Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors examine the spiritual themes of your favorite movies. Join us for a unique look at the intersection of faith and Hollywood.

Click this banner to see the entire series.

April 4th, 2014
A review of Darren Aronofsky's latest film and tips for watching and reflecting on it

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe star in a scene from the movie "Noah." (CNS photo/Paramount)

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe star in a scene from the movie “Noah.” (CNS photo/Paramount)

With Darren Aronofsky’s Noah out in theaters, one of the major questions that’s been floating around is: Is the film accurate? The answer, honestly, depends on what you define as “accurate.” The film gets quite a few biblical details wrong (and adds plenty of its own dramatic tweaks and twists, though that sort of thing has come to be accepted for pretty much any film adaptation nowadays), but understanding the overall accuracy of Noah begs a larger question: How do we interpret the story of Noah and the Flood in the first place?

To start, yes — there is historical basis for the story of Noah, at least on the flood front. However, it is merely basis, as Catholics consider the tale to originate from an ancient rhetorical style that commonly employed myth, emphasis, and embellishment to explain certain truths. Noah’s “Great Flood” is not the only story to use this pattern, as many mythological traditions include details about such a flood — the Epic of Ziusudra, the Epic of Atrahasis, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. This mythological background, of course, is where the story …

February 27th, 2014

The nine films competing this Sunday for the Best Picture Oscar are some of the best of the year and very worth your while to check out if you haven’t seen them yet. But if you don’t have time in the next few days, just check out our short synopsis for each of them below with some links to some more in depths looks at the spiritual components of the films, because at A Spiritual Side of Cinema we like to discuss and review the more transcendent qualities of the movies, and we’ve done so this year with the two big frontrunners of the Oscar race, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, as well as many others…

12 Years a Slave, (click here to read our review): This film hurt. Emotionally, sometimes even close to physically, it was painful to watch … and that’s putting it mildly. The film pulled no punches when dealing with the harsh realities of America’s slave trade and the evil acted out by those who took part in it.

Gravity, (click here to read our review): A tense walk with Sandra Bullock through the worst space trip since 1979, presents itself as a sci-fi …

February 27th, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in “12 Years a Slave.”

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.”

12 Years A Slave hurt. Emotionally, sometimes even close to physically, it was painful to watch … and that’s putting it mildly. The film pulled no punches when dealing with the harsh realities of America’s slave trade and the evil acted out by those who took part in it. The movie tells the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor), a free African-American from Saratoga, New York, who is drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in 1841 by men he thought he could trust. Solomon witnesses firsthand the malice of slave traders as he is passed from master to master as a piece of commerce, experiencing treatment unlike any he had ever received in his life.

Showcasing such horrors as rape, murder, brutal whippings, and lynching, the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelty slaves endured. Rather, it thrusts such cruelty into the forefront, forcing the audience to behold just how dreadful and terrifying life could be for slaves. 12 Years confronts its audience boldly and does not let up. It was a movie (easily “Best Picture” quality) that left me speechless as I stared at the credits, blown away …

February 27th, 2014
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in a scene from the movie "Philomena." (CNS photo/Weinstein)

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in a scene from the movie “Philomena.” (CNS photo/Weinstein)

We’ve seen some moving tales as part of this year’s Oscar race, from the heartbreaking journey of Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave to the harrowing story of Dr. Ryan Stone’s struggle to survive outer space in Gravity. A standout among them, though, is Philomena, which chronicles a woman’s search for the son she had as a teenager and lost to forced adoption. The story goes as such: Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) had a child as an unwed teenager, and as a result was shamed, cast out from her family, and sent to live in a convent where she was punished for her perceived sin. The nuns there gave her no medication during childbirth, one of them even going so far as to say that “the pain is her penance.” After her son was born, he was put up for adoption and taken away from Philomena without warning. Fifty years later, after hiding the pain of her loss for much of her life, Philomena decides to make an attempt at tracking her son down, recruiting the aid of journalist Martin Sixsmith …

February 26th, 2014
The Lenten themes in a movie about survival

all-is-lostSurvival is a natural instinct, no matter what environment a person is stuck in.

This adage is confirmed by the new movie All Is Lost. The film’s sole character, known simply as Our Man (Robert Redford, giving an Oscar-worthy performance) is sailing on the Pacific Ocean when some debris makes a hole in his vessel. He patches it up, and all seems well until a storm hits. He makes an SOS call, but nobody answers and so Our Man must fend for himself. The storm ravages his boat and his spirits as he struggles to survive, alone on the open ocean.

