Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Stop Rewriting Our Past

May 17, 2018

The problem with rewriting the moral undergirding of a culture is the transition period.  More specifically, it is the transitional period of which the rewriters are part of that is most problematic.  How to explain adequately that there has been a massive change, and that people were a part of things before the change as well as after the change?  That they were more or less happy with things in the past but now are compelled to say that those things were bad and wrong.  How to reconcile how things – and we – used to be, with how things and ourselves are now perceived to be?  There is a strong temptation to defensiveness, an attempt to filter history in such a way as to show that the ideas and themes that are championed today were actually there all along if we just had eyes to see them, or people to tell us that this is what was really happening.  What results is a type of historical revision, and the awkward part is that there are people around who know that this is a load of mule muffins.

Case in point, Lando Calrissian.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with Star Wars as part of your cultural fabric, Lando is the dashing rogue turned hero who appears in The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams.  I never understood why he didn’t get more of a prominent place in the franchise, but I guess if you wait long enough and sell off the rights to the franchise, eventually someone will come around to exploring those overlooked characters more.  And so it is that Calrissian will have a role in the new Han Solo spin-off movie, although played by a different and younger actor.

Fair enough.

Except that the original Calrissian is, at least in the eyes of some, being rewritten into something he never was – a hero/icon/whatever for the LGBT community.  And the guy trying to do the rewriting is a venerated veteran of the Star Wars community – Lawrence Kasdan.  In a recent interview Kasdan claims that Lando is a pan-sexual, someone who is not limited to sexual preferences and practices regarding “biological sex, gender, or gender identity”.  Kasdan claims that not only the new portrayal of Lando but also Williams’ original portrayal lead us towards this conclusion.  Kasdan is not speaking authoritatively – he doesn’t get to arbitrarily dictate the canon of Star Wars, but he carries a lot of weight.

The problem is, regardless of how the new movie portrays Lando, there’s nothing in the original character’s portrayal in 1980 that would lead us to this conclusion at all.  By revisiting a character and redefining him now according to popular ideas, there is the assumption that we can cast these ideas back to the original character.

Except you can’t.

I remember Lando.  I remember thinking he was dashing and handsome and charming – all characteristics that came into full play only with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).  Lando and Han (Harrison Ford) were friends, and friends with a long and complicated past to be sure, but there was nothing flirty in their interactions.  The closest you could get to anything like this would be the fact that they hug shortly after reuniting in Bespin.

But that scene clearly is not romantic or erotic in any way.  It’s clear that both of them are somewhat wary of the other, and Han more so of Lando than visa versa.  If you want to get theological, Lando’s hug is a form of Judas kiss, attempting to put Solo at ease while perhaps identifying him to the guards watching who may eventually have to ensure that he does not escape.  There are many nuances which can only be appreciated after the film is over.  But there’s no mistaking this for any sort of sexualized behavior.

But that’s what it has to be in order to be appreciated properly by today’s standards.  So Lando will be rewritten to be sexually ambiguous, which in the process will throw Han’s sexuality into question as well.  What gets undermined is two strong, masculine, heterosexual characters.  What gets undermined is the concept of manly friendship, friendship that can be close and intimate without being sexualized (PLEASE read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous book The Four Loves for a wondrous exposition on the necessity and beauty of such masculine friendship!).  What gets undermined are the role models of previous generations, because now there is guilt associated with cheering them on in their heterosexual appreciation and tug of war over a beautiful woman, a woman also strong enough in her own right to hold her own and seek to maintain a certain element of aloofness and control in the midst of a situation she realizes at a gut level is suspicious.

All of that can be pitched because what we really want to sell today is sexuality and sexuality as unrestricted and self-defined as we feel like it.  In the long run, that sales pitch will become more and more effective as those who lived through the transition – and can thus speak out against the historical revision through first-person experience – die off (or, as has already happened, get cowed into silence by a militant and vocal vanguard for the new order).

