Tag Archives: story

Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Way back in May last year my church hosted the excellent Dr Elaine Storkey, who gave a talk about Film and Theology (one of my favourite topics). There were several films she talked about during the course of the evening that I have been meaning to check out, and I finally got around to getting a copy of one of them…!

Lars and the Real Girl is a quirky romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling. To be fair, the concept is quite odd, but please don’t let that put you off as it is executed BEAUTIFULLY.

Lars (Gosling) is a socially awkward 20-something from a small town. His brother and sister-in-law try to encourage him to be more outgoing but he has some quite deep-seated issues to work through. One day, to their delight, he announces that his new girlfriend, Bianca, whom he met online, has come to visit. They soon discover that Bianca is actually a lifesize doll. Lars, however, is convinced she is a real person, and his doctor requests that his family play along with his delusion to help him work through his mental illness and social anxiety. Gradually, as Lars’ family, friends and colleagues come to accept Bianca, she takes on a life of her own, and Lars learns what it means to be part of a truly caring community.

I don’t know if I would have watched this film if I hadn’t already seen a few clips from it, because the central idea of a man treating a lifesize doll as his girlfriend to me sounds a bit creepy… But it works, and that is down to the quality of the writing and acting, especially Ryan Gosling as Lars. I entirely believed in Lars’ innocence and naiveté. To him, Bianca is a real person whom he truly loves. Moreover, it is the acceptance of the community in which he lives of Bianca and his love for her that makes the film so beautiful. To me, the film is a powerful lesson in how we should treat people with mental illness – with compassion and understanding. There are some very funny moments and some truly heartbreaking ones, as Lars works through his problems with the help of those around him.

One of the criticisms I’ve read of this film is that it is unrealistic – that no community would be as utterly supportive of someone with such a visible delusion as Lars has. But maybe that’s the point of the film. Maybe we should all be aspiring to be as compassionate as Lars’ community, so that people who are different (for whatever reason) feel accepted as they are, and feel safe enough to work through their issues.

All in all, I really loved this film. It is definitely one I will rewatch and I think it will be counted among my favourites. I know it’s not for everyone as it is a bit odd, but if you like quirky and beautifully made films that make you feel better about humanity, this is one for you.

Advertisements

True Love’s Kiss

I started writing this post a while back (I’d say about two years ago) and couldn’t work out where it was going. Then last week we started a new series at church on the fruits of the spirit and I remembered it.

It was a bit of a strange evening, as nothing for the team had gone to plan. The vicar had laryngitis and couldn’t preach, the curate had been away on retreat and hadn’t had time to prepare anything. The worship team couldn’t get in the building because the key safe was broken, and the vicar was picking up the curate from the station. So by the time myself and the other members of the congregation arrived, everyone was a little bit unsure how the evening would pan out.

The curate made the inspired decision to get us all to do an exercise called ‘lectio divina’. We were looking at the first of the fruits of the spirit, love, so she selected a passage from 1 John 4. It was read out three times, and she asked us to reflect on one word or phrase that stuck in our minds.

Unfortunately, I am not very good at listening, so the phrase I chose to focus on isn’t exactly in that passage – I heard the start of verse 13 “this is how we know” and my brain filled in the next line from an old worship song: “this is how we know what love is”.* The following line in the song says: “just one look at the cross”. So this phrase was circling round in my head, and brought to mind the post I started writing two years ago. So I decided to finish it tonight.

 

I’m a big fan of fairytales. I love the mix of frivolity and seriousness, fantasy and wisdom. I love that the ordinary person can become the hero and that with courage, determination and something to fight for they can overcome any foe, and Good can triumph over Evil.

One of my favourite shows is Once Upon and Time (but I’m only on season 2 so no spoilers, please** – and actually I should warn you there is a season one spoiler up ahead). In this show, all of our favourite fairytale characters are trapped by the evil Queen’s curse, in a small village called Storybrooke in the middle of nowhere in modern America, with no idea who they really are, unable to be who they are meant to be. The only one who can free them from the curse is Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, but she was brought up in a foster home and doesn’t believe in fairytales. A theme running through the show is that the only thing more powerful than magic, more powerful than any curse, is true love, often demonstrated by true love’s kiss. It is only when Emma realises the depth of her love for her son Henry that the curse is broken and all the people of Storybrooke rediscover their true selves. It turns out that a fail-safe was built into the curse so that Emma, the product of Snow White and Prince Charming’s true love, could break the curse by an act of true love.

