Thursday, May 7, 2015

Age of Ultron: Human Visions, Second Chances and Filled Gaps

The Avengers have invaded your local theaters - and the public consciousness.  Critics like it and audiences love it. It passed the $700million dollar mark only eight days after its release. A spokesperson for Disney said it should pass the $1.5 billion that the first movie brought in. That billion, with a 'b'. The next Avenger movie is several years away, but between now and then you will see plenty of TV shows and movies preparing the way.

I'm not going to rehash all the (appropriately) congratulatory things others are saying about the quality of the film. If we can grant that Joss Whedon knows what he's doing, we can move on to issues that go beyond the artistic merits of Age of Ultron.

Comic books are today's mythology without the religious devotion. All of the Avengers are reminiscent of these more-than-human heroes. Thor is the only demi-god in the classic mythological sense; Captain America and the Hulk have been made superhuman through science; Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were crafted through genetic and supernatural influence. They are all some version of Heracles, a blend of humanity and something greater that makes them so much more. 

Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye are merely human, but Natasha and Clint’s gifts and training along with Tony’s technological genius have left them all with abilities that qualify them as “super.” They are Hector, Ajax, or Aegea, blessed by the nature and nurture gods to be bigger than life. 

As with any story that involves super folks, both the best and the worst of humanity will arise. These stories are not meant to present simplistic heroes and villains. They are meant to tales of horror and hope, cautionary and encouraging in a way that helps us better understand or navigate life.  Of course, everyone who tells a story - director, singer, author - approaches it from a particular worldview. What is the problem of humanity? Where is our salvation? Do our histories define us, or can we choose who we want to be? Age of Ultron is no exception. Whedon has crafted a movie that focuses our attention on the best and worst in the world - and in us.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Undivided (The Unwind Series)

If you aren't reading Neil Shusterman, you should be. His Unwind series may be one of the best current YA stories addressing significant moral and social issues in a way that leads readers toward the truth. This review will cover the final book, Undivided. If you are not familiar with the series, it may be helpful to read some observations about the previous books.

"Unwind is compelling. It’s disturbing. It makes the moral heart of our culture’s debate about the aforementioned issues unavoidable. It's one thing to write academic papers about post-birth abortion; it's quite another to vicariously experience the murder of innocent people deemed unworthy of life. The reader can't help but cringe at the empty deception in defense of Unwinding while cheering those who fight to stop it. Though Shusterman intended to take a neutral approach by highlighting hypocrisy on all sides, the story sends a clear message about the value of human life." 

"There was far more to UnWholly than its discussion of the soul and personal identity. Risa and Conner show maturity and respect in their relationship. An ongoing story about rescued Tithes gives plenty of opportunity to analyze both the proper use and improper abuse of religion. And there is an achingly beautiful moment of forgiveness between two teens who have been horribly damaged by life. It may have been the best moment in a great book.But as much as I like his series for all those things, I am more impressed with Shusterman's ability to starkly reveal the implications of living in a culture that has forgotten what it means to be human."

Once again, Mr. Shusterman has reminded us of a number of issues that are just too important to ignore.  When does life begin? What does it means to be human? What happens when we view people as property or things? Are we just parts, or is there a unifying soulishness to our nature? Should scientists do things just because they can, or is there a should that needs to be part of the discussion? In a world that increasingly traffics in flesh (in areas such as pornography, the sex slave tradesavior siblings, and medical experiments on aborted babies), any reminder of the value of humanity is a good one." 

In Undivided, Mr. Shusterman brings this series to a close. Once again, he addresses serious issues in a thought-provoking and accessible way.