This weekend we had a pizza party sleepover for our 10 year old’s birthday. We were looking for a family-friendly movie that would keep the attention of a group of girls aged 7-11. We opted to try the Disney film Tomorrowland from 2015. It stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie (from House), and a couple of younger actors that were new to me. The movie has a metascore of 60, which means it’s not considered a great movie but it’s not a dog.
Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.
The basic premise of the film is found in an early description of Tomorrowland from one of the characters played by Keegan-Michael Key:
Have you ever wondered what would happen, if all the geniuses, the artists, the scientists, the smartest, most creative people in the world decided to actually change it? Where, where could they even do such a thing? They’d need a place free from politics and bureaucracy, distractions, greed – a secret place where they could build whatever they were crazy enough to imagine…
This is Tomorrowland. It’s the better version of what the world could be, designed by the best of us. And the worst of us, those in the real world, are quickly leading the world to it’s end. Thus the main characters must find a way to save the world and put things back on the right track.
In all honesty, the movie was decent. It had many fun moments that the whole family could laugh with and the adventure element was engaging for kids and adults. I was a tad surprised at the language in a PG Disney movie marketed as a family movie. There are several uses of “damn,” “hell,” “bloody,” and “bollocks.” Clearly the PG Disney of today isn’t much like the PG Disney of my youth. Perhaps in the context of our current society, our kids are hearing far worse in public schools and on the shows and movies they watch.
As far as the movie goes, though, I liked it, and wouldn’t have any problem suggesting it as a family film for older kids. But the content is what intrigued me – the idea of humanity being able to create a better place. This is entirely a biblical concept!
The Bible envisions the kingdom of God as an “already/not yet” reality. It is something that is currently present in this world. It is something that is still yet to come. While some religions believe in an afterlife or spiritual realm that is completely distinct from humanity, the Bible portrays Yahweh as a God who is actively present in the life and history of humanity. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he says:
Your will be done, Your kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven.
God is active HERE AND NOW! We have an opportunity to welcome heaven into our daily lives. It begins with God’s activity. It continues with our own activity. As God’s agents in this world, being people who reflect HIS image and HIS glory, we have the opportunity to welcome heaven here.
It’s not another dimension with fantastic technology like Tomorrowland. It’s a world where God’s presence and reign are reflected in our activity, in our homes, in our workplaces, even (GASP!) in our politics. We fail miserably when we consider God’s activity to be a future element of the next world instead of an active call for us to live heavenly lives now.
All of us, from our varied backgrounds and experiences, our numerous skills and talents, don’t create Heaven through anything we have or bring to the table. We create Tomorrowland when we start living kingdom of God lives every day. Already. And not yet, for we know that there will come a day when we see Jesus face to face, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Until that day, though, let us strive to create heaven on earth as we live kingdom lives!
Yes, I just saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, there WILL be some spoilers in this post. But opening weekend is now over, so I’ll risk it. I’m not posting them to ruin your movie, but this movie is absolutely worth talking about. I’ll even go so far as to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens could be the best movie of the generation.
Of course the score itself is iconic (who doesn’t love a John Williams score?). The acting is superb. Not only do the old actors bring back their characters with perfect delivery, the new additions to the story are well-written and well-performed. I understand there was some hullabaloo from racist fans about having a black Storm Trooper, but that’s ridiculous nonsense.
The story was perfect. J.J. Abrams has outdone himself. The story is a perfect blend of homage to the original trilogy while moving the story-line forward in a new direction. As a fan of the original three (but not so much Episodes I-III), I thought this new episode honored the original spirit and character of the first films and passed the torch to the new generation (an amazing feat J.J. Abrams also did with his Star Trek reboot).
But the biggest take-away I had from Star Wars: The Force Awakens went far beyond the story, acting, or special effects (which were pretty sick). For me the biggest take-away was the issue of identity.
Identity is a theme that plays from the beginning to the end of the film. Every character wrestles with the question: Who am I? This theme is even jokingly referenced when Han Solo comes face-to-face with C3P0. Han is speechless and C3P0 says, “You probably didn’t recognize me because of the red arm.” We never know why the droid has a red arm, but it’s a humorous way of pointing out the theme that will weave in and out of every character’s plot.
