Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie-ology Part 1 (Home)

I'm a movie guy. I will shamelessly confess I love the escape one finds on the other side of a movie screen. Can you blame me though? In movies we can fly, traverse space, wave wands, save entire worlds from evil forces and buckle swash with the best of them! There's really no feeling like it. As I read Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century I am confronted by the notion that God might be speaking to me, and you as well, through the characters and stories of film, and I have resolved to take a closer look at some of my favorite movies in order to see what elements of God's truth may be thinly veiled beneath their Hollywood exteriors. I will address a particular "theological" theme for each film I review, themes vital to the films discussed but also close to my own heart, and I'd thank you to come along on the ride with me.

HOME

AWAY WE GO


What a gem Away We Go is. It was probably one of my first forays into the world of independent film, and initially I was caught off guard by how low-key it was, how soft and warm and without explosions or CGI robots. I was (and to some degree still am) a self-proclaimed fan of the Hollywood Blockbuster, yet in Away We Go I discovered a more quiet, sympathetic, human source of entertainment, and it just about ruined me for mainstream cinema. I don't mean to oversell, but it really is delightful. Quirky, absurd humor abounds, yet the film also manages to wear its heart on its sleeve.

Away We Go is anchored by the heartfelt, nuanced performances of comedy vets John Krasinski (the Office, It's Complicated) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live, Bridesmaids), and elevated by the delightfully colorful (if slightly manic) fringe performances of some of the best in the business (Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels). I know it's cliche to say of great movies they will make you laugh and cry, but in this case it is precisely true. And when I say laugh, I mean deep, belly laughter. And when I say cry, I mean batten-down-the-hatches-there's-a-storm-a-brewin'-type crying. Oh, and Jim Gaffigan.

In Away We Go Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find themselves pregnant, in their early thirties, and suddenly without roots as Burt's parents up and leave for Antwerp, Belgium. Untethered by familial or friendly bonds, they carpe their diem and embark on a journey to find a lasting place to call their own. This involves puttering around the country visiting friends and family until something feels right (all set to the husky vocal stylings of Alexi Murdoch). It was not until my fourth or fifth time viewing the film, each time crying my eyes out, that I realized why I was so profoundly moved by its narrative. Burt and Verona are in search of something which has always seemed such an elusive concept for me: home. 

They desire their place in a world where they belong. They want this move to be their last, and I don't blame them. Being homeless sucks. Of course being homeless in a... vagrant sense must be painful and difficult in ways I can't imagine (or at least can't remember), but I mean a more existential type of homelessness. Burt and Verona feel like wanderers in a land ill-suited to their needs, and become increasingly frustrated with their inability to put down roots in such infertile ground. You can read it on their faces and in their candid banter:

Verona: Burt, are we f***-ups? 
Burt: No! What do you mean? 
Verona: I mean, we're 34... 
Burt: I'm 33. 
Verona: ...and we don't even have this basic stuff figured out. 
Burt: Basic, like how? 
Verona: Basic, like how to live. 
Burt: We're not f***-ups. 
Verona: We have a cardboard window. 
BurtL [Looks at window] We're not f***-ups. 
Verona: [Whispers] I think we might be f***-ups. 
Burt: [Whispers back] We're not f***-ups. 
(Film rated R for some language)

Flitting about from place to place without ever feeling the rest of home, it is exhausting and feels like less than living. I'm not just speaking on their part either; no, on this matter I speak with the authority and conviction of experience. Recently I wrote a blog called Lord, I Was Born a Rambling Man about this same frustration, about how my time in college has felt like being caught between worlds with nowhere to call home, but the ill-hidden secret is I've struggled with this for far longer than one year, or even three.

In the years following my parents' divorce, starting sixteen or seventeen years ago, we moved around almost constantly in order to elude (or perhaps escape) my father. The moves grew so numerous I remember having lived in fourteen houses by the time we settled down in Vancouver when I was five. Fourteen "homes." Most people don't live in so many places in their whole lives. Of course it's possible my young mind mistakenly counted places we'd stayed only temporarily, or maybe I just had an active imagination. Either way, it is clear my childhood was hardly what psychologists would call "stable." And the count didn't stop at fourteen either. We continued to move as was necessary, never staying in one place for more than a couple years, bunking at my grandparents' house between homes, and for a brief period, I believe we were actually homeless, even if we called it "camping" at the time.

I don't mean to paint too bleak a picture of my life though. Sure, we moved a lot, and in a perfect world we might've settled down in the three-bedroom-two-bath with the yard and the willow tree, the tireswing and picket fences (not that I've given it much thought or anything), but it just wasn't in the cards for us. Before I throw myself a pity-party, I ought also to recognize I'm not the only one with shallow roots. To some extent, we're all wanderers. This is the human predicament and it is, in fact, actually quite faith-affirming to me.

After all, why should it be that we all have this aching sense we belong in a better world? Why doesn't this place feel like home for us, even if we get the house, the car, the stuff? Let us turn, as we often should, to the words of the great Clive Staples Lewis: 


"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world." 

The search for home will lead us to a thousand destinations in our lifetimes, and some will feel closer to the place of wholeness, of shalom God promised us. Some, on the other hand, will seem more akin to hell, but neither is the genuine article. We can try for home this side of heaven, this side of God's redeemed land, and we may even come to love our houses and cars and bedrooms and beds, but we must never believe this is all there is. We were made for another world.

The Psalmist lends beautiful verse to this heart-cry, as he so often does:

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah - Psalm 84:2-4

Now I don't mean to claim being without a place to hang one's hat here on earth is a sentence to existential meaninglessness. Quite to the contrary, I believe home, in a more experiential sense, may be achieved now. God is home! God is our resting place, the shade of the Wings, the shelter of the Most High. God is the wholeness we're looking for, the satisfaction even the perfect "home" could never bring.

I don't talk about "theology" much, but theology is essentially just talking about God, and we, as humans, can't help but use our own terms and relate to our own experiences when we do that. We know about God because of how God has revealed His or Herself to us, and I am coming to believe one of the ways God reveals God's self is through our own art. God sneaks in and speaks a profound Word to our hearts as we participate in this artistic process, the creating and the partaking. After all, is not the artistic task, like the prophetic one, to speak truth? And we know about Truth, don't we brothers and sisters?

I'll end with a prayer if it's alright:

Dear God, 

Thank You for everything. Thank You for what You do, for what You did. Thank You that You speak to us in everything, beckon us to You and all the blessings You have for us. Thank You for movies that make me want You more, make me want to see You and experience You in new ways. Thank You for Away We Go, and that You have promised us home in You, and home in a land where we belong some day. Help us find this home God, for even the sparrow finds a home, and I pray for You to be with us while we search, with us while we wander. And I pray while we wait for You that we would work to see Your Kingdom here on earth as much as You will. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus' name,
Amen


Burt, upon arriving at HOME: This place is perfect for us. Don't you think? 
Verona: I hope so... I really f***ing hope so.

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