I’m not dead yet.  And I haven’t forgotten.  And whatever Kasdan’s personal issues are, and regardless of how the new movie may attempt to redefine the character, Lando will remain for me that original charming and clearly heterosexual man he appeared to be – and which nearly everyone who saw those original movies both wanted him and assumed him to be.  There wasn’t anything wrong with that.  There still isn’t.  Quit trying to rewrite my history – our history – into something else.



Movie Review – Coco

November 28, 2017

With an opening weekend topping $70 million dollars, Pixar/Disney’s newest release, Coco, is already an impressive hit.  And not unrightfully so.  It’s pleasing to the eyes and the ears and has an innovative and compelling storyline.  I’ll try not to let any serious spoilers slip here, but I do want to talk a little bit about the philosophy and theology of the movie.

As with other Pixar movies, this one also has a short featurette,  a clearly Disney called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a take-off involving the characters of Frozen.  This was a terrible, terrible short.  Pixar shorts are clever and every bit as awe-inspiring as their movies.  But the Olaf short ruined a cute character and abused us with a barrage of songs as though hoping to snag another chart topper.

More than this though, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was deeply offensive theologically.  As Olaf peruses a variety of seasonal traditions, we are treated to aspects of Christmas that are culturally familiar – fruit cakes, hot cocoa, garlands, etc.  All well and good.  However there is pointedly no mention made of actual Christmas or Christian traditions.  A (presumably) Hebrew family is shown playing with a dreidel, but the closest link to actual Christmas would be the Christmas tree, which is the one tradition that Olaf disparages.  Any and every other tradition is just fine, thank you very much.

If they had avoided any religious connotation it would have been bad enough, but it wouldn’t have been offensive.  But to pointedly exclude the entire reason for Christmas as being a holiday while acknowledging another religious holiday in the same timeframe is just plain rude.  But it shows where we’re at as a culture.  Nobody would dare mock the dreidel, but it’s OK to make fun of Christmas trees because that’s generally associated with a Christian holiday.

The overarching theme both in this short as well as in Coco is the importance of family.  But both films do the same thing – they emphasize the importance of family as a means of compensating for any other lasting hope.  Family is the paramount thing, and of course family is very important – ironic that a culture that has and continues to devastate the family likes to romanticize it.

The problem is that it romanticizes family as everything.  Which is wonderful if you have family.  But obviously, devastating if you don’t.  I can imagine how devastating this movie will be for kids (of all ages) who don’t have families, or who are struggling with bad family dynamics, divorce, separation, etc.  I can also see the immense guilt that this movie could place even on children (of all ages) with good families.   After all, you could bear responsibility for the continued existence of your family members in the afterlife!

Coco never mentions God or anything religious.  No mention of heaven or hell.  No prayers are offered.  The dead are petitioned, and depicted as having the power to grant certain things through their blessings, but they seem to be the only entities capable of doing so.  Animals seem to inhabit a separate spiritual reality, being independent of the familial memories that form the basis of human afterlife existence (at least for a while).

As I said, Coco  is very entertaining.  While I don’t think it personally matches up to earlier Pixar films, it’s a respectable member of the Pixar family (hehe).  We had a good family conversation over dinner afterwards, identifying some of the key aspects of the film (family is the most important thing, etc.), as well as fleshing out some of the theological ideas that were mish-mashed together.  I’d argue that if you have very sensitive children you might need to be prepared to comfort them if they get worried about forgetting family members.  But otherwise enjoy the film as a good opportunity to talk about what (and who) our hope is, and how family interplays with that hope.




November 27, 2017

I gotta admit, this is a clever, 1-minute film!



Movie Review: The Book of Eli

May 24, 2017

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Eli for some time.  I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic films and on a long trans-Atlantic flight recently I had the opportunity to finally watch it.  Visually it’s impressive.  The fight scenes are brutal and sparse.   Characters are basic and two-dimensional, but the acting is fine if not exquisite.  I felt like Gary Oldman was re-channeling his Zorg character from The Fifth Element, but that’s fine as well.

