Sunday, July 05, 2009

Movies I love, and why (#1)

I'm proving terrible at consistently blogging. I think part of the problem is one I share with my daughter - if I fire up the text editor to write something, I want to write something worth reading. To me, that means writing thoughtfully, and well, on a meaningful topic. In other words, I have to voluntarily do the sort of thing that was a dreaded assignment to most of you back in your school days.

I don't mind much - it wasn't nearly as hard for me in my school days, and it's not a crushing load now - but it is still labor, and I have things crowding out my time these days. So when I sit down to the keyboard and think, "maybe I'll write a blog post", another part of my brain says, "no, you've another responsibility you should discharge first." So blog posting keeps getting put off.

This despite ideas for posts that keep flitting through my mind. Thoughts on current events, thoughts on things I read, thoughts on life in general, all act like sparks on the tinder of my mind, generating flares of thought that make me think, "I should write a few paragraphs about that!" I even keep a list of potential post topics, because more than once I've found myself getting home from a lengthy drive (or whatever) and realizing that I'd clean forgotten the superb topic that had occurred to me. But because of the aforementioned factors, few of these superb ideas see the light of day.

So I'm going to try something my daughter is trying: lowering my standards a bit. I'll try to rein in the perfectionism, and sit on the urge to turn every post into a masterpiece. I'll try jotting less deeply, more often, and we'll see how that works. One of my bright ideas for generating posts is to write about movies that I like that nobody who knows me would think I'd like, so I think I'll start with that.

I remember reading somewhere that there is really only one story in all human history - the heroic tale of the Redeemer and the redemption He brings. All other human stories are extractions from, or portions of, the Great Story. (I could swear I read this somewhere in Neuhaus' Death on a Friday Afternoon, but I haven't been able to find the reference.) I find this statement compelling, and since hearing it tend to view stories through this lens. When I read a book or see a movie, I tend to ask, "What part of the Great Story does this convey?"

However, even with such an outlook, those who know me might find it unusual that one of the movies I really enjoy is Man on Fire, starring Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning. From the trailers and marketing, one gets the impression it is nothing more than another blow-'em-up, shoot-'em-up vengeance flick of the type I typically avoid. And though it has its share of shooting and explosions, the reason this movie appeals to me is that the story is much more subtle and complex than mere "action".

To a lover of the raw vengeance flick, the film gets off to a very slow start. A morose, depressed, and introspective agent named John Creasy (Washington) can't escape either his horrible memories or the bottle. A well-meaning friend gets him a job as a bodyguard for the daughter of a wealthy Mexican family. This duty seems about equal to his current abilities, but his perky, vivacious charge Pita (Fanning) won't let him curl up within his responsibilities. With trust and charm she draws him out of himself until he is once again reengaged with life.

Then happens the very thing Creasy was hired to prevent: Pita is kidnapped. Creasy nearly gets himself killed trying to prevent it, and does some killing of his own, but is left for dead as the girl is swept away. While he lies in a hospital bed, things go very wrong with the ransom. A brutal kidnapping ring, dark family secrets, crooked cops, and crooked lawyers all collide in a terrible mess that apparently gets Pita killed by the kidnappers because of a botched ransom drop. By the time Creasy is well enough to stand, it's all over.

Then he decides to "do what I do best" - visit destruction on those who destroyed little Pita. A bit more of his murky past comes into focus: he had been a counterinsurgency agent around the globe, and as his friend and onetime coworker puts it, "Creasy's art is death - and he's about to paint his masterpiece." And paint it he does, with laser focus and unflinching determination. He takes on a powerful circle of corrupt police officials, ferrets out the dirty secret of Pita's father, and hunts down those who run the brutal kidnapping ring that took Pita and so many others. I won't tell the final ending, except to say that it involves Creasy making a final and heroic sacrifice.

So what about such a film could reflect part of the Great Story? To me, Creasy's single minded determination to repay everyone who profited from Pita's kidnapping reminded me of the ultimate Judgment of God. The criminals, their hands red with the blood of their victims, are themselves brought to judgment. One man tries to intimidate Creasy with his connections to the powerful. That earns a calm and brutal response which makes clear that his connections are useless against this judge. Another tries to wheedle, yet another promises favors, another offers bribes. They all fall, because they are all out of their reckoning. None of what they offer carries any weight with Creasy, who is trying to extract justice for the murder of the little girl he loved. It is grimly gratifying to see this justice roll on, unstoppable as a tidal wave, sweeping before it every barrier until the ultimate perpetrators are brought to the light.

For me, it is helpful to be reminded that a day like this will come for the world as well. In this day we struggle with injustice on all sides, and the powerful oppressing and destroying the weak. We struggle against it as best we can, but seem to have little effect. Part of our burden as God's people is to bear, and struggle, and pray, but at times it seems like the injustice is too great.

But we've been promised the day will come when the Just Judge will come, and visit on all of us that which we deserve. There will be those who try to impress, or wheedle, or bribe - but nothing will avail. The consequences of their sin will be visited upon them, unrelentingly, implacably, and there will be no escape. Injustice will end because Christ will put an end to the unjust.

I think this is what makes Man on Fire so gratifying for me despite the violent and brutal parts - it is a distant, murky glimpse of the ultimate justice that we will one day see. After all, the injustice of the world is violent and brutal, and the Scriptural descriptions of the Day of the Lord are no less so. May that day be hastened, that the innocent may no longer suffer death and oppression at the hands of the powerful and uncaring.

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