Saturday, January 31, 2009

I watched my favorite movie yesterday: The Lion King. Whenever someone asks me which one is my favorite, and I answer that way, they are a mixture of amused, surprised, or mocking. I don't know why. We do inherently respect animated films less, because they became tools for entertaining children. And there's nothing wrong with that, either. But there's nothing childish about The Lion King. This film is epic. The story, the characters, the music, the actors, and the rest make it likely worthy of a place in the 100 greatest American movies ever.
James Earl Jones--or should I say, "the magisterial James Earl Jones"--plays King Mufasa, king of Pride Rock, head of the animals, somewhere in Africa. And the character of Mufasa needed a weighty voice, because he is a weighty king. If you were to be ruled by a king, Mufasa is the king you want: supremely just, wise, fair, noble, and gracious. Like all good messiah stories, you want your hero's nobility to come from somewhere plausible, and the most plausible is the father. In my mind, the relationship between Mufasa and his son Simba is much like the relationship between Duke Leto Atreides (played on film by Jurgen Prochnow) and his son, Paul, in Frank Herbert's Dune. Both sons lose their fathers by treachery, and both sons revere their fathers (and rightly so). Both of them view their own triumph as a vindication of their fathers.
It's this father-son dynamic that takes The Lion King from a good film with humor and some great songs, to a great film, still amazing after 25 watches.
There's a moment in the film I won't ever forget. After Simba gets in trouble because he disobeyed his father, Mufasa takes Simba to an open field where they can discuss matters. Simba had followed Mufasa at some distance while they walked home in silence. Then, Mufasa calls Simba over in a commanding, angry voice. Simba mopes over to face his doom, and as he walks, he steps in a paw-print left by his father. Simba reacts to the sheer size of it, and in those moments, you can see him realize, "I am not as great as my father, either in size, or character." But you also see the desire to be exactly that.
Later in the film, the old wise baboon priest Rafiki has gone to find Simba to convince him to return as the king. By something of a ruse, he convinces Simba that his father Mufasa is still alive (spoiler alert). You can see the hope and longing in Simba as he chases Rafiki through the trees, hoping to be reunited with Mufasa. In that same scene, as Simba speaks with his father (!) we see Simba's pain as his father departs, leaving him chasing the cloud from whence his father spoke. He says, "Father! Don't leave me!" And I say to you, if you can't feel that pain, you're not alive. I resonate with all this, I think, because I lost my father when I was young. Like many, I didn't really know him, and I have a hyper-idealized picture of him. Simba and Paul Atreides do as well. I often attribute the best parts of myself to him, and I imagine him faced with the same moral choices, and doing as I want to do, because I figure he was the type of guy who'd do the right thing.
A final thought: When Simba takes his place as king, you see him slowly walking as his theme plays majestically. That scene defines this movie for me when I describe it as "epic." In short, this is still a vastly underappreciated work of art.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In honor of my birthday, here's a list of the top 5 pop songs which encourage or inspire me:

5. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2. Deceptively titled, actually. Lots of answers right in the song.
4. "You Were There," Babyface. This is the song I'd dedicate to my close friends.
3. "Hanging By A Moment," Lifehouse. This song so perfectly describes what my Christian conversion was/is like, I don't even care what it's actually about.
2. "Conviction of the Heart," Kenny Loggins. This brilliant song talks about our connectedness to the Earth, and how everything, including spiritual things are interconnected.
1. "Creed," Rich Mullins. I foul things up. I am a sinner. Sometimes, I wonder whose side I'm really on. But make no mistake: I am a warrior, and when it all goes down, this is my battle-cry.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tomorrow's my birthday! I'm excited. Weirdly, though, that's not what's on my mind. I just got out of a seminary class where dating, relationships, and marriage were discussed. And those things are ALWAYS on my mind.
I'm that guy who will say that a song best expresses what I'm thinking and feeling. Frankly, it's most often a soul/R&B song. (Yes, I am the whitest dude ever, and no, I don't care) Anyway, this song is one I want to play for my future wife, whoever and wherever she is. I remember the band called Caedmon's Call doing a song called, "Love Is Different" or some such, about how love songs don't really get it across. Well, as a full-blown member of the "I Love Derek Webb, But Think he's Obscenely Overrated" Club, I politely tell him and the other members of the band to can it for a sec. I love love songs, and I will continue to love them, no matter how holy and sanctified I may become. I maintain that love songs are the easiest to write, and I praise God for that.