My interest was piqued by the centrality of the Bible in the movie.  Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, possesses a very rare commodity – a Bible.  Most Bibles were wiped out after the nuclear holocaust, viewed widely as a leading contributor to the catastrophe.  Eli is on a mission to deliver the Bible to the West Coast for reasons not altogether clear even to himself.  Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is the tyrant of a small town and has been searching in vain for a Bible for some time.  Both men need and want the Bible, but their reasons differ.  Eli needs and wants the Bible to give it away, believing that in doing so, he is contributing to humanity.  Carnegie needs and wants the Bible as the ultimate tool of coercion and control of the masses.

Fascinating interplay, but I was disappointed but the very shallow treatment of Scripture in the movie.  Oh, don’t worry, there are a few verses scattered throughout .  But I mean the overall understanding of the importance of the Bible is lacking.  Both characters see the Bible as the single-most important book on earth.  But Carnegie sees it only as a means to control others, not understanding the source of this power which ultimately would undermine what he hoped to accomplish with it.  And Eli thinks the Bible basically says “to do more for others than you do for yourself”, without recognizing that such a message could hardly be responsible for nuclear annihlation.

The movie gets it right – the Bible is the single-most dangerous and subversive book in all of human history.  But it fails to really take this seriously and explore what that means and why.  It presents both Eli’s faith and Carnegie’s utilitarianism as relative equals.  One is nicer than the other, but both are viable responses to the book.  Both basically use the Bible for personal ends – one is more altruistic at first blush but Eli is just as ready to defend his faith – which he has barely any grasp of – and use of the book as Carnegie is.  Is that really altruism?

The Bible is dangerous and subversive to any institution of power or control as it removes all authority to God.  Both Eli and Carnegie can’t make sense of this beyond their own limited perceptions.  We are not free to do things as we see fit.  We are responsible to a Creator who will judge us, as Eli whispers to a thug he has just severely roughed up.  It’s phenomenal to me that the writers/directors could think that Eli could be wandering westward for 30 years, reading the Bible every single day, willing to defend it with his life, yet completely unaware of the true power and story it contains.  It’s baffling that someone could see the Bible as dangerous simply for saying be nice to each other.  The Bible goes well beyond that – to demonstrate that we can’t even do that one little thing, and that we are dying because of our failure, a failure we can’t overcome on our own no matter how much we might attempt to.

It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic movie but it had the potential to be so much more, and there were brief moments I thought it might succeed.

Movie Review: Is Genesis History?

March 16, 2017

I’ve stopped doing movie reviews by and large, since I’m apparently hyper-critical.  However this movie bears mentioning, and actual encouragement to see it.

Is Genesis History? provides an examination of common assumptions about our world that are grounded in an evolutionary/natural selection model.  The movie asks the question, is the evolutionary/natural selection model, which predicates that the earth is millions and millions of years old and that all of the animal and plant species we see today evolved from much simpler organisms over time supported by the physical evidence in our world?

The movie is a series of interviews with a variety of scientists who are Christian and believe that the best interpretation of the data available in the world around us is the Genesis explanation, which states that creation came into being in six days and that the earth might be much, much younger than the evolutionary/natural selection model asserts.  They offer intelligent and compelling arguments showing how the answers most of us were given in school about the world and how it came to be are unsatisfactory at best, and completely contrary to what we actually see in the world.

Normally I wouldn’t go to see a movie like this, but last week at happy hour, a recent Westmont Grad who is preparing to go to medical school mentioned that she had seen it and it made a favorable impression on her.  She doesn’t hold to a six-day creation perspective despite being a strong Christian, and is much more comfortable with some sort of theistic evolution answer, where God gets the ball rolling but evolution is the tool He uses.  She thought the movie raised some really good questions that gave her good food for thought.  I’m pleased to report that her assessment was very fair.

Is Genesis History? is not an attempt at debate.  No counterpoints are raised, no experts are interviewed to explain how they refute the assertions made by the experts in the film.  That’s not the film’s purpose.  The film intends to show that there is some good reason to doubt the prevailing ideas about the universe and our little corner of it, and to suggest that Genesis might really be taken seriously not in contradiction to science, but in an alternate interpretation of physical data.  It isn’t the Bible or science, but the Bible as a guiding lens for how science interprets the data it has.

