Monthly Archives: June 2014
Well, guys, here is some interesting news: Teenage Conflict can be found on the Internet Archive!
(I didn’t know this before simply because I never tried to find it: I have the Teenage series on DVD from the fine folks at Something Weird.)
And, back in the Teenage world, Doctor George Cooper is here!
Flattop and all! (I know, I know—it was the fashion back then. Still looks dorky as hell. Nice jacket-and-tie combo, too, btw, Doc.)
Joe all but physically drags George away from a conversation with Meg, to get him into the basement and discuss the satellite tracker. And by “discuss the satellite tracker,” Joe means “make sure George doesn’t bring up skepticism in front of Meg.”
IT IS TIME FOR THE BIG REVEAL
Doctor George Cooper…is not an atheist after all!
George: I know it comes as a shock, but several years ago, I came to know Christ. I accepted him as my personal lord and savior.
But, as you may remember from Part 1 of this critique, George had the rep of a skeptic. Turns out, he was misquoted! (No doubt by an eeeevil librul newspaper.)
George: I said there’d be conflict [between science and religion] until each side could see the other’s viewpoint, and realize that under God, there can be but one ultimate truth.
Ha! I love that, I really do! “There will be conflict until people accept that I am right!”
Look, I believe that there will always be conflict between science and religion, too. Because, when you get right down to it, they are two completely different ways of viewing the world. Though I obviously fall on the opposite side of eminent Dr. Cooper.
Of course, I doubt Dr. Cooper will be relying on God to install the electronic brain at the research center. Is he going to pray that God magics the computer into working, or is he going to use his own two hands and his own training and education? Just wondering.
George has a few basic apologetics points to lecture at Joe, but before he gets to that, Doctor George Cooper, eminent scientist, needs to get in a dig at…educated people?
George: One of my troubles was that I failed to realize that the discovery of the whole truth must come from mankind’s total experience. Not just from our so-called “intellectual approach.” *makes face*
Yeah, if there’s one thing scientists just hate, it’s an intellectual approach to a problem!
Who wrote this, honestly?
Whoever it was decided that what this highly educated, eminent Christian scientist would throw at a skeptical high school kid would be…boilerplate apologetics!
George builds his case slowly, but is sure to hit every emotionally sensitive place that he possibly can. (Remember, Joe just told George about Meg’s health issues, and George has no qualms about using this against Joe.)
George: Tell me, Joe: do you love your mother?
Joe: Well, sure.
George: How much?
Joe: A lot!
George: How much is a lot?
Joe: Well, it’s just…um…a lot, that’s all.
George: In other words, you know you love her, but there’s no way you can measure it with a scientific instrument.
Joe: Yeah, I guess that’s right.
George: Well then, just because science can’t measure things like love, faith, and hope, doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
Okay, let’s stop right here.
First of all, George is right that emotions are real. Not just because we feel them and say we feel them, but because they really can be observed by scientific instruments. Sadly, George and Joe are still a few decades away from brain scan technology showing us lasting love.
But even so, does George really want to go down this road, the “emotions are really real” road? Because I am happy to concede that people really do feel faith. But that doesn’t mean the object of their faith is a real thing.
Is God an emotion, George? If it’s “real to you,” is it actually real? Because most Christians I know get quite upset at the implication that God is just an idea, a state of mind, an emotion. To most believers I have met, God is a real being who actually exists.
Not to use the oldest example in the book or anything, but plenty of little kids really, truly believe in Santa Claus. That emotion is real, those feelings are real. Does that make Santa Claus what those kids believe he is: not an emotion or a state of mind, but a real, living person?
Next note: Joe has a good argument that he can present to George in 1960: just because something cannot be quantified, doesn’t mean it can’t be qualified.
How much do you love your mother, Joe? A lot. How much is a lot? More than I love most other people in the world. Enough that I can’t sleep at night, worrying about her health. So much so that I dash home from school every day to help out around the house, so she can nap.
Science hasn’t come up with “love units” yet, to measure quantitatively our love, but really, we can describe anything, even scientific things, in qualitative terms.
How tall are you, Ruby? Five feet, seven inches. Okay, now: how tall are you, without referencing measurement units? I’m taller than my mother, shorter than my father. I’m tall enough that “petite” clothes don’t fit me, but short enough that “tall” sizes are too tall. Okay, but are you tall? I am tall enough to do most of the things I want to do. I am tall in comparison to dogs and cats, but very short in comparison to skyscrapers and mountains.
But no, quantitative and qualitative measurements aside, George really does want to go down that path of arguing that because emotions are real, God is real:
George: You see, Joe, there is more to this world and to human life than demonstrable physical realities. There’s a world of the spirit, which is just as real as the world of chemistry and physical science.
Joe: But how can you prove that it’s real?
George: The overwhelming evidence of 2,000 years proves it.
George, are you seriously ducking this question with an argumentum ad populum? Because that is petty lame of you.
George: God speaks directly to the human heart.
Oh, no, it’s just another piece of wishful thinking from George, who goes on for a bit about Jesus. No attempt at argument here, just a bunch of “Jesus, man!”
George: Well, can you imagine trying to put together [your satellite tracker] by placing all the parts in a barrel, and shaking them [sic] until you had a perfectly working set?
