Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why is God absent in all the good films?

Just watched Fracture and Million Dollar Baby (see my filmmaker reviews on them here and here) and I just wonder - why does God get such a bad rap in some of the best films?

In Fracture - as also in the Maurice Gee adaptation In My Father's Den - Christians represent repression, separation from reality, mean-heartedness, inability to cope with the world. God Himself doesn't get any representation whatsoever.

In Million Dollar Baby it's not as if our main character Frankie doesn't try - he goes to Mass every day, prays every night but it's like God is actively saying "Whatever; I don't care." I mean not just passively not being there, but actively going "Get lost". Full credit to Clint Eastwood's story for conveying that feeling.

And the priest - someone who's supposed, in the Catholic tradition, to represent God to the people - loses his rag at Frankie. I guess they're trying to give us the impression that Frankie is hard to live with, but often the clergy in films are presented as "shape up or ship out" types of people.

Is this based on reality? Or is this a bit skewed because the artistic types who will make great films are more likely to find themselves alienated from church.

I think the latter's the truth, and I say that with sadness.

*** Warning: If you haven't watched Million Dollar Baby, don't read any further. I give away the ending. ***

When Million Dollar Baby first came out, I read two reviews, one by (I think) Roger Ebert (LA Sun-Times reviewer) and one by Ted Baehr (Christian Film Commission). I thought I was reading about two different stories.

Ebert talked about how it was one of the best boxing movies he'd ever seen. Baehr compared it to I accuse, a film used by the Nazis to soften the German public up to the killing of disabled people.

I was confused until I saw the movie. Yes it is a fantastic boxing film, I liked it almost as much as Cinderella Man (course if I was a girl I'd probably like this one better [cheeky grin]).

As far as Nazi comparisons, maybe so. It definitely sends an ideological message - it's hard for a well-made film not to - that death is preferable to a life of paralysis. It portrays Frankie's pulling the plug as a courageous act.

But that portrayal links directly to the absense of God, or anyone willing to be God, in this film. Sure, the priest counsels Frankie against killing Maggie, but it's too little, too late. He's trying to connect as a human with Frankie, after calling him a f***ing pagan, and saying why doesn't he get the hell out of church.

In the end, it's his mate Scrap who advises him to do what Maggie really wants. There's a kind of inevitability about the "mercy-killing" but it's played out very painfully, I imagine very realistically.

Both Fracture and Million Dollar Baby had heartbreaking scenes of human tenderness. That's where God is! But those moments are portrayed as slightly pathetic, and most of all helpless in the face of the bigness of the universe.

Helpless - just as I felt on the dentist's chair, but without the sense that the Dentist is there or knows what He's doing.

I'm really looking forward to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I hear it's a fairly faithful retelling of C.S.Lewis' gospel allegory.

But I wonder, can we tell a Christian story without allegory? Is the world ready to hear about people who really know God, experience Him in their day-to-day lives? Without that story being shunted into the religious section of society, made only as a cheap tele-film and only played in churches or on Christian TV?

I wonder indeed...

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