What Platoon Thinks – Oscar Series #1

(All media is telling you something.  This is the first post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahibity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!)

Platoon

Best Picture, Best Director 1986

“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days as I’m sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since, I’ve felt like the child born of those two fathers. But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.” – the last lines of the film uttered by Chris Taylor

Platoon is obsessed with morality.  You could watch Platoon prethinking that Oliver Stone’s point was to throw everything into a moral quagmire fitting of the tropical topography of Vietnam.  You could imagine the film pointing fingers at the BS in all institutions of moral thought and coming out promoting Nihlism by default.  The finger in Platoon finds plenty of BS.  However, that finger is pointed directly at ourselves.  And Nihlism is certainly not the goal.

Chris, the films protagonist, is different than the other guys in his unit.  He chose Vietnam rather than being forced there by poverty or being drafted.   Chris is looking for something.  In his words, “Maybe from down here I can start up again. Be something I can be proud of without having to fake it, be a fake human being.”  That “being something” applies to more than the individual in this film.  That applies to a country or community.  Vietnam, to Platoon, is the forge that tests our morality.

Christianity is referenced directly a few times in the film.  In one scene we see a soldier who has a Jesus Saves shrine at his bunk.  He is killed in action shortly after.  The seeming absence of God is reinforced by the films definition of hell.  Hell is defined in the film as “the impossibility of reason”.  Chris says that Vietnam feels like that.  Hell.

Indirectly, Platoon tells us that people are not directly connected to their morality.  They go through the motions of doing what society says is right without truly thinking about it.  Several characters, however, voice vague feelings that something is terribly wrong in their actions and thinking.  This is less about the weight of judgment and instead about losing something of yourself by your action or inaction.

Platoon will make you wrestle with these issues.  In particular, Platoon will challenge you to consider why you actually do what you do.  It will urge you to deeply consider the institutions in your life.  It will petition you to confront people directly when those actions run contrary to morality.  You get the feeling that Platoon thinks that if more people had done that beforehand we wouldn’t have been in Vietnam with M-16’s in the first place.  (The conflict with Sgt. Barnes illustrates this.)

From a Christian point of view, much could be explained by considering a quote from Sgt. Elias, one of the voices of conscious in the film.  “I love this place at night, the stars. There’s no right or wrong in them. They’re just there.”  I believe that this is a true sentiment of the film and not just a characters point of view.  However, Christ, for whom all things are created and who is in all things, is in the stars.  They are “good” as described by God after making them.  Stars show the glorious mind God has: how beautiful things can shine in amazing glory when they move within God’s law.  God set the path of the stars.  He can set ours too.  Otherwise we risk becoming the wandering star talked about in Jude.  That wandering star may have moments of beauty but it’s destiny is to fizzle out or collide with others,and it cannot be relied upon for navigation.

Platoon wrestles not only with morality, it wrestles with how you can know you are doing the moral thing in the first place.  Since morality is deeply multifaceted, multiple responses to any situation can have moral undertones.  How can we know what’s best?  This illustrates something that is very important in Christianity that is often not understood by many Christians themselves.  The purpose of faith is not encompassed in morality.  Our lives are not about how “right” we are.  Our lives are about oneness with Jesus.  His righteousness is what’s important.  If morality becomes an end to itself, it makes our lives about the percentage of things we get right.  Then morality is simply about ourselves.  If morality is ultimately a comparison to something invisible, than if Chris or we filter our morality through ourselves alone, we ultimately put a stamp of approval on anyone’s actions since we are giving silent assent to the notion that the “invisible” thing is determined by the individual.

Platoon is definitely trying to say something about war (that it is a drug as evidenced by smoking dope through a gun and that it is pointless by selectively showing scenes of villages destroyed and pointless death without showing any positive changes that surely came to some who lived in that country), but that is secondary to the battle for our goodness.  The answer according to Platoon is through self examination.  In Christian faith, the answer starts with self examination.  That leads to acquiring the mind of Christ and being transformed by it rather than conforming to the pattern of the world.  That leads to dying to the world and being resurrected to new life.

“This ain’t Taylor. Taylor been shot. This man Chris been resurrected.”

5 Reasons Why Disney Star Wars Is a Good Thing

I know, I know.  When you heard of Disney’s 4 billion dollar purchase of Lucasfilm you probably imagined a future movie montage in which Darth Vader and Han Solo learn the value of sharing set to Randy Newman’s earnest singing.  After years of the franchise being throttled by George Lucas’ grubby fingers, you can’t really blame Star Wars fans for expecting the worst and Disney’s squeaky clean family image doesn’t necessarily generate street cred cool points for acceptance!

I say, however, to disregard the hipsters downturned piercing laden brows and nerd-nazi Simpson’s Comic Book Guy’s “WORST. IDEA. EVER.” takes on this one because I intend to show you 5 reasons to have real hope that Disney buying the rights to Star Wars is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise.

1.  Disney Intensely Values History

A few years back, Disney did something wild.  They traded one of the most popular and most valuable sportscasters on television, Al Michaels, for the rights to a virtually valueless property, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon.  Oswald, Walt Disney’s first cartoon creation, had been sold out from under him by his unscrupulous boss and had never been re-attained.  Why would they do this?  History has value all it’s own to Disney.

