Feature Presentation #3 Cocaine Bear
"It kind of seems like the thing that stays with a man forever."
JUST THE BASIC FACTS
Cocaine Bear (2023) | Universal Studios, Brownstone Productions, Lord Miller Productions
Written by Jimmy Warden, Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Starring Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenriech, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklyn Prince, Christian Convery, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Hanna Hoekstra, Ayola Smart, Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore, Leo Hanna, Kahyun Kim, Scott Seiss, with Margo Martindale and Ray Liotta, and New York as Rosette
Two-Sentence Version: People flee for their lives when they come face to face with a black bear high on cocaine. The beauty of the Appalachian trail becomes a bloodbath battle of survival and friendship!
Fun Facts: This is Ray Liotta’s final completed film and my theory is this is an unofficial sequel to Goodfellas. It’s inspired by true events in 1985 when a drug smuggler dumped cocaine over a Georgia forest and was killed jumping from his airplane. A black bear was later found dead from an overdose after eating $20 million worth of cocaine (that’s $55 million in 2023 dollars). In real life, these two are the only known casualties.
Why it’s rated R: Just swearing, isn’t that silly? Nah, there’s tons of blood. Rated R for bloody violence and gore, drug content, and language throughout. “Throughout” is the right word here, MPA, it’s pretty constant.
Does it earn its R rating? Take the kids to find out! Or actually, yes. Yes, it does. Well-earned, Cocaine Bear.
PUT IT IN CONTEXT:
Major Theological Themes: Protecting your cubs, the value of friendship, trust and loyalty, making a promise before God, taking action when you have a revelation, and winners don’t use drugs.
If Jesus told this story, it would be called: “The Parable of the Two Mama Bears.”
The book of the Bible where it best fits is: I think Cocaine Bear would best fit in the Hebrew Bible or Older Testament because of how the characters overlap in the movie. For example, Stache (Aaron Holliday) goes from his gang friends, Vest and Ponytail, to walking with Daveed and Eddie, then meets Syd, Bob, and the Bear. Henry doesn’t meet Stache, but he does meet Ranger Liz (who meets Stache’s friends), Daveed, Eddie, and Syd. Not everyone meets each other, but enough of them do that their story threads tangle together. I’m reminded of how David ends up a central figure of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles, or Moses is in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These two figures alone, David and Moses, have multiple mentions beyond their stories, too, tangling their story threads with many stories to come after their time.
Most “Biblical” Line of Dialogue: “We had a truce and a truce is on God where I come from!”
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Introduction: The Right Movie for Our Time!
The world is ready for Cocaine Bear. It’s been a serious few years. Lots of uncertainty, lots of panic, lots of seemingly inescapable dread brought on by things beyond our control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I recall recounting with friends some of the tough stuff we were facing on several occasions. Often, these talks saw someone shrug and admit, “It’s so much, sometimes all you can do is laugh.” I had plenty of those days, maybe you did, too. A lot has changed in recent years, with a lot discovered and a lot lost. We’ll keep looking back to sift through the chaos and my guess is as we do, there will be times we will laugh. That can be a good thing. When you have strong emotions, laughter can be a cathartic release. Cocaine Bear is chaos and it invites you to remember that in the midst of chaos, sometimes all you can do is laugh. Don’t believe me? Ask director Elizabeth Banks, she said something similar.
Let’s look at Cocaine Bear today. I hope that was just as incredible a sentence to read as it was to write! First, we’ll compare the two mama bears of this movie. Then, we’ll do a brief overview of most of the character relationships and take a deep dive into one of them. And we’ll wrap things up thinking about B-movies in general: why do we watch them, what do we get out of it, and how is enjoying a good B-movie related to living out a life of faith?
