Best Picture Nominees: Art Inspiring Discussion

Hollywood is buzzing about the “thought provoking” nature of all of the Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. The NYT put it this way. “In a year when size has counted for less than serious intent among voters, Oscar nominations were divvied up on Tuesday among mainly small films with deep political and social themes.”

The Academy describes each as follows:

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Two young cowboys in the 1960s develop a strong bond that turns to love over the course of a summer in the Wyoming mountains. As they share herding duties in an isolated setting, Ennis and Jack find themselves drawn into a relationship–made impossible by the time and circumstances in which they live–that will color the rest of their lives.

CAPOTE. When the murder of a family in Kansas captures the interest of celebrated writer Truman Capote, he travels to their small hometown to research what will become his best-known book. As the details of the crime unfold and the two killers are captured and tried, Capote’s involvement with the case becomes both morally ambivalent and deeply personal.

CRASH The lives of a diverse group of people living in Los Angeles connect and clash over the course of two days. As a series of events unfolds that will heighten already-existing racial and cultural tensions, individuals are brought face to face with complexities that their prejudices have prevented them from seeing.

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. In the paranoia-ridden 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy pursues a grandstanding witch hunt for suspected Communists that destroys the lives of those he accuses. Appalled by the resulting climate of persecution and fear, veteran CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, decide to confront McCarthy with an investigation into his tactics.

MUNICH In the aftermath of the tragic slaying of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a secret band of highly trained agents is formed to track down and kill the men responsible for the murders. As their mission unfolds, its repercussions begin to take a psychic toll on Avner, the group’s leader.

Monday I watched Capote for the second time, this time with Nigel Goodwin. Nigel was so moved by the film he was sobbing at the end. Two ladies down the row mentioned to us that they had decided to go immediately to coffee to discuss the issues posed by the film.

Diana Ossana, who co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain said, “One of the jobs of art is to inspire discussion, and it (Brokeback Mountain) certainly has done that. It’s like a window and a mirror. You’re looking through a window at lives you may or may not have experienced. But it’s a mirror in the sense we’ve all felt lonely; we’re all, at one time or another, looking for and hoping for love.”

I’ve heard a lot of discussion of the movie among people of religious faith and outside of faith, but most of it has been cast in the language of the culture war. The issues are politicized in our age, but there is a deeper level of conversation to be had about this movie and each of the other nominees. How many people are willing to go to the human questions and not just the political ones?

Ang Lee, director of “Brokeback Mountain, said, “I think this year is the year that small movies get attention because they deal with complexities, they go to the gray area. They deal with issues, and they ask questions; they don’t really give resolution. That’s the mood this year.”

If human issues are dealt with in the extreme, the black and whiteness gets imposed on the stories and we miss the opportunity to actually understand our fellow human through their vicarious enactment in film. All five films nominated the year offer wonderful opportunities for discussion, but only if we start with these as human stories not as political agendas.

If we approach them politically, conversations about these films can degenerate into divisive argumentative, political talk. If we approach the conversation from love for every human being, we will work towards some common ground and earn the right to talk about the truth underlying our political position. Without the love, your truth will never be heard over the yelling.

I am not saying we are unconcerned with truth, I am saying that Jesus, who was full of grace and truth, always led the relationshiop with grace before getting to the often discomforting exploration of truth. All five of these films reveal human individuals dealing with personal longing and moral quandaries. The specifics of the story and situation are rooted in deeper universal issues that offer the potential to listen to and learn from each other.

Lead the conversation with love and you’ll be surprised at the welcome you receive.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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