A GREAT Mini-Series To Watch This Summer: Les Misérables

When I heard back in January that PBS was broadcasting the new BBC miniseries, Les Misérables, this April-May, I was delighted for many reasons. Les Misérables is one of my favorite novels of all time. I am a big fan of the Broadway musical, having watched the anniversary concerts online and listened to the Broadway album. I’d also seen several screen versions. But I’d always felt that the productions I’d seen were hampered from doing full justice to the novel by their short running time. I decided, in honor of the new version being broadcast, that I would offer here a comparison between the various screen versions.

To my amazement, I discovered that Les Misérables has had over 30 screen adaptations—starting with several silent films! There was no way I could obtain or see all the adaptations in a short period of time, so I narrowed down my watchlist by trying to discover which versions were considered “the best.” Over the past six weeks, I’ve tried to watch as many as I could.

If you would like to spend your summer watching a fantastic screen version of this great classic, read on!

The Story

Some might wonder why I might be so fascinated by the various adaptations of this particular story: a novel first published in 1862 in France. Despite its sprawling nature and frequent digressions (entire chapters of description or philosophizing), Les Misérables is a truly great novel. Victor Hugo developed the story over many years, and frequently modeled incidents and characters on real-life experiences. Perhaps because the initial story and characters are so compelling and the novel itself is such an incredible achievement, I found something worthwhile and enjoyable in all of the screen adaptations that I watched, even the ones that weren’t that great or that I really didn’t find faithful to the novel.

Like all great stories, Les Misérables deals with timeless problems that will always haunt a world suffering from the ravages of sin: injustice, poverty, and oppression. The novel enables us to explore the workings of nature and grace in the lives of the poor ones of this world, the “wretches” or “miserable ones.” (And this was Victor Hugo’s intention.) With its many subplots and detailed accounts of many characters, the central story that pulls the entire novel together is the transformation of Jean Valjean, a hardened ex-convict who spent 19 years in a hard-labor prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nieces and nephews.

Les Misérables on the Screen

Watching so many film versions has been very rewarding and enabled me to immerse myself in the interior journey of the protagonist, Jean Valjean. Hugo’s insights into human nature and the workings of grace offer a great deal to reflect on for our own ongoing journeys of conversion towards holiness. To me, Valjean is a great example of an ordinary man who has been greatly sinned against and yet responds to the grace of God to become holy in both the extraordinary and ordinary challenges he faces.

The Countdown

Perhaps I will do another blog post on the novel itself, but for now, if you are interested in watching a great movie, here are my choices for the four best screen versions of Les Misérables.

 

4. 2012 adaptation of the Broadway musical, directed by Tom Hooper, starring Hugh Jackman.

The Broadway musical is famous for good reason. I have never seen it onstage, but as I mentioned above, I have listened to the music countless times. Since I’ve never seen the musical on stage, I won’t offer a critique of its fidelity to the plot of the novel. But I do know that it greatly condenses the novel’s events and leaves out great swathes of the intertwining stories. But through the music, the stage production offers a depth of insight into the characters that some film versions don’t.

The 2012 film version of the Broadway musical is even shorter. As an adaptation of an adaptation, it is also so short that it cannot possibly be faithful to the original story. For the most part, the musical performances in the film are adequate but not truly outstanding, with the exception of Anne Hathaway’s incredible performance. But even in this shortened, melodramatic version of the novel, the songs that are included are incredibly powerful and offer a wonderful interpretation of the interior sentiments of the characters, something that many of the other screen versions do not succeed in offering us.

(For those for whom the stage version is inaccessible, the best way to experience the full power of the musical interpretation of the story, is either the 10th Anniversary Concert or the 25th Anniversary Concert, both widely available.)

3. 1978 British television version, directed by Glenn Jordan, written by John Gay, starring Richard Jordan.

This adaptation is so condensed that it really doesn’t do justice to the themes of the novel, yet as the very first screen version I saw, it made a lasting impression on me.  Partly this is because it has my favorite onscreen version of one of my favorite characters — the bishop who changes Jean Valjean’s life, portrayed by Claude Dauphin.

Out of the many two-hour versions available, this would be my choice.

The final two screen adaptations go far beyond all the other screen adaptations that I’ve seen. Excellent films in their own right, they are also marvelous, in-depth adaptations that are faithful to the spirit of the novel.

2. 1934 version in French with English subtitles, directed by Raymond Bernard, written by Raymond Bernard and André Lang, starring Harry Baur.

