Mistress of Spices (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: CCCB=C
Budget: No one seems to know
Box Office: No one seems willing to say.

Directed by: Paul Mayeda Berges, whose main prior work was with co-writer Gurinda Chadha on Bend It Like Beckham, the movie that clearly paved the way for this one to get made.
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott, and some other people.

A young devotee of the ancient Indian art of spice-mixing finds herself conflicted by the rules of her order as she tries to practice her arts in San Francisco. Her spices demand that she stays within the shop and remain celibate, but when a charming young man tempts her to break her vows, terrible things begin to happen to her customers.

Entertainment Value: C
Okay, this was another one of those “Blockbuster Exclusives,” (read: it didn’t make enough money to merit any other video store picking it up), and so far the only great one has been Miss Potter. And, no, this is no masterpiece, unless you’re really into Bollywood (Indian cinema), which I figure most of you aren’t. In truth, I would probably only have given it a blurb review except that it had a lot of fascinating discussion possibilities when interpreted through a theological lens. Also, my wife and I now have the inside joke of repeatedly saying, “Oh, spices.”

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality C, Violence D, Language B, Illegality A.
There is some sexuality, including a not-quite-shown sex scene, a woman wearing a shirt clearly with no bra, and an overall tone of sensuality. The language is clean. But there are two things that will bother people. One is the violence, which is unexpected, abrupt, brutal, and disturbing because it’s so realistic. It all happens as this woman keeps “seeing” glimpses of people get hurt if she does not do what she should. The other is the overall plot which is predicated on spice-working as a sort of magic power which makes Tilo like a benevolent witch.

Significant Content: C
Love cannot be wrong. Follow your heart. Premarital sex is no big deal. Whatever supernatural beings there are, they are fickle, jealous, and punitive. Everyone has his own spice, and spices sort of control the universe. On the good side, genuinely seeking to bless other people is a very satisfying thing, and it starts with understanding where they are and meeting their deepest real needs, and whatever gifts we have are given to us for the benefit of other people, not for ourselves.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
And not because there is anything particularly well-done here, but because I think this movie offers lots of rich opportunity for discussion. Although on its own merits, I would say that this is rather clumsy as art, it’s the unintended stuff that I found fascinating.

Discussion Questions:
~Is Tilo a witch? How does she fit or not fit the typical picture of a witch which we have in our minds? Would you say she looks much more like modern versions of witches (psychics, astrologers, crystalists, etc.) than the stereotype of a witch? Would you say that this movie is a dangerous illustration of witchcraft? Should Christians watch it? Do you think that the premise of the movie about spices being so powerful and individual is plausible at all?
~Are Tilo’s spices her gods? Consider some of the implications here. If they were a god, what sort of characteristics would you describe that god as having? In what ways do the spices as a god compare with the God of the Bible? Do you think that anyone has a view of God that is similar to the spices in this movie? Why is that dangerous? Do you think this movie would be a good springboard for talking about God with someone who had such a view of Him?
~Would Tilo qualify as a pastor? Is she a good one? Would it be fair to call her customers her congregation? Do you think that they perceive her powers to be as much as she knows them to be?
~One of the key ideas here is that our gifts are for the benefit of others, not for ourselves. Does this fit with the Bible? Some people have described prophecy as being this way, becoming very unreliable when used to guide yourself.
~In what ways would you say Tilo is a good person? Are there any ways in which you would say she is not?
~Can you think of a situation where it would be good to follow your heart and also one where it would not be?
~Can love ever be wrong? What is it about Dylan McDermott that attracts Tilo to him? What about her for him? Would you describe their relationship as a deep one?
~Do you think Tilo will be a better spice dispenser in the end or not?
What does this movie have to say about Catholic priestly celibacy, if anything?

Overall Grade: C
I certainly wouldn’t call it great art or great entertainment, but I do think it could generate some interesting discussions, particularly with people who might have a punitive, vindictive view of God.

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