Sunday Matinee #9 Nope
A woman at the well and a jockey on a horse.
Hello, and thank you for subscribing to R-Rated Movie Club! Looking at a movie through a theological lens has intrigued me for quite some time, and I’m glad you’ve subscribed to this newsletter, a creative outlet for me to try something new. Thanks for participating in the poll earlier this month, let’s look at the results.
Audience Reaction Results
Earlier this month, we had our latest Audience Reaction Poll. The question was “Which of Robert De Niro’s other 5 best acting nominations would you award him?” We know he won for The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull, but what about those other 5 roles? The results are in, let’s take a look:
Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is the winner. That is absolutely an amazing role and he nails it. De Niro disappears and is fully Travis. His performance is so naturalistic that, combined with Martin Scorsese’s shooting style of the gritty underbelly of 1970s New York City, it almost has a documentary feel to the entire story. Let’s face it: for almost 50 years, Travis Bickle is the image many people conjure up of the “lone wolf” who is at the heart of many acts of violence or sadistic sociopathic behavior to this day. Whether that’s fair or accurate is another matter, but that half-scripted, half-improvised self-monologue to the mirror (“You talkin’ to me?!”) is still downright scary.
The other performances are excellent. I admit, I’ve only seen a few of these once. Awakenings came out when I was a child and I don’t remember much of it and haven’t revisited it as an adult. For Silver Linings Playbook, I had it on in the background one day while working on a project and never gave it the fair shake I know I should. And for The Deer Hunter, I’ve seen it once and the scenes that are intense are so intense I’m not sure if I have much interest (or stomach?) to watch it again. It’s been 20 years, though, so maybe it’s time. Anyone have a though on any of those three?
Personally, I’d also give De Niro the Oscar for his portrayal of the vengeful, maniacal Max Cady in yet another Martin Scorsese classic, Cape Fear. Some people think his performance is too over-the-top, but the entire movie is over-the-top on purpose. The camera, the music, the lighting, the performances. It’s hyper-real and wow, De Niro leans into it. The challenge in giving him the Oscar for that year? The 1992 Academy Awards celebrating 1991 movies also saw a sweep of Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture by yet another classic:
Silence of the Lambs.
In that respect, could I give Robert De Niro the Oscar over Anthony Hopkins?
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Quotes With Notes
Full Text: John 4:5-42 (Revised Common Lectionary)
3rd Sunday in Lent (March 12, 2023)
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Context: Jesus is traveling with his disciples and somehow gets ahead of them. Stopping at a well, a woman approaches to draw water and he engages her. He’s a Jewish man, she’s a Samaritan woman, it’s noon and the hottest part of the day, and none of this interaction is normal. When Jesus asks her for water, she asks how without a bucket. He says he will give her “living water,” and they speak together of God. This woman hears his teachings and becomes a believer. Just then…
Just then [Jesus’s] disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Nope (2022) | Universal Pictures, Dentsu, Monkeypaw Productions
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, Keith David
Written and directed by Jordan Peele
Context: In an early scene in this quiet, deliberately-paced thriller, OJ and Em have inherited their late father’s business providing trained horses for film and video productions. OJ is quiet and reluctant, Em is talkative and hyper-active. While setting up ground rules for safely working with their horse, Lucky, on a set, Em first decides to give a lesson in cinema history. Her lesson, delivered with a tongue-in-cheek smirk, ends with a pun-like statement on the importance of Black people in the movies from day one:
Emerald “Em” Haywood: Since the moment pictures could move, we had skin in the game.
“Evangelism” comes from the Koine Greek word euaggelion (“you-ang-ghel’-ee-on or εὐαγγέλιον), which means “good news.” This is often articulated in the Newer Testament as “the gospel.” That means when you read The Gospel of Matthew, you’re reading The Good News according to Matthew. Okay, so what’s the good news? It’s the coming of the Messiah, the One who Saves, a.k.a. The Christ. In Christian terms? That’s Jesus. While the Newer Testament would name anyone who spreads the good news as an “apostle,” another word for them then and people today is “evangelist.” Okay, that was a looooot of theological terms and definitions there, but I’m hopeful this (oversimplified) vocab roundup helps for this next part.
Some people of faith like being an evangelist. Some people of faith do not. Both have their reasons. For those who embrace it, they like telling their faith story, sharing their faith with others, perhaps even seeing it as their responsibility to spread faith to all who would listen. For those who shy away from it, they’re prone to keep their faith to themselves, don’t really talk about it, perhaps would die of embarrassment should the subject come up. These are extremes with a broad brush, but maybe this helps people see why there are Evangelical churches and then there are Christians who don’t use “the e-word.”
Now we come to this woman at the well. She is an unlikely audience for Jesus as rabbi or teacher. Culturally, an unmarried Jewish man and an unmarried Samaritan woman are just not really supposed to engage one another. Plus, it’s high noon, the hottest part of the day. No one should be at the well in the first place. It’s understandable why Jesus is there; he often goes where he pleases, particularly if it disrupts the status quo. As for the woman, the only reason to go out in the middle of the day instead of the cool of the morning with everyone else is to avoid everyone else. She’s ostracized from the community, and we get a sense of why from her conversation with Jesus. She has a reputation that her community has deemed scandalous. When she’s already mired in scandal, why not add another layer and talk with this man at the well?
When this woman comes to faith in Jesus and his teachings of the good news, she is elated. So elated, in fact, she goes off to tell the people of her city - the very people who think she’s bad news. They even come to faith because of her testimony and word of this good news spreads. This woman, then, becomes the first evangelist of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Not the disciples, not a man, and not a perfect person, but this ostracized, imperfect, rule-breaking woman. She’s a pioneer. She has an overlooked story. But the story she tells shines.
In the movie Nope, Em introduces herself with a monologue that includes a bit of cinema history. She references the 2 seconds of film shot by Eadweard Muybridge that proved a horse lifts all four hooves off the ground at a certain point while it’s running. That’s a true story, though for the fictional story of the movie, the identity of the Black jockey is given to Em and her brother, OJ, as an ancestor. Her point is this jockey, her great, great, great grandfather, is a pioneer of early cinema lost to history. We’ll likely never know who the real jockey was. But what a creative way for filmmaker Jordan Peele to comment on lost history - particularly Black history - in the overall history of cinema and the US. I remember watching and reading about this clip in my Film Studies days 25+ years ago and it honestly never occurred to me to wonder who the jockey was until watching Nope. That may be Peele’s point. It’s easy to discount the impact of people we wouldn’t think to consider. I considered Muybridge, the significance of the film, even the dang hooves. But not the Black jockey.
This woman at the well got discounted by her community. But she is the first evangelist, a pioneer. To this day, there are Christians who discount, marginalize, or even demean women and put them in subservient roles. I’m not sure how they reconcile that attitude with this story. If a church says a woman cannot be a pastor and preach and teach, then why do we have this story where an ostracized woman converts her city by saying “Come and see the Messiah!”? Who have you discounted? Whose history is missing from your worldview? How would your faith be enhanced by learning from someone you wouldn’t usually count as a teacher?
Blessings, friends, have an excellent day. May your life’s journey meet the heart of God in ways you can recognize and that are meaningful. And to today’s preachers, may worship be a blessing for you personally and may your sermon and prayers remind everyone that God loves all people. See you at the movies.