Similar to how my kids say “Yes” when they actually mean “No” when I ask them if they’ve unloaded the dishwasher, Cocaine Bear is also “based on a true story.” The true story is in the 1980s, a drug dealer dumped millions of dollars worth of cocaine kilos from his airplane into a forest in Georgia. Days later, a black bear was tragically found dead and surrounded by torn-open cocaine packages. The poor bear OD’d. The drug dealer also died when his parachute didn’t open. Two casualties, cocaine lost, the end.
The movie Cocaine Bear is a little different. In the 1980s, a drug dealer dumped millions of dollars worth of cocaine kilos from his airplane into a forest in Georgia. Immediately, a black bear finds the cocaine and loves it. The bear attacks - and usually kills - anybody who gets between it and coke. On that fateful day, a variety of people cross paths as various reasons bring them to the forest. Unfortunately, most of them get in between the coke and the bear, and as I mentioned, that doesn’t go very well for them. Fortunately for us, those abrupt interactions between humans and Cocaine Bear are played for laughs, gruesome as they may be, and if that sort of mix is your thing, you’re in for a treat. As for those who survive getting in-between a bear and its coke, each of them come to find that the real treasure was the friends we make along the way.
And don’t worry: no animals were harmed in the making of Cocaine Bear.
I can’t say the same for yet another slimeball wonderfully played by Ray Liotta.
“We have such good luck in nature!” (4:30)
So the saying goes, there are five kinds of basic conflict for a majority of stories with R-rated examples:
Human vs. Human - People are in conflict with one another. Nobody
Human vs. Machine - People are in conflict with that which they created. The Terminator
Human vs. Self - People are in conflict with themselves at an “inner turmoil” level. Fight Club
Human vs. Society - People are in conflict with group norms, standards, and culture. The Insider
Human vs. Nature - People are in conflict with cocaine bears. Into the Wild
Many stories have more than one of these types of conflict in them of course, but many stories have one major genre of conflict as an umbrella for the rest. The Terminator is Human vs. Machine, while we also see humans disagree with each other and Sarah Connor in particular faces her inner turmoil. Cocaine Bear is Human vs. Nature, though the other four genres all appear, as well. For example:
Human vs. Human - Drug Smugglers vs. Police for the coke, Ranger Liz vs. the Duchamps Gang to control the park, Elsa vs. Olaf on their wedding band even if Olaf’s brother is taking vocal lessons.
Human vs. Machine - Cocaine comes from plants, but it goes through a lot of refinement to become the white powder seen all throughout the movie. Coke is this movie’s Terminator’s neural net programming.
Human vs. Self - Characters have to come to grips with what they’re capable of in order to survive.
Human vs. Society - The Duchamps are seemingly anarchists, rebels without a cause.
Each of these are under the umbrella of Human vs. Nature. My hunch is for most of us, Human vs. Human is the most-watched movie conflict we’ve seen. But if you listed all the movies you’ve seen on paper for a pretty database like Letterboxd, which other conflict type have you seen the most? I’m a big science fiction fan, so as I look at my own curated list of R-rated movies at Letterboxd, I see a lot of Human vs. Machine, which I also think includes the subcategory, Human vs. Science, particularly if it’s about humans meddling with science beyond our ability to control or understand. Zombie movies like 28 Days Later or Zombieland are good examples of this. If you see a conflict type you’ve seen the most, what draws you to it? What kind of conflict do you see the least, and should you give it more of a chance?
“Who are you?!” “Uh… Uh… I’m mom!” (1:19:40)
Sari McKinndrey (Keri Russell) is a hard-working single parent raising defiant Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and friend Henry (Christian Convery). She’s very 80s, with a pink windbreaker, flower wallpaper, and wicker headboard. She’s funny, she can be ferocious. Most of all, she loves her kid. She’ll do what she must.
Cocaine Bear (stuntman Allan Henry did the bear performance, Weta FX did the computer work) is a hard-working single parent raising a pair of cubs. She’s very bear, with a black coat and a cave with a waterfall view. She’s furry, she can be ferocious. Most of all, she loves her cubs. And cocaine. She’ll do what she must.
