilderness, and he even looks a little bit like him. But, most importantly, his role in the story is to point to the Chosen One, the one who is going to change everything.

And that one … is Mirabel. C’mon, guys, this is a Disney movie! If it has a Christ figure, odds are that person is going to be the teenaged female main character.

So, in this movie, Mirabel is Jesus. She is “despised and rejected.” Just as Jesus did, she seems ordinary … in fact, she is more ordinary than her family members. She takes the blame for the fact that the house is falling apart, when in fact it is falling apart because of the family’s collective sins and refusal to face the truth. She pursues the truth at all costs. She “ruins everything,” but ends up fixing it. In fact, you could even draw a parallel between the way Mirabel becomes the catalyst for the magical house being destroyed, only to be restored in a better form, and the way Jesus came to destroy the old Temple system and build a new and better “temple,” which was first His body, and then His church. “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days. But the temple he had spoken of was His body.”

O.K., so Mirabel is a Christ figure. Why, then, the C minus? Because Mirabel is the Christ figure. In a Disney movie, the princess (or young female lead) is supposed to be the one the viewer identifies with. Therefore, in this movie, the message is “You are your own savior.” This is really brought out in the “moment of epiphany” scene, where Mirabel looks into the medallion inherited from her grandfather.

“What do you see?” they ask her.

And she answers, in a tone of wonder, “I see … me.

Voila! The answer is … herself! This is supposed to be a profound moment. Instead, it’s profoundly disappointing.

Mirabel, you see, is not divine. She does not see all, know all, or have the power to fix all. She spends the movie, in fact, looking for answers, for a solution. In so doing, she becomes the catalyst for the solution, and I would have been fine with that, but not with her being the solution herself.

If I had spent weeks looking for wisdom, for answers, for help, and all that my mystical search led me to was a mirror, I would be … well. Not filled with wonder. I’d be dismayed. Frightened, because I know that I’m not up to the task. I would realize that the mystical person who had “revealed” to me that I was the answer had led me astray. “Is that it?” I’d be angry.

Now, when you are young and don’t know yourself quite as well, you might not have this clear a reaction. You might feel flattered, but also have quiet, nagging doubts. Don’t listen to the flattery, please, and do listen to the quiet nagging doubts. Let them grow into a healthy realistic fear so that you can go on seeking Someone who is actually up to handling the situation, because believe me, you can’t. There really is a Savior, but don’t let Disney tell you that you’re it.

Ahem.

Pardon me, I didn’t mean to get so carried away. I guess it’s like I told you … it’s biological.

Quote: Love in a Massacre

This quote requires some context. A few weeks ago, our home school curriculum had us studying East Africa, so I watched Hotel Rwanda with my kids. (Surprisingly, it is only PG-13, even though it is about a horrific ethnic massacre.)

The hero of the move is Paul Rusesabagina. He is a Hutu (aggressor group), but like many, many Hutus, he is married to a Tutsi (scapegoated group) and has Tutsi friends and neighbors. He is the manager of a Belgian-run hotel, so he moves in the circles of the powerful. One major theme of the movie is that Paul has all these connections among government employees, local businessmen, and even outside the country. He is counting on these connections to help him save his family, but he finds that he’s not always successful when calling in favors.

It is in this context that the following conversation takes place. Paul and his wife, Tasiana, are holed up in the hotel along with hundreds of their Tutsi neighbors, and at this point in the movie they are basically under siege. The two of them have a “romantic” date on the roof of the hotel, drinking some of the wine that Paul still has on hand, to the sound of gunfire in the background. Then Paul has a confession to make.

Paul: I have a confession. Before we got married, I bribed the Minister of Health to have you transferred to [a nursing job in] Kigali.

Tasiana: What for?

Paul: To be close. So I could marry you.

Tasiana: What was the bribe? How much am I worth to you?

Paul: It was substantial.

Tasiana: What was the bribe?

Paul: A car.

Tasiana: What kind of car?

Paul: Why do you need to know that?

Tasiana: I want to know. What kind of car?

Paul: It was a Volkswagon.

Tasiana (laughing): I hope it was a new one.

Hotel Rwanda

This was the biggest laugh-out-loud moment in the movie for me. What could be more romantic than bribing someone with a Volkswagon so you can be with the girl you love, in a context where bribery is a way of life?

Seconds later, Paul is telling Tasiana that if the hotel is breached and he is killed, she should throw herself and their children off the roof to avoid being killed by machete.