The biggest question that was raised in my mind against their interpretations of data has to do with the Flood.  I believe the flood narrative, and I believe that it means what it says – a worldwide flood.  My question is that the various experts in this movie proposed a theory that says that the dinosaurs lived before the Flood, and went extinct with the Flood.  Yet Genesis 6 & 7 give the impression that representatives of every type of living creature were present on  the ark with Noah and his family (Genesis 6:19-20; 7:8-9, 14-16).

Did God determine which animals would be saved and which would not?  Did some of the animals that were saved on the ark die on the ark?  Genesis doesn’t state specifically that every animal or species on the ark was saved.  I like the answer that the experts in the film give, but if we want to take Genesis seriously (and we should!), then how do we come to grips with this issue?  I’ll be doing some more research to see if they answer that question on their web site.


Mea Culpa?

February 13, 2017

Having recently read Silence, I’ve been wrangling over whether or not to see the movie.   This essay should encourage me to do so.

My reasons for being wary of the movie are multiple.  I don’t consider myself a film buff.  The book was fascinating precisely because of the interior glimpses of the protagonist, and I’m not sure if that can or will translate onto screen.  There’s the unpleasantness of scenes depicting human suffering and cruelty – not in a popcorn-guzzling fake way, but actual, real human suffering and cruelty.

But as someone who frequently hears people lamenting about the state of our entertainment industry, and as someone certainly not immune to haranguing on the issue myself, I would do well to take this article’s point to heart.  Hollywood follows the money.  My money.  Perhaps I should be more willing to shell out to support Christian or ‘wholesome’ movies to encourage more of them to be made.

Or maybe I should just convince you to.

Resurrecting Rogues

December 27, 2016

We went to see the new Star Wars movie today, part of our annual Christmas-time tradition of going as a family to a movie theater.  Yes, it’s a good movie.  Far better than the last four installments, and frankly even better than I remember Return of the Jedi.  Rogue One inclines me to go back and watch at least A New Hope again to see the interplay, because I think they did a really good job of linking to that next (story-chronology-wise) film.

What I didn’t expect as part of that linking, was to see actors and actresses digitally reproduced for Rogue One as they appeared – roughly – in A New Hope, despite the latter being filmed 40 years ago and at least some of those actors being deceased.  Although Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is the most obvious example of this, there is one other example at the very end.

I mean, realistically, it shouldn’t be unexpected.  Probably 90% of everything in the movie was digitally created or added in terms of scenery, backdrops, extras.  Frankly, before getting lost in the story – fairly immediately – I pondered how the stunning opening visuals of the new movie didn’t hold the same grandeur for me, knowing that they’re all computer generated.  Part of the immersion into another galaxy is lost for me knowing how little of it is created in our galaxy but rather in a digital galaxy on a hard drive.  But, the story was compelling enough so that such thoughts were short-lived.

Until Peter Cushing appeared on screen.  Since he died 22 years ago, I know that’s not him.  Even were he still alive he wouldn’t look as he did in 1977.  Yet there he is, very realistic and life-like and, had I not known all of the above, perhaps I would never be the wiser that he is as much computer generated wizardry as the backdrop of stars and Death Star behind him.

My immediate reaction was one of curiosity.  Not as to how they did it, but rather what the implications of doing it are.  Does Cushing have an estate, or family that would benefit from royalties or payment for the appearance of his likeness in this movie?  Does the movie studio get to use his likeness for free then?  Did anyone have to give permission for Cushing to appear in this movie, post mortem?  Star Wars fans are well aware that Sir Alec Guiness really disliked Star Wars and his role in it.  Could the studio use his likeness in future films, forcing Guiness to keep appearing in a franchise he loathed?

What’s to keep a studio from reusing famous faces indefinitely?  And what does this mean for actors and actresses, or frankly, for any of us?  What if a director spotted my face in a restaurant, snapped a pic on his phone, sent it to his animators and said ‘put this guy in the film‘?  Would I have any recourse?  Do I deserve compensation?

