Skip to content

gnilletyrots Posts

Romantic Entanglement

Things have changed. In January, I posted The 2023 Forecast. It’s now four months later, I can no longer in a position to honor that forecast. I’ll explain.

I’m in a relationship with Brianne Diebner. My days of being single are now in the past, and my alone time has shrunk.

This relationship has been going on for over a month now, and our dynamic is such that I can now be creative around her. A natural evolution of that is my novel. Having Brianne as a girlfriend makes it easy to talk about ideas for the story, to process them out loud. Because of that, I’m on the fast track to writing my novel.

What does that mean for the 2023 forecast? I give myself until August to publish Doctrine vs. Drama. I’ll outline the post in May, write in June, and edit in July. After that, it’ll be The Human Genesis Story, Parts 1-3, which I shall publish in December in lieu of the New Year.

His Only Son Review

Telling the story of Abraham’s 3-day journey to Mt. Moriah with his son Isaac, His Only Son strives to bring an ancient act of faith to life on an indie budget. The story is one of the most controversial moments in the biblical corpus. It’s narrative territory that almost no one dares to touch, let alone explore. The film feels scrappy but ambitious.

This underdog film is David Helling’s directorial debut. Armed with film school and a shallow budget, David rises from obscurity as a Marine veteran director with a story. Based on a script he wrote during COVID, Helling’s motion picture paves a new but rough path for Christian entertainment. Unlike the protagonist, who never lost sight of his mission despite obstacles, Helling’s low-budget film fails to warm up before getting distracted by a buffet of character studies, ancient biblical lore, and an off-target theological parallel.

This film tries to be an odyssey and a three-character study simultaneously. It gives seemingly equal portions of screentime to Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah, sprinkling the leftovers to Abraham’s two bickering servants. Even though the plot direction is clear – Mt. Moriah, where God expects Abraham to sacrifice Isaac – the film tries to chew too much. It loses sight of the effectiveness of having a singular thematic target. The long walk to the mountain, which Helling wrote as an Odyssey adventure with death and temptation lurking around every corner, puts Abraham and his son in harm’s way. Abraham is a man of reputation, revered by wicked men on horseback who cross his path and remember who defeated the five kings. Yet these conflicts get hardly any exciting development as if to imply that such alluring assailants don’t deter Abraham’s party.

Biting off more than it can chew, the film bows under the character perspectives of Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah. Helling’s script sets no precedent in its first act for which character view gets the center stage. It’s sometimes distant, touching on the broader message, and other times intimate, getting emotional close-ups to hit what it thinks are emotional beats. As a result, the scenes feel packed together with the hope that the audience familiar with the source material won’t get lost. The story feels less like a coherent whole and more like an uneven threading of scenes with lots of exciting filler.

Through flashback sequences, the film shows Abraham and Sarah thrust into an epic journey by divine appointment, their desires often at odds with the designs of God, who asks more from them than they ever expected. Sarah practices an ancient ritual; she struggles to believe in her husband’s God, who has no statue before which she could kneel. Haggar leaves her master’s camp with her son Ishmael, and Abraham and Sarah, realizing their mistake, feel the cost of distrusting God and his promise. Abraham leans against ruins, his eyes aglow with the vision God had just poured into his heart, Sarah next to him, asking what he had seen. These glimpses into the past feel exciting and perhaps necessary for the uninitiated believer, but none connects directly to the main plot to drive the story forward. Consequently, the story feels like it drags on.

Next to its lack of focus, the film’s use of flashback sequences stumbles structurally. In the second act, their purpose initially supports the journey to Mt. Moriah. Sarah is a woman whose heart pushes through the trial of time as she waits for this promised son from God, and Abraham is a man of God who walks by faith into faith trials God sets before him. However, the film’s use of these flashbacks frequently disrupts the film’s pace. It slows the plot to a crawl. Nowhere in the second act do these flashbacks feel relevant, let alone essential, to the ultimate goal for which Abraham and Isaac left camp.

David Helling’s heart for the source material is apparent; his attempt at writing these characters with complexity unseen in cinema until now is admirable, even brave, given the catalog of faith-based titles that avoided such a chapter in Abraham’s life. Helling’s script gave actors Nicolas Mouawad (Abraham) and Sara Seyed (Sarah) character depth to inhabit. Mouawad’s performance as the patriarch stands out; the depth in his eyes and the mantel of righteousness in his demeanor is the meat of the story. Next to him, Sara Seyed’s performance leans well into Sarah’s faith struggle, if not a little too far emotionally, mainly when Haggar and Ishmael divided Abraham’s camp. These flashbacks are not unwelcome story bits, just irrelevant to the story this film explores.