Surprisingly contemporary in feel, this is a wonderful film on its own merits. Great direction by Raymond Bernard and a very strong performance by Harry Baur as Jean Valjean make this film stand out even today. (And make me eager to see Bernard’s other films.) Handheld camera shots bring us right into the battle scenes, and the angled camera views reinforce how askew this world is, where a man may be imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed children.

The screenplay, written by the director and André Lang, is excellent overall. With a lengthy running time of 281 minutes, the film is able to cover much of the scope of the novel and is faithful to its spirit. However, I was disappointed by a couple narrative changes that were made near the end of the film, because they take away both from the drama and Jean Valjean’s heroism.

Some of the other screen versions play around with the arc of Jean Valjean’s transformation as if he never really changed (for example, the 1934 Hollywood version). Baur’s Valjean, however, shows a realistic progression in his growth from a hardened ex-convict into a compassionate man of integrity who, in the end, has successfully chosen to love, even in the most challenging and desperate circumstances.

For the most part, the acting is superb, although the acting styles of the female characters feel quite dated—especially the melodramatic repetition in the lines and acting of Fantine, who receives a good amount of screen time that is wearing, and Cosette, who seems overly naïve.

Despite its age, this was the best screen version of Les Misérables that I’d seen, until I had the privilege of watching…

1. 2018 BBC Mini-Series, directed by Tom Shankland, starring Dominic West, written by Andrew Davies.

Amazing in scope, depth, and fidelity both to the novel and the TV medium, this is far and away my favorite screen version of Les Misérables. (The trailer doesn’t do it justice.) At over six hours, the BBC adaptation has the time to not only fully develop the novel’s intertwining stories, but also to go deep into the development of the major characters, especially contrasting various characters who find themselves in difficult situations and respond so differently.  Some original dialogue between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert (in one of my favorite portrayals of this character by David Oyelowo) offer insight into how these two men cannot understand each other, even after an undeserving Javert experiences Valjean’s compassion.

Novels and movies differ in essential ways, so no screen version would equal the novel, and vice versa. But the BBC miniseries offers insight into so many elements of the novel, with its lavish scale not just in length, but in scenery, setting, costumes, and actors. The BBC miniseries has, like the novel, a rich tapestried background of the times in France.

You can listen to my commentary on the BBC mini-series Les Misérables on the Salt + Light Radio Hour here.

In terms of the screenplay, the script by Andrew Davies is superb especially in its fidelity to the novel’s spirit, even when it varies the timeline or compresses events recounted in the novel. Davies wisely chose a chronological retelling of the story, so that the relationships between the characters are clear and unforgettable. This gives us plenty of time to get to know and connect with the characters. The only drawback to this method is that the first episode (the first hour) is rather slow-moving. But this attention to character and set up is paid off in every subsequent episode.

Even though we are treated to in-depth portrayals of the many characters, Davies uses Jean Valjean as the center of the story around whom everything else revolves. Brilliantly structured as a miniseries, almost every episode ends with a real turning point for Jean Valjean: a choice that he must make if he is to become a man of both integrity and compassion, who chooses selfless love and true justice over evil and social conformity…every time. But every time, the choice seems to be more difficult—which is a tribute to the director, writer, and actors.

Davies’ expert script also reveals the novel’s brilliant comparisons and contrasts between good and evil, law and mercy, justice and love. In being faithful to the characters, especially Jean Valjean, the miniseries explores the theme of what to do in the face of the misery of oppression. Valjean’s freedom of choice to do the loving thing is a stunning contrast to the evil choices of others (like the Thenardiers) and the constricted choices of others (like Javert), and also a clarion call that is echoed in the selfless choices of other characters.

Almost every screen version of Jean Valjean has some appeal, even when other aspects of the film were lacking. But Dominic West’s Jean Valjean is by far the most compelling. He doesn’t hesitate to portray the ex-convict almost a monster that we pity but also feel a real aversion for. His growing heroism—as each choice confirms him more deeply in being the good man he has sought to become—is not without its cost. West offers us a wonderful portrayal of a man for whom justice, mercy, and love have painfully become his highest values…and who suffers greatly at all he loses. On his journey from ex-convict to privileged and wealthy mayor, to simple gardener, to a loving father, Jean Valjean finally returns to being the simple and hardworking peasant of his youth, but transformed: a peasant who is no longer misérable, because he selflessly lives interiorly and shares with others the life of God. Recognizing the depths of his own sinfulness and the greatness of God’s grace, Valjean seeks only to love, to choose the good of others. In all the screen versions that I have seen, Dominic West best portrays this transformation, revealing just the right amount of emotion, and becoming an onscreen version of the fictional saint. (Yes, if a fictional character could be canonized, Jean Valjean would be one of the great saints.)

