Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Faith in The Ladykillers and The Truman Show

Last year I took Cultural Hermeneutics with Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer. It was a rather mind expanding class. For my term paper, I wrote on how faith fairs in two movies, The Ladykillers and The Truman Show. I reread that paper this weekend in preparation for forwarding it to a friend I spoke with this summer. I thought the summary was interesting:

[The demise of the characters who seek to kill Marva, who represents faith in The Ladykillers, and their transport to hell] seem[s] like good lessons and if it were not for the constant stream of profanity that emanates from Gawain’s mouth, this film could be used as an object lesson. But there is a danger beyond the vulgarity. While faith is given a good ride in this film what is missing is God. If Othar represents him, he represents a silent, distant, dead God. Othar is present only in a painting high above the scene, looking on but unable to act. He is in a shrine, circled with candles and talked to by Marva, but he never answers. God is far off and silent. The “bad guys” do themselves in and God does not judge.

There is a faith presented here that we must be weary of also. What is missing is redemption. Marva’s faith is in moral reform. Her pastor’s sermon is all about getting people to behave. Her response to catching the criminal is that they must give the money back and come to church with her. In short, there is no gospel. Faith for the Coen brothers is a positive force for good in our culture. It will withstand the assaults of various worldly systems not because it is superior but because it is simple and good. This is faith in faith but not faith in God. Again, Othar is not involved; he is a spectator to all that is happening and nothing more. Faith stands on it’s own.

Putting together the views of faith presented in The Truman Show and The Ladykillers may seem like an impossible task but really the answer is the same. If the Western mind is dissatisfied with pretend faith, or assumes that faith is a positive social influence and nothing more we should ask where this misconception came from. It probably came from caricatures of religion pictured on television or passed on verbally in jokes. What the church must be careful of is to make sure that they are not correct. If we are committed to following Christ, these distortions should never fit us.

Christians certainly do not agree with [Andrew] Niccol [, the director of The Truman Show,] that our world is a fabrication and our god an impotent sham, but we can still learn from him. Niccol’s message is to be suspicious of the world we’re presented and to think outside the box. Truman got free and so can you. But what “fiction” was Niccol presenting in that soundstage? Was it genuine Christianity or was it the sham we all react against? The staged cheeriness of Seahaven can easily be repeated in our churches. We can be tempted to put on that fake smile and glad hand our way through a Sunday morning talking vaguely about “The Big Guy” and, like Truman, be ultimately dissatisfied. We can be tempted to put on thick make-up to cover our scars and sins, showing a perfect face to those around us. But we’re offered more than a shallow, thoughtless faith held in place by pretend cheeriness. God did something that Christof could not. He became a man and he came to serve. This is an aspect of faith that is missing from Truman’s soundstage. Yes, Christof seems to really love Truman. He lovingly touches and strokes images of him from his control room 221st floor of the stage, but Christof never came to him.

Our God is not a feeble watcher we can elude the eye of. Neither is he an aloof image stored in a temple. If our culture asks God “was nothing real?” his answer is “Me. I am real. And I came to you in the person of My Son, Jesus Christ.” The message of both of these films is that God is not here. He is removed from us. It is a false message that we cannot speak against as well as we can live against. The answer we have to offer our culture in the face of these charges is transformed lives of genuine love and commitment to Jesus and one another. Not at the expense of truth, or we are in Marva Munson’s world of faith abstracted from its object. Not truth at the expense of life, or we have joined the cast of The Truman Show, knowing the lines and going through the motions but not being real.

God is not far off, impotent and silent. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). If our culture’s thoughts of faith in God are lost somewhere between The Truman Show and The Ladykillers, the Church’s answer is as it has always been: Jesus Christ. The way we can change our culture is by living lives under the headship of Christ that are transparent and transformed. Our worship should be Christ-focused and sincere, not entertainment. When we speak of Jesus our words and thoughts should betray a heart that is captivated by his glory. In other words, we have to be Christians who cannot fit the stereotypes our culture has cast. It would be a mistake live only in a way that reacts to what the culture is thinking, instead we should be “the light of the world.” We contend for the faith by deepening it and living it. Genuinely.