My wife sent me this article from The New York Times which discussed very few of these things.  The tone of the people quoted reminded me of stories where scientists pursuing questionable procedures are quoted.  Inevitably, they respond with something along the lines of Yes we know this is very complicated and controversial so you can trust us that we’ve thought it all through very carefully.  Which is not reassuring in the least.   I’m glad that thought was given.  But the idea that one small group of scientists or directors have the right to decide what is and isn’t acceptable, based on their own personal struggles and considerations of the topic is ridiculous.

Ultimately, they dismiss the concerns because it was really, really important to them and to their story to do it this way.  I would argue quite the contrary.  Tarkin’s presence would of course be expected in this film at some level, but there was certainly a lot of additional drama and therefore screen time that wasn’t necessary to the storyline at all.   And the fact that you wanted to do this to tell your story is not a justification for doing it.  Nor is the assurance that it’s really expensive and hard to do so not many other people are likely to do it, including us.  The fact that they were willing to go to the time and difficulty and expense of doing it obviously shows that these are not, in and of themselves, deterrent factors.

I was pleased to hear that they received permission from Cushing’s estate, at least.

In a rather unexpected twist of fate, I find myself in agreement with a Huffington Post editorial for a change.  It should not be in the hands of later generations to resurrect the image of a deceased actor or actress.  It is unfair to the dead, and ultimately another blurring of our own acceptance of and coming to grips with mortality in general.  This editorial also rings the same bells, though neither editorial propositions a very compelling rationale for their position.

Here’s my theological rationale:  something in us reacts against the idea of using the dead for these purposes because part of us resonates with the idea that they aren’t really dead and gone.  Oh, they’re not here with us, for certain.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Therefore it’s more than just a memory we do offense to – we do offense to their reality.

If we truly die, if there is nothing beyond death, then that’s it and like an expired copyright others are free to cannibalize us and our works to the extent that the law allows or prohibits.  We can try to ensure that our families are compensated in some fashion, but that’s more of a formality than anything, and certainly one prone to eventual revocation should circumstances make that convenient.  There are no moral obligations to consider, because nothing like morality or appropriateness or ethics exist beyond our conceptualization – or reconceptualization – of them.

But if we aren’t truly dead and gone, absorbed back into atomic nothingness; if there is a corpus of ethical and moral standards that we have been entrusted with as stewards, not creators, then our misgivings have a root.  It’s not just the economics we balk at, not just the potential for misappropriation, but the possibility of actual offense.  Not against an idea or a memory but against a person – a person who may be dead but who continues to exist in a meaningful sense – every bit as meaningful as when they were alive.

If we remember that our theology isn’t separated somehow from the rest of the issues we try to make sense of, these other issues begin to make more sense.  It isn’t a matter of respect for the living or the dead, but rather for a person, who might be living or might be dead, but exists just as definitely either way.  What’s more, Christian theology indicates that we don’t simply continue to exist, we continue to exist in relationship.  What we look forward to is a time to come when we are together again, more together than ever before.  Our actions to one another continue to have meaning and weight.  And while I have no doubt that if we do take advantage of somebody after they are dead, and we meet together again in glory there will be forgiveness for that, it still dictates how we treat that person up until that reunion.  Not as an asset to be exploited but as a creation of God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and – God-willing – brought to faith by God the Holy Spirit.





Zombie Church Apocalypse

September 27, 2016

I’m a fan of the zombie movie genre. What is impressive is that, despite several generations of zombie movies and books, the people in the movies are always caught by surprise.  Very few of them survive the zombie outbreak despite the fact that many of them presumably are familiar with the basic concept.  Our capacity to remain rooted where we are despite intellectually understanding the need for drastic action is apparently rather impressive.

That came to mind yesterday listening to our District President discuss the state of the Church in our part of the country.  In the last 16 years, out of roughly 330 congregations, we’ve gone from 10 congregations not being able to afford to Call a permanent, full-time pastor to well over 40.  We continue to mirror the steady decline of American Christianity.  So we gather in conferences like this one to exhort each other to keep preaching the Good News.  Which is what we do.  We listen to the statistics, we nod our heads sagely and shake them in disappointment.  And then we go back to our offices and sanctuaries and do the same thing this week that we did last week, and the same thing next week as we did two weeks ago.  Our capacity to remain rooted where we are despite intellectually understanding the need for drastic action is apparently rather impressive.

