Tag: nathan montgomery

Toy Story 4: Of Toys and Telos

This last weekend Pixar released their newest film, Toy Story 4 which is being released 9 years after the last Toy Story film. Pixar has another huge hit on their…

This last weekend Pixar released their newest film, Toy Story 4 which is being released 9 years after the last Toy Story film. Pixar has another huge hit on their hands as by all accounts the film opened with over $100 million in the domestic box office. Toy Story 4 is also a critical darling so far sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is somewhat surprising because many, myself included among this number, were skeptical of a fourth Toy Story movie when Toy Story 3 so beautifully concluded the story of Andy and his toys.

I was very worried that Toy Story 4 would ruin the near perfectness of the original films. Before the fourth was announced I ranked the Toy Story trilogy as one of the best trilogy of films of all time and in my opinion ending on the highest note. I grew up with the Toy Story franchise. The actor voicing Andy was born the same year I was. I felt as the first three films followed my life stages in fairly close parallels in real time. I think this is true for many Millennials, and part of the reason why for many of us Toy Story is such an emotionally impactful franchise.

Thankfully, I had no need for my reservations. Toy Story 4 is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It is gorgeously animated, beautifully voice acted, incredibly funny, and emotionally engaging. I was concerned that there would be nothing new to say in this film, but I was so wrong. The writers and director truly had a unique and meaningful story to tell. To paraphrase what a dear friend of my said after seeing the film, if Toy Story 3 was the ending of Andy’s story then Toy Story 4 was the ending for Toy Story. More specifically this movie is about Woody’s journey much more than the other films though Woody has always been the central protagonists.

This movie really is delightful. It is joyous and hilarious at one moment, and then poignant and contemplative in the next. There is a bittersweet note of joy and longing, that I do not know how to describe any other way than to borrow a word from C. S. Lewis. The ending of Toy Story 4 is full of sehnsucht. Sehnsucht is a German word that Lewis describes in The Weight of Glory as “inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” The other Toy Story films are fully of this longing and joy, and this remains true for Toy Story 4. I cannot recommend seeing this movie enough.


The Toy Story films have always contained within their stories an important element of existential contemplation. It could be argued this is the crux and draw of each of these films. In Toy Story, Woody must come to terms with perhaps not being the favorite toy any more, and losing his top status in the toy hierarchy. Buzz Lightyear must come to terms with his own faulty view of himself and reality, which are quite different from what he first believed. Much more could be said about Toy Story 2 & 3 as well.

There are very many themes and ideas one could explore in all the Toy Story films, as well as, the latest installment. However, I think the theme of telos as it relates to purpose and meaning in life is more strongly presented in Toy Story 4 than any of the other films. For those unfamiliar with the term telos, it can be defined as ultimate end or aim. In philosophy it refers to the concept things are aimed at certain goals. That different natures have different functions to accomplish in order to bring about flourishing. For example, an acorn has the telos of becoming an oak tree. Its purpose or goal is to become a tree. In order for this to be accomplished its nature has certain functions such as collecting water and converted sunlight into energy so that it might achieve its final end of becoming a tree. Many influential Christian theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas have argued that all things created by God including humans have a telos. They receive their purpose and meaning because they have been created with a particular aim or purpose. In the same manner toys are made for certain ends or functions, so too does the Scriptures present people has being created for certain ends and functions. The Westminster Confession proposes a definition of a human’s telos when it states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In the world of Toy Story toys flourish as they fulfill their purpose to bring joy to the children who play with them.

Telos manifest itself in several ways throughout Toy Story 4. It is most obviously seen through the introduction of the new character Forky. Forky is made by Bonnie at kindergarten and it is hinted that through her purpose of making Forky to being a toy and putting her name on him that Forky is made sentient and now has the purpose of being a toy. Forky, however, at first struggles with idea of being a toy at first. Forky believes that he is still trash and not a toy. Woody recognizes how important Forky is for the girl Bonnie, and wholeheartedly tries to convince Forky that he is a toy and not trash. What follows is a hilarious sequence where Woody constantly is having to prevent Forky from throwing himself into the trash. Forky is having an existential crisis of who and what he is? What is his purpose,? What is the meaning of his life? Woody takes it upon himself to keep Forky safe, and to teach Forky what it means to be a toy. After Forky escapes during a summer trip in an RV. It is up to Woody to bring Forky back to Bonnie.

