Dianne Glave: Ministry & Church

Archive for October, 2011

Boardwalk Empire: The Age of Reason (Season 2, Episode 18)

All gangster films and television shows owe something to The Godfather Saga. And Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series, is no exception. Catholicism was one of many themes in The Godfather with weddings and the baptisms binding the dysfunctional and deadly family together in the films. Boardwalk Empire follows suit.

Boardwalk Empire is set in Atlantic City, New Jersey and syncs with some of the early days of  The Godfather Saga. In the Age of Reason episode, religion is treated more expansively from Judaism to Christianity. Philly the Butcher, who is Jewish, has no qualms about torturing a man for information. What he refuses to do is kill the man, like a fatted calf out of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament. Philly has another man do it because a fatted calf cannot be sacrificed unless it is without spot, which basically means the animal must be flawless, not damaged in any way. Another man had to do the sacrificing so that Philly did not break with Jewish law.

Shifting to Christianity, the episode bounces between Catholicism and Protestantism. A priest is central to the Catholic scenes and references. Everyone in Boardwalk is dirty and could do with some atonement of sins from the priest. One young boy is seven and is quizzed by the priest about  confession and forgiveness. It’s a difficult moment for everyone including the boy’s mother and “uncle”. Everyone is squirming. Ultimately, Maggie, the boy’s mother is called by the priest to confession. She chooses one sliver in her life in which to confess: thoughts of adultery. The last scene is of the boy who is dressed in white for the ritual of his first confession with the priest. His “Uncle” Nucky–this is the ruse though Maggie is Nucky’s mistress–should be doing most of the confessing. Nucky’s life as a gangster and a damaged human being has spilled over to the boy poisoning the kid. It doesn’t matter how much white the boy wears, which connects to the purity of Jewish animal sacrifice; it seems a given that the boy is a gangster in the making in his “uncle’s” image.

As for Protestantism, this period of Prohibition, the 1920 to the 30s, in which the series is set isn’t far from an American Protestantism, rooted in Pentecostalism. Asuza Street, was a transformational revival, of the early twentieth century in Los Angeles. Modern Pentecostalism comes out of this revival. The moving of the Holy Spirit is central to Pentecostalism and Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden is full of it. The Holy Spirit speaks to him through the words of dying man about sin. The Holy Spirit speaks to Van Alden in a different, in another way through a flickering light bulb outside the dying man’s room. Van Alden is a prohibition agent, ridding the world of liquor, but he’s done some bad bad things. He’s in need of some atonement himself. He tries to get it by confessing his sins in phone booth that mirrors the confessional in a box in the Catholic Church.

Finally, a child is born out of wedlock. Out of the Boardwalk Empire mobster miasma, is the child born with or without sin? Even if the child is born without sin, her parents–one a spiritually twisted mentally ill federal agent, the other one-time mobster moll–are not giving her the best start. But then again, depending on your theology, all can be redeemed.

So stay tuned. I’m expecting that these themes of sin, sacrifice, confession,  atonement. and redemption will not be go away anytime soon on Boardwalk Empire.

The Film Drive: On Sacrifice and Christ


The film Drive looks like the typical car chase movie on the surface. We have so many predecessors in this tradition including the film The French Connection from 1971. Much like that classic film, there were no tricked out 21st Century special effects in the driving scenes in Drive. It is straight old school cops and robbers car chases.

Dig deeper though and there are biblical metaphors. The principal character is simply Driver. I’m not sure if his name is even uttered in the film. He’s a mystery. He’s a type of Christ. Driver lives a lonely solitary life until he connects with Irene and her son Benecio–both neighbors. As Driver moves deeper into relationship with mother and son, he selflessly sacrifices more and more for them, much like Christ did on the cross for humanity. There are numerous examples in the film. Driver puts his love to the side for Irene when her husband Standard gets out of jail. Driver agrees to be the driver for Standard for a pawnshop heist. Standard owes bad people protection money from when he was in jail. When Standard is murdered, Driver does everything in his power, including murder, to protect Irene and Benecio.

Towards the end of the movie, Driver makes the ultimate sacrifice: he gives up his life so that Irene and Benecio can live. Again, this mirrors Christ on the cross.

What’s interesting is we assume Driver has died at the hands of a gangster with a stab wound to the stomach. Without medical attention, the victim will quickly bleed out.

Suddenly, Driver is at the wheel.  He is pale. His eyes are closed. Then he blinks. Like Christ, Driver rises from the dead to the surprise of the viewer. The scene changes again and Driver is back on the road. He’s left Irene behind but she is safe since all of the bad guys who could have hurt her have been done away with by Driver.

The film, without looking at the metaphors, is compelling. The relationship Driver has with Irene and Benecio is complex, loving, and dark. Driver shifting between being a shutdown monster with being a boyfriend, a friend, and father-figure drives the film.

But when you add the biblical metaphors, the film becomes even richer.

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