There are entertaining movies. Then there are entertaining movies that make comments about the world. Then there are entertaining movies that make comments about movies. And that is a very hard thing to do.
Two GREAT movies I've seen recently that appears to do just that are The Cabin in The Woods and (500) Days of Summer. The following are not movie reviews or synopses (but will probably spoil everything anyway), but they put down on paper my thoughts on how they function as comments on movies. (Yes, they're old movies. I don't get out much.)
CABIN IN THE WOODS: Deliberately cliché title, apparently cliché story: teens live in a summer cabin (in the woods) and they are not alone. But the story-line has an unexpected twist: The diabolical force is a group of technicians filming and controlling the scene through props, technology, and (real?) zombies. And that diabolical force ends up succumbing to an even darker one, "The Ancient Ones". Seen this way, the hackneyed play of five teens in the woods is a story set within a story. The small story is the depiction of almost every horror movie filmed today. The larger story is about how filmmakers make their horror movies in bondage to the archetypes and age-old motifs of the horror genre, depicted in the movie as the gods that control the technicians. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the movie director, Josh Whedon, described the movie as a "loving hate letter" to horror movies. And what better way to critique horror movies than in a horror movie?
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: Blockbuster would classify this movie as romantic comedy. But as the narrator tells you from the very beginning, "This is not a love story". The movie starts with the demise of the relationship, extinguishes the viewer's hope that the two people live happily ever after. Tom, the guy who gets repeatedly rejected in this movie, has a job of writing romantic greeting cards. He does not hate his job but he does not love it either. Writing romantic greeting cards is what he settled for when he did not accomplish the much harder goal of being an architect. His job is just a small reflection of his changing worldview in the movie. Greeting card companies, to Tom, manufactures and sells an artificial sense of feeling and significance. One invention of the greeting card company, according to heart-broken Tom, is love. And soon when Tom is shaken out of his infantile delusions about love, he rants about his job at the next conference meeting and quits: "It's a lie. We're liars... It's these songs, these movies and these pop songs, they're to blame for all our lies and the heartache and everything. And we're responsible. I'm responsible. I think we're doing a bad thing here." This is much like how I see most romantic comedies and pop love songs, flashy, simple and empty. And I have to wonder if the movie itself, with its anti-climactic beginning, setting up a failed love story, is critiquing the same thing Tom, a character in the movie, is critiquing. But Tom does not stop maturing. That's the important part: he regains toward the end of the movie a different vision of what love means. It is a quieter, subtler vision than what he had before, but it is more promising, too. Realism is hard to capture in a rom-com. This movie did that. And it did it in a way that elevates the genre altogether.
"Thy will, not mine, be done" is not only the hardest thing we can do (that is what sin has done to us), but it is also the most joyful and liberating thing we can do (that is what grace has offered us). A trillion experiments have proved one point over and over past all doubt: that whenever we aim at happiness as if we were God, by exerting our power and control, we end up in unhappiness, whether we get the thing we wanted or not. For if we get it, we are bored; and if we do not, we are frustrated. But whenever we become nothing, become utterly weak, whenever we say and mean with our whole heart, "Not my will but thine be done," we find the greatest happiness, joy, and peace that is ever possible in this world. Yet despite the trillions of experimental confirmations of this truth, we keep trying other experiments with happiness outside of God and outside of submission to God, thereby repeatedly selling our birthright of joy. In other words, we are insane. Sin is insanity.
"The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.He must become greater; I must become less." - John 3:29
I have come to the age when my friends are beginning to get married. Last Friday I got the amazing chance to see my undergrad friends at a wedding, and I loved every minute of it. At some points I would mentally step back to take in the scene. My old friends I haven't seen for years are merry and toasting champagne and laughing. It dawns on me: we are not teens anymore. We used to wear formal clothes to job interviews because we had to. But now we've become formal, dignified, adults. Yes, we're still goofs, but we're older and wiser versions of the people we were before. Our suits fit us better now. We are becoming ourselves.
And we're finding our mates, too. This reminds me that I have not yet found myself, that there's so much I want to learn and do before I've settled into my own comfortable skin. But my character of habits, angers and humors more tightly constrains me than it did before. The noose of my identity is closing in. It seems that through each day there's less and less left of me that I can change. The formative years of childhood are gone. I am not a flexible soul. I can still act, but only by reacting to the self that I've become over the years. I've jumped, and here I come hurtling to the earth. Much of where I shall fall was already determined when I jumped off the ledge. All I can do now is to try to remember everything I've learned about opening parachutes. This fills me with a profound loneliness.
My friends are finding their way through relationships. I am happy for them. I am neither bride nor groom. I am the groomsman. The groomsman celebrates the happiness of others. To partake in their happiness makes him happy. But it is a bittersweet happiness, as it makes painfully obvious the fact that they are two, and I am one.