George: Well, isn’t it even more difficult to imagine that this wonderful universe, about which we still know so very little, could have just happened by accident? *doesn’t give Joe a chance to answer* The more I see of the universe and its wonders, the more it becomes obvious that behind it all is the supreme intelligence we call God, the creator. And that our every attempt to understand the facts of our existence draws us closer to him.
Heh, it’s kinda funny to think that the watchmaker argument was old even back then. And they’ve changed it to the Satellite Trackermaker Argument.
And that is it, you guys. George throws Joe a nice guilt trip (can you prove to me that you love your mom…with science?), some wishful thinking, some boilerplate “Jesus, man!” and the watchmaker argument…and calls it a day.41:22
Joe, by the way, has sat in silence since saying that he could “hardly” envision shaking his satellite tracker in a barrel to make it work. That’s almost a full minute of George blathering on, until he cites John 3:16 and we fade to the next scene.
And Donna, of course, being A Girl, is not fit to hear firsthand these “arguments” against science.
I find it very sad that this is the best that Christian youth films have to offer doubting teens. The watchmaker argument. Do-you-really-love-your-dying-mother?
The filmmakers have also painted themselves into a strange emotional place, and I don’t think they did it intentionally. Here’s why: Meg is having a health scare. Honestly, it kinda sounds to me like she’s dying. So it makes complete sense to me that two impressionable teenagers, still feeling their way towards skepticism in their incredibly fundagelical church, would revert back to the extreme faith of their childhood when confronted with this kind of crisis. Especially because Meg’s faith is so important to her. As Joe so astutely puts it, “it’s about all that’s keeping Mom on an even keel right now.” Not only would sticking with their newfound skepticism be difficult for two kids facing sudden tragedy, with no like-minded adults to help them, but they might feel that the skepticism itself is a very personal betrayal of their mother. Christianity is good enough for mom, and what, are you saying that your dying mother is wrong about something? Wrong about one of life’s Big Questions? What kind of ungrateful, unloving children are you? I have seen this before.
In other words, the film is ultimately implying that none of these apologetics have any power in comparison to a good old-fashioned guilt trip.
The next scene features Joe and Donna hunkered over the satellite tracker again. I guess Joe relayed the apologetics to Donna second-hand, because she now feels all guilty about ever doubting her faith. As well she should, little hussy! What’s next, Donna, thinking you have the right to ask questions in church???
Joe’s loyalty, meanwhile, has turned on a dime:
Joe: I can hardly wait to see Sid’s face when he starts in on George tomorrow at the science club meeting, and George gives him a blast of facts!
Huh. Yanno, Joe, I heard a lot when George was lecturing you in the last scene. But facts weren’t what I heard.
Also, I get that you’re going through a tough time, I really do, but that is no excuse for such a nasty attitude. Sid is your friend, who has never been anything but good to you. And now you’re smirkily looking forward to his public humiliation?
Which, by the way, I am not convinced will happen. First of all, Sid doesn’t seem the kind of guy to “start in on” anyone. He is way too chill for that. As well, I can’t see him being too cowed by this computer scientist he has never met before. Sid’s already stood up to his own parents on this issue, and come out healthy on the other side. George will just be one more fundy adult Sid has to endure until he escapes this stupid, repressive town.
For the first time all movie, Meg and Raymond descend into Joe’s favorite dwelling, just in time to hear the satellite!
Raymond, just to cement his reputation as resident blowhard, closes with this:
Raymond: Yes, when you get things connected right, you can hear the most wonderful message of all: the one God sent this old world a long time ago.
Oooo, Raymond, what message is that?
God: Hey, kids, here’s a surprise for you: cancer! Enjoy!
Eh, probably not. But we don’t get definitive answer. Instead, Meg and Raymond wander out of the shot, towards Joe’s dank study corner, and Joe and Donna gaze at each other, and the camera lingers so long that it starts to feel creepy.
This one is by request! Yet another in the Teenage series of movies, chronicling the trials and tribulations of white, upper-middle-class teenagers, circa 1960. And by trials and tribulations, I mean such pressing issues as how much to proselytize to the customers of your aunt’s malt shop and how much to proselytize to the kids who steal from your Nativity Scene.
And this is the creationism one, so the question is: how much should I proselytize to the kids in the science club?
As usual, cutouts introduce us to the theme of the film:
Science and religion…
…and how they really do go together after all. Who knew?
Meet Donna and Joe:
Two clean-cut American Christian siblings…
OR ARE THEY???
(Um, I mean “are they really Christian?” not “are they really siblings?” Because they are definitely siblings. I suspect they might even be twins—they look very much alike and get along really well. At most, Joe is meant to be a year older than Donna.)
That thing Joe has in front of him is his home-built “satellite tracking device,” which he can’t quite get to work. Joe is quickly established as a physics nut, and also cheerfully helps Donna through some homework on molecules.
Their little study session is interrupted by Fred, a fellow youth group member. He’s been tasked with tracking down the siblings, and beinging them back into the fold, since (gasp!) they’ve been skipping out on meetings lately.
Fred: Remember, these meetings are important. Or did you forget?
Fred is a snide jerk, though we are clearly meant to see him as the voice of reason.
