Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Review: Rio

As a bird lover, I was prepared to love this movie. I had seen the preview and thought it was funny, and I was mesmerized when I watched the first half of Rio at school one day, so I rented it and watched it this week. A little blue parrot is snatched from the Amazon jungle by smugglers, ends up in snowy Moose Lake, MN, and is rescued by a little girl. The girl is just like me--loves books, loves birds, wears glasses, happily single...okay, not exactly like me (she doesn't like to travel and is ridiculously fearful of Brazilian food--dumb girl--missing out on the BEST food on the PLANET! Ah!), but that's beside the point.

The point is, I was profoundly disappointed in the message behind the movie. Movies (just like good stories) are all about character development and change. You start a movie out with a character who has a bunch of things wrong with him, and then you show the transformation of those characteristics by the end of the movie. In Rio, the parrot, Blu, starts out as a slightly pampered, slightly annoying, slightly nerdy bird who can't fly. He falls in love with the girl parrot, Jewel, starts to think of others, and learns to fly. That's all well and good.

It's the story of Blu's owner, Linda, that plays out in the second half of the movie and left me disappointed. Linda travels with Blu to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in order to meet Tulio, an ornithologist who has arranged the plan to mate Blu and Jewel. Linda and Blu have just landed in Brazil, and Tulio picks them up. They are driving in a jeep in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, when some people dressed for Carnaval cross the street in front of them. "Whoa, what's going on?" Linda says. "You have arrived in time for Carnaval, the biggest party in the world," Tulio replies. A provocatively dressed woman dances her way across the street in front of them.  "Tomorrow night," Tulio continues, "Everyone will be dressed like this." "Not me," Linda replies.

First red flag: Carnaval is merely "the biggest party in the world," according to this movie. As a Christian, I can't buy this innocent-sounding description. What's wrong with a big party? Plenty, if you know what Carnaval stands for. My Brazilian apartment mates described it to me as the biggest sin-fest in the world, a time to revel in unbridled lust, promiscuity, drinking, and drugs. Okay, so it's a kid's movie, and to them it's just costumes and music? Well, if you buy that one, you probably buy the one about Halloween being just about costumes and candy, too, but that's a topic for another time. My problem is that kids are introduced to Carnaval as something innocent and harmless, when it is neither.

The story continues with Blu and Jewel getting stolen by smugglers the first night they are left alone at the bird sanctuary. Then Linda and Tulio have to go on a wild chase to find them, while the birds go on a wild journey to get away from the smugglers and the villain of the movie, an evil cockatoo named Nigel.

(Nigel is another disappointing character. He is ruthless, malicious, and bent on making others as ugly as himself. Why is he so evil? Because once upon a time, he had a TV show, fame, and popularity, and then one day someone replaced him with a parakeet. Therefore he became a monster. Really? Is it just me, or is that just shallow? Okay, it's just a kid's movie. But look at the villains on Pixar films. They succeed in making them bad while giving them depth.)

The roads are closed for the Carnaval parade, and no one is allowed through the checkpoint except for performers, so Linda and Tulio don bird costumes in order to get through. Linda's costume is a skimpy blue sequined bikini with large blue wings and a tail attached to the back. She and Tulio come out of their separate changing rooms. "I look ridiculous, don't I?" Linda asks in a dejected voice. The picture switches to Tulio's face, lit up with delight. He assures her she looks great. Then, through a misunderstanding, Linda gets put in the parade up on a platform where she is supposed to dance. A guy is yelling at her in Portuguese, and Tulio translates. "Linda! You have to shake your tushy!" "NO!" Linda exclaims. "We don't shake our tushies in Minnesota!" But as she tries to get down off the stage, she happens to pull some moves that cause the crowd to roar its approval.

Okay. Hold it right there.