Bears are notoriously protective of their cubs. Remember: never get in-between a mama bear and her cubs. If you forgot that, Cocaine Bear reminds you. Both Sari and Cocaine Bear are “mama bears,” a mix of cuddly and protective. At the waterfall, Cocaine Bear gets fierce with people who put her cubs in danger. And I love Sari here, too. She’s confronted by those who would do her and her kids harm: “Who are you?!” they demand, pointing a gun at her. Sari is many things, but in that moment, she is a mama bear and her response boils it all down: “Uh… uh… I’m mom!” When she gets her hands on the gun, she locks and loads: “I am taking. The fucking children. Home!” Don’t get between her and her cubs, either.
The Bible is filled with mama bears. They are strong women who will do what they have to for their children. Sarah is strong enough to laugh when God says she’ll have a child in old age and humble enough to admit God was right (Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7). Hagar trusts in God and ventures into the wilderness with her son, Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-16, 21:-21). Moses’s mother saves his life with a great plan (Exodus 2:1-10). Naomi suffers the loss of her husband and sons but finds a new family for her and her daughter-in-law, Ruth (Ruth 2:20-21, 3:1-5). Hannah trusts God and brings her son, Samuel, to Eli to serve God and become a great prophet (1 Samuel 1:20-23). Mary the mother of Jesus invokes Hanna’s song of gratitude to be a mother for Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10) when she sings of her gratitude to be a mother as well (Luke 1:46-55).
Not every mom in scripture is a great mom. The mom who stole someone else’s child because her own child tragically died is dealing with a lot, but not in a good way (1 Kings 3:16-27). Likewise, not every mom in our world is a great mom. Nobody can do it all perfectly. That’s why we raise children with as many loving, trusted adults in their lives as possible - to give them the backup they need. We all need protecting and we can all be a protector. Who has been a “mama bear” for you? Who needs you to be their “mama bear”? Anyone who knows how to love can step up to play a positive “mama bear” role, even without cocaine!
“Apex predator. High on cocaine. And you’re heading right toward it.” (1:12:15)
All of the characters in this movie are on a collision course with Cocaine Bear. Well, it’s the other way around, really. But they also collide with each other. This movie has fun putting characters in pairs or trios and sending them off on a journey to see what happens. Plenty of movies do this well: Pulp Fiction, Do the Right Thing, Crash, Dazed and Confused, Magnolia, Love Actually, and Traffic.
Here are a few character pairings that reminded me of a pairing of figures from the Bible. These are not perfectly-precise parallels. I’m not saying Beth is Naomi making sure that Tom as Ruth has a kinsman redeemer to marry. I’m saying when Beth and Tom look out for each other, they remind me of Ruth and Naomi. Here are relationships in Cocaine Bear that echo, parts of relationships in the Bible:
Ranger Liz and Peter: Ranger Liz (the magnificent Margo Martindale) isn’t great at her job. She smokes in a forest, is reluctant to search for a missing child, makes an abrupt mistake that costs someone their life, and when her own life is in danger she’s willing to leave someone behind to save her own skin. Wildlife Inspection Rep Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is a little too know-it-all for his own good. I’m reminded of an odd, unfortunate moment in the story of Moses and the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.
Though hesitant at first, Moses comes to follow God’s lead and leads God’s people. One day, water was scarce and tempers ran high. God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water will pour from it (Numbers 20:1-9). But when Moses did this, he took the credit instead of God (Numbers 20:10-11) That didn’t go over well with God, and Moses was no longer permitted to enter the promised land with the people. Sure, he had to keep leading them there, but he doesn’t get to go (Numbers 20:12). His response? Blame the people! “God was angry with me because of you, and now I don’t get to go!” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22) This moment far from defines Moses, a complex figure, and someone more well-versed in Ancient Hebrew may parse that sentence out better. But we as readers know that Moses blaming the people is weird.