Joe and Donna both plead “too busy” for youth group just now, but hey, Fred, get back to us sometime next decade. Joe, indeed, lays the blame at youth group itself:
Joe: Look, Fred, just between us, this youth fellowship stuff down at the church is just taking up too much time.
Fred’s reaction is priceless. He actually leans backwards, with a look on his face as though Joe had just revealed his secret wish to dismember a litter of puppies. “Too much…” he trails off, as though the very thought cannot be repeated in full.
Nothing daunted, Joe continues. Sid, president of the school science club, has been helping Joe with his satellite-listening thingy, and they’ve been talking about the conflict of science and religion.
Joe: Shouldn’t our religious ideas be able to stand up, even under a scientific approach? I mean, either a thing is true or it isn’t.
I like these kids already. Donna, girl that she is, has barely said a word so far, but she gives a decisive nod at this line.
Frankly, there’s not much to say to all this, and despite a vague suggestion that they “talk” with the youth pastor, Fred largely gives up.
That evening, over dinner, the kids’ mother, Meg, mentions that good ole George Cooper is coming back to town, to be “installing some kind of an electronic brain down at the new research center.”
So the guy’s a 1960s computer nerd! That’s kinda badass.
The family reminisces over George, the neighborhood science dork who has now made good. (He is some years older than Joe and Donna, and it seems that even as a little kid, Joe recognized a kindred dork in George. But apparently George also a bit of a rep as being anti-religion.
This makes dad Raymond very upset, because he is the kind of guy who is personally affronted when anyone he has ever met has a different viewpoint.
Raymond: *sneering* Doctor George Cooper. Eminent scientist. How can a man with a mind like that be so blind to the very Creator Himself?
Joe: Well, maybe he found something in his research that made him believe like that.
Raymond: Well, it’s probably the same old story. In spite of everything he learned, he missed the main thing: the fear of the LAWD* is the beginning of all wisdom.
*Yes, Raymond says it exactly like that.
Meg also comments that she is happy that Joe and Donna never “got to questioning things” like George did.
Asking questions? Noooooooooo…
Man, you never know what could happen when people ask questions, right? I mean, they might examine things in a deeper way or even learn something new!
Can’t have any of that.
Joe and Donna, knowing a losing battle when they see one, wisely keep their mouths shut at Raymond’s assishness.
The next day, Joe and his pal Sid, referenced above, are enjoying a break at the malt shop. (Presumably not Gertie’s malt shop, for reasons which will become clear in a moment.
I’ll put something out there right now: Sid is the true hero of this story. A true, realistic, awesome atheist kid.
I highly doubt the writers intend him to be so, but Sid is intelligent, cool and collected, and has a dry sense of humor. As Joe whines about his parents and their “old-fashioned kind of faith,” Sid talks him down, pointing out matter-of-factly but non-condescendingly that schools today teach kids a lot more science than their parents ever got. It appears that Sid went through a bit of a tough time when he “came out” to his parents as a skeptic, but given his manner now, we can assume that the family reached some kind of compromise and position of mutual respect. Sid completely rocks.
Not that I identify with him or anything. Not that I know what it feels like to be the nonbelieving kid in a hyper-religious town. Nope, not at all.
Sid Thorpe: President of the Science Club, and Our Big Damn Hero
Donna shows up and the three discuss asking George Cooper to speak to the science club when he’s in town. Again, Sid rocks, treating Donna with plenty of respect and good humor.
(Now I’m inventing a scenario in my mind where, ten or fifteen years down the road, Doctor Sid Thorpe, eminent scientist, comes back to his hometown…and meets up with Donna Burton, his old friend’s sister. Sparks fly…)
Don’t mind me—it’s just that Sid and Donna really seem to get along well, and Sid is awesome. (And yes, I am making up fanfiction in my head about characters in a 50-year-old Christian youth film. Shut up.)
Anyway, Donna gets the idea to invite George to stay at their house during his visit, instead of at a hotel. That way, she explains, he can talk about about science over the dinner table and “wake our folks up.”
Later that evening, they lay it out for their parents. (Well, Joe primarily lays it out, even though it was Donna’s idea.) Meg is cool with it right up until Joe and Donna leave the room, and Raymond wonders if Doctor George Cooper will start “spouting off some of his *chuckle* scientific theories.”
Meg: You don’t think he really would, do you?
She sounds absolutely appalled at the very idea. I mean, a person talking about his chosen profession in the home where he is a guest??? That bastard!
Strangely enough, after his snide remarks last night, Raymond is okay with the idea of Joe and Donna talking with George about science. He thinks their religious upbringing will keep them good little Christians even in the face of George’s dirty, god-hating scientific electronic brain talk.
Well, something will keep them good little Christians, though it’s not quite what Raymond assumes…
*ominous musical sting here*
Later, in the basement in which Joe always seems to be dwelling, Donna breaks the exciting news: George will be staying with them. Aw yeah, the kids are FRAKKING PSYCHED.
Suddenly, though, Donna has second thoughts, afraid that they’ll “hurt” their parents by bringing in a “real brain” like George who can challenge their beliefs properly. Joe talks her down though, explaining that this is really all “a real favor” since Meg and Raymond are both “pretty intelligent people” who just need to get with the times. With a literal shrug, they agree that sometimes you have to break a few uptight, snide Christian eggs in order to make a nice nonbelieving omelette. Or something.
