Here's my review of "The Last Samurai," for Our Sunday Visitor. I'll get to see the last installment of "Lord of the Rings" on Tuesday. I've been quiet lately, putting all my energy into a new book for Paraclete. The column a couple of months ago on Mel Gibson's "Passion" got so much feedback that I'm trying to explain the early Christian view of the atonement, as seen in the Church Fathers, and choosing some of the prayers to show it "in action." The working title is "The Victorious Cross: The Ancient View of Christ's Passion and Atonement." I am so grateful for the help of a few friends who are willing to read and comment on the manuscript--it involves compressing so much research into such a small space that multiple readers are a necessity. I need all the help I can get.
Hey, I was interviewed by Time magazine for an article about Mary Magdalene, "The DaVinci Codes," neo Gnosticism, etc. It was supposed to be the cover story last week, but I guess it was bumped back to a later issue. As a result, Borders has begun to carry "Illumined Heart." yay! 

It turns out that guys are just as sentimental as the nextâum, guy, but what they get sentimental about is killing people. Run somebody through with a lance, shoot an arrow through a heart, slice a neck with a sword--pretty soon, everybodyâs hugging and blubbering.


Iâve got a pretty strong stomach for screen violence (the secret is: itâs fake) but âThe Last Samuraiâ exceeded my capacity by sheer endurance; the slashing, stabbing, and slicing goes on and on and on. Itâs creatively gruesome, too, and the relentlessness of the soundtrack wears you down as well. But all this was thrilling to the young male audience around me, and thatâs who this film was made for. Yet itâs so much more than a slasher movie. Itâs a sentimental slasher movie. Itâs âTitanicâ for guys.


The story is set in 1876, where a band of samurai is resisting Japanâs accommodations to the West. These are the ârebels,â so we know theyâre the good guys. Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is imported to turn the Emperorâs army into an American-style fighting machine. Instead, he is captured by samurai and brought to their mountain village for a long winter of healing. There he learns the vast superiority of ancient Japanese ways over anything America has to offer. The chief samurai, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), meditates before a giant golden Buddha. âI have never been a church-going man, but I know there is something spiritual about this place,â Algren muses.


The connection between tranquil meditation and slashing through an enemyâs face is not spelled out. The rebelsâ cause is not explained; the whole plot is a muddle. The emperor is a teenaged boy, and he implores Katsumoto for advice, but the samurai only bows and says he must decide for himself. (About what?). Later, Katsumoto tells Algren sadly, âThe Emperor could not hear my words.â Thatâs what they call âinscrutable.â


The only sure thing weâre told, right from the top, is that this is about Honor. The tiny band of samurai gladly plunge toward certain death against the army, inspired by the Greeks at Thermopylae who ended up âDead, to the last man,â Algren grins. I was thinking, what about the last woman, not to mention the children, behind you in the village? The point of fighting is not defending those helpless ones, or any other clearly-explained cause, but Honor. As Gatling guns mow down the samurai, Algren and Katsumoto keep going, a feat that looks increasingly improbable. Finally they are kneeling together in the field, holding onto each other, and Algren assists Katsumotoâs suicide. Later, the Emperor and Algren get simultaneously teary-eyed about this. To kill and to die for Honor is the greatest good there is.


A contrary opinion was expressed by St. Teresa of Avila. The soul who has seen the Lord âdeplores the deception it suffered in believing that what the world called honor was honor. It sees how this belief about honor is the greatest lie.â

Frederica Mathewes-Green
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