The story of Les Misérables has always been a story that powerfully reveals the difference between good and evil, between the Gospel and various conventional and often sinful standards of society. Victor Hugo clearly intended to show the working of grace in a desperately wounded, broken soul, and the difference that correspondence to God’s grace in one man can make to individuals and society. But the novel and this miniseries go far beyond theory: we see sin and grace at work in the lives of characters who are startlingly real and identifiable. And all along through the story—whether the novel or screen—we root for Valjean: not just for him to escape physical prison, but also to escape the prison of selfishness, unhappiness, and spiritual poverty. Despite the sacrifices Valjean makes, we rejoice with him as he makes the right choices, above all the choice to love, because we become captivated not so much by his suffering, but by his goodness.

In a landscape of media that tout selfishness and evil, and victory at all costs, Les Misérables is an inspiring and rewarding story about the transforming power of self-sacrificing love, a love modeled on that of Christ.

If you love great stories or the classics, great acting, nuanced and fully developed characters, and a masterful plot that pulls all of these elements together, this Les Misérables is a must-see. Rarely do I find a film or show that is truly binge-worthy, but this BBC/PBS Les Misérables mini-series is an exception: a great choice for your viewing this summer.

Mary Magdalene Film: Best for Film Buffs

Inventive but neither Scripturally nor historically accurate as an interpretation of the life of the apostle to the apostles, Mary Magdalene (2018) is a niche film for those who enjoy arthouse flicks and won’t be bothered by how the film favors a 21st century artistic vision over fidelity to the Gospel narratives.

My own response to the film gives me strong reservations about how enjoyable, helpful, or inspiring the film will be to those who might be assumed to be its core audience: devout Catholics and Christians who are looking for insight, inspiration, and a scripturally faithful account. Instead, Mary Magdalene offers significant food for thought for the reflective film buff who is interested in general spirituality and portrayals of what “might have been” in the abbreviated time in which Mary Magdalene knew Jesus during his earthly life and just after the Resurrection. (You can listen to my five-minute commentary on Salt + Light Radio here.)

For another perspective on the film, read ‘Mary Magdalene’ is a film perfect for Holy Week by Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP.

Mary Magdalene is thoughtfully constructed, framed almost entirely by the viewpoint of Mary herself. With fine camera work and proficient acting by Mara Rooney (Magdalene) and Joaquin Phoenix (Jesus), the high production values strongly contribute to the artistic vision of the film. Directed by Garth Davis and written by two women, the film offers a welcome feminine approach to a world that is typically presented as almost entirely male, with a sometimes glancing reference to Mary the Mother of Jesus. (Here, the depiction of the Blessed Mother, by actress Irit Shelg, is brief but sensitive and nuanced.) With little detailed historical information about Mary Magdalene, the filmmakers creatively used these gaps to create her as a strong, active and contemplative woman whose desire for God drives her to seek out Jesus and follow him as one of his disciples—but not in the expected roles of wife and mother.

However, the script seems to overemphasize Mary’s role, so much that some scenes are quite unconvincing for New Testament times, and others contradict the Gospels’ account. Instead of bringing to the fore what gives Mary her true importance, the filmmakers focus on situations that aren’t in the Gospels—especially conflicts with the other apostles. In the film, Magdalene becomes the “outsider” disciple who interprets Jesus’ unspoken desires better than everyone else, thus setting her up against the other apostles (especially a rather shallow Peter). This disappointing false dichotomy (one of several) imposes a contemporary feminist agenda on the film, rather than portraying the richness and complementarity that Mary’s feminine approach would have contributed to Jesus’ ministry and the early Church. Even with Jesus, Mary Magdalene is more protagonist than disciple in her relationship with Jesus.

The skewed emphasis of the script is carried to the point that other characters—most notably Jesus—become rather one-dimensional and passive. Even the scene of Mary announcing the Resurrection stresses the conflict between Peter and Mary, rather than about the miraculous event!  Other imaginative scenes that I was eager to see—such as the scene of Jesus calling Mary Magdalene to follow him—were neglected entirely.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Christ is fair, but his scripted character seems passive and curiously uncommunicative with the apostles. Further on, Phoenix’s Jesus becomes a rather flat character who is so distressed about his coming passion and death that he stops responding to and teaching his apostles. The film’s stress on Jesus’ very human fear overlooks the love that motivates his adherence to the will of God the Father; it also completely leaves out Jesus’ claim to divinity (and divine Sonship), ignoring the miraculous nature of the Resurrection. At a certain point in the film, one might wonder why the disciples—and why Mary—would choose to follow Jesus in the first place. 