Later, Joe decides to dwell at the malt shop instead of in his basement, and bumps into a few kids from the youth group at church, including good ole jerk Fred from the first scene, some girl who has nothing interesting to say, and…CHUCK FROM TEENAGE TESTAMENT!!!
I’m assuming that all these Teenage movies take place in different worlds, since we see some of the same faces—playing different kids—in different movies. But I now amuse myself by imagining that Roy’s endless preaching to the customers really did drive Aunt Gertie out of business, and that’s why Chuck is patronizing a malt shop instead of working in it.
Anyway, Fred is his usual dickish self and mutteringly asks Joe how George Cooper can “explain away God.” And since Joe doesn’t know, since he hasn’t actually spoken to George yet, don’tcha know, he just invites them all to the science club meeting so they can hear George for themselves.
Y’know, I take it back about the nameless girl: she expresses surprise that George would stay at Joe’s house, with “the way your folks believe.”
Remember, these are kids from the church. Which tells me that even in the obviously incredibly repressive church of this film, Raymond and Meg are well-known as especially fanatical and pigheaded.
When Joe gets home, it’s time for the big plot twist. See, for the past couple of scenes, a couple of hints have been dropped that lately, Meg has not been feeling up to par. Kinda tired and stuff. Well, her doctor thinks it just might be something serious and has scheduled an exploratory operation.
Well. Holy crap. He even needs her to rest up for a week or two beforehand and get on a special diet.
Dude, that blows. It also sounds an awful lot like it might be cancer. Of course, it’s 1960, so you better believe they won’t be saying “the C-word” in a Christian youth movie.
Joe and Donna, because they’re good kids, immediately volunteer to tell George not to come. But Meg really wants him there (frankly, it also seems that she’s in a bit of denial about the seriousness of what’s going on). So, the kids just volunteer to help out a lot more. Noticeably (okay, noticeably to me), Raymond doesn’t volunteer to do more around the house while Meg is prepping for her operation.
That night, down in Joe’s favorite dwelling place, he and Donna agree that they need to do something about George, so that he doesn’t shake Meg’s faith. Then Donna retreats to the logical place to study—her room, while Joe stays in the basement.
Worst study nook ever. Just look at that uncomfortable chair!
And the earwigs he must deal with! My god! The earwigs!
As he’s heading up the stairs to go to bed, Joe overhears his parents talking about the 23rd Psalm. Meg is playing it pretty cool about the health scare, but has a nice condescending remark for us:
Meg: Oh, Raymond, what do people do who have to face a problem like this without a living faith in the living god?
Well, Meg, I can’t speak for all nonbelievers, but personally, I’ve faced the death of my best friend and major orthopedic surgery. It was probably much the same as a Christian, minus the time spent in prayer and stuff like that.
So, screw you.
Ah, now, Ruby, don’t be mean.
I’ll try another way: Meg, y’know that strength and patience that you think come from God? That’s coming from you. Just so’s you know.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Daniel Dennett’s excellent piece on this very problem.
But lest I end Part 1 of this critique on a down note, I will mention something odd about the Burton household, that I noticed in the next scene, featuring Joe and Donna having breakfast the next morning. Instead of making toast with the toaster in the kitchen and then taking it to the dining room to eat it, the toaster is moved from the kitchen, set on the dining table, and everyone makes their own toast there.
Weird. It’s not just me, is it? That’s weird. Also, where the hell is that thing plugged in?
Oh well. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Doctor George Cooper’s visit!
Creepy stalker that he is, and unable to seal the deal with Belle, Craig/Gaston tries a new tactic: whining to his cousin. He catches Anna at work, where he reveals that he just knows that Belle is “The One,” “who can stand by me in everything I’m supposed to do in life,” (In the brief reaction shot, I would like to think that Anna has a sort of “uh-huh, yeah, keep telling yourself that” look on her face, but the movie doesn’t really care what Anna thinks.) She still trusts her cousin way too much, though, and when he whines about Belle always being at Eric’s place, she explains the whole sordid deal about Belle’s dad.
In a rare moment of sense, Craig opines that it all “sounds like extortion,” which it kinda-sorta does, though it’s almost more like indentured servitude, to my way of thinking.
Anyway, we cut to Eric, who is just getting in from New York. I like this guy more and more, because he’s like me and needs to shower the instant he gets home from a plane trip. The omnipresent Mrs. Haygood unpacks his suitcase, noticing the Bible or Book of Mormon that Eric took to New York with him. Just as she did when he and Belle were getting cozy, she does the Wise and Satisfied Nod. Sticking her nose into Eric’s business as usual, she plants in his head the idea that he release Belle from her obligation, but invite her to stay on as his (presumably paid in real money this time) assistant.
Craig/Gaston heads to Belle’s house to do some more creepy stalking. He invites Belle on a date “whenever,” and Belle finally decides it is time to stick a fork in this relationship and call it done. She simply and directly tells him that she is “just not interested in you like that,” but of course, being the creepy stalker that he is, Craig isn’t having any of that.
Craig: When you change your mind…I’ll be here.
Belle: Craig, I’m not going to–
Craig: *puts his hand in front of her mouth in a classic, “hush, you silly little girl” motion*
(In all fairness, Belle is suitably freaked out by this action, jerking away as he does it, so he never actually touches her mouth.)
