Coriolanus (2011)

Coriolanus is a long way from being one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays. The Roman plays in general have a not entirely fair reputation for being full of long speeches and low on plot; it’s tempting to meet the title with a shrugged ‘who’ (or ‘what’?); it’s not a very regularly performed play anyway, so it doesn’t have many opportunities to make a bid for the limelight.

So on the face of it this is strange choice of material for Ralph Fiennes on his directorial debut; especially when you consider that he’s also the star. In Fiennes and his adapter’s hands the play becomes a sleek, streamlined political drama with visceral action sequences Transported to “a place calling itself Rome” that plays more like a wartime Bosnia. Coriolanus is heroic general, feted with praise and encouraged, or forced, by his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) to seek the powerful position of Consul. He finds himself unable to play the political games with the people required to get the post; his anger on not getting the position leads to a riot and exile. In exile he forms an alliance with former enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) in order to take revenge.

It’s a tense and gripping watch; the new setting lends greater immediacy and sense of threat, the edits give clean lines a plot that fairly zips along. The action sequences are fine; not outstanding, but suitably brutal to maintain the law of the jungle sense of ancient Rome. The air is suffused with testosterone, with men not backing down from each other. The female characters are cleverly dressed to look more military, if not masculine then at the least not emphasising femininity. This is a male environment, with the smoke of combat never far away. That approach explains the choice of Gerard Butler for the role of Tullus; which would make sense if he didn’t appear so dramatically out of his depth. He alone amongst the cast doesn’t seem comfortable with the language, brooding too much and forgetting to back-up his physical presence with words that are threatening or venomous.

Which is a huge contrast to Fiennes in the lead role. Battle-scarred and, for most of the film, bloodied, when he’s not fighting he’s a caged tiger. It’s clear why men will follow him into battle; haranguing bullet-ridden corpses for a lack of commitment, his men fight for and with their leader. It makes sense of his unwillingness to stay around to hear the story of his exploits; this is a man of deeds, not words. When he’s finally bought face-to-face with his estranged family in a climactic showdown he’s largely silence, trying to keep a crumbling facade in place.

Which all works well as far as plot and the themes of power and alpha masculinity go, but does mean that the film has precious little emotional heft; even in a denouement which should at the least brush the heart, it becomes more of an action movie showdown with much better dialogue. It seems a hard criticism, but ultimately it’s the fruit of the understandable choices made with the plot and style of the film. The updating convinces; the drama grips; the action impresses. It’s just a shame there’s not more heart to go with all the guts.

I rated this film 7/10 on imdb.com and 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com

I watched this film at home on tv.

Music For Holy Week, Easter Day

Jesus said, “Mary.” John 20:16

It all leads to this: restoration, healing, innauguration of a new kingdom. Creation reordered, reality redefined, the blankness of the grave shaken to its core. An almighty Yes. 

Again, a few songs instead of one. Again, all on the same post.

Radiohead have an unfair reputation as a miserable band; their music may often be bleak or difficult but live they express a deep joy. As I once remember the singer, Thom Yorke, articualting, joy is shared truth and this is what people experience at their concerts. For all that, they are also astonishing musicians and performers. This strange track is one for the live experience, or if not then greeting the sunrise in the country on a cool, crisp morning; holding coffee on the sofa in the silence of mid-morning; late-night after the wedding reception.

Lyrics

Today transfigures pain. It does justice to it, trumps it, redefines it. Pain is not removed by Easter Day. It is made holy, and is also reshaped into something that is no longer an ending. There’s a deeper, bigger truth than suffering and pain. Urban legend has it than in the days after 9/11, the working man’s prophet, America’s greatest living theologian Bruce Springsteen, was walking in New York. A man passed him by and told him “We need you now, Bruce”. If that’s true or not has long since become irrelevant. What he wrote as he reflected on those awful events was an intoxicating, Easter-soaked transfiguring of pain, a narrative of 9/11 written from the viewpoint of a fireman killed in the rescue in the Twin Towers.

Lyrics

I’ve left the most obvious to last. I tried to avoid U2, partly because some people seem to think I listen to nothing but (most definitely true); and because they are such a divisive band for Christians and non-Christians alike. But after the last 6-7 months I’ve just experienced, this little track seemed a good Easter Day summary to go out on. That, and if you’re sitting in a chocolate-induced coma right now, you can have bags of fun trying to name all the artists shown in this video.

 Lyrics

Also in this series: 

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Music For Holy Week, Saturday

There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it. John 19:41-42 (The Message)

God’s dead body. A borrowed tomb. Not a day of rest, but a day at rest. Endless speculation as to what happened to Jesus on this day. In reality, of course, we can never know. He was dead.

Two songs this time, again both on the same post.

I’ve loved Nirvana’s music. I was a student when they were the biggest band in the world, so it was perfect timing. This cover version of Leadbelly’s song, meditating on death and possible murder is haunting and beautiful, establishing for me that sense of coldness, of loneliness and fear around this day.

Lyrics

What were the disciples doing this day? Again, speculation. Guilt, fear for their own safety would surely have figured. Futility, I’m sure. This song expresses the sense of giving up I imagine them to be experiencing.

Lyrics

Also in this series: 

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Good Friday

Music For Holy Week, Good Friday

Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last. Matthew 27:50 (The Message)

Crucifixion day. Rejection, framed, spit, nails, whips, anger, buck-passing, violence, fear, denial. All this and more are where we are today. A murderer freed, Jesus killed.  It should be a hard day. It is.

