Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Brilliance - "Postmodern Story" Part 1

Before I went to Honduras, Bridgette and I had the opportunity to go out on a little "date" - nearly 3 hrs of time for just the two of us. We decided to spend it with another 30 people or so watching the new Batman film, which by the time we saw it, wasn't all that new anymore. While most of the focus has been on Heath Ledger's brilliant performance as the Joker, I came away from the movie with some very different impressions searing my mind. While I agree that Ledger was amazing, it was the final scene, the final montage and overlaid dialog that hit me like a ton of bricks right in the gut. I literally lost it in the theatre, it was that moving. In light of that, I want to offer up some thoughts and reflections on both the movie and on popular culture's intersection with faith. Since it'll be too long for one post, I'll break it up into a couple, here goes:

I know one of the anthems of post-modernity is the fall of the meta-narrative - we've seen what an overarching story can do in the hands of men and women and how destructive it can be (Hitler & Nazism, Lenin/Stalin & Marxist Communism, Christians & the inquisition, ravaging of New World natives, slavery, etc). Humanity, for the most part, has recognized that there is danger in believing one single story can explain the world and subjugate others into a subservient position in that story. In popular culture, this has given rise to books and films that no longer follow a simply linear story line, complete with a climax and denouement. Instead, we've been given brilliant visions of life that doesn't resolve (Juno, 2008), and stories that are pieced together from multiple angles and perspectives (Pulp Fiction, 1994 and Momento, 2002), which leave you unsettled. And these have resonated with our postmodern culture because we recognize that life is messy, it is unresolved and the institutions and individuals that we trusted and put faith in (parents, schools, governments, churches), have at one time or another failed us.

With this said, over the last decade or so, I've proposed a thesis, unproven except by personal observation, that those stories which truly grab us, do have something in common. In fact, those "epic" movies that have lined the pocket books of so many movie industry people, have something very similar - they, in one way or another, tell the story which is already in our hearts - and the story that we long to hear. While some movies and stories tell us part of the story, relate to us the tragedy of our world, remind us of its broken and fragmentedness, distract us enough to laugh, they share but a small part of the story. But these greater stories, these "epics" are so because they come closest to showing us what we all long to see, what we all long to hear, the story that resonates within our very hearts and souls.

The caviat that I must throw out is that the story is ultimately not about conquest by force. While it may reside in stories with great battles (LOTR - Return of the King, 2003), it just as easily resides in stories that do not (the Green Mile, 1999), because, it is not about the violent triumph of good over evil. It is about the redemption of - individuals, communities, the world, the redemption of evil - which comes in quite unexpected ways...


Dave Derus said...

I am not convinced that we are embracing a the death of the meta narrative. Nor that the idea of a meta narrative is all bad. The same narrative that caused Hitler also rallied the Allied forces to stop him, the narrative of Communism was rebuffed by the narrative of western capitalism.

When it comes to our movies I think that we are just getting bored and sloppy with our traditional plot structures. So when a movie comes along the defies the status quo it sticks out because of what it isn't instead of what it is. In the case of Juno it was a quirky character driven exploration on a controversial topic. It was essentially the anti-John Hughs teen movie.

Don said...

Dave - I think, as Christians, we can agree that western capitalism as a meta-narrative has the same potential for harm that Nazism & Communism do/did - just differently.

I believe you're right about boredom in movies. But even this boredom reflects a postmodern mindset of being unfulfilled with what we are given, pushing the boundaries, declaring that there are no boundaries, etc. And I think you'll agree (as I continue the series) that the story of redemption is what we continue to return to because it resonates in our souls.