I worked for a year and a half at the happiest place on earth and I can personally testify to the value they place on history.  Disney goes to great expense to teach the history of the company, the characters, and the people behind them.  (This is particularly true in character lore.)  Before anything goes into the parks it has to pass historical checks to make sure it vibes with the previously released material and matches the theme of the location it’s going into.  And, let me tell you, nobody pays more attention to detail than Disney.  Everything in the park down to door knobs is carefully chosen.

When it comes to the depth of the Star Wars mythos, how many companies can claim actual experience with anything similar to the Star Wars experience in American culture?  In order to handle it properly the Star Wars franchise needed a crazily multi-faceted company to take it over and there just aren’t that many out there if any who could properly do it.  Disney may be the only one that is on the scale of Star Wars.  Furthermore, not only can Disney do it, they excel at squeezing life from and re-inventing world reknowned iconic characters while keeping the classic goodness intrinsic to them.  Mickey is a hundred years old and every kid knows his name and loves him.  They are the perfect company to restore the goodness of Star Wars while keeping the detailed history of it untarnished.

2.  Disney Understands the Heart of Multi-faceted Programming

When Walt Disney made Sleeping Beauty’s castle the center point of Disneyland, he didn’t have Disney’s princess line of merchandise in mind.  In fact, he didn’t have kids primarily in mind at all.  He had grandparents in mind.  Walt believed that grandparents would want to bring their grandchildren to a place to experience stories that meant something to them in exactly the same way the grandparents experienced and imagined the story when they were a child.  By making it a centralized location able to be seen from anywhere, the grandparents could sit at Sleeping Beauty’s castle and let their grandchildren safely explore the stories they loved at their own pace with an identifiable place to easily come back to.

It’s true.  There may just be a Vader singing montage with Ewoks in the future.  There may be Star Wars programming targeted at kids, destined for Disney XD.  But you can rest assured that that programming is peripheral to programming targeted at the core Star Wars audience that shines with the original glory of Star Wars.  This is because Disney understands that it isn’t really about the child.  It is about the adult wanting their children to experience the story that mattered to them in their childhood in the same way they experienced it.

3.  Disney Provides Access to the Best Writers & Directors 

Is anyone going to argue against the biggest single thing you could do to make Star Wars better is to remove George Lucas?  Better writers who get Star Wars will finally be given the chance to pen ideas that they have dreamed about for decades and Disney has access and finances to anyone.  I cannot wait to see the life breathed into the franchise by these fantastic writers/directors (I’m personally fascinated by a Guillermo Del Toro Star Wars .. ).

There will be avenues for those writers/directors on television as well.  A Joss Whedon Marvel series is already green lit for ABC.  Who wouldn’t want to see something similar for a Star Wars television series?  The sky is the limit.

4.  This Makes It a Shoe In That We Will Shortly Be Able To Actually Sit in Mos Eisley’s Cantina

It’s only a matter of time before an entire section of a park (probably Hollywood Studios) goes completely and immersibly Star Wars in the same vein as the treatment Harry Potter got at Universal.  The small section of Studios that is already Star Wars is pretty frickin’ amazing as it is (with the exception that the ride itself isn’t great).  I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the parks now that they have tabula rasa.  I’m ready to drink some blue milk in Mos Eisley Cantina, baby!

5.  Disney Has the Best Merchandising Department In the World

Not only is it statistically true, it passes the eye test as well.  Go ahead, try to come away from Walt Disney World without buying something.  They know what people want (because they are the best marketing researchers in the world as well).  I guarantee Disney means the coolest Star Wars toys yet.  Can’t wait to see what they come up with.

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While most of the media attention is focused on it, Disney didn’t buy Lucasfilms for film rights.  Disney’s purchasing strategy is focused on creating a virtual monopoly on licensing properties.  (Disney now owns the top 3 individual licensing properties with the purchase of Lucasfilm.  Star Wars did 1.5 billion in licensing sales alone last year.  Marvel was 2nd to Disney in overall company licensing profits when they purchased it. )  I believe they are also focused on buying properties that will also give them a real presence in video gaming (the one thing they haven’t done very well on in the last few years and maybe the impetus for Wreck-It Ralph).  These marketing lines will be supplemented by television shows – cartoon ones in particular – because they are relatively cheap and produce high profit margins.

The good thing about all of this for Star Wars fans is simple: this strategy hinges of excellent crowd-pleasing films that satisfy a base core of fans and can stand on their own for years.  The movies do not necessarily have to make a ton of money, they just have to be well loved.  George Lucas didn’t have that luxury.  He didn’t do a 7, 8, and 9 because he felt it was too financially risky.  His company didn’t have the depth to survive a modest box office draw.  He had to have a hit in order to make it worthwhile.  And, he knew he blew it before so who was going to wait in lines around the block for another movie with him at the helm?  The only way Star Wars could be salvaged is if somebody with deep pockets bought it.

For the reasons above, all I can say is thank goodness it was Disney.