Craig heads to his car, and Belle gets a nice “whoa, I knew he was weird, but…” look on her face.
In his car, Craig cements his Gaston cred by calling Belle’s dad’s work and pretending to be Eric, lodging a complaint. (Hilariously, it appears Craig has memorized the phone number of the chimney repair place, punching it cheerfully into his phone like he’s calling his local pizza place.)
I feel like it’s been a good month since the accident with the vase, so I find myself wondering if Belle’s dad’s boss would take such a complaint seriously at this point.
“Yeah, four weeks ago, your repairman broke an expensive piece of decorative art at my home.”
“Sir, may I ask why you didn’t tell us when this happened?”
Inspired by the gossipy wench who works for him, Eric calls Belle. He is absolutely adorable as he does it too, cheerfully punching the keys with flourishes, then self-deprecatingly laughing at himself. He asks her to come over, not to work, but just so he “can talk to you about something.” Given Belle’s smile, she seems to Get It. In a nice touch, both Belle and Eric then go and change their clothes into more date-like. Belle lets her hair down from its ponytail and puts on a sparkly sweater (the first sparkly thing she has ever worn in this movie) and some lipstick, and when we next see Eric, he has changed from jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt into a collared shirt and nice pants.
Belle has such a great sweater collection. I want this one, too–I could totally rock that color.
All the sparkly sweaters in the world are for naught, though, as Belle’s loser father slouches home just as she’s leaving, having been fired because of “that horrible, horrible man.”
Well, at least Eric can keep a job for longer than three months, bozo. Just sayin’.
Outraged, Belle storms over to Eric’s, where she gives him a good slap on the cheek and a “How could you?” As with any romantic Big Misunderstanding, Belle does not say exactly what happened, so Eric remains utterly confused.
And of course, her parting shot is, “You really are a beast.”
The Musical Montage of Sadness plays, as Eric tries several times to call Belle. After a few days of this, he tries the home phone instead…and Kelli picks up.
Kelli: I don’t think anyone here wants to talk to you. *long, regretful pause* Sorry.
Aww, they bonded! That’s…actually kinda heartwarming.
In the rest of the montage, Anna tries to comfort Belle, but Belle blows her off, and Eric tries to comfort himself by playing basketball outside in the snow, but he sucks.
Eric decides that the direct approach is best, and heads to Belle’s house, only to be blown off by her father, who is “busy looking for a job.”
IT’S ALL COMING TOGETHER NOW…
Eric, unlike Craig, has not memorized the chimney repair company’s number, and actually has to go home to find the number. Ha! (I guess we should give Craig his due—man’s got one hell of a memory!)
Eric gets Belle’s dad his job back (the chimney repair company’s administrative staff must be thoroughly confused by now), and tries once more to call Belle, but she’s still not having it.
Belle’s dad actually has a moment of decency, and thanks Belle for everything she’s done—moving back home, working for Eric, etc. And he tells her that it’s finally time to do something that will make her happy. And Belle finally takes one of Eric’s calls.
Sadly, as must always be the case with the Big Misunderstanding, Eric doesn’t say the pertinent detail quickly enough. Had he read more romance novels, he would have known to spit out something like, “ItWasn’tMeWhoComplainedAboutYourDad.” But when he only characterizes what happened as “a mistake,” Belle has all the ammunition she needs to point out (correctly enough, but still), that he should never have made the deal with her in the first place.
The Musical Sting of Apprehension plays, as Eric hangs up with Belle…and spies his commemorative liquor bottle.
And we learn that although Anna might not characterize Craig as the creepy stalker he is, she does support Belle in not wanting to see him anymore, because “I know how he can be.” I doubt that she does, but at least her heart is basically in the right place. In fact, she urges Belle to forgive Eric, but Belle’s not having any of that, either.
It’s been awhile, but…
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
*Eric is at his nightstand, putting on his watch. He see the Book of Mormon sitting there, picks it up, changes his mind, puts it back down.*
(Apparently, no complementary scene was shot with a Bible.
(Also, I didn’t see this until now, but Eric’s Book of Mormon has the name “Sarah Landry,” emblazoned on the corner of the cover. Nice touch.)
True to his creepy-stalker word, Craig shows up at Belle’s work to say how sorry he was to hear about her dad, and that he’s there if she needs him. Belle blows him off. Good girl.
Meanwhile, the last little bit of temptation-through-frustration hits Eric, as he fumbles and spills a bunch of files. This is actually a pretty good crap cherry on the shit sundae—that one final, minor, stupid thing that makes a person lose it.
He goes to pout in his living room, and suffers from that unfortunate acting problem wherein “heartbreak” is largely indistinguishable from “moderate gastrointestinal discomfort.”
The result of driving away the love of his life, or eating some bad tacos? You decide.
He eyes the Bible or Book of Mormon (which, in the latter case, apparently teleported from his bedroom to the living room), and then tries to pray but can’t.
Okay, that’s what it looks like to my atheist eyes, at least.
SO IT’S TIME FOR BOOZE
Eric beelines for his commemorative liquor bottle, which, you’ll remember, is in a nice commemorative case. He punches the glass to get at the bottle, which seems dramatic and all until you see that the commemorative case is one of those display boxes for sports memorabilia that you get at Michaels, which means that all Eric really had to do to get the bottle was slide the glass upward.
