Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Seeing the Forest for the Themes

Usually about fifteen minutes into watching a movie, something like this will come out of my smartypants mouth:

"Oh, this movie deals with themes of innovation versus tradition, the old ways and the new ways.  Since Bond is the hero, his old ways will eventually be vindicated when all the slick computer technology that is seen as the way of the future eventually fails and he steps in with his grit and guts and saves the day.  But the new ways will probably have some part to play and he'll have to reconcile himself to their place in the future of espionage."

And I'm usually right.

It's what I get for spending four years studying literary criticism and then getting a job as a glorified secretary.  It's gotta come out somehow.

My tendency to see things in terms of themes and narrative structure informs my view not just of action movies but of human history.  I have trouble buying into the tired American fiction about our destiny as the apex of human civilization when I place the American empire in the context of the narrative of history, and see the rise and fall of all kinds of empires and powerful entities that saw themselves that way.   Sometimes this gives me a comforting sense of perspective.  Other times it makes me want to dive into bed and hide under the covers.

Being Catholic makes this tendency of mind chronic.  It's hard to buy into the enduring permanence of America's two hundred years when my deeper citizenship belongs to an institution that's seen two thousand.  Understanding what the Church teaches means seeing all of history as the history of God at work in the world, the history of our salvation, reaching its glorious apex when the God of eternity entered finite history.

I'm reading the book Prayer by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and he talks a lot about the idea of Christ as Logos.  This has always been one of my favorite ways of thinking about Jesus - as the Word of the Father, spoken to bring order to chaos, creation out of nothing, meaning to the long and rambling tale of human history.  Ultimately in the one great Story, there is one overarching Theme that matters.  And that Theme is not just an idea, not just a concept, but a human being who draws us in and makes us partners in his storytelling.
"And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle


  1. I can never read this paragraph in The Last Battle without choking up. I have now learned the same is true when read out of context. Excuse me while I go get a tissue .....