First of all, yes, people DO shake their tushies in Minnesota. It's not being from Minnesota that makes one reluctant to dance. It's having conservative values that come from a Christian worldview, which may or may not exist in people from Minnesota. Fundamentally, though, the conflict creates a sharp contrast between the more conservative midwest and the more free-spirited South American culture. And where did that contrast come from? The Judeo-Christian ethic, that existed strongly in the U.S. and has only been more recently introduced to Brazil. But the movie wipes this all off the slate and creates a false reason why Linda refuses to "shake her tushy," which makes her conservatism look ridiculous and nonsensical, and causes the viewer to root for her to just loosen up. Strike to the grain of what Tulio and the crowd are calling for Linda to do. "Shake your tushy" is a soft way of saying, "Be sensual," "Arouse my sex drive," "Move your body where it really counts." So...I don't do that because--I'm from Minnesota (or Wisconsin, or Tennessee, or Timbuktu)? No. I don't do that because--I don't know how? Maybe, but it goes deeper than that. I don't do that because as a Christian, I choose not to move my body in a way that deliberately provokes sensual thoughts in others. Why? Because lust is enough of a battle as it is without me creating more issues for my brothers and sisters in Christ to deal with. And I know well enough that dances involving  shaking my hips or my bust are designed for one single purpose: to arouse that pleasurable feeling in the opposite sex.

Furthermore, did you notice Tulio's reaction to Linda in a bikini? The smile that spread across his face and the pleasure in his eyes was nothing more than an expression of unbridled lust, the kind that Jesus warns against when he says, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:28) When godly Christian guys see a scene like this, they battle valiantly to NOT lust, but the movie portrays Tulio's lust as something normal, a natural enjoyment, the way a kid's eyes would light up at a lollipop. (Why is there a difference? Is there a difference between a woman and a lollipop? Only in the Christian worldview.) Again, Linda's comment comes across as incomprehensible and irrelevant: "I look ridiculous, don't I?" OF COURSE a guy isn't going to think that looks ridiculous! Her reluctance to go out in public in a bikini is passed off as being a mere fear of looking ridiculous. This fear being overcome (thanks to Tulio's approval), there no longer seems to be any reason to be reluctant about it. How easily the viewer swallows this scene, digests it, and feels in himself or herself that Linda is wrong to be so straight-laced about wearing something skimpy. My problem is, this movie opens a door for girls to change their minds. Once you feel like Linda is in the wrong, you also feel like you would be in the wrong to maintain a conservative dress standard. The difference is, Christian girls who know why they dress conservatively know that they do not do it because they would feel uncomfortable or ridiculous in public if they wore something immodest (although that may be the case). They do it precisely because they choose not to place a stumbling block of lust before their brothers' eyes. (Most Christian girls, however, do not know why they dress conservatively. If they do it, they do it because their parents or leaders make them, and it is these girls who are easy prey to the kind of thinking this movie conveys. As soon as they are out from under the rules, goodbye, modesty.)

Here is the heart of why I didn't like the movie: Linda's change went exactly the opposite way from the way it should have. In the Christian worldview, the promiscuous girl, who dresses immodestly and is a little loose around guys, needs to change into a modest, respectable girl who behaves with honor and decency. In the movie, Linda went the other way. The theme of lust is out of place in a children's movie, even if they treated it in a way that earned it a G rating. Ah... G-rated lust. How nice. Start them off young before they even know what it is, and they'll never feel it when it enslaves them.

Now, before you jump all over my back and tell me what I already know...
--I know that this is just the way our culture works nowadays.
--I know I can't expect a movie to reflect my values.
--I know that Hollywood is not going to portray conservative values in an honest light.
--I know that I can't change moviemaking with a negative movie review.
--I know that Christians will watch Rio and not lose their faith.
--I know that other Christians will like the movie.
--I know that to most people in the world, including many Christians, my views are incomprehensible. I may be labeled straight-laced, prudish, or kill-joy. That's fine. Your views are incomprehensible to me, too.

I'm just telling you why I didn't like the movie. (And revealing much of the way I think and analyze things in the process.) I'm not saying I wasn't entertained. I was. I laughed all the way through it. I'm just not one to check my brains at the door and get them back when the movie is over. I think. I reject what my reason tells me is not wholesome. I hope others will do the same (think for yourself, that is, not reject the movie just because I did).

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