Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Last night we sat down to watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). As with the more recent Jo-Jo Rabbit (2019), Taika Waititi—who in both cases wrote the screenplay adaptation of other people’s novels—shows that he is sensitive to a good story, a story-for-our-times; to children who are lonely and looking for a tribe to belong to; and adults who are, with good reason, suspicious of the dominant tribe; and what becomes of them.

To see the world equally convincingly through the eyes of vulnerable child and vulnerable adult is a rare gift. As a director, Taika Waititi is also clearly aware of others who might share this sensitivity. The chemistry between central child-and-adult actors, between Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople and between Roman Griffin Davis and Scarlett Johansson in Jo-Jo Rabbit, is mesmerising, drawing you in to the story. So, too, the deftness with which dark humour and difficult subject matter (respectively, children’s social services in a broadly contemporary New Zealand, and the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany) combine in order to engage the audience. We may not all share rare levels of empathy, but we can be helped on the right path, to higher ground.

To be a ranger requires not only ‘the knack,’ but also learnt skills, and Taika Waititi’s learnt (and ongoing learning on the job) skills include the use of motif in storytelling. In Jo-Jo Rabbit it is as simple as tracking a pair of shoes. Hunt for the Wilderpeople employs a one-shot montage technique to convey the passing of time, recapping the story so far and moving it on, at times getting nowhere fast, at times covering ground at pace. Both motifs remind us that we leave a trail behind us as we go, which others may follow, paths crossing by purposeful intent or un/lucky chance.

Watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I am also provoked to reflect on the Church, as relationships between unlikely people, variously damaged and hurting people, whose lives are brought together by an intermediary who has, at different times, sought both parties out and welcomed both parties in. Who, in turn, come to realise their need of one another, following on from a growing (and perhaps grudging) affection for one another; who discover the need for repentance (which includes reparation and accountability) and forgiveness (which—though necessarily following true repentance—involves commitment to reconciliation) as the ongoing process towards deeply longed-for personal wholeness, societal healing and unity.

There is a scene in the film where Taika Waititi takes on the cameo role of a minister conducting a funeral, in which he notes:

 

Minister: “You know, sometimes in life, it seems like there’s no way out…like a sheep trapped in a maze designed by wolves…And you know that if you’re ever in that situation, there are always two doors to choose from. And through the first door…oh, it’s easy to get through that door and on the other side waiting for you are all the nummiest treats you can imagine. Fanta, Doritos, L&P, Burger Rings, Coke Zero. But you know what? There’s also another door, not the Burger Ring door, not the Fanta door; another door that’s harder to get through. Guess what’s on the other side? Anyone want to take a guess?”

Ricky: “Vegetables?”

Minister: “N-No, not vegeta…No.”

Woman: “Jesus?”

Minister: “You would think Jesus. I thought Jesus the first time I-I-I-I came across that door. It’s not Jesus. It’s another door. And guess what’s on the other side of that door?”

Woman: “Jesus.”

Minister: “Jesus. Yeah, Jesus. He’s tricky like that, Jesus…So let us pray, to Jesus, please, and make it a bit easier to get through those doors, uh, to find you and your bounty of delicious confectionary.”

 

It is touchingly awkward, and yet profound. For in the initially disorienting space between the door and the door beyond the door, Jesus does indeed meet us, hidden in plain sight, and help us get through. That space, it turns out, might be a million hectares of New Zealand native forest (or, conversely, in Jo-Jo Rabbit, a cramped false room in an attic) or our own homes in a bungled pandemic lockdown. While we are here, you could do worse than watch (or re-watch) Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Who knows what you might find?

 


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Soul searching

We watched Disney Pixar’s Soul last night. This might well be a minority report, but I didn’t love it. There was too much “Look, we've worked out how to animate crowd scenes where every individual is unique!” and not enough story. And the jazz is excruciating, in a way that I suspect it would not be if we were listening to it being played live, but we are not.

