Based on Puccini’s 1896 opera La Boheme (which was directed by Toscanini), Rent is the film version of the award-winning Broadway rock opera. It covers about a year in the life of a group of friends living a bohemian life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and trying to make it as actors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, and in one case, a teacher.


As the title indicates, the friends have to find a way to pay the rent to a former friend, Benny, (Taye Diggs) who went into business with the landlords. He offers free rent to Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) if they will convince Maureen (Idina Menzel), Mark’s former girl friend who left him for a lady lawyer) not to stage a protest against the landlords.


It’s Christmas and cold outside. Collins (Jesse L. Martin, Law & Order) comes to visit Mark and Roger but gets mugged in the street. He is found and cared for by Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). They go off to a Life Support group for people with AIDS.


Mimi (Rosario Dawson) is an exotic dancer and drug addict who lives downstairs from Mark and Roger. When Mark goes out that night, Mimi comes up the fire escape to ask Roger to light her candle because all the electricity to the building has been shut off because no one has paid their rent. Roger is attracted at first, but sorrow at losing his former girl friend to drugs, makes him turn away from Mimi.


Over the course of 525 948 minutes in a year (the best song I thought), these friends live and die, love and run from love, experience loyalty and disloyalty, and survive, indeed, find hope, even if they don’t want to be anything other than bohemians anyway.


Some critics have said there is a gay subtext to the film, but I don’t agree. The film (musical) is about this eclectic group of gays and straights who are friends, who live for today with no regrets. There is nothing “sub” about it.


The morality of the story is inconsistent because it exists and functions in a postmodern moral universe. One message the story communicates is: live a gay lifestyle, consequences don’t matter because of love, no regrets, live for today. At the same time it has a strong anti-drug message and those consequences do matter to the characters (both behaviors are life-threatening, so why the difference?). Friendship is the one bond that can never be broken for the friends – as it is for many people in our culture today. The story seems to want us to accept a gay lifestyle as normal, and this is a challenge to Christian belief.


I think Rent is an artistic experiment for family-friendly director Chris Columbus, and he succeeds quite well in a new genre for him. Rent is not a story, or film, that everyone will be comfortable with because it’s about loneliness, life on the street, accepting a homosexual lifestyle as normal (if it were only about accepting gay people that would be different but in this post-modern moral universe, it is not possible to reject the lifestyle without rejecting the person), and it’s gritty and dark. But it is a human story, and can evoke pathos, compassion, and empathy from the audience because it’s about what some people have to do to survive, and about others who choose to survive this way.  


So I asked myself: what would Jesus do if he met this group of characters? There is no doubt that they would welcome Jesus among them and that he would stop and share a meal with them. I think he would then begin a conversation with them, and invite them to follow him – an invitation he extends to all of us, everyday.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

After students and faculty attend the Quidditch World Cup (at an amazing special f/x stadium at some other location), the Triwizard Tournament comes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students from two other wizardry schools arrive at Hogwarts to compete, though only three names will be chosen from the Goblet of Fire. 


Harry (Daniel Radcliff), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Gint) are not old enough to put their names in for the draw (they must be 17). However, when Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) chooses the names, a fourth one rises from the flames in the Goblet: Harry Potter’s. Therefore, he must be included in the competition.


The three friends seem to be growing apart as adolescent issues arise; they must learn how to dance for the Yule Ball, who will ask whom to the ball, and then there’s Ron’s jealousy over Harry being in the competition.


As all this is going on, it seems that the Dark Lord Voldemort is on the prowl and Harry is not safe.


The plot for this fourth Harry Potter film (based on the book) is intricate, and I think it is the best film so far. Of course, the kids are older so the plot develops apace. It’s a transitional time for the young friends, especially Harry who decides to choose altruism over winning. There’s humor – and virtue (even gifts of the Spirit) in the story that can make for great conversation.


The Quidditch World Cup event is amazingly rendered, as are the three parts of the wizards’ competition. The denouement is a moment that demonstrates the transcendent nature of love, which has always been and remains the foundation of Harry Potter’s story.


For those who are concerned if Harry Potter is about the occult, here’s what I wrote last year for St. Anthony Messenger

“Educator Dr. Susan Reibel Moore offers a helpful distinction for parents who are concerned about the possible negative influence of the Harry Potter books or, for that matter, those of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Fantasy literature (and by extension, film) is imaginative and creative, and the worldview is benevolent.

“In the occult world, there is no comfort; there are no caring adults. The occult wants to recreate the world in a godlike way in order to control it. Fantasy wants to transform the world into a place where goodness wins the struggle.

“Is it wise for children to read Harry Potter and see the films? Parents know their children best; they know whether or not they can distinguish between fantasy and reality.”