Friday, 7 February 2014

Two recent classic movies - The Truman Show and Groundhog Day

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I have watched both with my family recently - I'm assuming everybody has seen them.

These were both second viewings - I saw them when they came out about twenty years ago, they both stuck in my mind as top-notch movies, and then I saw them again over the past few days.

What struck me this time round was how religiously-rooted they both are, how hostile to the prevailing secular hedonic materialism of modernity.

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At the end of The Truman Show, Truman is given a stark choice of either staying inside his 'show' where he will be assured of a pain free, pleasant and peaceful existence - or venturing out into our world, with all its unpredictability and horrors.

The choice is also between the fake and the real; between a pretend life, and an earnest life.

For most of the adult audience, this is a real dilemma - not least because modern culture is implicitly seeking exactly that state of comfortable distraction epitomized by life inside The Truman Show.

But Truman chooses to leave 'secular modernity'; and I asked my kids what they would have chosen, and both unhesitatingly chose leaving the show as obviously the right thing to do; they immediately rejected the pretend, fake, unreal comfort of life inside the bubble.

I found this interesting - that it is the more-corrupted adults who see the choice as a dilemma; while kids see it as straightforward, and instantly (and correctly) perceive Truman as being imprisoned in his air-conditioned daydream (that is really a nightmare).

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Truman's choice is given him, not by God - but by a man who is playing-God - the deviser and director of The Truman Show: an Antichrist figure with a superficially-protective (and pseudo-loving) attitude to his protegee Truman; but whose underlying pride and destructive sadism are revealed (to all around him, although not to himself) when he tries to kill Truman rather than letting him break out of the vast eco-dome which contains him.

So, in leaving the Show, Truman is also rejecting the temptations of Satan. As yet he does not know what else there may be on offer outside the dome, it is a step into the unknown - but he has started well: very well.

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In Groundhog Day, the protagonist Phil is forced to repeat that day in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania - beginning each repetition with full memories of what went before but recommencing at exactly the same starting point - free within that day to do as he chooses - but unageing, unable to die or escape in any way.

The movie charts Phil's various reactions and strategies to his inexplicable (and never explained) predicament; and although it is never stated, the implication is that he relives this day thousands of times, perhaps many thousands of times.

Eventually, after exhausting every sinful possibility (lust, greed, sloth etc) and indulging all the emotional vices (pride, anger, hatred etc), Phil learns what was (apparently) the lesson of his experience, and becomes a loving, altruistic humble man - at which point he is 'allowed' to move on to the next day - sanctified.

And it is not enough for Phil to fake this, to say the right things and do the right things - he must genuinely change within: become a better man - better motivated, a better character. 

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It turns-out that Groundhog Day was a test, and also an experience - an arena for free agency and choice.

And the tester seemingly knows Phil's inner life, his real motivations - and these are what must change before Phil can pass the test.

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But who is the tester; who does this to Phil - and why?

Implicitly, it has to be God, obviously - and a personal God who cares about Phil as an individual and has an individual relationship with him - and who also cares, equally, about all the people of Punxutawney and wants the best for them too. Thus the Jewish/ Christian God.

The point being that without such a God, and without the life that God prescribes - life is meaningless, purposeless and utterly lonely; and might as well be an unending cycle of futile repetition - as when an alcoholic slob responds to Phil's account of his predicament (every day the same, going nowhere) by saying that this description also fits his own life...

A super-truth joke; which hints that, minus-God, modern life is a mere repetition of distraction and intoxication and unreality; every bit as futile as the daily cycles of intoxication of a bar-fly. 

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Both movies are, in effect, Judeo-Christian critiques of the ideals and actuality of Godless modernity; demonstrations of the gross inadequacy of an ethic of self-centred hedonism; arguments for the necessity of hope being rooted beyond this-worldly ideals of peace, pleasure, comfort and convenience.

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