Joe is a middle-aged man who experiences a crisis that (eventually, and only after a great deal of unsuccessfully trying to fix the problem) disrupts his self-absorption long enough to reveal the irony that his obsession with not living an insignificant life is the very thing preventing him from seeing the significance of life, shared and constructed with others. So far, so It's A Wonderful Life, or The Muppets Christmas Carol. The very slight twist is that this discovery comes less from omniscient spirits and more from helping (unwittingly) another soul who is literally too afraid to live—a character called 22, cue laboured improv and visual gags around catch-22. Nonetheless, other films explore this basic plot with greater deftness, including (not only the two classics mentioned above, but also) Pixar’s own Coco.

That said, there is a reason why this is a basic plot, one of those stories we revisit and find new ways to tell on a regular basis. Life is not about getting it right, or seeing our dreams come true just as we imagine them. Rather, its beauty comes from the ways in which we riff off one another, as we see the world through one another’s eyes. There is plenty to be awakened to here concerning discipleship, and vocation. But in this regard, the stories that surround and touch upon Joe’s story—his mother’s, his barber’s—are paths I’d rather explore…

 

Update: 03.01.2021

I wrote the other day that I had watched Disney Pixar’s Soul and didn’t love it, concluding that I would have been more interested in the story of Joe’s mother or barber. This engaging post helps me see why more clearly. And to be clear, yes, transformation from human form sometimes happens to White characters, too—think Queen Elinor (and the three young princes) in Brave—but representation, and how it is handled, matters.

 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Pieces

 


Elijah has decided that 3 missing pieces out of a brand new 1,000-piece jigsaw is mathematically acceptable. I’m torn—proud of his graciousness, but also thinking there are certain jobs (customer service, civil engineering) I hope he doesn’t take up. But, mostly, I am humbled, and learning from my son. Life is rarely about possessing all of the pieces; and resilience, maturity, and wholeness is constructed not through ‘perfection’ but through a sense of ‘enough’ to make sense, to see what you behold with understanding and an awareness of its imperfect beauty.

 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Advent day 26 (2020)

 


 

People of God: prepare!

God, above all, maker of all,

is one with us in Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God, the mighty God,

bends down in love to earth.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God with us, God beside us,

comes soon to the world he has made.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

We are God’s children,

we seek the coming Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

…we seek the coming Christ.

I wonder what it is that you hope for this Christmas? Perhaps you have had to revise your plans—and your expectations in line with them, refashioning them into something smaller in the hope of not being disappointed. Perhaps you hope for moments of joy, or peace, in the bitter-sweet bustle or boredom.

The Christ is a person, of course, but his coming is an event, and perhaps, even if you won’t be opening your door to far-flung relatives this year you might hope to welcome him. But our prayer goes beyond hoping, to an active searching-out: we seek the coming Christ. And if we might recognise him at some future arrival, we might do well to rehearse our part in his many unheralded arrivals, in rooms behind closed doors. How might you seek the coming Christ, hidden in plain sight, this Christmas? In whose eyes, or voice, might he be found?

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Advent day 25 (2020)

 


 

People of God: prepare!

God, above all, maker of all,

is one with us in Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God, the mighty God,

bends down in love to earth.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God with us, God beside us,

comes soon to the world he has made.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

We are God’s children,

we seek the coming Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

God beside us, comes soon…

I had dropped into a local block of sheltered flats to deliver some small gifts, and the manager asked whether there was any possibility that I might organise some spatially distanced carol singing in the carpark, to cheer the residents. We put this morning in the diary. It has dawned the wettest day in days—Carols in the Carpark hastily rechristened Carols with Rain, Dear. Not a good morning to discover that I have left my umbrella behind somewhere, almost certainly at the other church I serve.

Whatever day God comes to us, we are never fully ready. There is never enough time—from our perspective, even as we long for the waiting to end. But that is okay. God doesn’t wait until all is perfect; God comes to make all things right. God beside us, in the mess of our lives, bringing chaos into harmony, making all things well.

