One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

August 11, 2008

“Groundhog Day” redux

Filed under: Movies,Spirituality — alancochrum @ 7:41 am
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For a long time, I had heard how wonderful the film Groundhog Day was. I was skeptical. A weatherman (played by Bill Murray) who keeps repeating the same 24 hours over and over? Ya gotta be kidding.

Then I found a VHS copy on sale for a dollar or two and decided: Well, all right, let’s see. And I was impressed.

I was telling a friend recently how suprisingly deep this film was. The friend — I can’t remember if she had seen it or not — wasn’t buying it. No, really, I said. The key moment lies in the middle of the film, when Murray’s Phil Connors is driving around with two drunken acquaintances and asks them: What would you do if there were no tomorrow?

Which is precisely what Phil proceeds to explore, in predictable fashion. He gorges himself. He steals from an armored car. He conducts laboratory studies in seduction. In short, he indulges himself in every way — and eventually, like the author of Ecclesiastes, discovers that it’s all emptiness and chasing after the snowy wind. (For that handful of people out there who don’t know how — or if — he manages to get out of his predicament: Go ahead, watch the movie.)

Last night, it was like deju vu all over again. I had bought a secondhand DVD of Stranger Than Fiction, the 2006 movie in which a bland IRS agent (Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell) starts hearing a female voice narrating his life. He soon discovers that, inexplicably, he is actually a character in a novel being written by an author (Karen Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson) who plans on killing him off.

About halfway through the movie — which, despite what one might expect from Ferrell, is definitely not written as outright comedy — I was finding it lacking. “And I paid ten dollars for this!” I said to my wife.

But then it struck me: In a way, this is actually a movie about God and Man.

What happens when a person confronts his Creator about what is happening to him? Can that act — in real life, we call it “prayer” — make any difference?

Late in Stranger Than Fiction, a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who has read Eiffel’s manuscript reluctantly tells Harold: I’m sorry, but you have to die. That is the only way this story can end. And after all, you cannot escape death in the end anyway. This is a magnificent story, and this is the way it has to be.

But Harold refuses to accept that. He tracks down Eiffel and asks her not to kill him. And (not to give away too much), his plea does change the ending of the story in a way.

I was reminded of the story of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. The Judean king becomes ill, and the prophet Isaiah comes to him and says: Get your affairs in order; God says you are going to die.

Now, if the Master of the Universe goes to the trouble of sending you a personal message that you’re not going to make it, it does seem a bit cheeky to fight it. But Hezekiah does. He prays that God will remember what kind of person he has been.

And the startling thing is that before Isaiah even gets out of the palace, God changes his mind: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. … I will add fifteen years to your life” (NIV).

You always hear that life is sometimes stranger than fiction. Maybe there’s more to that than we usually think.

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July 19, 2008

Some men just don’t want to watch the world burn

Filed under: Movies — alancochrum @ 8:20 pm
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So what did The Dark Knight remind me of? Would you believe … a Japanese novel referenced by an American evangelical writer?

At the end of the recently released movie — this probably isn’t too much of a spoiler — Batman (Christian Bale) decides to take the blame for several murders in order to protect another person’s reputation. When the newly minted Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) protests in pain and horror, Batman declares that the city needs a hero, and he isn’t one — his role is to be whatever Gotham City needs him to be. The knight takes on the mantle of the dragon.

In the 2001 book Soul Survivor, author Philip Yancey discusses the work of Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo. In Endo’s book Silence, the shoguns are attempting — with considerable success — to wipe out the church of their era. One of their methods involved the fumie, a metal plaque portraying Jesus or the Madonna and child. Those who stepped on the fumie were declared apostates and released; those who did not were condemned to death.

In Endo’s tale, a devout Portuguese cleric is told that if he steps on the fumie, other Christians will be freed; upon his refusal, they are killed. Faced with this horrific situation, Yancey says, “in the end the priest Rodrigues forfeits his own faith for the love of others.”

The American writer quotes Endo’s climactic scene: “And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! … It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’ ”

Yancey’s description of the scene gnaws at the heart  — it is not surprising that, as he relates, many Japanese Catholics were outraged by what they saw as the romanticization of apostates like the fictional Rodrigues. And Batman’s decision to allow himself to be cast as a murderer is also disturbing; after all, in the end, the image he is protecting is an illusion.

But there is also this: In various senses, Batman, Rodrigues and Jesus “became” what they were not because others were in need of rescue. Of course, Christ did it so much better. It helps if, unlike the Dark Knight, you really are more than human.

July 2, 2008

“I’m the only one of my kind”

Filed under: Movies — alancochrum @ 1:52 pm
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The movie Hancock opens today, with Will Smith starring as the not exactly mild-mannered superhero of the title and Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron at his side.

Movie critic Christopher Kelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that a totally unexpected twist emerges about 45 minutes into the movie. Hmm … I wonder …

With nothing to go on but Kelly’s review and the movie’s trailer (as of slightly before 9 a.m. my time), here’s my guess: Hancock may think he’s unique, but …

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