Our Man never gives any outward sign of being a religious person. However, his saga has strong echoes of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, a touchstone of the Gospels. Jesus’ adversary is the Devil, who tempts him to make stones into bread, throw himself off the temple so as to be saved, and worship Satan to gain power. Though struggling, Jesus resists these temptations and is motivated by his desire to please God. In the process, he is rewarded by the angels. This story of adversity followed by rebirth has a distinctively Lenten bent.

As …

February 25th, 2014
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie "Gravity." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie “Gravity.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

I’ve got a bone to pick with Gravity, or with its marketing scheme at the very least. The film, a tense walk with Sandra Bullock through the worst space trip since 1979, presents itself as a sci-fi survivalist nightmare (think Open Water in orbit) wherein rookie astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, absolutely stealing the show) are stranded among the stars and have to struggle to survive and make their way home to Earth. I was expecting a cut-and-dry, “How do we get out of this?” thriller with a sense of imminent peril throughout — a notion only emphasized by the posters, previews, and propaganda with the phrase “Don’t let go.” You can almost hear Bullock’s desperate and terrified Dr. Stone pleading the line, as though it’s the only thing between her and certain death. As the debris flew at Stone and Kowalski at the beginning of the film, sending them spinning off into the black void, I was ecstatic — this was the movie I was ready to see.

What I got for the next 90 minutes …

February 25th, 2014
Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie "Her." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie “Her.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

We look at screens. Eyes? Not so much. I’m hardly breaking new ground by critiquing our culture and its propensity for staring at screens, be it as minuscule as the face of the phone in our pockets or as large as the flat screen mounted on our living room wall. We look at screens.

Indeed, many studies have been done, articles written, and news programs aired focusing on the insidious effect technology has had on modern relationships. Technology has isolated us from one another, wrapping us up into cocoons of warm, fuzzy bandwidth, freeing us to present false representations of ourselves that provide barriers to any real connection or intimacy, all from the safety of our solitary rooms.

Spike Jonze’s Her takes a refreshing look at the effect technology has had on relationships by exploring what happens when a human being, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), and an intelligent computer operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), fall in love. Set in the not-too-distant future, the film doesn’t take the expected route of damning technology and its undermining of modern relationships, but instead uses technology as a means of …

February 21st, 2014

Ian McKellen stars in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ian McKellen stars in the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nominated for three Oscars — Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects — and anyone who’s seen the film can attest to the fact that it deserves at least the nominations it’s received, particularly the visual effects nod. After all, it’s nothing short of incredible what can be done visually with computer technology these days; a team like those who worked on Desolation of Smaug can create people and places that interact so seamlessly with the live actors and real environments that you’d swear they were really there. These men and women can make a dragon, and a believable one at that, who walks, talks, and spits bursts of flame without seeming the slightest bit asynchronous or removed from the action. If ever there could be magic in the world, I suspect it would look something like this.

But however blissful this “magic” may be for the audience, unfortunately it appears to not extend behind the scenes, at least not in nearly the same capacity. Though some of Desolation of Smaug’s scenes may …

February 20th, 2014
Takeaways for our spiritual journey from Disney’s latest animated feature

spiritual-side-of-frozenI finally gave into the hype and watched Disney’s Frozen. Not only were its music and storyline a delight on a cold winter’s day, the film offered moments of deep meaning for me, something characteristic of many Disney stories. Frozen is based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen which, like many fairly tales, have strong spiritual themes. Frozen isn’t explicitly spiritual but it teaches us about the importance of feelings, gifts, and relationships.

The story begins by focusing on young Princess Elsa who has the strange ability to magically create ice and snow with her hands. This ability offers lots of fun for her and her younger sister Anna until Anna gets hurt in their play. Elsa’s parents, the king and queen, see little good in Elsa’s ability and have trolls erase Anna’s memory of her sister’s strange gift. The king has Elsa kept in confinement until she is able to control her ability. He even has her put on gloves. “Conceal it,” he tells her. “Don’t feel it,” she says to herself. “Don’t let it show.”

The trolls clearly see her power as a gift, one that can be used for good, but one …

February 13th, 2014
Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in a scene from the movie “Prisoners.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in a scene from the movie “Prisoners.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

This year’s Oscar race has certainly been an interesting one, especially on the spiritual front. The nominees have shown incredible depth and range as far as spiritual themes go, and Prisoners is no exception. The film, now available on DVD, showcases the transformative effects on a man of one tragic event, as we watch Hugh Jackman’s character abandon his morals in pursuit of the people who took his daughter.

“We do it to wage war against God,” one of the kidnappers tells Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, when pressed for their motive, “because losing a child turns good men like you into demons.”