Where the film succeeds brilliantly is in its occasional, albeit inconsistent, cinematography. The eye-popping shots of the night sky sparkle moments in the story, which go directly to the heart of Abraham’s journey, visualizing the promise on his mind, God’s promise that he’d father a great nation and that his descendants would be beyond count. The weight of that promise has resonance when the camera points upward to the showy expanse of stars. The promise is divine, and the faith required to realize that promise weighs heavily on Abraham’s heart of flesh.

The film would have been stronger had David Helling been laser-focused on God’s promise, trusting it to nurture the story’s beating heart with only essential information. Instead, the final act of Abraham having his son lay obediently upon the altar as the required sacrifice feels a little isolated from the rest of the story. What’s more, the ending suddenly leaps forward to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a use of parallelism, though fascinating, that misfires when shooting straight and true matters most. It’s the moment on which the entire film hinges, the payoff that was supposed to justify the price of admission.

David Helling’s His Only Son is in a class by itself, not for its good parts but for its brave charge into the uncharted faith-based territory. If there were other films with the courage to do the same, perhaps David Helling wouldn’t have felt the undue pressure to chew on more than one film could handle in its runtime. At the very least, this film represents a good step forward for Christian cinema.

Nebuchadnezzar

The Babylonian empire is one of those civilizations in history that most of us know of. Among reasons anthropological, agricultural, and mathematical, there is one significant reason the kingdom sticks out in history. One of its rulers, King Nebuchadnezzar, made a name for himself in a way not of his malevolent designs. God used him to orchestrate a moment in which he powerfully revealed himself. It’s a moment in biblical history when God reminded his people, the Israelites, exiled in Babylon, that he was still with them and faithful to them. Jerusalem and the temple were smoldering heaps thousands of miles away, but God was still their God, faithful to his covenant with them.

I wrote this story not of my own accord to expand my portfolio but to fulfill contractual obligations in partnership with Kingdom Story Ministries, a non-profit organization in University Place, Washington. They contracted me to write a compilation of creative short stories that they would later publish as a devotional book. They planned to print the book in Quarter 1 of this year. Due to scheduling complications during the contract, the draft I handed them at the end of my term was not final. I had written 30 stories, drafted at an average pace of 1 and a half weeks.

Not all the stories needed reconstructive surgery. There was one that had character, shape, and color. I had in my hands this one story that worked. It had all the ingredients pre-baked into the original text, making for a smoother, more expedited creative process. It took 10 hours of non-stop writing and editing to produce a wordy (if not strong) first draft on day one. Though a little unrefined, it nonetheless bursts with characterization and drama. I was excited to share it.

Now, almost a year later, after several proofreading seasons with friends and family, it’s close enough to perfect to share here. The book itself, which will contain this story and twenty-nine others, doesn’t have a publication date; enjoy In the Flames of Exile on PDF below.

Jesus Revolution Review

Following a pastor, a former hippie, and a love-struck teenager as their lives converge, 2023’s Jesus Revolution pulls off what most Christian entertainment falls short of; it tells an honest story about faith. It paints believers not in a pure, prayerful light but in a shadow of frailty, rigidity, self-righteousness, ego, and childhood pain, subordinate to Jesus Christ, the true light into which they all must step.

The film, directed by Brent McCorckil and Jon Erwin, rises above the faith-based movie norm that is cringe dialogue and preachy, religious overtones. Kelsey Grammar, star of the 1990s show Fraiser, plays Chuck Smith, the pastor of a little southern California congregation; he is not the hero. Next to Grammar is the star of the crowd-funded show The Chosen and rising heavy-weight talent Jonathan Roumie, who plays former hippie Lonnie Frisbee, whom God uses to jump-start Chuck Smith’s quiet, composed, and wooden church into the infectious, musical, heartfelt rhythms of the Jesus Movement. Through Lonnie’s genuine, authentic nature, the love of Jesus shines brightly and with inviting warmth; but true to the film’s message, Lonnie is also not the hero.

Greg, the protagonist, seeks liberation from the uniformity of the military academy and the conservative-dominant culture. His solution: drugs and the affections of a girl who, like other hippies, hopes to connect with the divine. His life runs aground after a near-death experience, and he stumbles into Chuck Smith’s resurrected church where he meets Loonie Smith who becomes like a brother to him. Despite this positive turn, Greg has yet to see a path forward, blinded ultimately by the painful weight of caring for his wallowing, co-dependent mother, Greg is not the hero either.

Beyond its characters, the film remembers a spiritual movement in American history orchestrated not by charismatic human minds but by the Holy Spirit. As portrayed in the movie, the movement shook the foundation of a rigid, traditionalist American church in the late 1960s. Its impact was natiowide. However, its leaders failed to keep the focus on Jesus, and the film shied away from developing the whole picture of the movement, which did stray considerably from its true Spirit-led purpose. Even though the film failed to explore more deeply the flaws in its characters, Jesus Revolution does unpack the flesh of human leadership with a pinch of truth. By doing this, it at least succeeds in showing the conditional Christian desire for righteousness. It’s never easy to step into humility, which by God’s standard challenges the human propensity to preserve the clean self-image so many protect at all cost when underneath there’s shame and misdeeds of a lost, broken heart.