The leads to the deeper, more subtle, and more powerful message of Toy Story 4. Through Woody we get have an exploration of where does one find meaning and purpose after they have already fulfilled a purpose in their life? Through Woody we come to a better understanding of our need for purpose and meaning in our own lives, as well as, the truth that our telos runs much deeper than we often imagine.

At the beginning of the film we find Woody no longer has the position he once had. He is no longer top toy, in fact, he is often regulated to the closet now and no longer played with. After fulfilling the toy’s greatest purpose with Andy, by providing joy and comfort to a child, Woody is now at a lost to what his purpose is. His life has lost a sense of meaning, though he hasn’t realized it fully yet. So Woody is devoted to making sure his new kid Bonnie is happy and he is also devoted to making sure other toys have their opportunity to fulfilling their purposes with children. In Woody’s world the worse thing to be is a lost toy. The irony is that Woody does not realize that now in some sense he is a lost toy. This becomes more and more clear as Woody tries to explain to Forky what a toy’s purpose is.

In the very first scene of the film, we have a flashback of the night that Bo Peep is lost. Bo offers Woody a chance to leave with her, and Woody almost goes, but then he hears Andy’s voice. Woody’s fear of being lost, and his devotion to fulfilling his purpose to Andy prevents him from going with Bo. Later in the film, Woody is reunited with Bo Peep who has now been living quite successfully as a kidless toy for some years. Slowly through their reconnection over the course of the film, we find awakened in Woody a longing for a renewed sense of purpose in life. The film makes this poignantly through the dazzling lights of the old chandeliers in the antique shop. In this moment with Bo Beep, Woody is shown to long for something he can’t quite explain. In this moment the seed is planted that there is more to his life and purpose than he had imagined. Woody is left with the question, what does one do when one has fulfilled their seeming purpose in life? Is there more to life than he had once imagined?

This theme of meaning and purpose of life is further drawn out through the antagonist of the film, Gabby Gabby. Gabby Gabby is a very different villain from just about any other film I have seen in a very long time. Gabby Gabby is aggressive in her tactics but she is driven by a real sense of finding meaning in her life, and fulfilling the purpose for which toys exist. Gabby Gabby was defective from the box. She had a broken voice box, and desires Woody’s voice box so that she might finally know the love of a child, and fulfill her purpose as a toy. In a climactic moment when one is expecting the most villianious turn of Gabby Gabby, instead, she gives a passionate and rational plea to Woody to allow her to fulfill her purpose. Woody, then, agrees to give her his voice box. Later, Gabby Gabby is rejected by the granddaughter of the antique shop, Woody helps Gabby Gabby find meaning and purpose with another child.
Much more could be said to trace the themes of purpose and meaning in Toy Story 4, but hopefully this is will encourage its explore this theme in the film themselves, and to see all the different ways it plays out. I truly once again am amazed by Pixar’s ability to tell such powerful and meaningful stories that tap into fundamental questions of what does it mean to be human (and they do this all through toys!). Toy Story 4 taps into a fundamental questions of humankind: why are we here? What is our purpose? Where does our life get meaning from? More surprisingly still, Toy Story 4 presents answers to these questions that strongly align with a Christian world view. In the universe of Toy Story toys are created with an expressed purpose. The Christian faith also teaches that humans are created by God with expressed purposes.