By their own definition, then, it would appear that by the end of the film, the kidnappers win — Dover has been through all kinds of hell (some of which he imposed on himself) as he hunted for his missing daughter. He has allowed irrationality, violence and vengeance to get the better of him and transform him into something that he is not. When we last see Keller Dover in the film, he is not only a demon, but a beaten …

January 24th, 2014
A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

Though the Oscar race is going to be tight this year in some categories — will Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globes win be echoed? 12 Years A Slave or Gravity for Best Picture? There’s one thing I’m certain we’re going to see. Frozen is going to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Why? Here are three reasons:


I admit that this is more of a reason why Frozen is probably a shoe-in for the Best Original Song category (which I also suspect it’ll win, though it definitely has stronger competition there.) Still, because Frozen is a musical, it’d be unfair to divorce the film from its music. The original songs in this movie echo Broadway like nothing that has been created for the silver screen in a long time, particularly in animation, not only in tone and style but also in their sheer ability to convey the emotion and drive of the characters. This is no surprise, however, considering the team that came together to create these musical numbers.

The tracks were penned by Robert Lopez, the composer and lyricist behind award-winning Broadway hits like Avenue Q and The Book of

December 10th, 2013

long-walk-to-freedomMandela: Long Walk to Freedom chronicles the life of political leader and revolutionary Nelson Mandela, particularly his struggle to put an end to apartheid in South Africa and reunite the nation peacefully. The film wowed at every turn, exquisitely showcasing the triumphs and hardships of Mandela’s life, and successfully imparting the wisdom and dedication he held in regard to the cause he fought and sacrificed so much for. Long Walk to Freedom treads important ground on the issues of race and power relations, much like another film of this year (and a potential opponent for Best Picture) 12 Years A Slave. What gripped me most about the movie is Mandela’s mantra in regard to power and community. Several times throughout Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela and those associated with him through the African National Congress describe their group by using a clever metaphor — that of a fist.

“Alone, we have no power,” Mandela says, holding up his fingers one by one. Then, he pulls them into a fist, adding: “but together, we have the power to change the world.”

It really got me thinking about how true this principle can be in our lives today, and how it comes …

November 26th, 2013

catching-fireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second in a series of four in The Hunger Games franchise, has just been released in theaters, and is a worthy follow-up to the first movie. Though I admit some bias, as Catching Fire was by far my favorite of the three novels, the theatrical adaptation truly delivers. The books, begun in 2009 by Suzanne Collins, follow a stubborn, fierce teenage heroine in her reluctant role as the lightning rod for revolution in the fictional future dystopia of Panem.

The film’s biggest success was its refreshingly realistic portrayal of the various forms of oppression in the Districts, namely socioeconomic injustice — a subject rarely explored in “teen movies.” While most of the people in the Districts are living lives of abject poverty, the Capitol of Panem is a seemingly endless font of immoderation and luxury, reaping all of its resources from the Districts that it oppresses. Such oblivious immoderation becomes all the more gruesome in light of the suffering it ignores. As the people in the Capitol attend extravagant parties and wear bizarre, over-the-top fashions (shown in imaginative, colorful visual detail) they are entirely unaware of the suffering and poverty that is daily life …

November 15th, 2013

thor-and-lokiOne of Jesus’ most famous teachings comes to us from Matthew’s Gospel, when Peter questions Jesus about the limits of forgiveness. “Peter … said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to 70 times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but one of the better representations of this tenet in recent film opened in theaters last weekend: Thor: The Dark World.

That’s right — Thor is my standout example of forgiveness.

Confused? I wouldn’t blame you if you were; the connection caught me off guard at first too. After all, when one thinks of Thor, compassion and forgiveness are not the first things that come to mind (most likely, the association is instead with lightning, sheer strength, and smashing things to bits with his trusty hammer, Mjolnir.) But when we take a closer look at Thor, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character as he is portrayed in Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World, a distinct pattern appears for the character. …

November 6th, 2013
Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, in Les Miserables.

Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, in Les Miserables.

Les Miserables punched me in the gut. It showed the depths of desperation and the most crass and compassionate responses of the human heart. It had the good, messy, lovely and hopeless parts of people wrapped into one cohesive and fragmented whole, and I saw myself and my life reflected there — without any pretty filter. It wasn’t something easy to forget.

Making assumptions

When I saw Les Miserables, I had recently had an encounter with a homeless man that showed me who I really was, and how far I was from who I hoped to be. I had finished a day of shadowing at a hospital, and was waiting to be picked up. A gentleman approached me in the lobby, and began to ask questions. He wasn’t entirely coherent, but seemed kind. He asked for money. I had $23 with me. I gave him $3.