The hero of Jesus Revolution is intimately involved off-screen. As the title suggests, the one to whom the revolution points ascended to his rightful place over 2,023 years ago, and over 20 centuries later, through the Holy Spirit, his ministry and ultimate act on the cross captured the hearts of an entire generation on a scale unseen anywhere else in American history. This film, succeeding on the shoulders of Kelsey Grammar and Jonathan Roumie, does what only a few Christian movies and one show nails with anointed care and authenticity. It visually captures what happens in the heart during a baptism, a touch of the divine that jumpstarts a lifelong connection with the Savior who knows our pain and shapes our hearts to look more like his – more precious than gold, more precious than rubies.

The 2023 Forecast (Updated)

This year, I want to write on a range of challenging topics of considerable depth. Their implications range from cultural and artistic to philosophical and deeply religious. For me personally, they’ve sprung up and turned casual debates into heated discussions on a dime. The first is the Christian entertainment. The second is the abstractions of destiny and fate. Third is free will. And fourth is thes ubjectivity versus objectivity dichotomy.

What do these topics all have in common? They’re all cultural. Let’s give them a closer look. The unresolved debate over the origins of humanity has failed to pay the Book of Genesis its due; I’m writing that for April 1st. Next, twenty years after the massive success of The Passion of the Christ, productions like The Chosen and Jesus Revolution are now slowly dislodging the stigma from the public consciousness regarding faith-based projects; a post on that is set for May 1st. Following that, meaningful and ancient abstractions like destiny and fate are now cheapened Hollywood marketing terms to sell tickets; read about that on June 1st. Free will is a penny concept without utility, which makes our outlook on life faulty and vulnerable; that’ll be on June 1st. Lastly, we like to say things are subjective when we’re afraid to hold up a director’s movie or author’s novel against a standard of excellence; July 1st is the target posting date.

EXPECTATIONS FOR THE CONTENT

Now, here are detailed breakdowns of what to expect in each post. The goal is to write for a month on each post, cramming in as much research and personal opinion as possible. If a post is unclear and coherent enough, extensions will be made to ensure the published content doesn’t feel rushed.

And, without any further ado…

The Human Genesis Story

This blog post will be the first to get its due. Some like to believe that the Book of Genesis is mostly myth, while others hold those stories as true. Why the huge gap? Do most simply have a hard time believing such dramatic events could happen? Do those who take it literally understand the cosmic meaning those events bear as a consequence of setting all of human history in fundamental motion? It’s time to see how the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Great Flood, and the Tower of Babel were all events of descending consequence that shaped our world today.

Doctrine vs. Drama

Since The Passion of the Christ in 2003, Christian entertainment has been stuck in a rut. Afraid to show the less-than-heroic side to pastors and baffled by the Holy Spirit’s invisible designs, storytellers at the typewriter and behind the camera have perhaps assumed that non-allegorical storytelling is not allowed. The problem perhaps stems from how the Gospel has been sold at the pulpit as a list of rights and wrongs. Maybe, the systematic beliefs we as believers have held have always been at odds with how God moves and works. It’s time to see where doctrine has gone too far and stifled life’s drama.

The Concept of Destiny

We want to believe that there is meaning to our suffering and that what we do leads to an ultimate day of glory. Life must be more than errands, work, friends, kids, awards, video games, and ski trips. Where is the adventure, the story? We fear that it’s all a random mess of chaos. We hope there’s a secret, hidden path to a better life. What if destiny and fate go much deeper than we ever thought possible?

The Cost of Free Will Unites Us

Free Will is a misunderstood concept. We live out its real nature throughout the week. It’s called choice. With every day’s situations, it takes on ever-evolving implications. A close-enough look reveals that our daily choices echo back millennia to the earliest days of Creation. When Adam and Eve chose human wisdom over life forever in God’s paradise, the choice was set for the rest of humanity. What does that mean for us on a Tuesday and a Sunday? It means free will isn’t a term we can utter to push back against a sovereign God. That is a useless notion of zero utility and no philosophical weight. Let’s put it to the test.

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity

One is about perception, and the other is about indisputable fact and reality. They’re uttered in politics, religion, and critical analysis of the arts. Do these two words represent irreconcilable sides of these spheres of societal discourse? One is often used to soften criticism by broadly validating all other potential points of view in a sweeping fashion. The other draws a stark line between what merits praise and what deserves none. It’s time to settle this divide and get back to standards.

FINALLY, THE TONE

Given that I don’t have the education to support the forthcoming assertions, I will quote those who do. I take this deep form of writing seriously. While the words of experts will guide the direction of these future posts, my conclusions will be my own. After all, why read what I write here if I echo the greats and add nothing new to the online discourse? Your time as a reader is precious.

May the journey begin!