Tuesday, October 07, 2008

highly commended

I write regular monthly film reviews for Touchstone, the Methodist denominational magazine. My February 2007 review of the New Zealand film, ‘Out of the Blue’ – was recently Highly Commended in the ARPA (Australasian Religious Press Association) awards. Here is the judge’s comments:

I thought this piece brought out all the lovely elements of New Zealand – it was quite beautiful! I would have liked to have seen less questions and more answers though. And also more Christian input throughout the piece, instead of only at the end.

Read my review, which is included below, then let me know what you think. Do you agree? Should I have provided more answers? And should (and how) could the Christian input be woven in through out?

A Kiwi “thing well made”
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Out of the Blue stars Aramoana, a beautiful but isolated, New Zealand beach town. The opening scene superbly captures the movie. We watch footprints being made on a beautiful beach and watch the sweep of a metal detector. Knowing that people carrying metal detectors tend to live on the fringe of society, we ponder a fringe footprint on New Zealand beauty.

Out of the Blue is Dunedin-bred director Robert Sarkies second movie (his first was Scarfies). This is a Kiwi director telling a Kiwi story. We see a New Zealand Police force naively ill-prepared for armed violence and emergency first aid. We hear lines from children’s story book Hairy Maclary (authored by Lynley Dood). We
recognise tunes from classic Kiwi white boy bands – Coconut Rough (Sierra Leone), The Chills (Pink Frost) and Don McGlashan.

To use a line from a song by Don McGlashan, Out of the Blue is a Kiwi film “well made.” The pace is superbly controlled, with repeated moments of human interaction used to heighten the escalating tension. Visual shots of the road in and out of Aramoana are used to advance the plot, while a white bach wall marks
time. Camera focus is employed to portray character. The sound track (by Dave Whitehead) is clever, with silence, splashing water and sustained human breathing, used well to carry emotion. Despite minor blemishes (including inconsistent special effects) and unresolved plot threads (Did David Gray die because he was denied medical assistance in Police custody?) Out of the Blue proclaims that there is more to the New Zealand film industry than special effects at Weta Studios. We have Kiwi filmmakers who can tell our stories with style and maturity.

What the movie leaves unanswered is any ethical and moral reflection upon this Kiwi story.

Why does David Gray shoot thirteen people? We see his isolation, paranoia and anger, artistically mixed with shots of beautiful Aramoana. So perhaps nature is pure and one man paranoid? Yet New Zealand has lots of sleepy, isolated beach communities, with sands that remain unstained by Aramoana’s violence? We
gasp at New Zealand gun laws that allow one man to stock a fridge load of weapons and ammunition. But New Zealand gun laws were lax for decades before David Gray took aim at a nation’s innocence. So was Aramoana purely and simply out of the blue? If so, pray it never happens to us.

And how do humans recover from random human violence? Should we forgive? Yet the film suggests that rather than forgive, the community of Aramoana gather to burn down David Gray’s house. Should we forget? Yet human bodies remain scarred and thirteen breakfast settings remain empty.

The place of memory and human violence occupies Princeton scholar Miroslav Volf, who reflects on the future of grace and faith after ethnic violence scarred his Balkan homeland. He argues that the Christian cross stands as a permanent marker of human violence, a reminder that humans can neither forgive nor
forget. Instead, in Jesus, who faces, feels and absorbs human violence, we seek the courage to forgive, while leaving justice in the hands of an unforgetting God.

Such questions allow the Kiwi story of Aramoana to become a universal story. It allows us to move beyond a well-made docu-drama of courage under fire, to begin to ponder the moral and ethical questions of being human in a society full of metal things “well made.”

Steve Taylor
580 words

Posted by steve at 07:09 PM


  1. The piece on how Kiwis deal with tragedy and forgiveness would be fascinating – when you say contemporary theological exploration of forgiveness do you mean that the ideas/understanding of forgiveness have changed? I would so like to read that piece should you ever write it …I’ve heard there are drugs that help you operate 24 hours, kidding of course 😉

    Yes I’ve started a blog – a big, scary step for me but I’ve come to the conclusion you can’t live in fear. My husband and I are launching a wine label – so the blog is a way of sharing the journey really. Something our kids can look back on one day and have a laugh about! As it’s tied up with the business I have had to promise not to go into religion or politics and to try and have a wine slant to my entries but that’s OK. It’s proving to be a lot of fun, a bit addictive and very time consuming. Will be a time juggle once my school hols finish next week!

    Hope you’re enjoying Oz – I enjoyed checking out your wife’s pics of the outback.

    Comment by Jack — October 9, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  2. Hi Steve. Congratulations on the well deserved “Highly Commended” award for your review of the film, ‘Out of the Blue’. I havent seen it but your words make me want to keep my eyes open for the opportunity to do so. Given the tragic story the film tells, a real story (reminiscent of Aust’s Pt Arthur massacre) I would have felt uncomfortable with any answers. Questions are the only appropriate stance. Particulary the kind of question your last line alludes to. I loved your last line. It’s a question, and a challenge, I want to take seriously into my living.
    best wishes,

    Comment by Louise — October 9, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  3. I think the review itself is excellent. I thought the film intentionally left unresolved plot threads and intentionally left out any moral reflection – hence questions, not answers.

    The unresolved plot threads to me were the reality of the event- it was ‘Out of the Blue.’ I know when I watched this movie I really wanted some insight into why he did it, something to blame it on, something to make it easier to understand and therefore forgive. But the film succeeded in making me feel the frustration that community must’ve felt with the question of – why? Perhaps the judge wanted you to give your answer, I can’t really comment on the Christian perspective, but suggesting he’s just ‘fallen’ like the rest of us or the devil made him do it etc wouldn’t have done the review any favours. Besides, aren’t Christian’s allowed to say they don’t know why?
    The other questions you raise are about ethics and are answered by the second to last paragraph.

    Keep up the reviewing!
    Cheers, jack

    Comment by Jack — October 9, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

  4. thanks jack. really appreciate the comments.

    one of the suggestions made was that the judges were of a conservative ilk and thus perhaps thought that a more definitive answer was the task of religious writing. (the winner was applauded for hauling golden compass over the coals!)

    with hindsight, i think i could have done a better job of turning the list of questions into a 3-way dialogue between theme and film question and reality of kiwi experience. but i was over my word limit as it was.

    i would like to write an extended piece on how kiwis deal with tragedy – linking River Queen, in my fathers den and out of the blue in a dialogue with contemporary theological exploration of forgiveness. but i don’t have the time! so many ideas in my head – so little time to develop them all .. ahhhhh

    you’ve got a blog! when? good work.


    Comment by steve — October 9, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  5. Hi Steve,
    Yeah. Great review & well deserving of the ‘Highly Commended.’
    Maybe what the judge meant was ‘…less speculation and more opinion…’ I actually quite like reviewers to be opinionated.
    As to ‘Christian input’, I like what you did. Taking the review in context (i.e. Touchstone Magazine), I would be reading it assuming it came from a Christian reviewer. I would assume the movie’s not going to be XXX rated & I would be looking for the reviewer’s thoughts on production quality, characterisation, themes, etc. – exactly what I got from your review.

    It’s weird, but two scenes stood out for me. His neighbours called him ‘David’. Un-remarkable perhaps but it’s easier to vilify ‘David Gray’, than ‘David’. Then, after watching this man descend into evil …. he removes his woollen hat & for the first time I saw that he was bald. Villians aren’t meant to be bald! This was an ordinary human being.
    “Who is my neighbour?” This was my neighbour.

    Comment by Merv — October 10, 2008 @ 11:33 am

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