Taken by itself, the depiction of Mary Magdalene as a woman of prayer, strength, compassion, and conviction is quite appealing. But the flawed depiction of Christ devastatingly weakens the film overall: how can we truly know Mary Magdalene without understanding more about Christ, around whom she centered her life? And the film misses the point of some of the most important moments in Mary’s life—even when it depicts them—such as her response to the resurrected Jesus and her announcement to the apostles.

Windows to the Soul?

Despite its limitations, Mary Magdalene presents some compelling material for reflection. Mary is a convincing and engaging character whose closeness to Jesus is enviable. The way the filmmakers imagine her offers the discerning film viewer much to reflect on: her feminine perspective of the Gospel, her focus on prayer and desire for God, her commitment to discipleship, and the emphasis that she gives to transformation. The film beautifully depicts how Mary Magdalene, unlike the apostles, was able to accompany Jesus at the foot of the Cross, despite her great grief.

The theme of transformation, beautifully expressed both visually and narratively in the film, ties together both the film and Mary Magdalene’s journey of discipleship. For those mature in their faith who are comfortable with the more reflective, interpretive stance of an arthouse film, Mary Magdalene has much to offer.

(Note: With scenes of the Crucifixion and other strong scenes (of childbirth and an attempted exorcism), I would not recommend this film for children; due to some inaccurate depictions of Gospel events, this film may not be helpful as a formative tool for catechesis.)

Seeds of Hope for Discouraged Writers

Discouragement has been a frequently recurring writing companion for much of 2019. Usually, finding the time to write has always been the most difficult obstacle to my writing. But this year, although writing time has certainly been elusive, discouragement has haunted the time that I have been able to dedicate.

Have you ever noticed how interconnected everything in life can be? If I am spiritually dry, it often overflows into other aspects of my life. So, I took some of the very good spiritual advice I’ve received in the past about discouragement and applied it to my writing…and it seemed to jumpstart my brain out of blank page “terrors.” These seeds of hope included:

  • The Cross.
  • Lessons of spring: Pay attention to anything that grows, especially if you envy it.
  • Companionship.
  • Choose the voices you listen to.
  • Take baby steps forward (maybe one a day), no matter how silly, worthless, or unimportant they seem.

Each week for the next couple of weeks, I’ll reflect on one of these “seeds of hope for the discouraged writer” to keep up my own writing and, perhaps, to inspire you when your writing isn’t flowing.

The Cross

“If the Lord loves us—and he does love us—he will permit that in our lives we will have to pass through difficult moments and times, and perhaps through trials. And even if temptations last for a long time, and it turns out as it did for St. Teresa [of Avila]—who remained burdened for fifteen years with temptations and aridity; if your spiritual state has to be such, then your sanctity will be reached only in this way: abandonment in God.”  – Blessed James Alberione

Everyone has bad days. But how do we follow Blessed James Alberione’s advice to abandon ourselves into God’s loving hands when we are living through a difficult season that wears us down emotionally, creatively, and spiritually (and perhaps physically)? Suffering and loss push us into the uncomfortable process of being stripped of the familiar, sometimes of what we most don’t want to let go of. Just as we are feeling the most out of control and at our weakest, when discouragement and sadness haunt our every thought and perhaps our every breath, Alberione advises us to let go but not give up. How do we do that? How can we keep going through seasons of dryness, discouragement, perhaps of temptation, suffering, or loss?

The season of Lent can offer us a very real help here, because of its focus on the cross. We may think of Lent in a very human way, rather than as the invitation it is meant to be. Lent is all about growth: in recognizing, receiving, and responding to God’s saving, life-giving love.

A) Lent is a season.

No matter how long it is, every season will pass, even a “season of darkness.” That alone gives us reason to take comfort. Knowing that this time of dryness or lack of inspiration is temporary makes it easier to accept. No matter how much we fuss, we cannot make winter (or summer) shorter. Just as Lent’s purpose—however unwelcome it may feel to our suffering-averse human nature—is to help us focus on God’s great love for us, every season has its purpose. Accepting our internal “season” is not just helpful but can become invaluable, especially as we move through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are to simply give in to discouragement! But it can be helpful to temper or adjust our expectations: in the past couple of months, I have slowly come to accept the temporary loss of enthusiasm that I usually feel when it comes to writing, and to explore the role that this natural energy has played in my life.

  

B) Lent focuses on life and growth.

Just as in the natural world, seasons are important in nurturing life and growth, Lent immerses us in the Passion and Death of Christ with the purpose of helping us to focus on God’s great, life-giving love for us.

