In 2008, the Coen brothers made a violent and mean-spirited comedy, Burn After Reading, about the CIA. Months away from the Obama presidency, it was not a film anyone wanted to see, but in the decade since – as Obama was first subverted and then absorbed by the Beltway class, and the Presidency fell to a man who, being as stupid and empty as imperial power, was its inevitable wielder – it has become the only political film I can rewatch.
It is difficult to know where to begin in reviewing a new work by Marilynne Robinson – in this case, a collection of nonfiction called What Are We Doing Here? Or, rather, it is difficult to know what to say after the extremely obvious beginning: Robinson is the greatest living American author.
In First Reformed, Paul Schrader, the CRC’s most famous apostate, does something I’ve never seen any filmmaker do.
I used to hope that I would outgrow these films someday; with age and self-knowledge, I have stopped expecting this. We need genres, I suppose, for every facet of life, all the bits of ourselves, including the inner kid.
Let’s start with the obvious: Superhero movies cannot be redeemed. At least, like all human works, they will be saved through fire, an image that has always suggested to me an extreme attenuation and transformation of the saved thing. When God reckons with us—with human history, with human culture, with a rapidly warming world in which $200 million spandex smack-fests may well prove to be among the last major collective human cultural projects, a late entry in the timeline that begins with cave art and Gobekli Tepe—most of this genre will go in the twinkling of an eye.
I was a person living in a society already strung out on cruelty, and what Trump’s election showed me is that many of the people living in that society thought the solution to its problems was more cruelty.
For some of us, there’s a season, on the cusp of young adulthood – around 16 or 17 – when all the deepest failings and yearnings of your nature seem to announce themselves one after the other, like symphonic themes that the rest of your life will restate with far greater complexity, perhaps, but never again so pristinely.
Do not fear: this is a highly entertaining thriller with well-drawn, interesting characters. Whatever your level of philosophical fitness, you’ll love this workout.
We talk of Gnosticism as an early Christian heresy; it is better understood as an everyday Christian temptation. Loveless knowledge, implied St. Paul, does nothing but puff you up, and as Christians can hardly help claiming to know something about God, so the mere momentary absence of love threatens to leave us with swelled heads.
Albert Murray (1916-2013) was a wholly remarkable man, a novelist, literary critic, Air Force major, sometime professor of literature and a writer on jazz so essential that Duke Ellington himself blurbed one of his books.
In the U.S., you hear most about “leadership” from business writers and schools, and they generally use the term in a way that just stinks of this philosophy. We must all be “leaders,” CEOs of Me, Incorporated, judicious managers of ourselves, mostly because neoliberal economic policies have eroded job security and unstrung the social safety net, so we’re all on our own.
In life, David Bowie – who died in January – was both celebrated and reviled for his lack of a stable artistic personality, a hard center of self. Fans loved him, and some critics hated him, but they often read him the same way: as a series of more or less cynical gestures surrounding nothing. (So who picks the gestures, then?) This reading now appears almost monumentally wrong, an error on the same level as thinking Bob Dylan a protest singer, or Frank Zappa a dangerous intellectual.