Forky learns his meaning and purpose comes from being made by Bonnie who makes him to be a toy. By being made into a toy, and becoming alive Forky gains a telos. This strangely enough parallels mankind. In the garden we are created and named by God. We are given life. Humans are created in the image of God and this gives us a telos. We are called to be like God. In the New Testament this moves to us becoming like Christ. As the apostle Paul writes, we are to “be conformed to the image of Christ.” In Christ we find our telos to be like him. It is only as we turn our lives over to Christ and we are transformed into the image of Christ that we find true flourishing. In this we find our greatest meaning and purposed.

In Gabby Gabby we see another parallel to the Gospel story. Gabby Gabby recognizes that she was made for a particular telos, as well, but she is defective. By the end of the film through the sacrifice of Woody, she is able to experience her purpose and find meaning as the loved toy of a child. We too are made with a particular telos but due to our sin nature we are also defective. We cannot achieve our telos fully because of our fallen nature. But by the sacrifice of Christ, and by the salvation we receive through him we are made a new creation, we are being restored, and now able to achieve our full telos. I do not think the film makers had this parallel in mind when they made this film, but this speaks to the universal longing we have as people to have meaning, to have purpose, to have a telos for our lives. Our world is saturated with a desire for meaning whether we recognize it or not.

At the end of the film we find a Forky who has come to find the meaning and purpose of his life as a toy of Bonnie, Gabby Gabby who finds fulfillment in the arms of a little girl. A Woody who decides to not return with the other toys with Bonnie, but to go explore the world with Bo Peep. Some might be tempted to think that this decision is solely based off of his romantic love for Bo Peep, but I think this reading does injustice to the narrative structure of the movies. The movie has set up that Woody has had a fulfilling life to this point. Woody did all that a toy is meant to do for Andy. He also has secured that Bonnie is going experience a joyful life and has entrusted her to his dear friends. As Buzz Lightyear says, “Bonnie will be fine.”

Furthermore, through the course of the film, Woody has helped other Toys such as Gabby Gabby find fulfillment. In the credits sequence we see Woody and Bo continuing to help other toys find kids to be with. At the end of the film Woody recognizes a deeper sense of calling, meaning, and fulfillment in his life. He has grown and adapted. His meaning is not only found in his connection to his kid, but in his relationship to others. Toy Story 4 suggest that at the end of the film Woody is receiving his reward for his many years of faithful service to fulfilling his life’s purposes. In the end Woody also finds a renewed sense of meaning and purpose to his life. He is a lost toy no more. Toy Story 4 is the story of Woody, but it is also the story of us. We like Woody were lost seeking meaning and purpose, but find our telos, our joy, and meaning in the God who made us for himself.

Comments Off on Toy Story 4: Of Toys and Telos

Avengers: Endgame: Finding Rest in the End

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is…

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is poised to topple the current reigning champ, Avatar. In case you have missed it, Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of an 11 year, 22 movie series produced by Marvel. Truly, the world has never seen anything like this before. Never has there been this type of interconnected long form storytelling done with movies. It is a remarkable achievement, and Kevin Feige ( guiding force of the MCU) deserves all the praise for his vision in producing such a feat. I believe Endgame will be the Star Wars of this generation. It is a cultural event, which has and will continue to change the landscape of American cinema.

I am a lifelong comic book reader and superhero fan. I grew up reading the stories of Captain American, Iron Man, Spider-man, and the rest. Currently sitting on my desk are Omnibus Volumes 1 &2 of the Jonathan Hickman Avengers run. I waited with great anticipation for the conclusion of this first volume of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was eager to see if directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and producer, Kevin Feige, could deliver on everything they had promised. So the big question then: Does Avengers: Endgame successfully conclude an 11 year 22 film story arc; does it satisfy the hopes and dreams of Marvel fans? I can answer with a huge resounding, Yes!

I loved this film. It has no right to succeed as well as it does. This movie pays off beautifully many things set up in the previous 21 films. This film is fan service in the best sense of the term. It rewards longtime fans of both the comics and the movies who have seen everything previous film. It gives the fans so much of what they have longed to see on the big screen, and even things fans didn’t know they wanted, without sacrificing the story. They accomplish all of this in a manner that feels natural to the story and the world they have created.

