Monday, October 6, 2014

Whatever Is... True

This series focuses on the attributes listed in Philippians 4:8 as examples of things Christians should focus on. Once a month I will choose one of the attributes, examine it a little bit, and find movies -- specifically not-overtly-Christian movies -- that serve as a good example.

This month's word is true.

To requote my intro blog on what I found when I looked up the original Greek meaning of this word:
An adjective, derived from A "not" and lantháno, "unnoticed, concealed" 
True, as it accords with fact (reality), i.e. attested because tested – literally, "what can't be hidden." 
Stresses undeniable reality when something is fully tested, i.e. it will ultimately be shown to be fact (authentic).
So I set out to look for a list of movies that revealed, movies that were factually authentic, or movies that spoke to the importance of truth as a whole.

This was a difficult one for me to tackle because in order to verify a movie as truthful in the sense of factual, I had to have enough outside information to be aware of that, and, frankly, I have a working knowledge of most subjects more than I do a mastery of any of them, so I can't confirm details. As a result, I ended up focusing more on movies that communicated a message about truth, or that communicated a lesson that felt very true to me.

The Truman Show (1998). This was actually the first one that came to mind, as well as one that my sister Bethany chose for one of her picks. A lot of movies speak about the importance of truth as opposed to comfortable lies, but this is my favorite. For any who don't know the basic story, Truman (played by Jim Carrey) is the unwitting star of a reality TV show focused around his life. He's grown up in a fake TV world, with actors playing his parents, his friends, and his wife. Eventually, inevitably, he discovers the truth, and he must make the decision whether to return to the safe, protected life he's always known -- even though none of it's real -- or venture out into the real world with no idea what might find there. It's a beautiful, powerful movie to me that constantly reminds me that facing the truth, no matter how scary it is, is always going to be better than living a lie.

Memento (2000). This is a much darker pick, though it's still one of my all-time favorite movies. The basic plot of Memento is about Leonard, a man with short-term memory loss. The last thing he remembers is someone attacking him and his wife, and now he's out to find the man who killed his wife and caused Leonard's memory loss. The story is told with a gimmick that works very well -- we see the story play out in 15-minute scenes that move backwards, so that, like the main character, every time a scene begins, we have no idea how we got there or what's happening, and we're trying to figure out the truth as much as he is. The rest of my explanation involves definite spoilers for the movie's central mystery, so if you haven't seen it yet, skip the next paragraph and move on to choice #3.

***Spoilers*** At the end of the movie (and the beginning of the story) the main character discovers that the person he thought killed his wife, didn't. There are a couple different interpretations of the end reveal, either that he found and killed the murderer some time ago, or that his wife survived the attack only to be accidentally killed by Leonard himself later. (I hold to the second theory.) Either way, he cannot accept this answer and makes the deliberate decision to wait 15 minutes and forget this answer. He even sets himself up on purpose to make his later self hunt down the man who revealed the truth to him. This raises fascinating questions about what happens when we deliberately reject the truth. While Truman chooses truth over comfortable falsehood, Leonard chooses to run from the truth about his own guilt, and as a result, he may find himself living the same haunted cycle over and over and over again, unable to ever be free. ***End Spoilers***

Company (2007). This might be cheating because although there are two movies of this musical, they're both filmed versions of stage performances... but its message is one that resonates very deeply with me. (I've written about it elsewhere on my blog.) It tells the story of Bobby, an outgoing, charming guy who is the only single person among his group of married friends. Through a series of interactions with his friends, it's revealed that while a part of Bobby does want to settle down someday, he's worried about how much a serious relationship would disrupt his life.

In the first act, his song "Marry Me a Little" showcases his dream relationship: one where "we won't have to give up a thing, we'll stay who we are." But his short flings keep leaving him unsatisfied, and in the end he realizes that if his relationships are going to be as deeply fulfilling as he wants them to be, he's going to have to open himself to the possibility that he could get hurt and that life could be difficult. His final song, "Being Alive," is him acknowledging that he'd rather be deeply connected to someone else than feel "safe" alone: "Somebody, sit in my chair and ruin my sleep and make me aware of being alive." This truth about vulnerability in relationships is hardly a new one -- plenty of other movies have done it as well -- but this is the movie that made it hit home for me the most.

Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) and Jesus People (2009). These are two kind of odd choices, but I wanted to find something that I could confirm was an accurate depiction of a specific experience, and these two immediately came to mind. The original Cheaper by the Dozen was a movie my family watched a lot growing up because it was a great portrayal of a large family. I was the oldest of eight and I've still never found a movie that better captures the experience I had growing up. While my family had some significant differences from the one in the movie, both were equally drama-and-chaos-free. Sure, there's a lot going on when you have that many people in a home, but compare that movie to, say, the 2003 remake, which is just full of hijinks, screaming, and everything going wrong, and the original is a much more accurate depiction of my family -- and most of the other large families I knew growing up.

I just watched Jesus People for the first time a month or so ago, and I was struck by its pitch-perfect parody of a very specific experience: working on something artistic within a very Christian environment. Though this movie focuses on music, which I've done less with, I've done lots of Christian/theater combinations -- in a church, in a traveling drama ministry, and in a Christian college, and this movie is fantastic at showcasing the weird things that sometimes happen with the tension between artistic integrity and a desire to send a message. (I laughed out loud during one scene where the band suggests their first song should take a popular secular song and rewrite it with a Christian message. All the results are terrible but it's absolutely the kind of thing that can and does happen all the time.)

That's my list! I asked my readers to share their thoughts as well, and got some great responses. These were some of the suggestions I received:

As far as a movie that brings to light things that are hidden, the movie that popped into my mind first was Frozen. There are so many issues in this movie that start one way and end up somewhere else entirely because reality is introduced. In a fairy tale, a prince and princess meet, fall in love and love happily ever after, Frozen imparts a more realistic approach. In a fairy tale, the one with the magical powers that could potentially be used to hurt others is the clear bad guy, in Frozen, she's a hurting, damaged teenager/young adult craving to be loved and understood. --Sarah

Crash, because of the different interpretations of what truth is. --Christian

Remains of the Day: Lots of people make movies (and speeches) about the need to take a risk, and not let life slip away from them, but most of them make no impact on me because I am not sure they know what they are talking about. This movie, though, which is about two very proper English servants who fall in love but never get together because of their emotional reserve, really stuck with me. I saw, in a way I’d never realized before, how one’s caution about relationships can simultaneously be generous to others and imprisoning for oneself. It showed very precisely how that can happen.

What was true about [this movie]? Not the facts, and not the moral . . . but rather the experience . . . an experience which not only tells the truth but makes it possible for it to be seen. --Kevin (read more on his blog post)

The Truman Show, of course, is about discovering the truth of his world, as well as about how everyone loves the show because of how authentic Truman is because he's not faking it for the camera; he's just real.

And 12 Angry Men, while you don't know at the end whether the boy did it or not, is about digging into things that nobody thought of and to reveal holes. You don't necessarily find any TRUTH in that one, but instead discover that some things that seemed to be obvious weren't as black and white as they seemed. --Bethany

Next Month

Next month's theme in the Whatever Is... series is: honorable.

That is one translation anyway. While "true" remained pretty much the same throughout all the translations, this one varies a lot. Looking up the original Greek word, I found this:
semnós (an adjective derived from sébomai, "to revere, be in awe") – properly, what is august (dignified, has "gravitas"); weighty, deeply respected because viewed as majestic (having "gravity"); grave.
This gets translated as all kinds of things. A quick glance at Bible Gateway translations gives me answers like honorable, honest, worthy of reverence, seemly, holy, noble, worthy of respect, respected, chaste, and grave. The most common by far, however, are "honorable" and "noble."

This one has plenty of room for interpretation, so I'm going to leave it up to you to figure out how you want to interpret it in your answers. If you want to contribute, leave a comment, or post on my Facebook page, or email me, or any other way you want to get in touch with me.

The next blog will go up on November 3, so you once again have about a month. I'll post a reminder every so often. Thanks for everyone who contributed this month, and I hope I'll get some more great answers for November!

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