When we are already so immersed in trials or difficulties, we may find it hard to focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us—because all we can see is more suffering! Our fear of suffering can blind us to the truth that Jesus’ suffering is not just a profound manifestation of God’s presence, but a promise that in all suffering—including the very real suffering of discouragement—we are never alone.

Whenever I feel tempted to give in to discouragement now, I think of Jesus falling under the weight of the Cross on his way to Calvary. What an experiences of weakness, suffering, and discouragement for the Son of God to allow himself to go through! Yet, he did so for love of me, to show me that I am never alone, even in my darkest, most desperate moments.

And just as Jesus is with me in my suffering, I can choose to deepen my union with Jesus in my suffering. A simple act of intentional love is all it takes.

C) Lent points us beyond this life to God’s eternal plan for us

Natural seasons prepare the way for the next season, but Lent also points us beyond seasons to an eternal reality: God’s great love and plan for us manifested in Christ’s Resurrection. In Lent (and in Christianity itself), Jesus’ Passion and Death are always seen in view of his Resurrection. Jesus knew that his Death on the cross was not the end.

Discouragement may feel like a “death” in our writing life. We may fear:

  • that we will never write again
  • that we will never have an original thought again
  • that we have lost our creativity forever

But no matter what we are going through, no matter how endless and/or hopeless it may feel, it is not the end. Stirring up our belief in God’s loving plan for us—and our writing is part of that plan!—enables us to find a way to continue on. Ultimately, our writing is a gift from God, and God’s fidelity is something that we can count on, trust in, and be grateful for. Whatever this season holds for us, there is a gift of God present here, although perhaps hidden by our expectations. Could God be offering us the opportunity to explore new ways to nurture our creativity? Is this is a time to receive, rather than to create? A time to listen, rather than to speak? A time to grow in honesty? to deepen our knowledge? to discover a “new way” of writing that doesn’t rely on “felt inspiration”?

If the ultimate purpose of our lives is to “fall into the hands of God,” can we not prepare to do this by learning to let the precious gift of our writing fall into his ever-faithful hands?

 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

My Inspiration for This Week: Intersections of Faith & Culture!

God surprised me last week with a wonderful, unexpected resource that explores the great connection between faith and writing, called The Festival of Faith & Writing. There are a number of these kinds of events throughout the U.S., but what makes this one special is that they podcast some of the major addresses. Here is a description in their own words:

The Festival of Faith & Writing is a biennial celebration of literature and belief, both broadly construed. Drawing more than 2,000 people from across the world to Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Festival offers three days of lively lectures, readings, conversations, films, workshops, concerts, plays, and more, all fueled by coffee and good food. It’s a feast for readers, including those who also write.

Rooted in the Christian Reformed belief in common grace, the Festival of Faith & Writing creates space for meaningful discussion and shared discovery among people with different religious beliefs and practices. On the campus of Calvin College, we bring together diverse voices and perspectives in thoughtful reflection on the stories that we shape and that also shape us.

Rewrite Radio is the podcast from the Festival of Faith & Writing, and they seem to have included all of 2016’s lectures, as well as some older ones. This week, I was delighted to listen to two writers whose nonfiction has mentored me on my faith-writing journey: Madeleine L’Engle (from an early 1996 Festival) and Frederich Buechner (Rewind episode from 1992). And there are many more that I am looking forward to listening to. I’m hoping they will post up the 2018 Festival in the not-too-distant future!

 

A #MediaNuns Update

Last night Salt + Light TV’s Catholic Focus was on My Sisters, the Daughters of Saint Paul’s online community devoted to helping members meet Christ and experience his love in daily life. Each week, we have a Monday night “Spiritual Accompaniment” on Facebook Live, where we have a conversation about a chosen spiritual theme, and throughout the week we offer prayers, mini-conferences, and other resources to enrich members’ spiritual growth and life of faith. If you are interested in finding more support for your spiritual life from a community whose spirituality is Pauline, holistic, and communication/arts oriented, you may want to check it out! (Trial month is just $1.) Next week we start the Advent retreat, so it’s the perfect time to join! (For more information, visit https://mysisters.blog/ or to join, visit: www.pauline.org/mysisters )

 

O Glorious Night “Singing Nuns” Christmas Concert

Finally, it’s that time of year when our Daughters of Saint Paul Choir go on tour-this year to 7 cities!-for their beautiful Christmas concert. Concert locations are:

  • Staten Island, NY
  • Boston, MA
  • Lafayette, LA
  • New Orleans, LA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Los Angeles, CA

You will not regret hearing this wonderful music and witnessing their incredible joy in Christ. Check out the concert nearest you!

 

 

 

 

 

Saintly Patrons: Create your own litany to the saints!