Avengers: Endgame features a tight, surprisingly thoughtful, reflective, emotional, and funny script. The acting is fantastic in this film. Every actor brought their A game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans giving what is probably their best performances in the MCU films. I would really like to see Downey get an Oscar nod for this performance. Scarlett Johannson and Karen Gillan are two other standouts for me. Also, the film score for Endgame is fantastic. Alan Silvestri has composed the best score of the MCU thus far, and I think is deserving of Oscar nominations. Avengers: Endgame is not without flaws, but it is a worthwhile and satisfying conclusion to this 11 year arc of storytelling. I highly recommend going to see the film on the biggest screen you can.


Seriously Spoilers Ahead

Please do not read until you have seen Avengers: Endgame

I have now seen Avengers: Endgame three times I did not want to rush to write something for this film. I wanted to let the film sit with me for a while. There is so much that could be said about the themes and characters of Endgame and the greater MCU. Honestly, each of the original 6 Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) are deserving of their own character studies through the course of this 22 film series (now named the Infinity Saga by Kevin Feige). Some other excellent sites have already begun to do so. However, one theme I found particularly powerful in the film is the theme of finding rest through self-sacrifice. I think we can trace this theme of rest in all of the 6 original Avengers, but it is most fully realized in the stories of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Avengers: Endgame opens to domestic bliss on the farm of Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. This idyllic scene quickly turns into one of horror as the daughter, sons, and wife of Clint are dusted by the snap of Thanos from Infinity War. This powerfully sets the stakes of the film. This scene establishes that there is something profoundly wrong with the world now. Clint’s family and home are gone; Shalom has been lost.

The Hebrew word Shalom contains the idea of peace, rest, “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” The loss of Shalom is further developed throughout the first act of the film. The Avengers hatch a plan to catch Thanos, seize the stones, and reverse everything. However, the story takes a surprising turn with Thanos being decapitated, but the stones already having been destroyed. It seems as if this unmaking of the world, this destruction and calamity of the universe cannot be undone. This captures something we fundamental know to be true in reality, that there is something severely wrong with this world. We long for rest, we long from shalom, we long for a return to Eden. As Tolkien writes, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”

What follows from here are sequences of the Avengers trying to cope with the loss they have experienced. Steve Rogers is running a counseling session, where he encourages people to move on, though later he admits to Natasha aka Black Widow, he and the other Avengers cannot move on. This refusal to move on by Captain America is not the denial of the great tragedy, but it is a recognition that there is something deeply wrong with the world, and that it needs to be healed. The universe needs to be saved, and renewed; there needs to be a return of Shalom. Steve Rogers has lived an entire life of self-sacrifice. This is established all the way back in Captain America: The First Avenger when pre-super serum Steve jumps on what believes is a live grenade to save the lives of those around him, and then at the end of the film he sacrifices himself and his happy ending with Peggy Carter, to save millions of people by crashing a plane into the icy sea. However, this time the heroic Captain America failed and was not able to save billions of lives. He is restless, longing to return the universe to shalom.

Tony Stark is on a very different journey. He is a man conflicted; a man who wants to be a hero, but must fight his narcissistic tendencies. Over the course of the MCU Tony has been shown to be constantly restless. In Avengers: Age of Ultron he is afraid of a coming disaster, and wants to build a shell around the world. In Iron Man 3 Stark suffers from PTSD and insomnia. In Endgame Tony Stark seems to have found a sense of rest/peace in his life, though his marriage to Pepper and the birth of Morgan, his daughter. However, when presented with an opportunity to potentially set right everything that has gone wrong with the world, Tony understandable balks at first. But then Tony remembers that he lost people too, like Peter Parker aka Spider-man. Tony solves time travel, but then is presented with a choice: does he take the risk of losing everything he has gained in order to save the universe, or does he “put a pin in it… sink it to the bottom of the sea,” and forgot about it? This is the question he asked Pepper. He offers to stop it all then and there, so that they can go back to their lives. Pepper sagely ask, “But would you be able to rest?” The answer is clearly no as is fantastically conveyed in the performance of Downey.