This show brings a new take on many old stories and weaves them together beautifully. But there is a deeper parallel to this story that was hinting at me from under the surface…

We are all like the inhabitants of Storybrooke. We are all under a curse that we cannot break on our own. We have all forgotten the people we were created to be. GK Chesterton puts it like this:

‘Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our lives we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.’ (Orthodoxy p211)

A while back, I was reading Lisa Bevere’s Girl’s With Swords, which also picks up on this theme of the curse we are under. She talks about how at the beginning of time there was a garden, and an act of disobedience, and that brought consequences. The curse consisted of three layers of separation – man was to live in disharmony with God, with the earth, and with each other. But there was always a plan to free us from the curse, a plan that required an act of true love:

‘You see, the Cross was always part of the plan. It was not a backup plan that was set into motion when Adam and Eve failed. It was the fail-safe. Each day Jesus lived to express the Father’s heart, will and nature to the lost inhabitants of the earth’ (p69, emphasis added)

The thing about the cross is, the parallel I mentioned earlier, is that we use the symbol of the cross as kiss when we write a letter to a loved one. I don’t think that this is a coincidence when the ultimate symbol of love was Jesus’ death on a cross to save all of us from the curse we are under. One of my favourite hymns puts it beautifully:

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

(William Rees)

The cross is True Love’s Kiss – the only thing powerful enough to break any curse and release us to be our true selves.

File 28-01-2018, 17 40 16

________________

* I just checked and it actually appears in chapter 3, so I’m not a complete heretic…

** I have actually been so busy that I have not got much further than the start of season three still… really must get on with that…

Flash Fiction: Bad Driver

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back into creative writing and post it on here from time to time. This is a partial fulfilment of that promise. I wrote these two pieces of Flash Fiction a while ago (I should really date my work) based on a prompt from a book my friend gave me*. The first is a bit predictable (and a little bit embarrassing, I admit. I blame my perpetual singledom), but the second I am really quite happy with.** Hope you enjoy.

__________________________

Prompt: You’re walking on the pavement when a driver texting on her phone careers toward you. Write two very different outcomes.

 

1)

Time slows down as the car comes toward me. I’m frozen, I can’t move myself out of the way. I hear a shout, and someone is grabbing me, pulling me. We fall and roll, and the car slams into the wall behind where I was standing.

I start breathing again.

“You saved my life” I turn to my rescuer.

He has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.

 

2)

I feel the impact, then nothing.

Suddenly I am above myself, watching as she reverses and starts to drive away, leaving my body crumpled on the floor. “Not likely” I whisper and will myself after her. I see her car, winding its way through the narrow streets and swoop after it.

I always wanted to fly.

I guess this probably means I’m dead, but if that’s the case, I’m not letting her get away with it. Her car is heading for the bridge out of town. Perfect.

I slid through the roof into the passenger seat. I go to tap her on the shoulder, but my hand passes straight through. She shivers, turns towards me. I smile.

She screams, and misses the on ramp to the bridge, crashing through the barrier into the river. Sinking down.

 

 

 

________________________________

*642 Tiny Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (Chronicle Books, 2014)

** I toyed with only posting the second one, but they come as a pair in the prompt. All writers write bad/cheesy stuff sometimes…

Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

41DdjkuuqcL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part Three

girl-in-blue-dress-1390840_1280

Here are parts 1 & 2 if you missed them 🙂

******

In the morning, he walked me home. I had so many questions, but didn’t know how to ask them, so we walked in silence.

As we approached the street my house was on, I could sense something was wrong. There was a tension in the air. We turned the corner and I stopped dead. There was my father, shouting orders at the guards.

“He wasn’t due back until tomorrow,” I could feel the fear spreading through my veins like ice.

Jack took my hand, “we’ll figure something out.”

We started forward slowly, hand in hand. My father didn’t see us straightaway, too busy berating the guards for my absence. We stopped behind him and Jack coughed politely. “Mr Mayor,” he began, “I have come to request permission to court your daughter.”

My father turned and grabbed me by the arm. “My daughter,” his voice was low, cold, hard, “knows she will marry only who I tell her to marry. She also knows better than to leave the house, unchaperoned,” he added, almost as an afterthought. He stabbed a finger at Jack, “I should have you arrested for kidnapping her. And I will, if I ever see you again.”

He started pulling me toward the house. Jack made as if to follow, but I shook my head. I’ll be fine, keep yourself safe, I tried to tell him with a look.

My father dragged me into the house. He had such long strides, my feet could barely keep up. He slammed the door and then the yelling came, about my lack of regard for his reputation, leaving the house dressed as I was, staying out all night in the company of someone of a lower class and a known revolutionary. “And you let That Woman into the house, when you know I have forbidden it.”