Peter blames Henry for the bear attack (“This is your fault!”) and goes from telling him you’re wrong (“Bears are actually peaceful creatures.”) to demanding to know what he did to it (“Did you feed it cocaine?!”). Later, when Henry tells someone it’s all their fault - and it actually is that person’s fault - wow, I felt his vindication as an audience member! When Ranger Liz confronts the Doochamp gang of teens who have been terrorizing hikers in the park, she insists they’re the reason she’s “unfit for the big leagues” like Yellowstone. Except we’ve seen her just not be a good ranger! Blame is a weird game without clear winners and losers.
How are Ranger Liz and Peter like Moses? Ranger Liz blames the Duchamp Gang for her own ineptitude as a ranger. Peter blames Henry for Cocaine Bear. Moses blames the people for his mistake.
How are Ranger Liz and Peter not like Moses? They lead exactly zero people to safety, prosperity, and the hope of the promised land. Thanks for nothing, Ranger Liz and Peter.
Elsa and Olaf: The first two characters we meet, Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) and Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) are European backpackers discussing their upcoming wedding. When they see Cocaine Bear turn from cute to menacing, Olaf warns Elsa not to run, that they must fight. As an audience, we’ve just been told they should fight back and not submit, thanks to the reliable source that is Wikipedia. Elsa runs. Which, in my estimation, is submitting to fear. That’s going to cost her. An arm and a leg. Because… well, you know. Ba-dum, dum.
Not every couple in the Bible makes great decisions together. Lot and his wife are told to leave the city before its destruction and not look back (Genesis 19:15-23). Pretty clear, yes? Well, Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:24-26). There are many teachings about why this happened in Jewish Midrash and Christian teachings. I’ll simply offer that they had rules and didn’t follow them. Need a Biblical example of a husband not listening to instructions, how about Nabal who insults David and his men to the point his life is in danger (1 Samuel 25). His wife, Abigail (a named wife, this time!) steps in to smooth things over. One of the ways she does this? She says David, don’t take Nabal’s attitude seriously! He’s a fool. In fact, his name literally means “fool.” (1 Samuel 25:25) Then Nabal dies and Abigail marries David. Smart move, Abbie!
Wikipedia doesn’t always have the most-accurate advice. But we don’t always follow the most-accurate advice, either. When has following the most-accurate advice paid off? When has deviating worked or not?
How are Elsa and Olaf like Lot and Isit? They get rules, ignore them, consequences ensue.
How are Elsa and Olaf not like Lot and Isit? One becomes salt. One becomes meat that needs salt.
Officer Reba and Detective Bob: These two officers have a playful dynamic and when Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) leaves to track down the lost cocaine, he tells Reba (Ayoola Smart) she is the only one he can trust to care for Rosette, his new fancy dog. Later, that trust is tested. Bob gives Reba a tearful speech about trust, adding layer after layer of who all would be let down by a breach of trust. But even after all of that, he asks her how Rosette is. “She being a good girl?” Letting him down in one area is terrible, but he wants to keep that trust alive in this other area, the more important bond of family. Yes, even with a fancy dog like Rosette.
One of my favorite stories of forgiveness in scripture is Joseph and His Brothers (Genesis 37-50). He comes off as arrogant and they deal with their jealousy by beating him up, throwing him in a pit, and selling him into slavery (Genesis 37). You know, like you do. Years later, when these brothers are at Joseph’s mercy, when he has them right where he wants them, he reveals himself to them and offers forgiveness. He embraces them and welcomes them anew (Genesis 45:1-11, 50:20-21). Bob is disappointed he has reason to doubt Reba’s integrity. But he knows she will look after his dog. He doesn’t necessarily say “I forgive you,” but he is showing her restraint and trust. None of us are perfect. Can we love and forgive and trust even if people aren’t perfect?
