Spiritual Themes in the Academy Award Nominees 2002

If it is true that the stories we tell reveal the core issues humans are dealing with, what do we learn about our collective spiritual journey from the stories in the Academy Award nominees for best picture? Nominated this year are A Beautiful Mind, In the Bedroom, Gosford Park, Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge.

1. The human dilemma and a dark force in the universe. In this year’s films there is a great sense of angst about the human condition. The phrase ‘our so-called lives’ describes the general malaise. A man has a beautiful mind, but is imprisoned by a mental illness. A couple faces a life-altering, evil event and learns they don’t really know each other. Elite and their servants alike share an equal sense of unease about a lack of meaning and general injustice in their personal live. The simple life of the Hobbits is interrupted by a threat from a dark force, gathering momentum and seeking to do them harm. A man and woman pledge their love in a relationship everyone knows is doomed.

2. Salvation in human effort. John Nash seeks to overcome mental illness through sheer personal willpower, but he remains a broken man. A couple solves their problem by committing an unspeakable act that now morbidly, becomes their common bond and likely dire fate. Murder eliminates a commonly despised benefactor, but everyone leaves Gosford Park to return to the same petty and trivial pursuits with which they arrived. Faced with a common enemy, Hobbits and others form a fellowship and find it can carry them a great distance, but not all the way. They also learn that even the best of them are vulnerable to corruption. The young couple opts for a romantic idealism, believing it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, but in the end the love is lost.

In summary, these films share a common and rather gloomy message: Life is meaningless, there seems to be a dark force at work in our lives and our human attempts to overcome or counteract it, seem doomed to failure.

3. Hope in the Transcendent. Only one film takes this cycle to the next level. Only Lord of the Rings hints at a hope outside human ingenuity and resource.

a. There is a good force at work against the dark force

byline
–Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.
==Gandolf to Frodo

b. Our hope against the darkness is in the eternal light

byline
–There is a light for you when all other lights go out.
==Elf Queen Galadriel to Frodo

c. Overcoming the dark force requires individuals joined in community by a common goal or set of ideals

byline
–Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces.
==Elrond’s blessing at the departure of the company from Rivendell

d. Our hope is in not in physical strength and human ingenuity

byline
–Swords are of no more use here.
==Gandolf to the Fellowship at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum

Finally, while not revealed in the first of the trilogy, as it develops, Tolkien’s direction is established in the Fellowship and taken as a whole, Tolkien’s belief in the supremacy of God is clear.

e. Our hope is in God

byline
–It is about God, and his sole right to divine honour.
==Tolkien, Notes on Auden’s review, Letters p 43

These films taken together accurately reflect our shared journey. We are afraid the ‘shows about nothing’ are in fact about us. We sense a dark force at work and feel our efforts are unequal to the task of defeating it. And as in real life, there is a still, small voice, a minority report, reminding whoever will listen –there is hope and it is found in God.

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in March 22, 2002 by | No Comments »

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