We know what will happen if we don’t move.  But we’re stuck, rooted in our routines and traditions, unable to even imagine what something different would look like.  Unable to come to grips with the loss and destruction of much of what we’ve loved, and certainly our comfort.  We continue to placate ourselves and one another that maybe it’s not really as bad as all that.  Maybe they’ll find the cure.  Maybe it won’t come down to leaving what I’ve known all my life for something radically different that ensures I remain alive.

Those are the folks who inevitably end up eating brains or taking a bullet to the head by the end of the movie.  Tragic, of course, but what can you do?  There isn’t enough time to grieve.  Grief becomes a luxury that pales compared with the very real work of staying alive.  And the Church will continue to watch congregations falter and collapse.  Tragic victims of many different circumstances, but likely all at some level to do with not being willing or able to act radically enough, quickly enough, to stay alive.

I don’t know for sure that this is the common thread.  It’s comforting to think so because then it means that perhaps I and my congregation will not suffer the same fate.  But it’s possible to act decisively and quickly, but in the completely wrong direction.  It’s possible to turn a blind corner and be overwhelmed.  Motion itself is not the answer.  And so I can’t take easy comfort in being willing to move, but I still ought to try.  So I tell myselves and others that any movement at all towards the future is better than standing still where we are.

I just need to remember that when I get back to my office.  And continue to figure out how to communicate that to the people around me in my congregation.  The world is changing.  The odds of us being able to remain the way we like and are comfortable with are pretty slim.  Let’s figure out what we need to survive, and what will help us rebuild.

A Tetris Movie?

July 1, 2016

So apparently there is a plan to make a movie based on the video game Tetris.  Video-game based movies are all the rage, seeking to capitalize on several generations of gamers who love the games and will go to see the movie.  Usually, these movies at least work in theory because they’re based on story-oriented games.  Video games that tell a story and involve the player in the story in some way.  It doesn’t mean that the movie will be good, but it at least makes sense.

But to make a movie about a video game without a story?  A video game that simply (well, not simply!) challenges the player to arrange geometrical blocks into interlocking lines as much and as quickly as possible?  How do you make a movie (other than a historical or biographical kind of movie) out of a game like that?  And how, moreover, do you justify not just making a single movie but a  trilogy?

I love the game – it’s still in my mind a perfect game that never gets old or tiring and is always slightly different and challenging every time you play it.  But I can’t imagine going to see a movie about it!


Movie Review: Vaxxed

May 24, 2016

Since posting about the controversy at the Tribeca Film Festival surrounding the screening of the movie Vaxxed, I hoped for the opportunity to see it.  Fortunately it came to our area for a one-week limited engagement, and my wife and saw it Monday night.

I start out by admitting that I want this movie to be good.  I’m a sympathetic viewer.  While I acknowledge the potentially great good that vaccines may have in the past done, may do currently, and hopefully will do in the future, I’m also skeptical anytime someone tries to ram a point of view down my throat.  The tremendous growth of autism in our culture is far more than just better diagnostics.  There must be a reason for what is truly an epidemic.  To rule any possible cause out of bounds immediately seems the height of foolishness if not arrogance, particularly when that cause is the injection of materials into a child’s body.  I am not anti-vaccination, but I am distrustful of a perfect storm of government mandates and for-profit pharmaceutical/bio-engineering interests.

As such, let me also point out that those who dismiss this movie as anti-vaccination are uninformed at best, malicious at worst.  This film is not anti-vaccination.  It states that repeatedly.  It deliberately limits the scope of discussion to a single  vaccination – the combined measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine.  It does not raise questions about these as separate vaccinations, but only when combined into a single shot.  It does point out the curious matter that the single vaccinations have been discontinued by the manufacturers, leaving parents the only options of doing without the vaccine or receiving only the combined form.  I find that worth investigating all on its own.