How are Reba and Bob like Joseph and His Brothers? Despite their issues, there is still trust.
How are Reba and Bob not like Joseph and His Brothers? They don’t beat each other up, throw each other in holes, sell each other off, and they don’t sing. I mean, not like Donny Osmond does. Who can?!
Beth and Tom: This pair of EMTs stumble over a corpse and into a bad situation in this movie. Beth (Kahyun Kim) is the driver, Tom (Scott Seiss) is the paramedic and they make a good team. When danger reared its cocaine-clouded head, their only chance was to work together. There is a small but lovely moment when Beth and Ranger Liz could get away and be almost certain to live and tell the tail. Beth evacuates Ranger Liz to the ambulance while Tom is pinned down by Cocaine Bear. Beth starts the engine, shifts into Drive, and puts her foot on the brake. Ranger Liz screams, “Leave him!” Beth doesn’t. She waits for Tom’s signal to go before she drives away. Granted, he’s not quite on board yet, and when he is they yell at each other about driving when he wasn’t onboard yet and why he hasn’t shut the door yet, but hey, it’s a tough day!
That small but lovely moment takes me to the uplifting relationship between Ruth and Naomi in the book of Ruth. Naomi lost her husband and her two sons, one of whom was married to Ruth. Naomi sent off Orpah, but Ruth clung to her, saying, “Do not press me to leave you, to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:14-18) It’s a powerful witness to love and loyalty, this notion of being in it together. And that teamwork is present even in a movie like this. Beth and Tom aren’t selfish. They’re a team.
How are Beth and Tom like Ruth and Naomi? Where you go, I will go. Where you die, I will die.
How are Beth and Tom not like Ruth and Naomi? Beth doesn’t have a plan for Tom to get Cocaine Bear a little tipsy (or more high), uncover its “feet” and marry it. Maybe that’s in a deleted scene on the 4K disc.
Ponytail, Vest, and Stache: Yes, the Duchamp Gang. Three unruly teenagers who yes, remind me of a story from the Bible. They steal, they prey on the weak, they get stabby. I won’t spoil the fate of Ponytail (Leo Hanna, who doesn’t have a ponytail), Vest (J.B. Moore, who’s backwards ballcap is more prominent than his vest), or Stache (Aaron Holliday, who doesn’t appear to have a stache). But I will say for all the trouble they cause when they could have stayed out of the woods and stayed home, they’re not the only ones.
In 2 Kings, Elisha has just succeeded his mentor, Elijah, in the role of prophet. He has just performed his first miracles. The city respects him and sends him away with glad tidings. Except then this happens:
Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-25)
If two mama bears took down forty-two teenagers, imagine if they were also cocaine bears!
How is the Duchamp Gang like these boys? Theirs is a classic case of mess around and find out.
How is the Duchamp Gang not like these boys? This time, I think it’s a 100% match!
“You’re more than just a drug dealer. You’re my friend. You’re my best friend.” (1:25:03)
If there’s one thing I didn’t expect going into Cocaine Bear, it’s the friendship between Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). From their POV, this movie is an evolving buddy road picture.
Eddie is the son of drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta, who sadly passed away in 2022). He’s an emotional wreck after his wife, Joanie, passed away from cancer. He’s quit the life, but Syd ropes him back in when he has henchman Daveed appeal to him to help recover the missing coke. Daveed tries to comfort Eddie, apologizing for not reaching out like he should have when Joanie died. Eddie brushes him off:
Uh, Eddie, listen… When Joanie died… Sorry I didn’t, you know…
No, I could’ve done more.
I should’ve been there.
I didn’t need you there. I don’t hang out with drug dealers anymore. It’s against my constitution.
I’m more than a drug dealer!
No, you’re not.
Come on, Eddie. We’re friends, right?