See? Look at the upper corner of the box. All he had to do was slide the glass!
But hey, yanno, it’s dramatic, innit?
(Also, that is the weirdest-looking booze bottle I have ever seen.)
The next morning, Belle and Anna are meeting Craig for breakfast.
Anna: Look, Craig begged me. He just wanted to see you one more time, and he swore that if you still felt…whatever…that he’d back off.
Anna, I am very disappoint.
Craig hasn’t “backed off” even when Belle told his straight-up that she Just Wasn’t Into Him, so I don’t see what a chaperoned breakfast will accomplish.
Very disappoint, Anna.
Belle’s primary complaint, however, is that Anna told Craig about her dad being fired. Anna, of course, did not tell Craig any such thing…
IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!!!11!!11!1!!!!11!!
Just at that moment, Craig arrives, and Belle puts it to him. Like a sociopathic idiot, Craig lies about Anna…to Anna’s face.
Craig: Anna told me.
Anna: No I didn’t!
Dude. That takes balls. Not good balls, mind you, but balls.
Belle immediately discerns that it was Craig, not Eric, who called the chimney repair boss, and shoves Craig out of the booth onto his ass. Anna follows, snorting at him, “You are such a loser.”
Gaston’s ultimate fate in this movie is not quite as dramatic as this:
Or this, for that matter:
Belle rushes to Eric’s but of course he is not there. She and Mrs. Haygood find the smashed commemorative box.
“Oh, he didn’t!” gasps Belle, because we all know the single worst thing a man can do in a moment of sadness is to have a drink.
(I know, I know, I know that Mormons aren’t supposed to drink ever, at all, and I know that Eric was a problem drinker. I just don’t personally sign onto the idea that if anyone has ever had a problem with alcohol, they can never have a drink ever again. Personal observation.)
But Belle knows just where to find the missing Eric: the snowy wilderness where they had their “bad things happen to good people” conversation. Sure enough, there he is, because if there’s one thing we know about Eric, it’s that he loves to hang out in the snow for hours on end.
He’s sitting around, holding the bottle, prompting the following exchange:
Belle: Eric? What are you doing here?
Belle: Just thinking?
Geez, Belle, police people much?
Turns out that Eric was just thinking, not drinking, and he throws the unopened (but still weird-looking) bottle into a pond. “I was tired of it hanging over me,” he explains. Makes sense.
They actually have a nice little heart-to-heart, standing there in the snow, with Eric leading off by apologizing for everything to do with Belle’s father. Unfortunately, it is at this point that the writers remembered that this is a Beauty and the Beast movie.
Eric: I’ve seen the way you treat others and how you treated me.
That sounds very Beauty-and-the-Beast-ish, and all, but really, Belle berated Eric from the get-go, and it’s a wonder he didn’t go back on their deal. As for others, Belle was awesome to move back home and help raise her siblings after their mother’s death, but I haven’t really seen too many examples of her being extra-specially nice and kind to others, like strangers.
The writers also remember that this is a Christian movie.
Eric: I realize now…I was never alone. I just wasn’t listening.
Yep, that’s right Eric, it is your fault for not “listening” to Jesus. You poor, silly sap, thinking you were all alone after your wife died next to you and you sat with her body for three hours by yourself…and your friends deserted you and the town started using you as a Sunday School lesson.
Yeah, Eric had tons of support. He just wasn’t listening for it.
Eric: You were right—God wants me to be happy.
I gotta figure those are easier words to say when you’re talking to a beautiful woman in a gorgeous natural setting, but more difficult to say when you’re trapped in a car with your dead wife.
Eric adorably asks her to stay on as his assistant, then self-consciously backtracks and admits that is “just an excuse” for asking her to stay in his life.
Damn, guy is just too cute. I mean, he sucked as a mean guy, but this is really his strength.
Eric: I’ve only cared about myself for a very long time…
Well, since no one else cared about him, can’t say as I blame him.
Eric: …and it’s awkward…now that I care about you.
Okay, this is not the end of Sense and Sensibility or anything, but I’ll admit it like the honest person I am: I’m picking up what this guy is putting down.
Finally, Eric declares he will try as hard as he can to deserve Belle. Calling back to her father’s suggestion, Belle responds:
“Well, you don’t have to try very hard. You make me happy.”
That…doesn’t make too much sense to me, as far as the trying part, but it’s still pretty sweet. Damn shame that the women in these Christian romances never seem to be as well done as the men.
So, they kiss, of course, and—
WAIT A SECOND
An unmarried man and woman have just locked lips in a Christian movie, and we’re seeing it happen.
We need proof of this momentous event.
Wow. Mind blown. (And it’s not even the world’s most chaste kiss, either. I mean, they’re not sticking their tongues down each other’s throats, but they’re clearly both into it, with the grabbing of the jacket and the neck.)
Heading back out over the mountains, we hear again from our chipper narrator lady:
With Eric’s transformation and his renewed faith, the people in the land discovered the Beast was gone. In his stead was a kind and gentle man, whose heart had been changed by the power of God and the love of a woman named Belle. And while their world wasn’t perfect, they still lived happily ever after.
I know I say this a lot, but I did not see much power of God in this movie. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just that I don’t see where the narrator is getting this.
