August 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

This summer’s biggest movie was Inception. Christopher Nolan’s big-budget spectacular focused on one thing that continues to evade human understanding: dreams. Dreams capture our interest because they are mysterious and as much as we understand the mechanics or physiology behind them, we never really grasp what they are all about. Most of them are fleeting, gone with the morning sun, but some stay with us and we don’t know why. Sometimes they mean something, but most of the time they mean nothing, and yet we continue to dream.

Dreams are the jumping off point of a movie I watched recently called Ink (Jamin Winans, 2009). But unlike Inception, Ink wants its dreams to count for more. Winans uses dreams as a way to describe the presence of things unseen, veering into deeper territory than Nolan mined in Inception. Ink centers around a business man, John (Chris Kelly), and his relationship with his daughter, Emma (Quinn Hunchar). This, the main thrust of the film, is surrounded by two groups of unseen characters, The Storytellers and theĀ Incubi (plural of Incubus).

The Storytellers come to you while you are sleeping and give you good dreams, while the Incubi come with nightmares. The film really begins when a mysterious character named Ink kidnaps Emma in her dreams, which means she can’t wake up in the real world. We follow Ink and Emma through the dream world, as in the real world John is facing a big business deal that could destroy his career if it doesn’t come through. When John refuses to come see his daughter, now in a coma, we know that truly lives for himself and no one else. This is confirmed later as we John followed by an Incubus who whispers in his ear day and night.

This sets in motion a chain of reactions that would be unfair for me to disclose, because this independent movie truly is a treat to watch and ponder. Its small budget for a film of this genre doesn’t stop it from being visually interesting, as Winans employs several filters and color schemes to bring out different parts of the dream worlds. And occasionally the script tries a little too hard, but I would rather a script that tries to provoke thought and does it poorly at times than one that never attempts it at all. The thing, however, that stood out most to me as I watched, was the conviction that Winans invests in these unseen characters.

They are every bit as real as John and Emma. The movie doesn’t conclude with Emma and John both waking up and having dreamed of the Storytellers and Incubi, but continues to posit them as real beings. We are forced to take them seriously as they struggle against each other, and by doing so are made to consider the possibility that in our world there may be things like this happening. There may be more than we see on the surface. As a Christian, it’s a vibrant picture of spiritual warfare, especially in some of the film’s impressive fight sequences.

Ink succeeds by creating a world that is believable that evokes thought. For as much as I liked Inception and the many things it did well, it barely scraped the surface of deeper issues. This is what Ink does well and with a measure of creativity that far exceeds its budget. Highly recommended.

Filmwell‘s very insightful review of Ink can be found here.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

August 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

The only reason I know about Jonathan Safran Foer is because I saw Everything is Illuminated with a friend at college last semester. It’s a shame that I hadn’t heard of Foer before. Although I’ve yet to read Everything is Illuminated the movie sold me on Foer’s creative characters and unique style. If it came through in a movie, it screams in your ear in his writing.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a novel, but it’s also so much more. Foer seems to sneer at typical literary conventions and introduces a myriad of clever, hyperactive ways to move the story along. There are illustrations, and a series of pages marked by a red pen to show the mistakes in a letter sent to one of the characters. There is color and life. Foer switches narrators every chapter, just to keep things interesting. The interesting thing about this is that it all feels so necessary as the characters try to make sense of what is happening in their world.

The novel takes place after and deals specifically with September 11th so in a way it’s not just the characters in the story trying to make sense of life, but all of us Americans. Foer’s writing plumbs the depths of a young boy Oskar, whose father died in the attacks, as he tries to cope with his father’s death. Even though I don’t often think about 9-11, Oskar’s story brought it all back to me. On two separate occasions I was near tears, which for me are almost never elicited by the written word. The story is so personal, yet so universal to all of us who witnessed those attacks.

Foer does an excellent job of bringing the memories back, but he doesn’t sugarcoat them or romanticize them. They are real things that carry real weight, not only for the characters in his story but for all of us. He deals with the real questions of life and death here. But more impressively, he does it with such tenderness that they don’t seem forced upon the story in some haphazard way of drawing a moral from his fable.

For a story about death it’s bursting full of life, from Oskar’s unrelenting quest to find the lock to the key he found in his father’s closet to the old man he befriends whose bed has so many nails in it that it has become a magnet. I can’t say much more about this book. It has everything you could want in a story without simplifying the hard questions. At the end, we still might not be better equipped to die, but we are better equipped to live.

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