 

Update: the rain held off!

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Advent day 24 (2020)

 


 

People of God: prepare!

God, above all, maker of all,

is one with us in Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God, the mighty God,

bends down in love to earth.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God with us, God beside us,

comes soon to the world he has made.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

We are God’s children,

we seek the coming Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

God, the mighty God, bends down in love to earth…

To those doctors and nurses bracing themselves for another wave, come, Lord Jesus!

To those teachers and head teachers besides themselves with exhaustion, come, Lord Jesus!

To those families devastated beyond bearing by the loss of a precious one, come, Lord Jesus!

To those living alone and longing for human touch, come, Lord Jesus!

To those who have built a dream into a livelihood only to have to close its doors for good, and those who have served only to be laid off, come, Lord Jesus!

To those who fear what tomorrow brings, come, Lord Jesus!

To those on their knees, bend down, embrace, weep with them, come, Lord Jesus!

 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Advent day 23 (2020)

 


 

People of God: prepare!

God, above all, maker of all,

is one with us in Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God, the mighty God,

bends down in love to earth.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God with us, God beside us,

comes soon to the world he has made.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

We are God’s children,

we seek the coming Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

God…is one with us in Christ.

On my study wall hangs a large print of the painting Fußwaschung (The Washing of Feet) by Sieger Köder. Depicting Jesus washing Simon Peter’s feet, just hours before his arrest, mockery of a trial, and execution, it doesn’t feel especially Christmassy. And yet I am drawn to the hands—to Peter leaning on Jesus’ shoulder; and the anticipation of Jesus touching Peter’s feet, an anticipation heightened by the fact that we only see Jesus’ face reflected in the water—and to the reality for so many people this year that they have not experienced human touch for many long months. In Christ, the cradled baby, the child, the adult, God is one with us, in touch with us. This year, perhaps more than ever before, we join the Advent longing ‘Maranatha!’ Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Advent day 22 (2020)

 


 

People of God: prepare!

God, above all, maker of all,

is one with us in Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God, the mighty God,

bends down in love to earth.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

God with us, God beside us,

comes soon to the world he has made.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

We are God’s children,

we seek the coming Christ.

Maranatha!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Across the UK, people’s preparations to celebrate Christmas together have been thrown into chaos this weekend. Having been told to prepare for one thing, preparations made, that thing is now prohibited. A sorry tale of vacillation, not vaccination.

In fact, while Advent is a time of preparing to celebrate Christmas, it is primarily a time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return. A light at the end of a long tunnel. But how on earth do you prepare for something you have no idea when it will arrive? Christ comes for each of us in the hour of our death, to reclaim the divine breath that has animated our clay. To prepare for Christ’s return is, whatever else, to prepare ourselves to meet him then. To die well, not afraid but as a welcome culmination of our whole life. Such preparation is not morbid, but filled with longing.

May you celebrate this Christmas as if it were your last. Not wishing you were somewhere else, but in love’s embrace.

 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Advent day 21 (2020)

 


 

People of God: return!

You are called to be God’s own.

From the mountains announce the good news.

God comes in justice and peace,

to all who follow his ways.

You are God’s children.

Lord, make us one in the peace of Christ

today and for ever.

Amen.

 

Lord, make us one in the peace of Christ today and for ever.

‘Today,’ I think, we understand. But ‘for ever’ is a very long time, extending far beyond what we can possibly imagine. How on earth dare we hope to live in peace for ever? My wife and I have been together for a quarter of a century. Of course, it would be a nonsense to claim that every moment has been harmonious; and yet, our relationship testifies to the reality that we have chosen to live in peace, not enmity. The peace of Christ—the flourishing that Jesus has made possible by overcoming all that opposes such flourishing—is not simply a given (though it is that) but something we must choose to return to, again and again, today, every day, for ever. Moreover, the peace of Christ includes the very possibility of such a return at all: ‘Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God has come near!’