Then again, perhaps I, like Eric, was “not listening.”
And these Christian towns suck. I am reminded so much of Christmas Town, and our conclusion that the people of the town were way worse to Jordan Scoville than he ever was to them. Same here. I mean, Eric was a jerk to a few individuals, but it’s not like he ever taught a classroom full of children to hate and fear anyone.
Ah well. Belle is not the greatest, but certainly a big step up from Joella Ratchford.
By popular request…
1950s kids take on science and creationism!
Okay, so things have been pretty routine so far: not a great, but not (overly) bad movie. Only light mentions of the Bible/Book of Mormon.
But now, shit is about to officially get real. Jordan Scoville territory here.
Eric has to go out to a local business dinner, and invites Belle. The asking is pretty cute: typical rom-com “I’m asking for ‘business’ reasons but it’s really because I want to date you.” Eric’s nervous smile when he asks says it all.
(Not for nothing, but this is good direction here. Not only is Eric slowly staring to think of Belle romantically, but he asks her…almost like a teenager would. And considering that Eric was widowed in his early 20s, this makes sense.)
This actor is MUCH better at playing nervous/happy than he is at playing mean/heartbroken.
It also says it all that although Eric introduces Belle as his assistant, the other two women are the wife and girfriend of each of the other businessmen. 😉
This dress, though? Not feelin’ it.
The dress: First of all, it should be gold (as an homage, don’tcha know?). It also really doesn’t show off Belle’s (excellent) figure. Then again, and to be totally fair, it does kinda look like something Belle found on clearance, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.
At the dinner, Belle is, natch, the only person with compassion at the table, suggesting that the company NOT fire most of its employees when they switch to “a new model.” Belle talks these seasoned businessmen into keeping their old employees and re-training them.
(Nothing more clearly telegraphs the Mormon-ness of this movie than this restaurant scene: despite being the fanciest joint in town, every single person at every single table is drinking water.)
After dinner, Eric takes Belle on a drive up into the snowy mountains. They trek about a hundred yards away from the car, to a snowy field where they sit on a log and chat. (Belle’s dress and shoes love that, I’m sure. Plus, damn, Eric loves being out in the snow.)
They chat about Eric getting into consulting, and Belle opines that he’s “better off” doing that than he would be running his own business (again alluding to Mrs. Higgin’s gossip), and, of course, adds that “there’s someone watching out for us.”
This prompts Eric to tell Belle the details of the night his wife died. They were out for a leisurely drive, when a tire blew and they went off the road…
“There wasn’t a single other person on that road—no one to help. For…for a highway like that, that’s pretty unusual. It…it was as if God knew exactly what he was doing, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop him. By the time I woke up, she was already gone. I prayed and I prayed, but it didn’t make a difference. So I sat, trapped, unable to move, in that car for three hours until someone even noticed.”
Stopping here because THREE HOURS.
That poor man. That poor, poor man.
We’ve seen a lot of tragedy that God has meted out over the course of the books and movies critiqued here, but there is something especially horrifying about this one, at least for me. It’s the helplessness, I think, the being alone and trapped with your tragedy and pain, with no one to talk to. And I have a sneaking suspicion that in the ten years since it happened, this may be the first time Eric has told the whole story to anyone. Though I hope that his detox and rehab featured some good old talk therapy.
Anyway, back to his story…
“But I didn’t stop praying. I figured it was the only thing I could do. I was stupid enough to think that she might actually be okay; she might actually live. So, no, I don’t think God cares for me. And I don’t believe he wants me to be happy.”
Well, makes sense to me. Hell, I’m surprised that Eric believes there is a God at all, but as we’ve seen, writers seem to find it easier to work from deism to Christianity than from atheism to Christianity.
Let’s see what sensitive Belle, who “brightened the day of all who knew her,” has to say to this tale of heartrending loss.
“This happened such a long time ago—do you still feel this way?”
Wow. Okay, first of all, ten years is not “such a long time ago.” Second of all, idiot, he’s been speaking in the present tense about his feelings. Dammit.
“What about getting stronger and growing from your experiences?”
Yeah, dude, it was only the sudden and traumatizing death of your wife, and sitting next to her dead body for HOURS. Suck it up and grow, asshole!
Eric, uncharacteristically, is mildly perturbed and confused instead of just angry:
“Growing? I lost everything. I became a drunk, had to put my life on hold.”
True dat. And Belle has a pithy response:
“Sometimes bad things happen to good people.”
THAT’S what you’re going with, Ms. Mature Christian? “Bad things happen to good people?”
Unbelievable. Mind blown.
Hey, Belle, how about keeping your big yap shut and just giving the man a hug, huh? I mean, has anyone hugged this man since his loss? Holy crap.
Honestly, no wonder people are leaving the church in droves, if this is the best they have to offer grieving people.
Oh, but I will say that Eric handles this idiocy damn well, with a nod and a…
“I better get you home.”
But Belle’s not done yet. As they pull up to her house, she asks him why he went it alone, when there must have been someone he could have go to for help. I expected a Poor-Little-Rich-Boy response as Eric explains that no, he actually didn’t have anyone (and that seems to be true—he has no family that we’ve seen, and only fair-weather friends), but he simply responds that he did have comfort, from “a bottle.”
Belle, ever the soul of sensitivity, says:
“Not the strongest solution.”
