Film Question re:The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Gran Torino and The Martian
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As a religious instruction teacher, if a parent asked you to explain why any of the four films (The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Gran Torino and The Martian) might or might not be a good film for their youngsters to see, what would you advise and why?
Film Question re:The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Gran Torino and The Martian
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Question: As a religious instruction teacher, if a parent asked you to explain why any
of the four films (The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Gran Torino and The
Martian) might or might not be a good film for their youngsters to see,
what would you advise and why?
Parents should consider that films and other forms of media, art and entertainment have
the ability to affect and the potential to shape their youngster’s world view and attitude
towards life. A film is a story and one of its primary purposes, apart from making a profit
for its producers, is to entertain audiences. Some films glorify violence, sexual excesses
and other behaviours that present impressions of life that may be dangerous and serve
to corrupt balanced development in our youth. Even these films, however, may be
occasions for teaching and parental guidance. Parents should also be encouraged to
see films as opportunities for theological conversion, with the ability to help in our faith
journey. These stories can also deepen the understanding of experiences in our lives.
As a religious instructor or parent, any evaluation or critique of a film should include
answers to some of the following questions:
What was my reading of the movie?
What themes were observed?
What is the moral of the story - what I got?
Was Redemption, Forgiveness, Facing sin and Revenge present in the movie?
Was there Atonement – making Reparation?
Did it include anyone achieving Freedom through ‘dying to self’?
Could I use this movie to help explain life?
Was it a Religious film?
Was God present in this movie?
The films in question, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Gran Torino and The Martian, like
most films include various themes that the writer, director and cinematographer employ
to structure and transport the particular story. This paper will include a brief synopsis of
each and explore some of the themes therein while attempting to answer a few of the
above questions, as we consider their potential for teaching and guiding youngsters.
The Revenant is set in 1823 and was inspired by the real life experiences of Hugh
Glass, who led an expedition of fur trappers along the Missouri River in northern
America. His party was attacked by a tribe of hostile Indians. The group split up and
Glass was savagely attacked by a bear. His injuries were so severe that he had to be
carried barely alive through the wilderness. A member of the group, John Fitzgerald,
wanted to abandon Glass. He eventually murdered his son Hawk and left Glass to die in
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a shallow grave. Glass struggled to survive and to find Fitzgerald to avenge the death of
Revenge and Forgiveness.
The central theme in this movie is revenge. Glass’s motivation for staying alive and
surviving incredible hardship is his burning desire for revenge and justice. During his
journey to find Fitzgerald, Glass encounters a friendly Indian who helps him and
describes the death of his own family at the hands of white men. Ironically, he tells
Glass that in the end revenge is best left to the Creator.
At the end of the movie when he eventually subdues Fitzgerald and is about to kill him,
Fitzgerald says that killing him will not bring back his son. Glass remembers his
exchange with the Indian. Something clicks and he realizes that this killing will not bring
him peace, satisfaction and the resolution that he sought throughout his journey. He
releases Fitzgerald, who is still alive but badly damaged. Fitzgerald floats down river
into the hands of some hostile Indians who kill him.
As a parent or a religious instruction teacher we realize that this theme of forgiveness is
central to our Christian faith. Jesus asked the Father to forgive his killers while hanging
on the cross. This theme from the Revenant certainly has the ability to spark in-depth
discussion about the merits of forgiveness, love and God’s commandments.
The violence depicted in this movie is also an apt reflection of the violence that applies
in our world today. Consider all the wars, gang wars and terrorist attacks. The movie
presents a refined approach to dealing with violence that young people could be
encouraged to embrace.
Bridge of Spies is based on a true story that surrounds events during the Cold War
between the United States and the Soviet Union. A US U-2 spy plane was shot down
over the USSR and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers was captured and sentenced to 10
years in prison. Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was also captured in America and New York
lawyer James Donovan was appointed to defend him in a US court. Donovan lost the
case but was recruited to negotiate a prisoner exchange in 1962. Source material for
the film was gathered from Donavan’s 1964 memoir of the case: “Strangers on a
Honesty and Courage stand out as themes in Bridge of Spies. Although he is aware of
Abdel’s guilt as a spy, Donavan puts his best effort and knowledge of the law to work at
defending this man who he has come to admire and like as a fellow human being. He
does this in the face of encouragement from the CIA, his own government, to do
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otherwise, as well as criticism and ridicule from the society at large that questions: “why
is he defending a dangerous traitor?” He perseveres even when his wife and family
become afraid after someone fires bullets through the windows of his house.
Donovan may also be defined as a virtuous man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
defines virtue as "a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” He holds his ground
and does what he believes is the right thing – even a Soviet spy deserves a fair trial.
Pro US propaganda is also present in the images of the film. All the scenes
representing the US are shot in bright, warm colourful summer-time, while all the Berlin
scenes are cold, grey, bleak and in perpetual winter.
