Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Finding Faith to Overcome Cultural Doom and Gloom

 by Lisa Gulya


Tags: spirituality, faith, emerging Christianity, New Yorker, No Country for Old Men, Lilipoh,

Jesus radical

Hollywood has been bombarding moviegoers with apocalyptic visions, from 2007’s No Country for Old Men to The Happening to the current Disney/Pixar darling, Wall-E. Faced with their bleak depictions of the future (Wall-E lightens it up for the kids, of course), religion is sometimes offered as a countervailing, hopeful force against such dark visions.

Examining No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road as emblematic of our bleak cultural outlook, the wellness magazine Lilipoh (article not available online) finds hope through pastor and author Brian McLaren’s vision of "emergent Christianity" to fight the “sense of impending doom [that] fills all three works.” Rather than despairing over the ineffably evil of characters like No Country’s mass-murdering Anton Chigurh, Lilipoh suggests turning to Jesus’ original message of helping others to find hope:

Radical forgiveness, service to the poor and sick, a slow and steady aligning of our will with God’s...stripped of the nauseating rhetoric and distorted lens that the Christian church has all too often applied—this message offers a revolutionary and unlikely promise. 

Film critics offer a different way to lessen the depressing effects of hopeless movies: deny their credibility. David Denby's therapeutically harsh appraisal of No Country for Old Men from the New Yorker, for example, credits the film for its skillful opening twenty minutes of “the physical and psychological realization of dread,” but the final judgment is dismissive. “In the end," Denby writes, "the movie’s despair is unearned.” 

Image by Anthony Easton, licensed under Creative Commons

sarah bartlett
7/24/2008 12:19:10 PM

Dan, I wish I had seen your comments yesterday. Sadly, I went to see Batman last night without having read any reviews; I had no idea what a terrifying experience I was in for. I am always sensitive to gratuitous violence in movies, but this goes completely beyond. There is no question that we have crossed some major lines in terms of what we consider thrilling, entertaining, sexy, funny, and normal weeknight activity. This was a Wednesday night and a packed theater, and somehow life was supposed to go on as normal after viewing. I firmly believe that meditation and positive visualizations create real change and generate peace in the world. In the same way, I felt in the movie theater last night that we were all engaged in visualizing dark and sadisitc murder and destruction. I was terrified by what that could mean for our collective consciousness. These images and messages are truly harmful to our own psyche and they fundamentally change what we as a people believe to be possible. I will be recommiting to my daily meditation practice. Please join me in visualizing peace.


sarah bartlett
7/24/2008 11:53:07 AM

Dan, Thanks for your comments. Sadly, I went to see Batman last night without having read any reviews; I had no idea what a terrifying experience I was in for. I am always sensitive to gratuitous violence in movies, but this goes completely beyond. There is no question that we have crossed some major lines in terms of what we consider thrilling, entertaining, sexy, funny, and normal weeknight activity. This was a Wednesday night and a packed theater, and somehow life was supposed to go on as normal after viewing. I firmly believe that meditation and positive visualizations create real change in the world. In the same way, I felt in the movie theater last night that we were all engaged in visualizing dark and sadisitc murder and destruction. I was terrified by what that could mean for our collective consciousness. These images and messages are truly harmful to our own psyche and they fundamentally change what we as a people believe to be possible. I will be recommiting to my daily meditation practice. Please join me in visualizing peace.


dan_1
7/21/2008 3:59:49 PM

I don't know what happened to the end of my comment, but you get the idea. I wish that movies which portrayed good citizenship, tolerance, peaceful solutions, kindness and compassion would balance out these scary dystopias. In any case, I hope we can find ways to expose our young people and each other to messages of hope.


dan_1
7/21/2008 1:35:27 PM

I was thinking about this very question over the weekend after reading reviews of the new Batman movie and talking to my 22 year old son who had just seen it. It sounds like Heath Ledger's Joker is a very scary character, nihilstic and violent, intent on nothing other than spreading death, destruction and chaos. Something like Chigurh in that respect. David Denby says in the New Yorker, about Batman: "It has a kicky sadism in scene after scene, which keeps you on edge and sends you out onto the street with post-movie stress disorder. And it has one startling and artful element: the sinister and frightening performance of the late Heath Ledger as the psychopathic murderer the Joker. That part of the movie is upsetting to watch, and, in retrospect, both painful and stirring to think about." The reference being, as he writes later, the apparently accidental overdose of drugs that killed Ledger last winter. Did this talented young actor "look into the abyss" and find he was unable to handle what he saw there? Do we want to present these images to the young people of this nation, of our families and communities? I'm not sure that the youth of America have the maturity intellectually or spiritually to sort out these visions - I'm not sure I even do. I'm a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy and have read all of his books. He does see a cosmic battle between good and evil underway in this world and he seems to be unsure who is winning - I'm guessing he suspects that the bad guys are, though. My concern is that Hollywood, in its persistent effort to show us new and creative ways of killing and destroying, might be playing into the battle and not on the right side. I'm afraid I sound like an old fuddy duddy. I love literature and art and film, and I understand the role of art to provoke - but I wonder what is going on in our society when there is such a relentless display of this kind of harsh and cynical and dep