Along the way to the climactic battle at the end of the film, Stark is able to find closure with his father through the time traveling element. Stark learns through this experience that he is much like his dad, he even struggles with the same character flaw of selfishness. Howard Stark says his own selfishness gets in the way of him doing what is right for the greater good. This reflects the struggle Tony Stark has had through his entire character arc. He struggles between being the selfless hero Iron Man and the selfish Tony Stark he was at the beginning of the first Iron Man film.

In the climax of the film, Tony Stark fully embraces Iron Man and sacrifices his life to save the world and defeat Thanos. In an incredibly emotional death scene Pepper Pots tells Tony to look at her. She tells him that “They will be okay,” and then brings the thematic arc of Stark full circle by telling him, “You can rest now.” With these final words, Tony Stark, Iron Man, dies having completed his mission. Through the final act of true full sacrificing of himself for others Tony Stark and the world receive their rest.

Captain America’s arc is very different. He is a man defined by his selflessness. This self-sacrifice cost him a chance at personal love and happiness. He is haunted throughout the film by the life that might have been. This is seen through the many instance of Peggy Carter’s picture popping up on scene, as well as, Steve Rogers seeing her in the past on the same time traveling mission Stark sees his father. In every film Steve Rogers’s heroism is seen in his refusal to give up, his moral resolve to always do what is right, and by his self-sacrifice to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. Captain America also receives rest in Endgaem, though in a different manner. Rest is for Steve Rogers is a reward for his many years of self-sacrifice. He finally gets to have that dance.
In both the stories of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark we learn that true rest comes through self-sacrifice. In Captain America we find the person we all ought to be like; the one we admire and desire to be like. In Iron Man we see the person we are; the person who struggles but desires to overcome their own selfish desires. I was genuinely moved to tears by Tony Stark accomplishing his mission and finding rest, even though it cost him his life. I was moved to tears again when Steve Rogers finally gets to dance which is a representation of his reward for a sacrificial life.

This truth of rest through self-sacrifice runs counter-culture to the world we find ourselves in. We are more like Thanos, who seeks rest through the sacrificing of others. Thanos solution to bringing the universe rest is to sacrifice anything and everything except himself. When he achieves his twisted mission of bringing peace and rest to the universe, we find him resting in a “garden,” a perverse version of Eden. We like Thanos realize there is something gone wrong in this world, and we desire rest. However, we too like Thanos would rather sacrifice others to achieve a false rest, than to sacrifice ourselves for true rest.

Through Iron Man and Captain America we see that true rest only comes through self-sacrifice. Even in the fantasy world of the MCU, however, we realize that this is an incomplete rest. There is still suffering, there is still much wrong in the universe. However, in the Christian message we find the promise of a final rest for humanity and the universe. This personal and universal peace comes through the self-sacrifice of the God-man Jesus Christ. The Gospel we find that shalom, rest, comes through Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for humanity. Shalom is found and entered through self-sacrificial love. Furthermore, Jesus tells us that to follow him we must “Take up our cross and follow him.” In order to receive the rest of Jesus Christ we must count our lives as lost, and sacrifice our lives to Jesus Christ. We are no longer our own, but our lives belong to Christ. If we give up our lives to Christ, he promises that we will find rest. Christians place their hope in the day Jesus will return, right every wrong, wipe every tear, and bring Shalom to a broken world.

It is remarkable that in one of the highest grossing films of all time we would find a theme so central to the Gospel message. It reveals that we long for rest from a broken world. In the world of comics we find a temporary promise of rest through self-sacrifice of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but in the Gospel we find one who is greater, Jesus Christ who through his laying down of his life on the Christ secured rest for a fallen world, and rest for those who put their faith in him. In Jesus we find the truth myth. We find through the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, we can find rest, we can find shalom, we return to Eden.

Comments Off on Avengers: Endgame: Finding Rest in the End

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search