This week, I will begin my annual retreat, and though I don’t plan to post here during my retreat, I will be praying for you and your intentions.

Several years ago, a wonderful retreat director suggested that I entrust each day of my retreat to a special patron, which I have done ever since making that retreat. Recently, one of our chaplains encouraged us to create our own Litany of the Saints, in which we pray to the saints with whom we have a special relationship, asking for their intercession in our daily lives. My daily Litany of Saints continues to grow…it includes apostles, contemplatives, mystics, martyrs, writers…. May of the saints I pray to were writers, or artists, or promoters of beauty and truth. For each retreat, I usually pick a “fun” thing to do: something that I can do that won’t break up my recollection, but gives me something concrete to work on or play with when I get restless. I think that this year, I will put together a personal e-prayerbook, which will include a full-length personal Litany.

If you have been to an Easter Vigil with a Baptism, or a religious profession, you have heard the Church’s litany to the saints, sung or recited. For each occasion, the litany of the saints is adapted to include the new names of the baptized or those professing vows. But what a wonderful  idea for each of us to create our own litany to the saints—perhaps with a more personal response than “pray for us”, unique for each saint!

Litanies to the saints can be wonderfully adapted for all sorts of intentions. For example, our Founder Blessed James Alberione gave us a beautiful “Litany for the Formation of Promoters of Social Communications,” which one of our sisters updated. Our Church is blessed with so many wonderful models, heroes, and intercessors that we could create litanies invoking the saints for all kinds of special intentions: for families, to create a more equitable world, to promote the dignity of human life, to save and heal the environment, etc.

* * *

I won’t be posting for the next two weeks, but if you would like me to remember your specific intentions in my prayers during retreat, please post them below or send them to me in a private email-by July 11, 2018! I would be honored to pray for you.

If you are interested, here are the saints Blessed James Alberione included in his “Litany for the Formation of Promoters of Social Communication.” I will update the litany and post a downloadable version for communicators, writers, and artists soon!

Mother of Christ and our Mother,      pray for us

Mother of divine grace,                       pray for us

Mother of good counsel,                     pray for us

Queen of the Apostles,                       pray for us

Seat of Wisdom,                                 pray for us

Saintly Moses,                                    pray for us

Saintly David,                                     pray for us

Saintly Isaiah                                      pray for us

All holy Prophets                                pray for us

St. Mark,                                             pray for us

St Matthew,                                         pray for us

St. Luke,                                              pray for us

St. John,                                              pray for us

St. Paul,                                               pray for us

St. Peter,                                             pray for us

St. James,                                            pray for us

St. Thaddeus,                                      pray for us

All holy Apostles and Evangelists,     pray for us

All holy apostolic Fathers,                 pray for us

St. Athanasius,                                    pray for us

St. Basil,                                              pray for us

St. Jerome,                                          pray for us

St Ambrose,                                        pray for us

St. Augustine,                                     pray for us

St. John Chrysostom,                          pray for us

St. Gregory the Great,                         pray for us

All holy Fathers,                                 pray for us

St. Bernard,                                         pray for us

St. Albert,                                            pray for us

St. Thomas,                                         pray for us

St. John of the Cross,                          pray for us

St. Francis de Sales,                            pray for us

St. Alphonsus                                     pray for us

All holy Doctors,                                pray for us

St Teresa,                                            pray for us

St. Catherine,                                       pray for us

All holy men and women

            saints of God,                          intercede for us.

Do you have prayer intentions I can pray for?

Today, the Pauline Family begins our Novena to Mary, Queen of Apostles, which this year we celebrate on Saturday, May 19th, the day before Pentecost.

This year, I would like to offer the Novena for all of you! If you have a specific intention, I will pray for you specifically if you send it in to me. You can put it in the comments below, or email me: https://windowstothesoul.wordpress.com/contact-me/

My theme this year is Mary as Communicator. In addition to the traditional novena prayers, I will pray this prayer daily, as well as renewing my Marian Consecration. You can join in the Novena with me simply by praying this prayer for the next 9 days!

Mary, Woman of Communication

O Mother of our Lord Jesus, woman open to the gift of the Spirit, you are the true communicator because you revealed to us the Word of the Father. He sends his Son into the midst of the men and women of every age, so that they might discover his infinite love for them and learn to communicate among themselves as brothers and sisters.

You are the loving Virgin who made herself available to God; the temple of God who silently welcomed and guarded the great mystery of the Word made flesh in your womb, so that our eyes, blinded by sin and by our restless human longings, might contemplate the living Christ and see in him the face of the Father.