Now, I am one of those self-proclaimed social justice people — I talk a lot about those in need and forgiveness and love — but when it came down to the moment, I found myself doing what I had …

October 7th, 2013

don-jon-1In Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, a New Jersey man dedicated to, as he puts it, “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my guys, my girls, my porn.” Jon is a ladies’ man, but his greatest addiction is not sex, it’s porn. Even when he sleeps with a woman, he is seen sneaking out of bed to go masturbate afterwards — that is, until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and, later, Esther (Julianne Moore), two women who challenge his view of what relationships and sex really mean.

Don Jon tackles a great many issues — pornography, addiction, relationships, and society’s view on women to name a few — but the moments that hit home with me the most were the ones that focused on change. Take, for example, what might just be my favorite moment of the whole film: the confessional scene.

Throughout the movie, Jon and his family are shown going to church every week, and every time we get a close-up shot of Jon in the confessional from the perspective of the priest, as Jon runs down his laundry list of sins. “Since last Sunday, I have had sexual intercourse out of …

September 6th, 2013

world's-endEdgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the duo behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have done it again with The World’s End. Clever and biting, the film offers up a less bland version of the “man-child stuck in the past” edge that we’ve already seen in this summer’s The Hangover Part III and Grown-Ups 2 with an excellent sci-fi twist that’s straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The World’s End starts out as a movie about a man desperate to re-live his youth by means of a 12-bar pub crawl. It morphs into a tale of robots who aren’t robots and humanity facing off against a galactic threat, but at its heart the film is always a story about humanity’s flaws and imperfections, embodied particularly in Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King.

King, in brief, is a screwup. He’s an oblivious 30-something who never moved past his “cool kid” days in high school, and still lives his life as though he’s the same rebellious teen he was then, drinking his days away with no regard for himself or anyone else. But when everything hits the wall and he suddenly comes face-to-face with just how bad his life has …

August 20th, 2013

Jose Pablo Cantillo and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Elysium." (CNS photo/Sony)

Jose Pablo Cantillo and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie “Elysium.” (CNS photo/Sony)

This summer’s latest blockbuster, Elysium, shows its audience two separate worlds — the space station Elysium, paradise of the rich, where the sun perpetually shines on Beverly Hills-style mansions and any injury or disease can be cured with the touch of a button, and the ravaged and polluted Earth, home to the poor, where millions live in squalor hoping for even a chance to get to Elysium, legally or otherwise. Among them is Max (Matt Damon), an orphan raised by nuns who dreamed from the time he was a child of working hard enough to buy his place in Elysium. When a workplace accident threatens his life, however, getting to Elysium shifts from dream to necessity for Max.

At the heart of Elysium is an important message for all of us about the disparity between the poor and wealthy in our society. Early in the film, when Max is telling one of the nuns about his dream of one day reaching Elysium, she tells him in response: “That place is not for you, and not for me.” She explains to him that, stratified as …

August 6th, 2013

Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie "The Wolverine." (CNS photo/Fox)

Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie “The Wolverine.” (CNS photo/Fox)

In Marvel’s The Wolverine, we see Logan (or Wolverine, depending on how you like to refer to him) struggling with the issue that plagues many superheroes in their second solo movie outing: Are superpowers worth the sacrifice that comes along with having them? It’s been done over and over again, from Spider Man 2 to The Dark Knight, yet in The Wolverine it feels somehow fresh, deeper at times. Perhaps this is because in grappling with the issue of whether or not to keep his power, Logan also faces the ethical dilemma of whether or not to allow himself to be immortal.

In the movie, a rich Japanese businessman named Yashida, whom Logan rescued from the bombing of Nagasaki decades earlier, calls for him on his deathbed, under pretense of saying a final goodbye to the man who saved his life. But when Logan arrives in Japan, he is met with a different situation than he expected. Instead of just wishing to bid him farewell, Yashida offers Logan a chance to cast off the effects of his genetic mutation, to lose his healing factor and his immortality …

July 19th, 2013
Technology at its best and worst in Pacific Rim and the world today

pacific-rimIn Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, we see the world attacked by alien creatures called the kaiju (Japanese for “giant monsters”), which arrive through an interdimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean. In response to the kaiju assault, humanity responds by banding together internationally and inventing the jaegers, giant robots named after the German word for “hunter.” As protagonist Raleigh Becket admits in the movie, “to fight monsters, we created monsters.”

Why this classification, though? What is it that makes the jaegers just as monstrous as the creatures they were built to destroy? It appears that their danger lies in the way they appear to represent technology out of control. In the first few minutes of the film, it is revealed that early jaegers were intended to be piloted by only one human, but people were injured and possibly even killed by the process that linked them to the machines, thus leading to the invention of a two pilot system. But even this was risky, we learn, because it involved a practice known as “the drift,” by which the two pilots would link their thoughts, and essentially be inside each other’s minds. This could prove deadly to the pilots or to …

Page 1 of 212
powered by the Paulists