Monday, January 28, 2008


One of the films we saw this weekend was There Will Be Blood. The movie intrigued me in two ways.

The first was because of Eli Sunday, the character who was setting up his own church (played by Paul Dano). Watching the way the church developed around Eli’s personality made me think about the changes in religion over the last one hundred years. Eli didn’t have to go through any Committee on Ministry to legitimize his call or worry about getting someone’s permission to set up a new congregation. The people of Little Boston had very little concern for whether or not what Eli was teaching was orthodox as long as he provided charismatic preaching and healing. The film was an interesting chance to reflect on the pluses and minuses of modern mainline Protestantism. Today while individual parishes may be influenced by the personalities of their pastors, the uniqueness and quirkiness of Eli’s congregation rarely exists anymore because of our connectionalism (both in terms of denominationalism and communication technologies).

But even more intriguing was the acting of Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis stays in character for the entire period (often months) during which the film is being shot. He immerses himself in the time period of the film and the character’s life, spending his days and nights in the way that they character would have. The effect is clear in the vivid, powerful way the character—in this case Daniel Plainview- is brought to life on the screen. Day-Lewis’ way of preparing by becoming his character made me reflect on styles of learning. We’ve known for years that experiencing things rather than just passively learning about them. But short immersion trips to places like Plymouth Plantation, Williamsburg, Vesuvius or Ostia Antica—while upping the educational experience beyond what people would have from just reading about the time periods—don’t quite seem enough. Neither do the more modern forays into such experiences that Second Life and other virtual worlds are providing. Yes, I can go to Second Life and step into ancient Rome or into the reconstructed Second Temple, but my avatar only spends a short period of time there so I never really step from one world into another no matter how actively I might be involved during my time there. Instead, perhaps what we really need are occasions to spend long periods of time in a specific culture and era –either by creating and living in such a setting (as Day-Lewis seems to do) or, since in many cases that would be impractical, by using technology to create holodeck-type settings in which we could immerse ourselves over a period of days or weeks.

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