You revealed your beloved Son to the poor and the wise in the eloquent poverty of Bethlehem and in the simplicity of the little house in Nazareth. You followed him with total dedication as he carried out his mission, traveling the paths of the world with him up to the moment of his sacrifice on the cross.

In silent adoration, you awaited his glorious resurrection.

After his ascension, you remained in prayer with the apostles in the upper room, so as to welcome the Spirit, who helps us understand and communicate, renew the world, and transform our lives in such a way that Christ, your Son, might always live in us.

O Mary, our Lady and Queen of communication, we pray for all who communicate the Gospel. Help us all to transmit a little of your light, your unshakable faith, and your vigilant, hope-filled love. Help us to work in a concrete way to give birth to a new world by working to establish the Kingdom of God.  – from Live Christ! Give Christ! Prayers for the New Evangelization 

 

A Wrinkle in Time Movie has “wrinkles” but is worth seeing if…

The beloved, classic YA novel A Wrinkle of Time influenced countless young people who read it during their formative years. The 2018 film reminds us of the differences between books and movies—and that one doesn’t always translate well to the other—but it still offers insight into aspects of Madeleine L’Engle’s original story.

The Story

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of young teen Meg Murry, whose parents are brilliant scientists who research the universe in a microcosmic and macrocosmic way. Meg’s father disappeared without a trace four years ago, and while Meg and her family desperately miss him and believe his disappearance has to do with his research, they have to put up with their neighbors’ and classmates’ snide remarks that their father purposely abandoned them.

Meg has an exceptionally brilliant brother she is very close to, five-year-old Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace often seems to know things without being told—including Meg’s often unspoken feelings of inadequacy and her struggle to fit in.

Several strange ladies, “fallen stars” (who are really angel-like figures) befriend Charles Wallace and take him, Meg, and Meg’s new friend from school, Calvin, on an inter-dimensional journey to other planets in the galaxy to find Meg’s father and rescue him.

The above description fits both film and novel, but doesn’t capture the emotional impact that the novel had on countless young people since its publication in 1962. This summary might seem a bit formulaic, but at the time, A Wrinkle in Time defied both categorization and expectations. (Eventually, it would help to define the YA genre, and in my mind it remains one of the first—and the best—YA books read today.)

Christian Themes

The author, Madeleine L’Engle brings a unique Christian sensibility to fantasy in her book, A Wrinkle in Time:

* the sense of wonder at and gratitude for the marvels of the universe

* an attitude of praise toward the Creator of the universe, who has created everyone (and everything) with a purpose to fulfill

* a solidly Christian foundation for the story, especially evident (but unstated?) in its approach to the universe, to life, the dignity of the human person, and to the struggle of good vs. evil

* a fascination with paradox and humility

* a deep respect for the reader: L’Engle is not afraid to challenge the reader’s ability to grasp scientific theory and to stretch our imagination to its limits

* an integrated way of seeing reality, the human person, and spiritual growth

Unfortunately, very little of this is carried through into the film.

The Film

But the film has some strengths and adaptations that make it well worth viewing: Strong acting, inclusive casting, some wonderful lines from the book are included in the dialogue, the fact that it is family-friendy, some delightful touches that nuance certain characters to show that it is their woundedness that gives an entryway to sin. The portrayal of the angelic characters, the Mrs. W’s, totally challenge the traditional image of angels. In the novel and in the film, the angels keep Meg and viewers off-balance and slightly uncomfortable—the way we are supposed to be when in the presence of angels.

Some of the important themes that are explored in the movie are:

* the tyranny of conformity vs. the the gift of individuality

* importance of free will

* the gift (or grace) of our weakness

* forgiveness

* growth in self-confidence and integrity

* the struggle between good and evil/light and darkness

* love, especially under the aspect that love is the strongest power in the universe and is the best way to overcome evil

The film also addresses the wonder of creation, but in this aspect, we see lots of special effects, which are dazzling visually, but less of experience of wonder.

The film got a lot right, and is worth seeing on its own. However, it could have been so much more. As a novel, A Wrinkle in Time is practically perfect; the film’s artistry doesn’t measure up to the book, nor is it a great film on its own.

My second biggest disappointment in the film is that, although the characters are likable, we never get to “feel” with them. Somehow, this movie leaves us on the surface. None of the characters get the just development they deserve. As the protagonist, Meg has a credible character arc, but it never makes us feel with her. (And it’s certainly not the wonderful character arc of the book.)  Too much time is spent on the visual effects, but again, we experience them from the surface. In L’Engle’s book, creation itself is a character, but in the book, it is simply a colorful background. Choices are consistently made that pull us away from the deeper story of the characters. A chase scene that doesn’t even exist in the book was added in…and it doesn’t even make sense. Unfortunately, this emphasis on the special effects means that we don’t have enough time to go deeper into the characters.