I hate her. So much.
Eric, to his everlasting credit, doesn’t take her up on the fight she is trying so very hard to pick. He just sort of avoids the point by pointing out that there was nothing else to do, and asks:
“What else did I have?”
Belle has been waiting for her chance:
“Maybe more than you realized.”
Oh ZING! He had GOD, don’tcha know! A God who let his young wife die and let him sit with her corpse for hours and who let him become a drunk for five years! THAT God!
Man. Again, Belle’s delivery sucks.
She just lets Eric ponder this as she wanders to her house. And the bittersweet Music of Coming Back to God plays, as Eric heads home, gazes out his window, then picks up and leafs through the Bible/Book.
A day or two later, Belle asks for permission to do a quick cram session at Eric’s house. I guess she just wants to study by his bitchin’ hot tub. And, of course, that means he is around when she gets a call from Kelli’s school, that Kelli is in trouble and needs to be picked up, now. Belle can’t, because she needs to get to her exam like, now, so Eric volunteers to get her.
What follows is actually the most enjoyable sequence of the movie, featuring (with a nice, light touch) a childfree person navigating simple school logistics (Eric to the secretary: “Do I have to sign for her?“). Then, of course, he is mistaken for Kelli’s father by the principal (a much less funny part, mostly because the principal overacts and has a terrible sense of comic timing).
Then, Eric takes Kelli home, but she wants to talk to somebody, and Eric is there, so she simply stops in the schoolyard and begins to unburden herself. After all, she wasn’t really cheating, but just forgot something that she knew, so she double-checked herself on someone else’s paper.
The dialogue here is quite good, with Eric managing to strike an appropriate balance between being an adult, but not an adult with any authority over Kelli (he doesn’t scold her, but mildly comments “You might want to rethink your definition of cheating.“)
Another nice touch: Kelli asks, “Do you ever feel like your life is over?” and it is a moment of humor (Eric being amused by her tweenish angst), and not pathos (Eric thinking of his dead wife).
Maybe I’m making too much of this because so much of this movie has been dull, but I like that they show Eric’s growth through a scene with a minor character, and not with Belle.
Nice callback to earlier scene of Belle being horrible:
Kelli: [Belle] will probably tell me some other deep thing like—
Eric: –“grow from it”?
(My admiration for this scene aside, this particular bit cries out for a reshoot—both actors rush their lines and I could barely understand them.)
Kelli mentions her dead mother and Eric, sweetie that he is, draws her out and just lets her talk.
Kelli also reveals to Eric that Belle was in school in California when their mother died, and she moved back home to help out. Which was already implied, but I guess Eric didn’t know this for a fact.
Later, Belle is nice(r than she was before) and thanks Eric for helping with Kelli. They share a fast food meal and discuss her dead mother. Belle, of course, handled grief in a much healthier way than stupid Eric did, because she trusted God not to give her anything she couldn’t handle. To give her credit, Belle actually gives Eric some credit for strength in this scene, complimenting the strength it took for him to stop drinking. Eric, who apparently took Belle’s snide remarks in the car to heart, points out that he started drinking. Perfect Belle, of course, did not.
I don’t mean to play Tragedy Olympics here, but I will point out their situations were quite different. Belle lost her mother as a young adult. That is incredibly sad, but Belle had her family and friends to comfort and support her, and a job to do (to focus her energies) as she helped raise her brothers and sister. Eric, OTOH, had nobody to help him through the shocking and incredibly traumatic loss of his wife RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.
Plus (and I’m probably going to sound like a jerk right now) Belle’s mother died young, but predeceased her children, the normal and expected course of events. Eric was widowed (widowered?) at something like twenty-three. That certainly adds an extra level of shock and horror.
Eric heads to New York for a consultation, and rather cutely calls Belle as soon as he lands, much like a boyfriend would. (I love his nervously awkward attempt at conversation: “So, um…how are your classes going?” and his self-conscious geez-what-a-dork-I-am head shake as he hangs up.)
Back in Utah, Anna and Belle chat. Anna is picking up that Belle likes Eric, but she still kinda wants Belle to pity-date Craig. Belle, for her part, is feeling womany pangs of conscience for no reason (“I was kinda rude to him the last time I saw him…I mean, not really, but still, I shoulda been…”).
Quick refresher: last time Belle saw Craig, he scolded her for not being at his beck and call 24/7, then repeatedly insulted a man while standing in that man’s own yard. So Belle can give herself a break any time, now.
But she doesn’t, and they have lunch together. The sound in this scene is horrible—it sound like they stuck a boombox under the table to simulate restaurant music playing.
Belle is miffed by the fact that after having lunch with her, Craig wants to spend more time with her. I know, right? Shocking. Almost as though when she acts like she likes dating him, he wants to plan the next date. Creepy stalker that he is, he is almost charming (expressing wishes for her happiness), but then overplays his hand by caressing her hands and waxing on about how special she is. Belle, of course, does not see this behavior as grounds for just cutting off the relationship.
Can this relationship be saved?
Then Belle decides to play creepy stalker herself, wandering around Eric’s house at night, contemplating his commemorative liquor bottle, etc. She considers calling him, but decides against it.
So, we know that with Belle and Eric careening towards mutual admissions of affection, we need a final conflict!