This movie is about love in more ways than one.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Desolation of Smaug, the Movie: A Review. Sort Of.

I just finished watching this with my kids, and I … I just …

Why is all this stuff happening?

I mean … I just …

We are just so far off script here. I don’t even know at this point whether Bard is going to kill Smaug or what … or whether we are going to see an elf-dwarf marriage …. or why Gandalf is such a moron … and there are so many brand-new plot holes that I just …

Wow.

All the Aliens on Netflix

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Behold, mini-reviews!

Aerials: An alien invasion plot set in Dubai. It’s mostly about how people react when they are forced to hide out inside their houses, not knowing what is going to happen. (They mostly do nothing and argue a lot.) I enjoyed it for the glimpse of Dubai itself: the beautiful inside of the couple’s apartment, and how the main character relates to his wife versus to his men friends in the tea shop. Interestingly, the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) is featured in this movie. The alien spacecraft hovers directly above it, and the title would seem to imply that they showed up there because they took it for a huge antenna. But this point is never developed. It’s more a character study about the people.

Ancient Aliens: A nothingburger. The worst “documentary” I have ever seen.

The Darkest Hour: Two friends who arrive in Moscow to check out the club scene find their trip interrupted by aliens. Great views of Moscow in the summertime, and for once, a really creative kind of alien that is not organic.

Revolt: An American soldier and a French aid worker deal with an alien invasion in Kenya. Really disappointing. I want to see the actual aliens, not just their machines.

Rim of the World: I watched this a few years ago, so I don’t remember it very well, but I remember it being a good apocalyptic film with teenaged protagonists and satisfyingly horrible aliens.

Battle: Los Angeles: O.K. Kind of meh. Running around and getting killed. It’s a little bit better than Revolt, but the same type of thing.

The Fourth Kind: Supposedly, these are aliens, but they are obviously actually demons.

Stargate (the original movie, not the series): I will never not love Stargate. The nerdy linguist hero, the spaceship that fits down over the pyramid …bliss.

I Really Do Love Lucy

(Don’t cry, Lucy, I love you!)

I Love Lucy is one of those shows that everybody feels like they’ve seen, even if they haven’t. Or perhaps they have only seen one or two episodes, such as the famous Vitameatavegamin episode:

(This one was not her fault. The “medicine” had a high alcohol content.)

That was me until recently. I started watching it with my kids because in our chronological study of history, after several years of study we have made it up to the 1950s and 60s.

The first episode came out the year my parents were born. Now, their grandkids, of the generation that loves Anime, Minecraft, and Mario, watch it and they enjoy it. In TV terms, that’s practically Shakespeare. Timeless.

I’m no comedy professional, but here are some thoughts about why the show has aged so well, and what make Lucy so good (besides Lucy herself, of course).

Lucy and Ricky don’t have kids (in the show). This makes all their marriage foibles more lighthearted. The stakes are lower. It makes for a smaller cast (basically just them, Fred, and Ethel as regulars). It means things are less complicated, and the show doesn’t have to deal with all the problems that come up when you have a multigenerational family involved. In that way, it’s almost like Seinfeld, but less bleak because they are not living in New York City.

The show doesn’t always tie up at the end. Unlike the later generations of sitcoms were infamous for, Lucy doesn’t try to “solve all the problems in half an hour.” Sometimes it does, especially in the sense that the characters’ relationships usually reconcile. But often, things just get more and more chaotic, and then end suddenly right at the most chaotic point. Here are some examples of how shows have ended in the season I watched with my kids. Lucy is in tears because she got on the cover of Life magazine dressed as a hillbilly. All the extra meat, which Lucy hid in the building’s furnace (long story), has just been accidentally cooked. Lucy’s increasing efforts to get Ricky to stop ignoring her have escalated until she is dressed as Carmen Miranda.

The men and women are different. Different from each other, that is. Nay, they are stereotypes. And by stereotypes I mean the old-fashioned kind, not the generally much less pleasant modern kind. Ricky and Fred, though perfectly capable of cracking wise, are basically straight-man types who just want to go to work, come home, and eat a good steak. Lucy, while not dumb, is obviously a bit flaky, and prone to take a random idea and run it all the way out to its ridiculous conclusion. And her friend, Ethel, is usually willing to encourage her in this. These stereotypes of men and women stopped being used in entertainment, frankly, before I was born. Or at least before I started watching TV. By the time I tuned in, the women were all super smart, capable, and morally serious, and the men were either their sidekicks, the villains, or the incompetent weights they had to drag around.