It’s hard to pick music. Most of it seems too obvious, too trivial, too offensive. But here’s a few that speak to me of this day. I’ve put all today’s choices on one post, rather than do a separate post for each one.

There’s a rich Biblical and theological tradition of saying that we are crucified with Christ. That is to say, that if we are to enter into all that Easter can mean for us, we have to allow ourselves to die a death before we move to new life. This is different to physical death; it’s a dying to a sense of our own sufficiency and ‘good-enough-ness’, letting go of the capacity to prove ourselves, accepting that Jesus somehow does for us what we do for ourselves. Every yes requires a no, every life a death.

Tori Amos would be horrified to know her work was being used in this context. Her music shows her to be someone deeply hurt by religion in general and Christians in particular. Her anger towards a God she doesn’t accept is palpable. Her first album, Little Earthquakes, from which this track is taken details much of her personal pain. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums. It articulates pain and suffering, and somehow turns it into beauty. At times it’s almost impossibly painful to listen to; at others it’s breathtakingly beautiful. This song takes the language of crucifixion and applies it to her own suffering and her own search for healing. Which makes it, in my view, dangerously appropriate for this day.

Lyrics

Most of us have no real answer to the question of what it means to have someone die for you or to die with someone. It’s a strange concept, really. Florence + The Machine are a band it’s taken me several goes at to ‘get’; but now I find their music deep, rich and true. If the spirituality of their music is anything then it’s some vaguely flavoured soup … but it’s beautiful and intoxicating and occasionally (like this song), disturbing. In a way I can’t explain, it speaks to me of something I experience on Good Friday.

Lyrics

Today should end with a sense of finality. It should feel like a defeat. I love the simple, mournful beauty of this song; a tinge of hope, but achingly sad.

Lyrics

Also in this series: 

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Music For Holy Week, Thursday

Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” Matthew 26:38

Thursday is the day of the Last Supper; of betrayal; of arrest; of blood; sweat and tears in a garden at night. The night before everything changes is a night of gradual abandonment, of looming mortality, of sleeplessness, of fear. It’s not a time for the faint-hearted. It’s tempting to skip over the next few days to Sunday’s trumpet blast of hope. But to do so is to fail to do justice the reality of the cost, the presence of death in life; to do so robs Sunday of true joy because you won’t really have gone to the depths.

Johnny Cash was the Man In Black; mourning colours whenever he performed singing country songs telling stories of murder and love, life and hope, death and loss. A Christian who wore his sin on his sleeve, his career underwent a strange kind of renaissance in his last years. This song is not his own, as was the case of much of his recorded work. He made it his own, however; written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, an altogether different (if very gifted) musician, in Cash’s hands this becomes an epitaph, a confession and acceptance of mortality. One of the very last works he recorded, it stands as one of those rare pieces of music which demands silence in its wake, the better to echo and reverberate. It’s the song of a man who’s lived, who knows he’s to die. The video only develops and enhances this, to startling effect.

Lyrics

Also in this series

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Music For Holy Week, Wednesday

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. (Matthew 26:14-16, The Message)

Wednesday is when the plots start to gather momentum. Moving from theory to practice, Judas chooses his side. Jesus is starting to annoy powerful people, and they want rid of him. It feels as if there really is no way back from here. It’s easy to paint Judas as the embodiment of evil, but that would be to miss the point. What his story tells us is that it’s possible to live well and still end up going badly wrong. We all mask dark secrets; if we don’t bring them into the light at some point, they’ll come back to bite us somehow, somewhere, sometime. Judas’ betrayal is, in reality all too believable. Better to make him a cartoon villain than the normal person he actually is.

Hip-hop, like much contemporary music, has an easy reputation as about sex, money and other worldly pleasures. Some of it is, of course; much of it, though, deals with the big stuff of life with wit, intelligence and perception. Scroobius Pip is one half of one Britain’s best hip-hop acts, and this song is taken from his solo album. It’s a dark song about the dark struggles behind the balanced facades of celebrity; released around Halloween, the disturbing lyrics and video capture darkness, gathering gloom and fear well. It’s an uncomfortable song of uncomfortable truths, to which I feel Judas would ask me to pay close attention.

Lyrics (explicit)

Also In This Series

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

 

Music For Holy Week, Tuesday

God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. (Matthew 25:1-5, The Message)

Part of Jesus’ seemingly wilful obscuring of his message and identity is expressed in the stories he tells. The parables are deceptively simple stories of contemporary everyday occurrences, the meanings of which are designed to be available only to those willing to hear them in the first place. We can become over-familiar with them now, but really they’re strange and divisive. The Tuesday of Holy Week is, for many parts of the Christian tradition, about readiness for what’s coming: death, judgement, the revelation of God’s kingdom. Jesus deals with this in two parables – the 10 virgins and the talents. The former deals with the idea of being ready for a bridegroom who could come to meet the bridal party at any time (as happened with weddings then); throughout the Bible the image of marriage is used to understand the relationship of God to his people. Coming as it does this week in the run-up to the bridegroom’s death, this makes for a strange kind of wedding, where you have to die in order to live, say no in order to say yes. You need to be ready.

French-Canadian group Arcade Fire are a strange bunch. They throw all sorts of invention and ideas at their music, evolving each time into something slightly different. This song – one of their best known – is taken from their first album (for our purposes, aptly titled Funeral) and finds their sound at its most accessible. As it should be as we anticipate a wedding, it’s a euphoric, almost ecstatic number; but involving a kind of death it’s also laced with an unnerving dis-ease and awareness that there’s a price to be paid.

Lyrics

Also In This Series

Introduction

Palm Sunday

Monday