By Fr. George Welzbacher
March 2, 2008
Academy Awards Night (February 24th) has come and gone. That at least is "what I read in the papers." Actually it's been years since I've watched the program; the awards have been too predictable-the more pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-promiscuity, pro-left wing everything, the more sure-fire a film's prospects for being awarded an Oscar. This year, though, while nihilism scored its predictable triumphs, "the other side" received honors, too. For Hollywood today that's a bit startling. Could it be a sign that the pro-Life, pro-God cause is holding its own and then some, even making progress in the great culture war?
Let's do a run-down on the major winners. My own predictions (based on the Hollywood elite's past votes plus, for one of the entrants, my own "take" on the movie itself) were affirmed for Best Film ("No Countty for Old Men"); Best Leading Actor, (the superb British actor Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"); Best Leading Actress (French actress Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"-the pro-God surprise); Best Supporting Actor ( in "No Country for Old Men" Spain's Xavier Bordem "with the world's worst haircut"); and Best Direction (the Brothers Coen, Joel and Ethan, originally from St. Louis Park, now the toast of New York, for "No Country for Old Men"). In my prediction for Best Supporting Actress I struck out. Though I hadn't seen the film, I thought that for sentimental reasons veteran British actress Julie Christie would win for her portrayal of an Alzheimer's victim in "Away from Her." (As quoted in The New York- Times Jay Leno quipped: "Away from Her: the wife who doesn't remember her own husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good movie of the year"). The Oscar went instead to Tilda Swinton, an unimpressive British actress in the utterly forgettable "Michael Clayton."
"No Country for Old Men"--the title comes from William Butler Yeats' wonderful poem "Sailing to Byzantium"- won Oscars not only for best picture and best direction but also for best adaptation from another medium; the film is based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name. Unlije the poem the film and the novel are grim, with a brutal depiction-make that rather a celebration--of evil run amok and ultimately triumphant. A week or so ago one of the Coen brothers, I forget which one, was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio; I caught part of the interview as I was driving to a local hospital to visit a parishioner. Mr. Coen allowed as how he was convinced that an audience gets a kick out of rooting for a "perpetrator" (a.k.a. "the bad guy") and that that's what he had kept in mind as he was directing the film. The Academy, it seems holds to the same view. The film's heavy, played by the Oscar-winning Xavier Bordem, is a totally amoral psychopath armed with a kind of pneumatic "gun" designed to blow the brains out of cattle in a slaughterhouse. He kills people just for fun, and though in the film's last couple of minutes he sustains what Al Capp's Fearless Fosdick might have called "just a few flesh wounds", he still ends up as the winner. Let's hear it for the "perp"!
In a continuing celebration of nihilism and of mythic.figures who hate both neighbor and God (the latter quite explicitly and aggressively in "There Will Be Blood") Daniel Day Lewis received an Oscar for Best Leading Actor in that oddly titled film, oddly titled because essentially it's a story of moral rather than physical violence. Daniel Day Lewis shows his usual astonishing skill in portraying a fanatically determined "loner" who back in the 1880's and 90's single-handedly hacks out a fifty-foot shaft into the bedrock of California's mountain country to exploit a vein of gold; he goes on in ensuing decades to acquire a fortune in that state's oil boom, ending up a multi-millionaire but utterly, utterly alone, surrounded by the baubles of wealth but bitter and full of hatred for God and with a venomous contempt for his fellow man that impels him finally to manslaughter-and even more shockingly to a ruthless rejection of the love that an adoptive son offers despite having suffered previous betrayals. The night I saw the film the audience gasped at this cruelty, a cruelty whose motivation beggars all understanding. For the atheist's delight the film tosses in a grotesque parody of the Christian faith in the person of a rant-and-raving preacher-healer who is suborned in the end into repudiating God. "Without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12): that sums up pretty neatly the film's whole message. A lifetime's exhausting expenditure of effort-and for what? For nothing. The protagonist's last words are: "I'm finished."
A surprise apologia for God and for the possibility of redemption is offered by the film that won an Oscar for Best Leading Actress: La Vie en Rose, with French actress Marion Cotillard providing a highly convincing representation of Edith Piaf, "the Little Sparrow", in mid-twentieth century France the number one popular songstress. From a wretched childhood in which she went suddenly blind and then found her sight restored after a pilgrimage to Lisieux to pray to St. Therese she would eventually rise to international fame and wealth. singing first in cafes, then in cabarets and finally as France's premiere chanteuse appearing in concert halls. Though in the years of her celebrity she was anything but a model of virtue, given the circumstances of her early years with their nearly total absence of any religious instruction, ignorance may have excused a lot. But the moment in the film that will linger longest in my memory came when, with death drawing near she cries out: "I must pray! I mus tget down on my knees and pray!" I am easily persuaded that the Lord Who heard from the cross the Good Thief's prayer must have heard the "Little Sparrow's" prayer, too. And what a contrast with the last words heard from the Daniel Day Lewis character!
