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"Monster House" & "Army of Shadows"  

            In both movies, the monster is right before them, menacing and devouring.  In both movies, the characters spend the entire time in combat with the monster.  They have to get close to it, even be captured by it, but still they keep fighting, because with the monster itís either continue to strive against it, or succumb to its seemingly unassailable powers.  True, they are risking their lives.  But to give up would be to give up on living.

            "Monster House" is an animation, and not a very realistic one at that.  The technology is unique, but it looks and feels dated. "Army of Shadows" is a restoration, but it, too, has an antiquated feel to it, especially in the orchestral score and the glacial pacing.  The fact that itís a true story lends an exterior authenticity, and mostly redeems the internal difficulties.  Itís the French Resistance, during the depths of World War II.  Itís October 1942, and France is occupied by the apparently invincible German army.  In this police state, any resistance is crushed, without so much as a judge and jury.  Just imprisonment, torture, and execution.  Nevertheless, there are some who cannot help but resist.  Like Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), who was a civil engineer before the War.  And he looks and acts like one:  horn-rimmed glasses, somewhat aloof, low social skills, but an analytical mind that wonít quit.  He immediately evaluates a situation, and makes a plan of action, whether he is imprisoned, or seeks to release someone else who is.  There are henchmen and there are saboteurs, there are spies and there are traitors, and Gerbier must navigate through them all.  But in the end, his loyalty cannot be to the people he works with, for those are all transient (and expendable).  His loyalty is to an ideal, to a "Free France" that in 1942 is a sad combination of memory and ideal.

            In "Monster House," three neighborhood kids must confront the "monster" that is the house across the street.  Except they find that at its core, there is a weakness, and the milk of human kindness is not absent even from the crotchety old man who keeps yelling at them to get off his property.  The house, it turns out, is a sad combination of the ghost of his late wife and her vengeful spirit occupying the ramshackle abode where she once (briefly) lived.  The old widower is so cowed by her foreboding, even supernatural presence, that it takes people from the outside to finally deliver him from her bondage.

            The same was true in France, of course.  In the end, they had to rely on the "neighbors"---Great Britain, the United States, and Russia----to deliver them from the (German) monster whose presence strangled the very life out of France, even to the point of establishing a 'pro-Nazi" occupation government in Vichy.  Now, in retrospect, the few who did actively resist can be lionized, even canonized.  But at the time, they were too few and too weak to even cause much disturbance.

            Whatever the "monster" is----whether that be terrorism, evil, greed, consumerism, addiction, or mere apathy---we all have the choice whether to succumb meekly or resist fiercely.  And, we have the choice whether to seek or enlist outside help.  But in the end, the desire for freedom must be greater than the fear of the Beast.  And that requires faith.

Questions For Discussion:

1)      What has been "The Monster" or "The Beast" in your life? 

2)      Have you succumbed, or chosen to resist?

3)      Have you sought and accepted the aid of others?

4)      What would it take for you to feel that are truly free?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas