April 16, 2014

A Hollywood Brickbuster

So, all the blockbuster movie talk recently has been about a single man, with nothing intrinsically special about him other than that he was chosen for the task, who is commissioned to build something that will help people escape from a destructive force that is going to end the world as we know it.

That’s right folks. Last night, armed with popcorn, M&Ms, Coke, a six year old son and a 70 year old mother, I watched THE LEGO MOVIE (Strictly speaking they are “bricks” not “blocks” – pernickety Ed).  And it was pretty impressive actually, especially the (SPOILER ALERT), human bit at the end. There was a sufficient level of kid humour to keep my son interested, a sufficient level of appropriate adult humour to keep me interested, and a sufficient level of noise and animation to keep my mum glued to her seat with eyes half-closed and earplugs in.  Wins all round really.

But here’s the interesting thing.  For all the crazy talk in some quarters about how unbiblical the Noah movie is (fundamentalists say that it is non-historical and pillages the text: Academics sniff at the Gnostic leanings completely missed by enthusiastic missional types), the LEGO movie sneaks right under the worldview radar. Yes, folks, the Gospel according to Disney is alive and kicking in the LEGO movie, but it doesn’t really matter, cos the colours are so nice, the action is so fast, and it’s a great story.  Even the bad guy turns good in the end.

So here’s what I learned from the movie.  Everyone is special, everyone has it within themselves to be the best they can possibly be, and the simplest way to reach a state of “Master Builder” in the LEGO world (one in which creativity flourishes) is to clear your mind.  Oh, and those who attempt to make you build everything according to “the instructions” are actually there to cause you harm.  It’s only when one frees one’s mind, accepts that one has it within oneself to become “the most interesting person ever” (boring is a capital offence in the modern world- Ed), and allow oneself to build without the operations manual, that life finally becomes worth living.  Just imagine that, a world in which every person is the most interesting person ever!  How interesting would that be?

Anyway, I digress.  It’s Hollywood. What did I expect?  Did I expect the movie to promulgate a viewpoint other than the generally accepted self-improvement/self-awareness/free-yourself-from-traditional-restraints viewpoint that pervades most Hollywood movies these days?  No.  No I did not.  I fully expected it.  Fully went in there expecting to see it, and fully came out of there filled up on the sugar of M&Ms, and the saccharine of MGM.  To paraphrase about Hollywood the pointed remark once made about a certain preacher: A thousand thousand were its scripts, but all its sermons one.

It’s a movie about LEGO, you say, lighten up!  But perhaps that’s my point.  Every once in a while a movie comes along  – like Noah – that sets Christians against each other.  That raises the public interest. Is it right? Is it wrong? Does it remain faithful to the text?  Where the heck do they get the idea that fallen angels are rock people?  And all the while the overwhelming, doom-laden message of judgement contained within the narrative hangs over us, pregnant with possibilities, and just waiting to be used as a discussion starter.  So you didn’t like its creative licence?  Big deal!  The LEGO movie – whilst a lot of fun – throws no spanner in the spiritual works, demolishes no pretensions about our humanity, and builds, brick by careful brick, a view of who we are that is completely at odds with the Christian perspective. It fits snugly into the prevailing cultural paradigm that we have constructed about ourselves. But, hey, it’s cute, and didn’t that original generic spaceman with the toddler toothmarks in his helmet totally rock?!

My point is this: While it’s something of a generalisation, we are so adept at seeing the big bad wrong in a movie like Noah, and so inept at seeing the pervasive, long term underlying narrative in the rest of Hollywood.  We have lost our ability to think critically.  We have lost our ability to think biblically. We strain gnats and swallow camels.  It’s why, when, attending a talk recently that promoted a young earth and a literal six day creation only, I was the single person in the fifty or so crowd who knew which day the land was created (the third, in case you didn’t), and on which day the land was filled (the sixth, just in case you didn’t).  Why did I know? And why, in a the midst of a crowd that takes this stuff seriously, did only I know?  Why did I, who whilst not a theistic evolutionist, believe that the literal order  matters?  Because the narrative is a sophisticated device that speaks about the nature of God, the nature of his relationship to his creation, and the nature of the apologetic that the people of God were about to bring into the Promised Land, replete as it was with rival pantheons and creation stories that had captivated people’s imaginations, lives and lifestyles as much as Hollywood has today.

So go see the LEGO movie.  Go see it for fun: Go see it with a critical eye. Laugh at it: Deconstruct it brick by careful brick.  It’s possible to do both.  It’s possible to enjoy it as an astonishing piece of film-making that makes the six year old beside you laugh with glee and keep glancing up at you to see if his dad is laughing too. It’s also possible to critique it as yet another example of how the western narrative of self improvement and freedom from restraint saturates the story-telling process, marinading us along with it. And then go and see Noah for goodness sake, and critique it the same way!

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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