Let’s look at how identity plays out:
Kylo Ren – he’s the new villain, the new Darth Vader. But he’s never talked about as a Sith Lord. Instead he’s the leader of the Knights of Ren. But the audience is never clued in to who these mysterious knights are. Ren himself wrestles with the question of identity during a moment of prayer/introspection where he is talking out loud to the damaged helmet of Darth Vader. Ren confesses that he can feel the light calling out to him.
At the beginning of the film, Ren is talking to the leader of the Resistance who says that, even though The First Order (The Empire 2.0) comes from the Dark Side, Ren does not. Still, Kylo Ren wants to continue in the tradition of Vader, his grandfather, and asks Vader for the strength to continue in the power of the Dark Side of the Force.
Rey – The new heroine in the Star Wars saga. She’s a mystery. All we know is that she’s been abandoned without parents on a planet made up of a lot of sand (hmmm…kind of like a young Skywalker we knew in Episode IV). The Force is strong with her, and when she touches Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber she has some stranger vision/revelation.
At the end of the film, Rey is left standing face-to-face with Luke Skywalker and holds out his lightsaber to him. Aaaaaand that’s when the credits roll. What?!? Wait, who is she? Is she Luke’s long-lost daughter? Is she some other connection? The “Who am I?” question fills Rey’s story is one that will continue through the next movie(s).
Finn – I like Finn a lot because he has a very real struggle with his “Who am I? question. He starts out the film as a Storm Trooper. When Kylo Ren orders his Troopers to kill an entire village, Finn freezes. He knows that the order is immoral, and he cannot carry it out. He then helps a Resistance pilot escape from The First Order because “it’s the right thing to do.”
This is one of the strongest identity stories in the film because Finn does a complete about face: he moves from being a foot soldier for the First Order to openly defying an evil organization and fighting to bring about its downfall.
Han Solo & General Leia – The first identity issue is clearly seen with Leia. Those who grew up with the original trilogy know that “Princess Leia” just seems like the right title. Now we can’t call her that – she’s a general in the Resistance. There are a few references to the “Princess” throughout the new movie, like when Han and Leia get into a fight and C3P0 looks at Han and declares, “Princesses!”
But the biggest element of their identity story comes out as they work through some of the issues of a relationship that is strained after dealing with the loss of their son, Ben Solo.
The loss of a child is a huge strain on marriages, and, unfortunately, many relationships are unable to cope with the loss and the couple ends up splitting. Such is the case with Han and Leia. Finally reuniting after a long separation, Han tells Leia that they all had to deal with it in their own way – so he went back to doing what he does best. Leia replies, “We both did.” Smuggler, rebellion leader, husband, father, back to smuggler. Princess, rebellion leader, wife, mother, back to noble leader fighting an evil regime. Their identities are in flux as their lives go through chaos (which is actually normal and very human). In a heart-wrenching scene when Han comes face-to-face with the lost son that tore his marriage apart, Han tells Ben, “Come home. We miss you!” His identity as father overrides all other identities and concerns.
The father/son identity has always been a strong motif in the Star Wars saga, and is in The Force Awakens just as much as it was in any of the others. It’s also one of the strongest motifs in the Bible.
In fact, the issue of identity is seen from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Identity is one of the eternal human quests. “Who am I?” is a deeply profound question every human wrestles with at some point.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent convinces Adam and Eve that they shouldn’t let God hold them back – that their identities could be more powerful if they chose their own path, if they were their own god.
On the mountaintop, Moses asks the God in the burning bush, “Who should I tell the Israelites who sent me?” God’s answer, “Tell them, ‘I AM’ sent you.”
When Jesus is baptized the heavens open up and God declares, “This is my son.”
In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus characterizes God as a father who is distraught at losing a son and is willing to go to extreme measures to celebrate the lost son’s return.
