Friday, September 25, 2009

magnolia

Yesterday I took a 12-hour train ride from Ann Arbor, MI to La Crosse, WI. En route to Wisconsin, I had extensive leisure time, which doesn't always happen. For a little over 3 hours of this ride, I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's film, "Magnolia," which I have decided is one of the most challenging and fine films I've ever seen.
I'm not a movie connoisseur; nor do I know the ins and outs of viewing films as ''art"; nor do I have extensive knowledge of film history (or really something which could be qualified as ''knowledge'' at all). But I do see films as an opportunity to enter a world in which lessons can be learned; a world where we can lose ourselves, be entertained. And if we're lucky, maybe see a little bit of ourselves in the characters and have the awesome opportunity of learning a little bit more about who we are. If nothing else, maybe we can just be comforted by a film in connecting with a character we relate to and know, if only for an hour or two (or three +), we aren't alone in who we are; people who understand to some degree of where we are in this crazy thing called life are out there.
Magnolia is a movie that can't necessarily be explained to someone who hasn't seen it. Nor can it really be explained to someone who has seen it. The best way to describe it, is that it's a story about a bunch of broken, hurting, flawed, and at times despicable people whom we get to spend one day with walking with them through their valleys as their lives intersect and cross paths in a web -- posing the question of whether or not the bizarre and profoundly unlikely occurences in life are mere coincidence or if they just ''happen.''
That is only a layer of the film however, which is only surface level. Underneath though, with some digging and processing, treasure can be found.
We're introduced to each of the main characters through a montage at the start of the film; we understand from the get-go they are all extremely broken people; all flawed, unhappy, and hiding behind themselves to some degree or another. For the sake of not spoiling anything (which is a bit hard to do with this movie, though I'll try extra hard), I'll just give one characters profile whom we're introduced to in the first 15-minutes.
Tom Cruise is a self-acclaimed self-help sex guru for men; owner of a franchise called, "Seduce & Destroy," which helps men to overcome and break through the seeming ''bastardization of the modern male's manhood." Tom Cruise's character is a despicable, misogynistic, cynical, manipulative, disgusting, and cruel human being. Demeaning and degrading women to pure sex objects who are less than men and are purely there to please men and feed into men's nihilistic and selfish desires.
If you watch the first fifteen minutes of this movie, you'll want to stop watching. The scene where Cruise is introduced is disturbing, disgusting, and sick. Turning away and turning off the film seems like something that would be good. That said, ''Magnolia" isn't a film for everyone. But if you can stick with it, there's more to take from this film then what's taken from most sermon's heard in church on Sunday.
Cruise's character, as well as the majority of people in the story, are people we would see on the street and write off as disgusting and hopeless individuals, ''garbage,'' who are going to burn in Hell (from a stereotypical Christian standpoint, which sadly isn't all that rare). Outside of the realm of faith however, they're individuals you would see on the street and despise, avoid, and fight with if you got the chance. The folks you would see and try your best to ignore or confront angrily.
But this is what, in my opinion, is the genius of "Magnolia." If you stick with the story and commit to finishing the film, the movie won't let you leave the story after it's done with the same perception you have of Tom Cruise's character you had when you first meet him, nor with the same perception you have of any people you meet in the film in the beginning. The story digs deeper than the surface level first impressions of people.
The movie in some ways is an exercise and takes, to a small degree, a bit of effort to watch. These people aren't fun and happy-go-lucky charming people. They aren't necessarily enjoyable to be around. They all have immense and deep levels of pain they are dealing with in different ways they've taken up to numb the pain; without facing the wounds and pain itself.
"Magnolia" pushes us to not ignore these people; to not write them off. It screams, "Don't turn your back and push these people away! Take the time to understand them and their pain!"
The movie doesn't wrap up like a present at the end of the day. But that's not the point of the movie. I think the point of the film is about forgiveness, judging, and essentially the difference between the ''right thing'' and the ''easy thing.'' It is a wake up call to the Church; to Christians; to people who say they follow and love Jesus.
It poses us the uncomfortable but essential opportunity to face our passivity, judgments, stereotypes, and apathy when it comes to the way we look at people and the world; to love others truly as Christ love(d/s) others. The movie doesn't justify the characters' actions. It knows they're flawed. It doesn't try and doll them up and make them look like good people.
Rather it begs the viewer to take the time to understand the players, to not judge; to look deeper and be patient with them.
In many ways, the film can be seen as an example of the way God calls us to look at the world. I'm referring to the ''film'' in the literal sense; it's tangible form -- the script itself. It's paper with words which merely exists in the realm of molecules. It doesn't hide the characters or try and force us to like them. Rather, it in many ways forces us to understand them. The film is faithful to the truth of their lives; telling it transparently. It tells the story because it needs to be told. It is essential to grasp the fact and be ''okay'' with the film not being comfortable to watch. Following Christ isn't pretty. It's not safe. It's not comfortable. It's not easy. It is hard work. But it's not about us. It's about honoring God; loving others with God's love and sharing Christ through example. How can we love others and share Christ -- through ACTIONS first, and words if necessary -- if we never take the time to understand why people are the way they are. To truly love with Christ's unconditional love. The love that doesn't say, "change this about you and I'll love you." But Christ's love which says, "I love you no matter what."
There's more to the story upon turning to Christ, but that's a process and nobody can do that for another person. We can just love on others and let God do the rest. We're not called to fix people. We're called to be ambassadors for Christ and truly ''witness.'' It's not our place to tell someone to change and then we'll love them -- moreover it's not our place, nor is it at all accurate to say that somebody needs to change in order for God to love them. God loves them regardless.
I'm not saying following Christ requires us just to believe and live life just as we did before we knew God, relying on Christ's grace to pick up the pieces. But in order to start living a life of Holiness and striving to live to God's standards set by Christ, you need to first know Christ and be saved by His grace. You can live up to all the standards and be a ''good'' person all you want and be the ''nicest'' person you can be; that won't save you, only faith in Jesus and living out God's calling for your life suffices.
Bottom line. We can't push people away because they seem horrible on the surface and write them off because loving them would be uncomfortable and take too much work. We need to take the time to form relationships and understand where people are coming from.
So make the effort to spend 3 hours with the folks of "Magnolia," and take seriously the challenge it poses to look at people without judging who they are by first impressions. Be patient and honestly try and understand where they're coming from, and then let God work through you.

It comes down to living and breathing Galatians 5:22-23:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law."

2 comments:

  1. Dear Andrew,

    Please take this in the most friendly way possible: I like you! :) I didn't have time to read the whole post, but I really like it so far, and intend to read the rest when I finish my homework. :) You're cool, and I am glad to God to have you as a friend. Keep it up Andrew!
    -Leanne :D

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  2. Powerful stuff man. You write your blog as well as you write your songs. I believe you struck a lot of good chords here. I look forward to what you will write in the future.
    -Caleb (From Devos in NWMC)

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