House Church Central Goes to the Movies

New Line Cinema, Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company. Produced by Joanne Sellar. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

This is one of those terrific movies that dares to break the mold and experiment with new ideas in filmmaking. And it does it successfully. One of the new ideas is actually a reformulation of an ancient one idea called "opera seria." The action of the film freezes and a song begins which conveys the emotions of the characters--in this case, all the main characters get a chance to sing a verse. In fact this is just one of the places where Jon Brion's music and Aimee Mann's songs move to center stage, even though they are almost always present in the background, beautifully integrated into the film.

Anderson even had the courage to constrain his movie into an ABAB structure, the A segments being mini-documentaries and the B segments involving the films many characters. To fully grasp how all the characters intersect takes several viewings. Some are obvious (the Gator family, the Partridge family). But others are carefully hidden, such as the connection between the Gators and the Partridges and just how the young rap artist fits into the fabric of the story.

The point behind this brilliant film seems to be the notion that what the world calls "coincidence" is what God calls "providence." Anderson never actually comes out and says that. Yes, we have the very Christian Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) and the prayers we see him saying. We have an occasional biblical reference from Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (another terrific William H. Macy creation). But those are incidental. Anderson says it himself in one of the A segments: "These were not just a matter of chance. They happen all the time." The film makes the case that there is someone outside the world influencing the events in the world. The documentaries sections say it scientifically, and characters say it dramatically.

This movie presents a fine vehicle for displaying the consequences of a fallen world. The outrageous excesses of T. J. Mackey (Tom Cruise), we discover, arose from his father's neglect of his mother. Likewise, we learn the reason for the free fall of the Gator daughter, Claudia, in the final scenes of the film. Yet where there is fallenness, there is a chance for redemption, and these are abundant in this film. These characters change. And that is how this movie delievers the promise of hope.

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