See? Identity. It’s the question we all want answered. This is the reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a tremendous story. It’s not about the effects or the acting or any of the other stuff (that DO, indeed, contribute to making it a terrific film).
This is a great film because it asks the question we all ask. Who am I? And how we answer that question determines our path – in this life AND the next.
My wife and I recently watched “The Theory of Everything,” the biopic about famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Here’s the rundown:
The acting was superb. Eddie Redmayne doesn’t just portray Stephen Hawking – he BECOMES Hawking. The physical transformation in incredible to watch, and quick research will tell you that Redmayne studied and talked to many people who suffer with ALS. He also trained with a dance coach in order to learn how to better control his body so that his physical performance was accurate. I wouldn’t necessarily call the film a happy film, but the actors do an excellent job of drawing the audience into the struggles (and triumphs) of the characters.
But let’s get down to brass tacks – what people REALLY want to talk about when it comes to movies like this: the thematic elements.
The first, and most easily identifiable, theme, is the back and forth between Atheism and Theism. This theme was a point of contention within the Hawking marriage, Jane being a Christian with the Church of England and Stephen being an atheist. I won’t spend much time debating this theme myself – blog posts about atheism/theism never convince anyone on the opposite side to change positions. Clearly I believe in God, and I think Hawking is wrong.
The movie actually does a decent job of portraying the different viewpoints of Jane and Stephen without demonizing one or the other. One of my favorite scenes is when Jane is explaining how science views God differently depending on whether one is looking through the lens of relativity or quantum physics.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a Christian film, and the director clearly portrays Hawking’s bias against God, but the theme can make for interesting conversation and should prompt us all to think more deeply about the interplay of faith and science(yes, they CAN coexist).
The second theme I noticed was that of the suffering servant. Suffering Servant is a phrase I’ve come across only in biblical studies, but it seemed appropriate for this movie. At the beginning of Stephen’s diagnosis, his father tells Jane (who is not yet married to Stephen) that she doesn’t realize what she’s in for. It’s not a fight, because there’s no positive outcome. It will only be a brutal beating. She stays the course and decides to pursue a relationship with Stephen.
For 30 years she was married to him and helped care for him. The movie portrays the kind of toll being a caregiver can take on family. It’s hard on spouses who care for each other. It’s hard for parents who care for children. It’s hard for children who care for parents. It’s hard on ANYONE who provides full-time care for loved ones. Emotional and relational damage are all too common, and the movie shows such damage; damage to the point of the eventual divorce of Jane and Stephen. It should cause us to ask difficult questions about our level of care and commitment towards our loved ones – even when things get tough.
Once upon a time weddings used to use the phrase, “For Better or For Worse.” Being a full-time caregiver for a family member with special needs can definitely run the gamut of better to worse. In an age where it’s all too easy to put loved ones in homes and institutions, how far does our care, commitment, and yes, even love, take us?
The final theme I want to talk about is that of hope. At the end of the movie there’s a neat scene where Stephen is asked, since he doesn’t believe in God, what drives him to carry on day after day. In the scene, Eddie Radmayne suddenly shifts his feet, stands up from the wheelchair, and walks down some steps to pick up a pen dropped by a student. Cinematically it’s a neat way of showing the imagination of Hawking and leads us to his answer. What drives him day after day? Hope. As a physicist who believes in a world with no boundaries and endless possibilities, he says, “As long as there is life, there is hope.” Of course the audience stands and erupts in applause.
But life isn’t enough for hope, because when life ends, then what? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19 ~
If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
Those who believe in God know that hope is so much MORE than the idea of possibilities in this life. Hope goes beyond life into the great beyond. Hope is the anticipation we have that this life WILL end and that God will make all things right.
At the end of the day, The Theory of Everything is an excellent film that is worth watching. Talk about the themes with your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions raised by the film.
