Sunday Matinee #10 Emily the Criminal
Opening your eyes and the eyes of others.
Greetings, programs! Glad to have you aboard for R-Rated Movie Club and for this month’s Coming Attractions. It’s been fun exploring the movies and faith this year and I hope you’ve had a good experience as a subscriber. Your support matters so much to me, thank you. Okay, on to Coming Attractions.
Well, this is where two weeks ago I thought I’d have a few paragraphs from an early draft of a Feature Presentation about A Simple Plan for you. That essay is coming. But, well, I recently saw another movie and, well, I have a special announcement:
The next movie for the Feature Presentation is…
That’s right, I couldn’t help myself! I saw Cocaine Bear in the theater multiple times on opening week and I’m writing about it for the next Feature Presentation. Here’s an excerpt from the current draft:
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 his good company is, 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, someone up ahead 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 this entire movie, doesn’t it? It’s a movie called Cocaine Bear. Don’t you just kinda want to look, but also kinda don’t want to look? That’s a question for body, mind, and soul. Go to your mind and think: do I want to see this? Go to your soul and wonder: do I want to see this? Go to your body and ask: do I have the stomach to see this? “I want to look, but I also don’t want to look” is, I believe, is a genuine response we might have toward Cocaine Bear, B-movies in general, and living a life of faith.
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.
Cocaine Bear promises grisly gore. Nobody is going into 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. 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, 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, too.
A movie like Cocaine Bear deserves a newsletter issue while it’s in the midst of the cultural zeitgeist. Yes, I have a simple plan to write about A Simple Plan later. But for now, you might consider watching Cocaine Bear in theaters now!
Read the full newsletter issue on March 14. Paid subscribers will receive early access podcast audio of the essay and a bonus essay shortly thereafter.
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Quotes With Notes
Full Text: John 9:1-41 (Revised Common Lectionary)
4th Sunday in Lent (March 19, 2023)
Sign up for a free course at EnterTheBible.org to learn more.
Context: Jesus heals a man blind from birth and everyone has an opinion about why he is blind. Some blame his parents, some blame his sin. Jesus says it is neither. When he heals the man, Jesus sends him out to tell everyone what has happened. Some don’t like that he healed on the Sabbath day, when there is to be no work, even altruistic work such as healing.
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man [Jesus] is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Emily the Criminal (2022) | Netflix, Low Spark Films
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Bernado Badillo, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon
Written and directed by John Patton Ford
Context: In this tight and tense film, Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is saddled with $70,000 in student loan debt, a felony criminal record, and a string of dead-end jobs that barely pay some of the bills. She finds herself in an illegal credit card scam ring to make a quick buck, but if she can get into the fashion world she dreams of, she can leave all of that behind. Her friend, Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), got her an interview with her boss and fashion mogul, Alice (Gina Gershon). Turns out, it’s for a long-term unpaid internship, not a paying job. Emily is livid and tells Alice so…
Alice: Let me be frank with you. You don't belong here because you think everyone is out to get you. None of us are out to get you, especially me.
Emily: Oh, Jesus Christ.
Alice: I'm trying to help you.
Emily: (to her friend) This was fantastic, Liz. Thanks very much.
Alice: Thank you. No more talking, just leave. Thank you so much for coming in.
Emily: Hey, if you want to tell me what to do, put me on the fucking payroll.
A thousand rights don’t equal one wrong. Is that how the saying goes? For some people, letting go of someone else’s error is a bridge too far. That isn’t a good way to be. Accountability is one thing, and repentance is certainly at the heart of Jesus’s message for how we live together as humankind. But to say that mistake is all that a person can be will wear you down from the inside.
This quote is from a longer story of Jesus healing a man who has always been blind, the assumptions around why he was blind, and whether it’s okay to heal his blindness. The Pharisees take issue with Jesus healing this man on the Sabbath day, a day of rest and that includes rest from work such as healing. Nevermind that they had ample opportunity to heal this man on non-Sabbath days and didn’t take advantage of it. And forget anything they could have done better along the way. They are so focused on Jesus’s apparent lack of regard for how he’s supposed to conduct himself that they miss the miracle of the blind now with sight! There is a figurative “spiritual blindness” in this, too, and it shows in their lack of vision for what God can do here.
It doesn’t matter how much good Jesus does. He did it wrong. Do we put people in their place for this kind of thing? And if so, who put us in charge of deciding people’s places?
Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is desperate to climb out of her cycle of debt and dead-end jobs. So desperate, she turns to crime. She has to, as a prior felony assault charge prevents her from getting better jobs than the “independent contractor” catering work she scrapes by on now. Later in the film she explains why she received that charge, but explaining your past mistakes at an interview for a job where you hope to do your best in the future isn’t easy. Even the “Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it” is a tired form of “Tell us about when you were at your worst and we’ll see if it’s too terrible for us.” If we need to learn about people’s growth, we need better ways to ask.
At the very least, Alice (Gina Gershon) doesn’t seem all that concerned with Emily’s assault charge but is profoundly aloof to why she can’t just be grateful for this 6-month unpaid internship with normal daytime working hours. If this job is so important, pay me for it! Ah, but to ask to be paid for work is a mistake and at that point, Alice has summed-up who Emily is: spoiled. She’s dismissed. Though I love that Emily wedges in one last teachable moment for this boss. I kind of cheered when we watched that part!
Emily the Criminal opens with Emily at another job interview. While Alice doesn’t give much thought to her prior felony assault charge at the fashion design company, the office manager Emily interviews with at this other white collar firm does. He says they didn’t do a background check and quizzes her on her “permanent record.” She pleads to a DUI, so he reveals he did do a background check and wants to know about the assault. The office manager’s trick makes a bad situation worse. He can’t see the good Emily can do through the bad she’s done. In fact, the bad she’s done means she’s done. She isn’t even worth being honest with about what he knows, so he tricks her (as he’s likely tricked many interviewees). I kind of hissed when we watched that part!
When we diminish someone to their worst mistake or their worst sin - sometimes not even their worst, but just one we don’t care for - we define them by that mistake. That isn’t a good way to be. It isn’t what we wish for how others see us and we do well not to do this to others. I know some people in my life have me locked in at who I was when I was in my early 20s. I like me, and I’m not 100% fond of everything about my choices at the time (if you’re proud of all that you were in your 20s, I think you’re lucky!). Knowing this, I admit I’ve had to work hard to not lock others into a time in their life, or a slight they made against me, either. If I want others to give me room for growth, I need to make room for the growth in others. Take away my “spiritual blindness” and see people with renewed sight. What have these situations looked like for you?
A Word of Encouragement
Thanks, everyone, and I hope you have a wonderful day. May you find holy wisdom anywhere you look, whether in the scriptures or even at the movies. And to today’s preachers, may worship bring you closer to the holy as you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the name of God. God’s peace and good movies to you!
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