Similarly surprising in its scoring points for the pro-Life cause was a film I haven't senl, though some of mv friends have been urging me to do so--I'll wait till after Lent-namely "Juno", the script which won an Oscar (for Best Original Script) for its author, one Diablo Cody, sometime exotic dancer-Diablo is, after a manner of speaking, her nom de plume-who typed out her script on a lap-top at a Target coffee shop in the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal. The film's scenario: a teen-age girl, unexpectedly pregnant, decides at first to solve "the problem" by abortion but then, stirred to a sudden awareness of what she was really about to do when a pro- Life counselor outside the clinic tells her "Your babv has fingemails!", does a sudden about- face, deciding to protect her unborn child and to spend time checking out the candidates who have shown an interest in adopting her baby. The movie, by the way, gives a well deserved back of the hand to the Planned Parenthood clinic that the teen-ager visits. Despite some questionable flippancy in tone, so my friends tell me, the message that "Juno" sends is basically the same as that transmitted by another film that did very well indeed both in the jlidizment of the critics and at the box office: "Bella", a pro-Life film that I have earlier recommended on this page.
And finally a film that garnered an Oscar for its Special Effects, The Golden Compass, the film adaptation (much muted) of Volume One in Philip Pullman's virulently anti-religious trilogy His Dark- Materials, was a total "bust" at the box office and fell ruinously short of recouping its $180 million dollar production costs. All of which means that it's extremely unlikely that Volumes Two and Three in the trilogy (where the hatred of God, of Christ and of the Catholic Church comes right out into the open) will find their way to the screen.
All in all, this year's Academy Awards provide clear Proof that the anti-Life, anti-God faction is holding its own in Hollywood's dream factories, but pro-Life, pro-God voices are beginning to be heard there, too. Tlte Culture War continues.
Meanwhile, out there in the real world and especially in the world beyond our national borders, another kind of war. with a uniquely ominous potential. is looming large on the horizon. In the very same issue (February 25th) of The NewYork Times that reported on the Oscar awards two items appeared that I am reprinting here. a reminder that in the coming election an immense amount is at stake for the pro-Life cause and the pro-Freedom cause, and we should start storming the heavens right NOW with our prayers that the choice will fall upon someone who is friendly to defending the lives of the innocent and who will he equal to the task of fending off the swiftly growing menace from our nation's foes.
* * * * *Iran Stepping Up Its Uranium Work
Iran said Sunday that it had started using new centrifuges that can enrich uranium at more than twice the speed of the machines that now form the backbone of its nuclear program.
The announcement confirmed reports earlier this month by diplomats with the United Nations nuclear watchdog ageney that Iran was using 10 of the new IR-2 Centrifuges. "We are running a new generation of centrifuges," said Javad Vaidi, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, according, to the official IRNA news auency. No further details were provided.
* * * * *Chinese Submarine Fleet is Growing, Analysts Say.
By David Lague
Several recent events. from an eagle-eyed spotting of an image on Gooole Earth to an overt military delivery from Russia. suggest that China is continuing its rapid expansion of a submarine.fleet that would be particularly useftil in a conflict with the United States over Taiwan, analysts and military officials said.
American and other Western military analysts estimate that China now has more than 30 advanced and increasingly stealthy submarines, and dozens of older, obsolete types. By the end of the decade, they say, China will have more submarines than the United States, although it will still lag behind in overall ability.
"I would say that the U.S. feels a strong threat from Chinese submarines," said Andrei Chang, an expert on Chinese and Taiwan military forces and editor of Kanwa Defense Review. "China now has more submarines than Russia, and the speed with which they are building them is amazing."
The United States Navy developed a range of antisubmarine sensors and weapons in the Cold War that are still considered the world's best. But fighting submarines has been less of a military priority since then, experts say.
In late 2006, one of China's new Song-class conventional submarines remained undetected as it shadowed the American aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, although the exact details of the encounter remain the subject of continuing debate. It then surfaced well within torpedo range.
To some China experts in the United States military, this was an aggressive signal to Washington that China could challenge the United States Navy in waters around Taiwan. It also showed that Chinese submarine technology had advanced more rapidly than some erperts had expected.
"The U.S. had no idea it was there," said Allan Behm a security, analyst in Canberra, Australia, and a former senior Australian Defense Department official. "This is the great capability of very quiet, conventional submarines."
In July, in another sign of techonlogical progress, China displayed photographs and models of its new Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarine at an exhibition in Beijing. Two submarines of this class are in service, the official People's Daily newspaper reported then.
In October, Hans M. Kristensen. a nuclear weapons researcher with the Federation of American Scientists, spotted a Google Earth satellite image that appeared to show two of China's Jin-class nuclear powered ballistic missle submarines. Some military analysts were surprised that China had built a second submarine of this class so soon after the first, in 2004.
And to put the improvement of its fleet on a fast track, China has also taken delivery of 12 advanced Kilo-class conventional submarines from Russia, defense experts said.. Experts say the designs of the newest Chinese submarines show evidence of technical assistance from Russia..
Many foreign security experts, including senior Pentagon analysts, say that in upgrading its submarine fleet China's main objective is the ability to delay or to deter a United States intervention on behalf of Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has warned regularly that it would use force to prevent Taiwan from moving toward formal independence.
Stealthy submarines with torpedoes and antiship missles would pose a direct threat to the deployment of American aircraft carrier battle groups, likely the first line of response to a Taiwan crisis, security experts say.
The Pentagon is monitoring China closely officials say, "Chinese submarines have very impressive capabilities, and their numbers are increasing," the senior military commander in Asia, Adm. Timothy Keating, said in Beijing recently.
He urged China to be more open about its plans, which he said would reduce the risk of crisis or conflicts.
Senior Chinese officers have said that the buildlip is strictly defensive.