My wife and I recently watched the award winning Whiplash. It is a phenomenal movie and stirred something in me. I found at times that I was holding my breath and my heart was racing. I watched a few scenes over again and had the same effect (you can watch one of my favorite scenes at the end of this review). If you’re going to watch it, though, know that the language is raw and graphic – clearly a reason the movie is rated-R. After making a comment about the movie on social media, my dad, Paul Linzey, mentioned that he and my mom had also recently watched it. Then I had a great idea: Why don’t I co-write a review with my dad, looking at some of the themes of the movie from a biblical perspective? So today’s review is actually from an ongoing email conversation he and I have been having over the past couple days. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and hope you find some value in it. 🙂
Chris: I’d like to kick off with the theme of relationships since I’m doing this with my you. There are three primary relationships I can identify in the movie:
– Andrew and his dad
– Andrew and his girlfriend
– Andrew and Fletcher
I think it’s pretty clear that Andrew’s relationship with Fletcher overrides the others. Here’s what I find interesting, though. While the girlfriend moves on and finds someone else, the dad is constant throughout Andrew’s ups and downs. They go to movies together. Dad stocks Andrew’s apartment with snacks. When the lawyer is trying to convince Andrew to testify against Fletcher, Andrew asks his dad, “Why are you here?” Dad’s response? “Don’t you know there’s nothing in the world I love more than you?” Even when Andrew returns to play with Fletcher for JVC after both had been kicked out of the conservatory, his dad was at the performance and ran backstage to hug the son in his most embarrassing moment. I’m very much reminded of the father in the Prodigal Son story. No matter what the son did, the dad is still there to throw his arms around his son and proclaim his love.
Paul: Yeah, the relationships are a powerful part of the story. And at times they’re pretty painful. Like in the scene at the family dinner table. It’s obvious the whole family is so proud of the football star and totally unimpressed with Andrew’s musical ambitions. You can feel his pain and anger when he points out that the football player is merely at a Division III college. In other words, it’s not worth bragging about. But nobody gets it, and Andrew is still considered the oddball whose goals and values are meaningless. But you’re right about the dad’s loyalty. Even though he didn’t understand his son, he was always there, like you pointed out. There’s a verse in the Bible that says
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he grows up he will not stray from it.”
Some commentators point out that the terminology in the text is farm language, agricultural terms, specifically having to do with shaping and growing trees. If this is so, they believe the point of the verse is that good parents will find out their child’s interests, callings, and personality and adjust their parenting methods to bring out the best in the child – to help the child discover his or her direction in life. It’s not telling parents to make sure they raise the child the way they want the child to turn out. There’s more to parenting than that. It’s an art. It requires diligence, attention, getting to know the child intimately. It calls for relationship patterns that allow the child to explore and experiment. And the wise parent guides the child in the process of becoming. I didn’t see Andrew’s family fostering this kind of emotional-psychological freedom to be. We typically use that verse to tell parents how to raise their kids, and to tell our kids what we want them to do. Very controlling, very heavy-handed, very condescending. But maybe it was actually designed to liberate parents and liberate children, freeing all of us to discern what the Lord might want us to do, and to become. And then support each other in that process.
Chris: Let’s talk for a second about Andrew’s intense desire to be the best. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, “I want to be great.” She responds, “You’re not great?” He comes back, “I want to be one of THE greats.”
Paul: Why are people who excel in almost any field edgy, quirky, OK — weird? Do we have to be so intensely focused and driven in order to be the best? Is it even possible to be “normal” and still be the best in the world at something? It’s true that in order to succeed, we have to make sacrifices. We have to prioritize. But is there a limit to how far we should go?
Chris: I was really pondering this one. I had a friend some years back who thought that all competition was contrary to Christ-like behavior. I’m not inclined to go that far, but I see his point. When you hear Jesus using expressions like “servant of all,” “the last shall be first,” and “the least of these,” it’s easy to see that Jesus has a heart for the underdog. The question is, “How far do Jesus’s teachings call us to care for the underdog vs. how far do Jesus’s teachings call us to BE the underdog?” I’m don’t think Jesus is calling us to eschew success, but there needs to be a healthy balance between success and humility, and my personal opinion is that such humility prevents us from ever achieving the status as “best in the world.”