That’s on the way into the park. But by the end, after they had to bear each other’s burdens and been to hell and back, they grew closer. They take risks for each other. They save each other’s lives. As Daveed lies in Eddie’s arms, Eddie comforts Daveed, taking back his brush-off:
I need you to know. What I said earlier… You’re more than a drug dealer, all right? You’re my friend. You’re my best friend, all right?!
Their relationship evolves and endures. Their boss and their dad, Syd White, can’t tear them apart. The DuChamp gang and the police can’t tear them apart. Cocaine Bear tries to tear them apart. But when they both learn to trust one another, be there for one another through their wounds - mental, physical, emotional - they become best friends. I adored this relationship and it grounded an otherwise ridiculous story. Can you believe it, Dear Reader? Cocaine Bear moved my heart!
Like my earlier comparisons with scripture, what I have here isn’t perfect. Still, the friendship between Eddie and Daveed reminds me of the friendship between Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 18-20 and beyond. King Saul calls upon the shepherd boy, David, to defeat the mighty Goliath. At first, he is glad for the victory, but he grows jealous of David for receiving more accolades than he does. Later, David becomes king, but not before King Saul tries to kill him because he sees David as a threat. But Saul’s eldest son, Jonathan, takes a liking to David. They make a covenant, a promise to be friends and look out for one another. Different scholars make the argument and Saul and/or Jonathan either recognize or didn’t recognize that David would someday be king. Regardless, the father tries to kill him, the son makes a commitment to him. Tough family dynamic there. There goes Jonathan’s dad, Saul, trying to kill his BFF David. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Eventually, it’s Jonathan who is killed in a mountaintop battle, and David is left in mourning. Later he is anointed as king, and so comes a sometimes controversial but certainly prosperous age.
Wow, that is a way oversimplified paragraph describing the majority of 1 Samuel and the opening of 2 Samuel. I mean, I just boiled down 20+ pages of the Bible to a 200-word paragraph. I’ve written the word “cocaine” at least 50 times so far, in comparison. Still, that paragraph may give you a sense of why Eddie and Daveed plus Syd remind me of Jonathan and David plus Saul. In both cases, an angry dad gets between his son and his friend. Two young men form bonds to become best friends. There are struggles, promises, mountaintop battles, and while the outcomes are different, the relationship is the same at its core: the thing we can offer one another through the tough stuff is friendship. Thanks be to God for that! Who have you gone through the tough stuff with and come out the other end? How have you expressed your gratitude to them?
“I want to look, but I also don't want to look.” (Time Stamp surprise!)
In a moment of respite, when everything feels calm and safe, young Henry (Christian Convery) walks in good company down a well-lit path. You can tell I’m trying to avoid spoilers here by not writing A. whether he’s actually safe, 2. who is his good company, or D. if this path is well-lit because it’s toward the beginning of the movie during the day or if he - or anybody - survives the night! I will offer, however, that despite Henry feeling calm and safe, the path is not all fresh dew on green after a rainshower filled with rainbows and unicorns. Up ahead on the path, someone didn’t make it. There is a carnival of car wreck carnage on the trail, a trail of entrails on the trail to enthrall all a y’all. As they pass by this morbid scene, Henry sums up how he feels:
“I want to look, but I also don’t want to look.”
This sentiment really summarizes the entire movie, doesn’t it? It’s a movie called Cocaine Bear. Don’t you want to look but also don’t want to look? As a potential audience member of a movie called Cocaine Bear, I want to buy a ticket, but I also don’t want to buy a ticket. As a frequent B-movie audience member, I want to enjoy them for what they are, but also don’t want to enjoy them for what they are. As a person of faith in a beautiful God and who lives in a broken world, I want to put faith in action, but I also don’t want to put faith in action. Let’s wrap up by looking at these three.
Cocaine Bear promises grisly gore. Nobody goes to this movie without knowing there will be blood. Maybe if you’ve never heard of the movie and your friend group pranked you into going with them by telling you the title is ironic and it’s a light-hearted romp for the whole family. If that’s you, fine, but the rest of us know.