Now, I strongly dislike being treated like I’m not capable. But for comedy at least, I’ve got to say, Lucy’s stereotypes of men and women are both funny and refreshing. I actually did not realize that being “the zany one” was even a role that was available to me, much less that such a character could be beloved and not an object of contempt. Ricky seldom loses his temper (beyond an eye roll), and he always still seems to respect Lucy, even when she has (in my view) humiliated herself. The standards are a little lower for respect in Lucy. You don’t have to be genius, perfect, or even competent all the time.

Netflix Wants Me to Doubt My Own Mind

So, within about the past month, I’ve watched two different psychological thrillers on Netflix. And they are both the same damn movie. (And I use damn advisedly.) In both, the viewer knows only what the point of view character knows. And he (it’s a he in both movies) is uncovering a conspiracy. Until, at the very end, it turns out that he’s delusional. Many of the major events in the movie, which were shown to the viewer as if in good faith, were actually happening only in his mind. Actual events were quite different. The interpretation he was putting on everything was completely wrong. In one of the movies, the point of view character is brought to realize this, at least briefly. In the other, it is made plain to the viewer only.

I am pretty ticked at both of these movies. Especially at them both being on Netflix at the same time.

On the one hand, they are well-written, well-plotted, well-filmed and well-acted. Tense as heck. They are an immersive experience that helps the viewer understand what it feels like to be delusional. (In both cases, the break with reality was brought on by trauma. In both cases, actually, involving the death of a child.) So, they are very good.

But this strength comes at a pretty steep cost. Namely, they can make you doubt yourself something fierce. I think that the reveal at the end of each movie was that the person was delusional. But who really knows? Maybe I am misinterpreting what the director was trying to say. Maybe I did not even watch the danged movies. Maybe there is no such thing as reality.

This has to be intentional, right? Two movies, running concurrently, aimed at people who like psychological thrillers, both of them trying to tell you that you can’t really know what is real. I mean, God help you if you’ve got dissociative disorder. (And I use God help you advisedly.)

I’m with G.K. Chesterton on this. Or rather, he is there, throwing me a lifeline. GKC believed strongly that we have a moral obligation to believe in reality and to trust our own perceptions of it. I don’t have any of the quotes in front of me, but I do remember that he said something like, “Every day you can hear an educated man utter the heretical statement that he may be wrong.” He also tells a long story, elsewhere, about how he spent an evening at a friend’s house where they had a brisk philosophical debate. GKC was maintaining that reality exists and can be known. His friend was maintaining the opposite. Having vigorously defended reality, GKC got into a taxi and, when he arrived at his destination, had one of those confusing conversations with the cab driver that make you feel as if you’ve fallen through a portal. The cab driver remembered picking up GKC at some other location, and remembered GKC having said something to him that he didn’t say. GKC argued with the man for several minutes, and after just a few minutes was starting to doubt himself and, thus, reality. Then, just when GKC was beginning to waver, the cabman got on his face a look of sudden revelation as he realized that he was remembering a different customer.

You might think that someone like GKC, who believes that “I might be wrong” is a heresy, would be arrogant and impossible to convince of anything. But that’s not necessarily true. If you believe in reality and trust your perceptions of it, then you can be presented with evidence. And if the evidence is good, you can change your mind. If you don’t have the baseline trust in your own mind, then no amount of evidence is going to convince you.

One more, equally sinister, aspect of all this. Traditionally, Hollywood likes to give us messages that we should not trust authority. The cops are on the take. The conspiracy goes all the way to the top. The experts don’t know everything. We are “sleeping with the enemy.” The two movies I watched recently give the opposite message. They play on our expectations that experts and authority figures in movies will turn out to be villains. In both of these particular cases, it is doctors (medical doctors in one; psychologists in another) who appear to be concealing the truth. They appear to want to treat the protagonist like he’s crazy, or else frame him for being crazy. There is bureaucracy and gaslighting and all the stuff we find in dystopias. But in this case, they turn out to be right. What to do you know? He actually is crazy. If only he had listened to them. Lives could have been saved.

I think both of these movies were made before you-know-what, so it’s probably a coincidence. Still, I’m not super comfortable when two pieces of well-done art say to me in stereo, “Trust us. We know what reality is and you don’t. We know best.”