Paul: It seems clear biblically that the Church will be the underdog societally, especially as we move towards the Eschaton. It’s also true, if I understand James 1:27 correctly, that we are called to care for the underdog. And it is true that we are called to be servants of all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to be underdogs, impoverished, or less than the best in our chosen vocation. To follow that logic, each of us would need to be orphaned and widowed to truly be Christian. But that is clearly not the case. Jesus told at least one person that he would need to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, but there were quite a few other rich people he did not tell that to. In fact, there were some wealthy folks who supported him and his disciples so they could do the work of the Kingdom. Same with Paul and his ministry team. I don’t think humility per se is contrary to being the best. Many would agree that Moses would be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet Numbers 12:3 specifically says he was the most humble man in all the earth. I think you and I would agree that Jesus was the greatest person of all time. Yet, he was humble, according to Philippians chapter 2. And St. Paul was a pretty impressive apostle. Perhaps the best? Yet he displayed some impressive humility. Perhaps understanding of the word “meek” can be helpful here: “Power or greatness under control.” So I don’t believe that humility ought to prevent a Christian from being the best at what he or she hopes to achieve in life, whether as a musician, an athlete, a teacher, a pastor, a plumber, or anything else. In fact, the Bible says,
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
Don’t we usually understand that to mean “do your best”?
Chris: I don’t think humility NECESSARILY prevents us from greatness, only when pursuing greatness requires trampling on others.
Paul: Absolutely. I agree. And this is what we see happening in Whiplash. People trampling all over each other. Dog eat dog. Get mine. do what it takes to self-promote. I guess you could say Osteen’s teaching applied to the music industry. It’s all about you.
Chris: BWAHAHAHA! Joel Osteen applied to the music industry – now that.is.funny. Making sure that “I get mine” regardless of how it affects others flies right in the face of biblical principles:
Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them (The Golden Rule) Matthew 7:12
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Switching gears again, how did you guys respond to the language? It was incredibly harsh.
Paul: The profanity was indeed overwhelming. But we knew going in that the main reason for it’s R rating was raw language. More importantly, however, being in the world means we rub elbows with real people, real heathens, real scoundrels. We’re called to be in the world, though not “of” the world. Jesus didn’t avoid sinners. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, and cussers. Besides, there’s not a single word or phrase in the movie that I haven’t heard in the Army . . . . . . . or in the church! An aspect of human existence that I thought the movie showed pretty well was that every one of us has our own pain, our own problems, and our disillusionments. This was true of just about every character in the show. Would you comment on that?
Chris: You hit the nail on the head. The director has even said he approaches life from a dark place and I think the characters reflected that. But each gets so caught up in his own trouble he fails to find the relief that can be found in community. It’s the attitude that greatness only comes through suffering and, while there may be some truth to that, authentic relationships can help heal wounds.
Paul: And that’s where art and the gospel begin to intersect.
Chris: Thanks, Dad.
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As always I welcome your thoughts and opinions. did you see the movie? What did you think?
Now available on DVD (or streaming on Netflix) is the 2014 film I, Frankenstein. The IMDB user reviews give this movie 5.2 stars out of 10. I was surprised, because the movie’s premise is the eternal struggle between gargoyles and demons, and who doesn’t love storylines like that?!?
Honestly, I thought 5.2 stars was generous. The movie was everything I expected it to be. For some reason, I enjoy watching cheesy apocalyptic movies showcasing the forces of good vs. the forces of evil. Since I was expecting a terrifically terrible movie, I was not disappointed!
Here are the basics of the movie:
– Demons exist and are trying to take over the world
– God created the order of the gargoyles to fight off the demons
– Frankenstein’s monster (named Adam in the movie) is a soulless, ageless creature roaming Earth for hundreds of years.
– The demons realize that the soulless Adam is the key to possessing the dead and bringing legions of demons to Earth to finally conquer everyone.
– Adam and the gargoyles fight off the demon horde.
Enough about the film-making elements – let’s talk about the film from a biblical perspective.