I stopped cold, “how did you know about that?”

“The servants, at least, are loyal to me,” he snapped, yanking my arm to get me moving again. He dragged me to the basement, flung open the door and pushed me down into the darkness. “You’ll be down there until you learn some obedience.” I heard the door slam, and the lock click shut.

I sat in the cold and dark. I pulled my coat tighter around me. It was Jack’s that I had borrowed the night before. It made me feel safer, knowing he was outside, even though he couldn’t help. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything stupid. This was the angriest I’d seen my father since that night long ago, the last time I’d seen my mother. I had just turned six. She told me to stay in my room, and I had hidden under the bed, afraid of the shouting and crashing I could hear through the floorboards. When I had crept downstairs in the morning, she was gone. Even at that age, I knew better than to ask where she was.

It made me shudder to think of it. I tried to conjure up memories of her, but they were elusive. I put my hands in the pockets of the coat for warmth and found something tucked inside. The photo from Jack’s mantelpiece. My mother smiled out at me. Whatever happened, she had never been afraid of my father. As I looked at the photo, a faint memory drifted into my mind of a lullaby she would sing to me as a child. I hummed it softly and gradually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

A storm broke in the night and I was woken sharply by a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. As the thunder died, I realised I could hear the melody of the lullaby faintly echoing around the room. I suddenly knew I was no longer alone. I could feel her presence next to me.

In the next flash of lightning I could see her, the same blue dress, pale skin, dark hair styled elegantly. She leant forward to kiss my forehead and then looked deep into my eyes, as if she were memorising my features. I felt rather than heard her say she would make things right. And then she was gone.

 

I don’t know how long I was in the cellar. I wondered what punishment my father had in store for me. But when the door eventually creaked open, it wasn’t him but my Godmother who was standing at the top of the stairs. She gently drew me up into the house, settled me on the drawing room sofa, gave me water and sent a servant to find me some food.

“He was found this morning,” she was saying. “He was slumped over his desk, gun in his hand.”

She showed me the note he had left. It said, simply, “I killed my wife.” But the writing wasn’t his.

I held up the photo I was still clutching tightly and showed my Godmother.

“I saw her,” I whispered. “She did this, she rescued me. It’s her writing.” And then I wept, not for him, but for her.

My Godmother held me until the tears subsided.

When I had recovered, she told me that soon she would help me pack what I needed to move in with her family, as she would now be my guardian. “But first,” she said, “if you are up to it, you have a visitor.”

I nodded, curious, and she went to open the door. Jack was sitting out in the corridor, but now he jumped to his feet. As I stood up to greet him, she whispered in my ear, “Guess who gets to arrange your marriage now.” She had that magic twinkle in her eye again.

 

********

Thanks for reading! I’d love to know what you think of the story – feel free to leave comments below or connect via my Facebook or Twitter

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part One

girl-in-blue-dress-1390840_1280

I knew it made me stand out. It was a shot of colour in a drab town.

My Godmother presented it to me on my 21st birthday. For my “coming-of-age” she told me, smiling but with sadness in her eyes and a sigh on her lips. I understood. Traditionally, mothers would throw a massive party for their daughter’s coming of age, as if to say, “Look, my daughter is an adult, she is here!” The ladies of the town would gather for wine and sweetmeats, and the mother would instruct the girl on how to make her way in the world as an adult. With no mother, it would fall to my Godmother to induct me into adulthood, but the rules were strict. There would be no gathering, as only a mother could announce her daughter’s age publically. My Godmother could give me advice, but my entrance into public life would be without ceremony.

I eased the dress out from the whispering paper and help it up against myself. The air seemed to vibrate around it. In had never seen anything so beautiful.

My Godmother helped me into the dress. She had chosen well as the fit was perfect.

“Be careful how you wear it, there is power in this dress,” she said, the twinkle back in her eye.

She led me to the mirror so I could see the effect. Then she hugged me and whispered, “Your mother would have been proud”. Momentarily, time seemed to stand still as I held my breath and glanced around. But the world kept turning. No one had talked of my mother in this house for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t done to speak of those who had gone. And though my father was away on business, he had ears everywhere.

My Godmother winked as she released me from her embrace. I knew then that I would be safe. There was magic in her, and I knew she would watch over me.

I made us tea, and she began to speak, teaching me the ways of the world. We saw in the dawn together, marking my entry into adulthood, then she returned to her own family, leaving me to face the new world on my own.

 

*****

Part two will follow soon! Image free from pixabay.com