75th Academy Award Nominations send a message

A culture’s stories reveal the issues on that culture’s mind. Jesus knew this and told parables. Today’s filmmaker knows it and produces a movie that connects with the spirit of the age.

So what do we learn about today’s culture through the 75th Academy’s Best Picture nominees? The nominees are: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Pianist. What in the world do these movies have in common?

First, they are all artistically brilliant. Whether or not you agree with the values and beliefs of the story being told or enjoy it, the story is presented in a craftsman-like manner with a finely honed script, exquisite acting and engaging cinematography. This year Hollywood rewarded quality in the execution of concept and the telling of story.

Second, these stories are dealing with issues of moral weight and consequence. Can a city be built from the rubble of crime and violence (Gangs of New York)? How do you build a life on a broken emotional or mental state (The Hours)? Can one touched by the ring, like Gollum, recover (LOTR)? Can one survive the Holocaust (The Pianist)? These stories ask whether there is a future and a hope for lives touched by fallen-ness. They ask in the complexity and universality of fallen people, what is a good person and whether good and good people prevail? (Chicago looks at the same question satirically).

Third, each story concentrates on a key individual or individuals. These are not primarily stories about society surviving, but rather are tales of individuals meeting the challenges and tests of their situation and era. The message? Civilization rises and falls on the strength of individuals. This engages viewers at a very personal level because they are able to insert themselves into the key character’s life and decision-making process.

So why are these timely messages? How do they resonate with humans today?

Here we stand at the dawn of a new century in a culture whose big ideas (Marx, Freud, Bultmann, Darwin) have run out of gas. It is a society looking for spiritual legs. Whatever residual idealism and optimism remained was blown out of the sky with two airplanes slamming into twin towers on a crisp September morning.

Reeling from the stinging blow, and better at asking questions than providing answers, Hollywood reverted to what it knows how to do. It made quality pictures, asking big questions, pointing at answers and challenging viewers to think. It is an age of questions. It is, as E.R. Dodds described the first century, An Age of Anxiety.

Now we ask if humans will admit that we are the problem, as G.K Chesterton did when the London Times asked: ¢â‚¬Ëœwhat’s wrong with the world?’ and he submitted the briefest of answers: “I am.”

And will we as Tolkien, conclude that God is our hope for today and tomorrow and communicate it in a story so well told, that a lost culture will be engaged enough in it’s superb telling, that they will actually hear it?

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in February 12, 2003 by | No Comments »

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