I’m always amused by these kinds of films because there is a segment of humanity that is greatly fascinated with the idea of angels and demons (true, the gargoyles aren’t exactly angels, but they’re supposed to fill the role of some kind of angelic protector-figure). The demons are your traditional Hollywood demons – they growl a lot and when they are dispatched go out with a burst of fire.
But there’s nothing quite like that in the Bible. In fact, the biblical accounts of demons never show us a visual image. The horned-headed, spikey-tailed, pitchfork-wielding demon of the screen is not biblical. The biblical image of possessed people is always of the human. While demons cause people to cut themselves and behave like lunatics, we never get to SEE them. When Jesus talks to demons, it is always through the voice of the possessed person.
So why our fascination with demons and angels?
I believe it’s because there is something in us that recognizes the reality of the spiritual realm even though the Western world denies it. In biblical studies and missiology (the study of missions) we talk a lot about worldview and how we perceive reality. The reality of the Western world tends to be one of rational thought. Angels, demons, and spiritual things are relegated to the heaven and hell but have little to do with human reality. It can be represented in this graphic of the “excluded middle.”
But there is no exclusion in the Bible. The spiritual world interacts with the human world. And Jesus takes dominion over it – in a powerful and final way. There is no power that counters God. The Bible is not about cosmic dualism, yin and yang. While there are evil forces, they are not equal to God’s good. God is superior and none can compare.
But we love to make movies about spiritual forces fighting tremendous battles for humanity. It can be disturbing to realize that the Bible DOES talk about demonic interaction with humanity. And the Bible never says that demons went away once the New Testament was completed. Yet the truth remains that God has fought the battle for us. Jesus conquered death, and because of his sacrifice we are assured of our final destination – the presence of God.
There is no power that rivals God’s.
So take movies like this for what they are: complete fiction.
And poorly done fiction at that.
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Last night my wife and I finally caved and watched Noah. I had heard a lot about it from Christian and secular sources, but wanted to see it with my own eyes. So here’s the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): This is quite possibly one of the worst movies of all time.
Noah was worse. At least Waterworld knew it was campy, with the “Smokers,” “jet skis,” and hilarious performance from Dennis Hopper. In fact, the best “end of the world” films always have that campy element.
But Noah seemed to think that it was a serious film, and that was a big blunder.
The biggest problem of the film was that it was confused. The writer/director claimed he wasn’t trying to make a biblical story on film – he simply used the Noah narrative as a foundation for his sci-fi/fantasy movie. This is where the confusion came in.
The story of Noah RELIES on the audience having prior knowledge of the biblical narrative. Without prior knowledge, the movie becomes completely disjointed and bizarre.
What’s with the snake?
What’s with the rainbow shockwaves in the sky?
Viewers familiar with the Old Testament will understand, but a secular audience misses these cues without prior knowledge. Therein lies the problem.
The writer/director needs prior knowledge for his story to work, yet he makes the mistake of deviating from the original story. I’m not just talking about taking artistic license with telling the story. This movie goes WAY beyond artistic license. I’m talking about adding elements that simply never existed.
– the villain who hacks a hole in the side of the ark and escapes the flood
– the strong vegetarian vibe (the animals are the only innocent ones) when the Bible CLEARLY says that God gives animals to humanity to eat
– the exclusion of Ham and Japheth’s wives when the Bible CLEARLY says that they were on the ark
– Noah wrestling with annihilating his family for God (because all humanity is evil) when the Bible says God chose to spare Noah and his family because Noah was righteous
See what I mean? The writer/director needs the biblical narrative to make sense of his story. The writer/director blatantly disregards the biblical narrative. The film is schizophrenic from the get go.
This doesn’t even begin to address the anachronistic elements like medieval knights and Old Navy wardrobe choices, fallen angel rock monsters that can be sent back to heaven with a hot spear, and Noah’s wife creating the first EPT (I wish this were a joke but, alas, it is not).
As my wife said about two-thirds of the way into the movie:
Yup, that was an understatement, sweetheart.
If you care about the biblical narrative, you won’t want to see this movie. If you care about decent cinema and the art of filmmaking, you won’t want to see this movie.
Noah is a total dog.
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