The pacing of the plot was uneven. The film jumps between places and flashbacks in time, but too often the jumps didn’t serve the story.

Translation from Novel into Film

CAUTION: BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD

My first disappointment in the film is that so many of the themes inherent in L’Engle’s novel don’t make it into the film. In the novel, L’Engle’s characters directly quote the Bible at least five times: from Isaiah, the Gospel of John, 1 & 2 Corinthians. (I would have to reread the book just for Scripture citations to be sure how many; I probably missed one or two or more!)  I don’t believe that the film used any of those quotes, even though several of them capture these deeper themes so well. By eliminating the reference to these quotes and removing those themes, the filmmakers are removing the major part of the depth and magic of the story.

One of my favorite events which is key in Meg’s character development, is completely left out. Instead, the movie shows her father trying to tesser Meg out and failing, because of Meg’s strength of will (and maybe her temper). From there, the film moves right to the climax of the story. (In the novel, of course Meg has a temper, but after almost dying from her father’s effort to tesser her home, she goes through an inner journey on the planet of Ixchel, which prepares her for the final encounter with It. Her choice to go back to get Charles Wallace comes not from fear, but is a choice of love and trust, even in the blindness of her fear and the knowledge that she isn’t strong enough. By leaving out this journey to Ixchel—one of the most important events of the book and a key event in Meg’s character development—the film reduces the novel’s incredibly rich thesis to a flat journey to self-esteem, with a generic message about the power of love.

My disappointment in the film was made all the greater by the filmmakers claiming to know L’Engle deeply. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “I wrote A Wrinkle in Time as a hymn of praise to God, so I must let it stand as it is and not be fearful when it is misunderstood.” In taking out many of the specifically Christian elements from the film, the filmmakers also took away the universal elements: the film has a weaker storyline, a generic message that lacks depth and specificity, flat themes, and characters that don’t emotionally engage the audience.

The Foolish and the Weak

The film’s biggest theme — Meg gaining enough self-esteem to learn to trust herself —is a worthy theme that resonates with kids. But in the novel, Meg doesn’t save herself by her own power, just because she believes in herself. Her learning to trust in herself is only a part of one of the book’s main themes: the Christian paradox of weakness and strength, of failure and victory—all of which, of course, refers to the paradox of the cross. This is a far cry from the tagline of the film, “Be a warrior.” I assume that the tagline (and the line repeated in the film) is about being a warrior of love, and having courage. But that is really not the theme–not even of the film.

The novel’s last chapter is titled “The Foolish and the Weak,” and directly quotes 1 Corinthians: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Meg doesn’t just learn that the power of this world—the power we can see—is not the greatest power in the universe. She learns that love is. But it’s a mutual love. It is in her faults, in her weakness and neediness, that she “grows into” accepting the truth about herself. And that truth, that humility, enables her to receive the love that transforms her into Love for others—to forgive her father and to rescue Charles Wallace no matter the risk to herself.  It is Meg’s remembering that she is loved by Mrs. Whatsit (an angelic stand-in for God) that enables her to love Charles Wallace who has lost himself, even as he is fighting her. Meg’s greatest adventure in A Wrinkle in Time is not external, but spiritual.

Is A Wrinkle in Time a “Must-See” Film?

This film got a lot wrong, leaving out: some of the best scenes, all of the biblical references apart from Jesus’ name; the Pauline theme of the foolishness of God being wiser than human wisdom; the sense of divine design in the universe—even the lovely example that human life is like a sonnet. (Our lives have a certain structure, but we are free to say whatever we want to say, as long as we stay within that poetic design.) However, in all fairness, perhaps A Wrinkle in Time is just too great of a novel to do a great film adaptation today. Perhaps in the future, the right filmmaker will come along and do this novel justice.

At the same time, the film does a good job visualizing and dramatizing parts of this great story. If you like fantasy, or if you’d like a fun family movie that has a little more depth to it, or if you loved the book but also like film adaptations, you will probably enjoy this movie. If you haven’t read the book, or you haven’t read the book in a while, then I highly recommend reading the book first, or plan to read it soon afterwards. The movie needs the book to complete it. And the story is more timely today than ever. However, if you are a book purist, then I regretfully caution you that you might not enjoy the film.

A Final Note

Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors—both her fiction (A Wrinkle in Time) and nonfiction (Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art). I suspect this is part of the reason why:

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” – Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

A discussion guide for the film and the novel highlighting some of these themes will be available in shortly—check back here on my blog or email me if you’d like to be notified when you can download it!