On Smuggling...

My stomach turned this morning as I read this article, a secular response to Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". The film opens on Friday and already the secularists are having a field day. Polly Toynbee, the writer, waves an accusing finger at Mr. Lewis himself, for packaging his "repugnant" ideas about redemption and sacrifice in a clever children's story. Funny enough, her accusations are somewhat justified. It was Lewis's intent to "smuggle the gospel" into the hearts and minds of children, and he did do it with a skillful hand. But Toynbee is off in assuming that the redemption story at the heart of the film will be overlooked by unobservant children. Here the joke is on her. Lewis understood the power of a good story. He understood that the themes of sacrifice, redemption, and sanctification that lie at the heart of the gospel will resonate with people not because they are well-versed in Christian theology, but because they were created for those very things. Read the article here.

Monotonous, unmethodical, desperately humanistic...these are a few words that describe "Me and You and Everyone We Know", the directorial debut of Miranda July, a performance artist and short story author (she also wrote and stars in the film). Although dubbed a "moonbeam romance" by Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, the film suffers from a crippling worldliness, a palpable sense of a life lived apart from God, and the one thing it is not is romantic.

July's approach is to show relationship in all its manifestations. She plays Christine, a performance artist (go figure) who is hoping to have one of her "exhibits" picked up by the local art gallery. Christine's "art" consists of her speaking slurred words into a video camera and having conversations with herself. It should fit in well at the gallery, a place where the line between art and artifice is blurred. One scene shows the gallery's curator inspecting a fast food wrapper that is part of a larger exhibit. She says, "It's amazing. It looks real." The artist, who is standing nearby, says, "It is real." Interesting statement about contemporary art. Unfortunately the statement is void, as the film itself is the cinematic equivalent of a hamburger wrapper.

Christine meets Richard, a shoe salesman at a department store. Richard has recently separated from his wife. They have two sons, one about thirteen and the other seven or so. In one of the most surreal scenes in the film (and that is quite a feat), Richard douses his hand in lighter fluid and sets it on fire to entertain his sons. He thought it was lighter fluid that wouldn't burn your skin; he was thinking of rubbing alcohol.

Christine is interested in Richard, but it is difficult to gauge where he stands. In fact, there is so little character development in this film that it is virtually impossible to convey in words who any of these people are. Lonely, dejected, yes. But that is really all we know.

There are various subplots, but I will highlight just a few. Richard's sons are obsessed with the computer. Peter, the older one, likes to log into chat rooms and talk dirty just for fun. His little brother Robbie also joins in, but neither one of them understands sexuality, so the results are innocent and occasionally humorous.

Now take two teenage girls experimenting with their sexual identity. They get into an argument about who would give better oral sex and decide to experiment on Peter, Richard's older son. They show up at his house one day and explain what they are going to do. He doesn't object. In fact, he is fascinated by the idea (this is conjecture, as his expression rarely changes in the course of the film). There is a moment when you think they are going to be interrupted, that they won't continue, because wouldn't that go beyond the limits of acceptable content involving children? However, the scene does continue, all the way to its climax (pardon the expression). Roger Ebert describes the situation like this: "I know this sounds perverse and explicit, and yet the fact is, these scenes play with an innocence and tact that is beyond all explaining."

The scene is remarkably "innocent", true (it is not explicit), but isn't the fact that it is portrayed as innocent a bit disturbing? Honestly, should this sort of thing be cute to anyone? This is all, of course, an issue of worldview. The popular persuasion (and by that I mean the secular persuasion) about sexuality is that it is a thing to be learned and experienced when one is mentally and emotionally prepared. Whether or not one is married does not seem to be a concern. As believers in a God who keeps his promises and expects us to keep ours, marriage is a sacred thing, and the separation of sexuality from marriage is a sin. The sexually ambiguous climate of our culture stems from man's rejection of absolutes, and his acceptance of an existentialist philosophy that allows him to determine his own reality.

Christine and Richard get together at the end of the film, and I suppose that is July's opinion of a happy ending, but I found it downright depressing. Yes, these two lonely souls found each other, but beyond that, is there any hope at all?

The last scene in the film explains a lot. Robbie, the little brother, walks out to a curb in his neighborhood and sees an old man tapping on a metal post. When Robbie asks him what he's doing it for, the man replies, "I'm just passing the time". Soon after a bus pulls up to the curb and the old man hands Robbie the quarter before boarding the bus and driving away. Robbie then takes the old man's place by the post, tapping on it with the quarter as the sun goes down. Further and further, until there is nothing left but darkness.

Such a fitting end to a film that is truly a waste of time. Could it be that July is suggesting that very thing? Her film is filled with strange, arbitrary moments, intended to highlight the peculiarity of life. As the last image faded to black and the credits began to roll, I could almost hear her saying, "Isn't it all just a waste of time? Aren't we all merely trudging through life, headed towards an inevitable death, an inescapable nothingness?" And I could only think, "This is the place where modern man has come".

The irony is that in attempting to highlight the absurdity of human existence, Miranda July has herself become the fool. "Claiming to be wise, they became fools." The film collapses under the weight of its own absurdity, for as anyone can see, the natural world is not one of chaos and ugliness, but of remarkable order and beauty.

And we are not without hope! We are created in the image of God (Gn 1:26), who has never intended for us to be alone (Gn 2:18), but to be in constant fellowship with Himself and with each other (Jn 17:20). So vehement is God's love for us (Sg 8:7) that He chose to die a hideous death (Is 53:10) in order to be with us (Jn 17:24). And that is truly something worth living for.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

"The happiness which God designs for his higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water."

There are absolutes. There is ultimate truth. There is a sovereign God who loves us with an undying love. And His promises apply to us all; to me, you, and everyone we know.