An after movie discussion with a youngster could indicate the presence of subtle but
powerful influences in films like the US propaganda described above. Many films push a
specific point of view and viewers need to see and understand this as responses,
perception and world views are shaped.
Donavan’s virtue makes a good starting point for many discussions about right and
wrong as it relates to our treatment of ‘others’. For example: how should we react to
suffering Venezuelans who land on our shores in need of food and support? How
should our government react to the US position that any country supporting Venezuela
may find themselves facing US sanctions? This movie could spark discussions of this
nature and that is a good thing for our youngsters. Bridge of Spies asserts that
Gran Torino starring Clint Eastwood, is about Polish American war veteran Walt
Kowalski who recently retired from an auto assembly plant in Detroit where his prized
Gran Torino automobile was made. He is a white, racist, cantankerous, rifle toting,
lapsed Catholic who has been recently widowed after 50 years of marriage. He lives in
a part of Michigan that was formally populated by white working class people but has
now become home to poor Asian immigrants and gangs as well as Black and Latino
Change runs as a constant throughout Gran Torino. Detroit the US home of the auto
industry where a Ford assembly plant employed Walt Kowalski and produced his
beloved Grand Torino muscle car, has seen better days. Times have changed and both
Kowalski and the US auto industry seem to be on the way out at the hands of cheaper
Japanese cars. This is depressing and frightening to the ageing Kowalski, who recently
endured the additional change of losing his wife. The neighbourhood has also changed
with white people replaced by Asians, Blacks and Latinos.
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White masculinity is another theme. His two grown sons are anti-Eastwood figures of
masculinity: weak, ineffectual men, dominated by their materialistic wives and plump
waistlines compared to their slim and fit father. He has no interest in bonding with his
parish priest, another representation of weak, white masculinity.
Youth and disrespect also feature in Gran Torino. Kowalski’s grandchildren are shallow
and self-absorbed and he has no interest in nor affection for them. At their
grandmother’s funeral they display disrespect when genuflecting and his granddaughter
smokes. She questions him about who will get the car when he dies. He however
observes with appreciation how Thao, his young Asian neighbour, helps an old lady with
her groceries after a group of young men pass by and disrespect her. This event signals
a turning point in his attitude towards this young man.
Racism and White Messiah.
Many movies including Gran Torino, present the ideal white male hero as a handsome,
brave, strong, natural leader who is kind, generous and helpful and is usually portrayed
as a saviour delivering those weaker people who are usually of a different ethnicity
(Black, Asian, American Indian, or other).
Grand Torino stereotypes all the Hmong (Asian) characters in the film as either weak
and in need of protection, or depraved criminals. They are portrayed as powerless,
dependent, and in need of Kowalski, the white messiah to protect them from their
criminal counterparts. The racial dynamics of the film reinforce the idea that people of
colour must rely on white heroes to provide guidance, stability, and pathways to safety.
The subordinate Asian masculinity is continually juxtaposed against the dominant white
masculinity of Kowalski.
Racism and Redemption
This movie can be viewed as the story of one man’s personal triumph over racism and
his redemption through his friendship with the Hmong family. Kowalski changes over the
duration of the movie from a grumpy cantankerous old man into a friend of the Hmong
who eventually gives his life for them.
Walt Kowalski dies in a Christ-like pose in the final scene. Did he achieve freedom for
himself and deliverance from violent criminals for the Hmong community through ‘dying
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This movie provides opportunities for deep discussions on racism from the point of view
of both oppressed and oppressor. It may also caution our youth to pay particular
attention to the importance that movie ‘heroes’ occupy in our mental spaces.
The Martian is about a group of astronauts who make a hasty exit from Mars to avoid
an approaching storm. They assumed that one of their party, Mark Watney, was killed
by the storm and was thus unable to enter the escape vehicle. It is only on the way back
to earth that NASA and eventually the departing crew realize that Watney is alive and
trying to survive with limited resources on Mars. Plans are developed to bring him
The easiest response to Watney’s plight might have been to give up and leave him to
die on Mars. He might have given up on a rescue and NASA could have concluded that
it was too costly and time consuming to do so. It was only one man’s life.
The movie however emphasizes the importance of a single human life. Countries who
are natural enemies came together to preserve the life of one man. It celebrates human
life above everything else. It is about survival, never giving up and overcoming despair.
The Martian offers solid lessons in today’s world of instant and disposable products and
attitudes like coffee and abortions. It celebrates life!
This movie avoids the usual us against them and presents a world in which every nation
on the planet comes together for the sake of one man. Much like the good shepherd
who leaves the ninety-nine to save one lost sheep.
Each of the above films are suitable for viewing by youngsters. Parents are always
encouraged to see the films with or before their children see them. Seeing films provide
opportunities for parental guidance, theological conversion and help in our faith journeys
and those of our young people. These stories also deepen understanding of
experiences in our own lives.