We’re going to get lots of lopped-off limbs, torn-up torsos and head-less humans. When we watch a movie like this, we gird our loins and prepare ourselves to be bathed in buckets of blood but also prepare ourselves to turn away if it’s too much. Horror and thriller movies walk that fine line on that, don’t they? I can think of all the ways I’ve made it through thrillers, dramas, and horror movies. I wince, I scream, I laugh - anything to ease the tension! I feel that tension in my body, mind, and soul.
There is a tightness, have you felt that? Even when you know it’s coming, that tightness comes right along and does its thing. When we go to movies like Cocaine Bear as entertainment, we are saying we are okay with that tightness. We even crave it, and feel eager for it. We may be so eager we can’t wait to see it again, this time with a friend, so we can watch their response out of the corner of our eye. We remember how we winced, and we get a new thrill out of watching them experience it. And we’ll pay good money for it, too.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek love for B-movies out there. You probably have some favorite movies, what we often call “guilty pleasures.” These are movies that we know aren’t great but that’s part of their charm. For me, it’s movies like Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall, or The Stuff that are good because they’re not great and also bring that whiff of VHS rental nostalgia with them. There are lots of R-rated horror and thriller B-movies in particular, because making horror on the cheap often is part of the fun. There is an earnestness to these efforts that is endearing. While nothing can save a bad movie from itself, there’s a lot to appreciate about the heart that goes into making any movie. So when the blood looks obviously fake or the editing is a bit choppy or the zipper running up the back of the monster suit shines in the studio lights, we can roll our eyes or we can cheer them on. I’m a B-movie kind of person. I root for those who are scrappy.
As a person of faith in a beautiful God and who lives in a broken world, I want to put faith in action, but I also don’t want to put faith in action. One of the struggles of any religion is putting beliefs into practice. We read or learn or wonder about the holy. We go to worship services, we do scripture studies, we pray and meditate, we make a list of spiritual practices to try on for size. But putting it all into action, it can be… hard.
Ask yourself how many times you’ve wanted to do the right thing and have your faith be what fuels you to do it, only to back down because it’s easier to go a different way or more rewarding in the short-term instant gratification sense to do it another way (a “guilty pleasure,” maybe?) or tackling it is so overwhelming it’s easier to not do anything at all? That can be a struggle. We want to look at things that are tough to look at - especially broken, complex systems filled with injustice - and it can be so overwhelming that we don’t want to look.
For the times you could’ve done better, or you gave up too easily, or you could’ve put faith into practice and didn’t, take a breath. Try again. If we’re all overwhelmed and feel guilty about it, nothing changes. But if we fight through that urge to not look, we can find the strength to do the right thing.
Be kind to yourself. Like movies aren’t all on the A-list, neither are all of our choices. We make plenty of B-list choices. Remember: these B-list choices get you closer to aiming for A-list choices. Celebrate the earnestness that brought you up to the B-list from down on the D-list! And when it’s hard to look at the right thing to do because it will be so hard to do it, know that God is urging you forward, that God is with you in it, and God believes in you. There are B-movies but there are not B-people. God has us all on the A-list.
Even if you’re a Cocaine Bear.
Thank You, Dear Reader!
Thank you for reading and sharing this Feature Presentation of Cocaine Bear for R-Rated Movie Club. It’s the theological analysis I know you’ve all been waiting for, Dear Reader. I’ll post extra thoughts about it in a paid subscriber post soon, including what my kids think of it. If you haven’t seen Cocaine Bear yet, give it a shot, and I hope you enjoy it and send me a note and let me know what you think. Paid subscribers can leave comments. For everyone else, remember: bears can’t climb trees.
Oh, wait. Of course they can!
“The Ending of Cocaine Bear Explained.”
Okay, not really. But Scott Seiss said there wouldn’t be any articles called that and I thought it would be fun to add it.