All that being said, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be, and I wasn’t as convinced as I hoped to be, mostly because the film doesn’t clearly and simply lay out the data in a no-nonsense approach.  Rather, it spends the vast majority of time on what might be the logical fallacy of appeal to emotion.  Look at how these families and children are suffering, isn’t it awful?  Well of course it’s awful!  I paid to see the movie in the first place because I am very well aware of that suffering and how real and pervasive and long-term it is.  I’d go so far as to say anyone sitting in the theater to see this movie already knows that autism is a devastating condition.  How about focusing clearly and repeatedly on the actual point of the film?

And the alleged point of the film is to assert that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) manipulated and destroyed data for a 2004 study on a possible relationship between autism and the MMR vaccine.  As another curiosity, a search at the CDC website for “Vaxxed” returns nothing.  Apparently they don’t feel the need to address the issue raised by this film.  Interesting.

The film’s assertion centers on the release of data from a CDC insider, Dr. William Thompson.  The heart of the film ought to be the clear comparison of data between the official CDC report in 2004, and data purported to be untampered with that predates this report.  The movie alleges that – among other things – data was eliminated in order to eliminate any statistically significant relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.  While the movie does talk about the data, it could have done a much better job of it.

Ultimately, the film should ensure that every person that walks out of the theater could explain it to others.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel that I can.  The film alleges that the CDC reduced the sampling population – the number of participants included in the report – in order to minimize any relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.  I think there was more to it than that, but I’m not confident enough to explain it.  And for this reason alone, I think the film fails to do what it should have done.

Since Monday night, I’ve been searching out rebuttals to the film.  How are people arguing against what the film has to say?  It’s not hard to find articles and sites dedicated to this purpose.  Here’s a current Washington Post article on the matter.  It details seven things the film doesn’t say that it feels are important.  Two of them have to do with Andrew Wakefield and the discrediting of him personally that has occurred in the professional medical community.  One has to do with the film’s removal from the Tribeca Film Festival.   The article seems to think that this is a significant fact about the film that in some way discredits it.  Anybody who saw Robert de Niro’s interview on the Today Show will likely recognize that there were a lot of factors contributing to the film’s removal, none of them proof of or refutation the film’s premise.

But interestingly, this article – nor any of the other reading I’ve done – refutes the basic premise of the movie, which is that the CDC tampered with the data.  Most articles point to Wakefield’s discrediting, to questionable motives on his part, to editing choices in the film.  None of them (at least that I’ve found) refute the main allegation of CDC tampering.  And frankly, if you can’t refute that, then you haven’t refuted the film’s main purpose.  IF the CDC is guilty of tampering with data to favor a particular outcome, we have a very serious and very dangerous situation on our hands that needs to be thoroughly investigated and people held accountable.  IF the CDC can be shown to be not guilty of this, then the movie can be chucked out as mistaken at best,  malicious at worst.

The movie ends with several specific action items for viewers to follow through on.  The only one I remember is writing our congressional representatives to ask that Dr. William Thompson, the whistleblower, be formally deposed by Congress under oath, and that the same thing happen for five other key players at the CDC from the 2002-2004 timeframe.  This seems like a reasonable course of action.  A Senator has been provided with the documentation demonstrating the alteration of data, yet Congress has not moved to act on this.

I can’t understand why they wouldn’t.  If you’re going to have a movie out alarming people, the least you ought to be able to do is determine if the film’s main allegation is true – did the CDC alter/eliminate data to hide a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism rates?  Why would they not do this?  Can someone explain it to me?

So, that’s where I’m at currently.  Still investigating rebuttals, but so far there has been NO rebuttal of the film’s allegations of CDC misconduct.  That is the only issue at play, for me.  Only by determining if that is true, can we determine whether or not concerns about the MMR vaccine are valid or not.  Only by determining if the data has been manipulated can we know whether we can trust the CDC or not.  I’d like to think that we can, but a penchant for history and a lifetime fascination with human behavior both individually and collectively tells me that such a position is dangerous.