Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Family in Film

The inspiration for this spring’s Catholic Culture Film Series came from a panel at our Family conference in the fall which focused on literary and cinematic perspectives on the family. A talk by one of ND’s own Theology grad students, Kevin Haley, explored the theme of family in the 2006 Danish film by Susanne Bier, After the Wedding. His presentation was so engaging that a line of people eager to jot down the title of the film and share their own insights formed immediately after he finished. Clearly, showing this movie and discussing it afterwards was sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Pairing After the Wedding (which is an intensely dramatic story) with the more quirky and humorous 2001 Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, we modeled the event on “Theology on Tap,” staging it at Legends with a spread of hot hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar stocked with beer and soda. After the Wedding was shown on the evening of March 23rd with Kevin Haley as the discussion leader. Kevin gave a brief introduction in which he told the audience to look for specific cinematographic techniques (such as the numerous extreme close-ups on the characters’ eyes) to help us to discuss the director’s method of conveying her themes. The emotional grip of the story had everyone leaning in toward the screen the entire way through. A quick pan of the crowd found eyes riveted and mouths halted from quesadilla-chewing out of awe or the phenomenal acting. Any revelation of plot details in this article would be a mistake, for the narrative contains so many important surprises and turns.

The Royal Tenenbaums was shown and discussed on April 14th. For many of the viewers, it was their first time ever seeing the movie or any other of Wes Anderson’s films. His cinematographic world is unlike any other in its combination of darkness and whimsy. In the introduction to the story (set to a very lively version of “Hey Jude”), the narrator bluntly lays out the state of the Tenenbaum family as one marred by “two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.” But what is so refreshing about this film is that it does not glorify dysfunction as so many others do. Rather, one senses the longing in each character for the traditional family structure founded on love. The Center’s new Program Coordinator, Kathryn Wales, led the discussion that followed. The audience seemed most interested in the character development of the family patriarch, Royal, wondering at such elements as the movie’s title and the hilariously absurd epitaph that winds up on Royal’s tombstone. Everyone’s participation made for a very fruitful and enjoyable talk.

One student shared his impressions of the event: “Film plays a prominent role in our society, and we often leave the theatre dazzled by the imagery but largely unreflective on the complex morals and lessons provided in the story and characters. I think the Catholic Culture Film Series addresses this tendency by presenting thought-provoking films and allowing students the opportunity to think about and discuss the issues and problems presented in these great works of cinema.”

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