Wednesday, July 8, 2015

my father crossed a double-line

Day 207 - more than anything else began a three-day obituary of sorts for Harold Ramis in this blog. During phase one of this blog—if you’re new, that’s when I was watching Groundhog Day every day—I would include a “reason to repeat a day forever” at the end of the entry. That particular entry ended with a rather lengthy one... “I will forego the obvious, trying to keep people from dying,” I began.

As Phil learns in the third act of Groundhog Day sometimes that is a pointless exercise. If we didn’t have death looming off on the horizon, life wouldn’t have the value it does. If we’re lucky enough or bold enough, we live life to the fullest. And, when death comes for us, we face it with dignity and resolve, knowing that we have lived. So, no, I would not necessarily try to keep anyone from dying. But, for those who I cannot save, I would be with them, to be sure they are neither panicked nor confused. I would give comfort where I could and maybe rage alongside those more resistant to death because it is too soon and they haven’t managed to live the life they want to live just yet. Whatever makes the passing easier.

And, I would save from death entirely those who I could, of course. But, that’s kind of a given.

Spirituality & Practice cites Stephen Levine’s book A Year to Live, in which Levine lived for one year

as if it were his last. The results were impressive: He became much more conscious of his states of mind and much more attentive to the bounties of the present moment. This radical spiritual project resulted in an inner transformation, causing him “to sharpen life and soften death.”

a) Levine should try blogging. It works wonders for sharpening life. (You got that, future thesis-writing me?) b) Not having read Levine’s book, I gotta wonder how that as if it were his last really works. Living for the moment is one thing, no day but today and all that, but I’m dying imaginarily in a year? That’s a bit gimmicky.

And, it should be obvious that I don’t like gimmicks. </sarcasm>

Speaking of gimmicks, Frank Cunningham at Union Presbyterian Seminary calls George Monroe a “reborn Christ Figure” which brings me circling back to Kozlovic. (2004)

The adjusted Black-Kozlovic Scale of Cinematic Christ-Figuredness—

(Which I should really write up in some formal manner. It occurs to me after all of these times of scoring Christ-Figures, from Phil Connors to John Rambo to Buzz Lightyear, that the various items on this list should not be valued equally, nor should the items added by me just count for extra points (meaning, if present in the film, they count positively, but since their inclusion in the list doesn’t change the overall possible total, their absence does not hurt the score) though the item I took from Larsen (2013)—atonement—is okay as just extra because it is one of the most important items on the list (and is present far more, I would argue, than Larsen thinks). Anyway, haven’t fixed the list yet, so running with the old version.)

—contains 29 items, numbers 1-25 (see that parenthetical if you just skipped it, regarding some of the added items). The closer to 25 a character scores, ostensibly, the more he or she should be considered a Cinematic Christ-Figure. Whether or not other people (like Frank Cunningham) refer to the character as a Christ-Figure or compare him or her to Christ is not supposed to affect the score. If you are new and want even more information, just read my paper on the subject—I included it in this blog in its entirety. Otherwise, let us get on with the show:

1. tangible George is. 1/1

2. central George is. 2/2

3. outsider George doesn’t get along with his neighbors, so much so that one has to wonder how he’s survived in that neighborhood this long at all. 3/3

4. divinely sourced I’ve got to go back to Kozlovic’s descriptions for this one. I remember that he’s not particularly picky about the divinity of the source, just that some outside source has sent a person. George is not that, unless his cancer diagnosis or the unseen doctor that counts. So, I return to Kozlovic (2004). He writes, “Being on a specific mission is frequently the raison d’etre for the Christ-figure’s arrival” (para. 32). He starts this item, though, by specifying that “Christ-figures usually arrive through some form of deliberate ‘divine’ intervention by a distant God-figure” (ibid). We could take cancer as an Act of God and give George this point, but I don’t want to make it too easy. What I find interesting, though, looking at Kozlovic directly again is this exemplar: “Superman comes to Earth to benefit all humanity [which is factually debatable], just like ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (I Tim. 1:15), particularly ‘from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21), and who knows what other cosmic means” (ibid). So, why is George where he is doing what he is? Boiling it down to having a mission brings this item close to Larsen’s (2013) atonement, which means I can not only give George this point but also that one when I get to it. 4/4

4.5. miraculous birth Nope. 4/4

5. alter ego Nope. 4/5

6. special/normal Not really. Getting philosophical when you’re dying doesn’t really qualify. 4/6

7. twelve associates The specific count isn’t important, as most movies would never bother giving anyone an entourage so large because it cuts down screentime for any of the individual characters; what matters is that the (potential) Christ-Figure has a specific entourage that sticks with him. George has Sam and Robin (and Adam and Ryan) and Alyssa and Colleen and Josh and Kurt, even Bob (the inspector). 5/7

8. holy age This one is unexpected. Kevin Kline was 54 when this movie came out, meaning George Monroe is roughly that age. He specifically tells Sam and us that it was 21 years ago that his father drove drunk. This accident includes the injured little girl who lost her mother (as George lost his), the girl who—SPOILERS—ends up with the house being built here. So, George’s mission—and keep in mind, he asks Kurt for a favor (looking up her whereabouts) well before Sam goes to give her the house—literally began when he was (roughly) 33 years old. The “holy age” is supposed to be 30, the age Christ was when he began his ministry, but the age of his death is close enough for me. 6/8

9. judas-figure Either the annoying neighbor Dokos (Sam Robards) or Sam for calling the inspector. 7/9

10. mary-magdalene figure Each of the females in this film are, in Kozlovic’s terms, “sexually tagged” so regardless of who should be counted here—Colleen (Mary Steenburgen) actually has sex during the film, so I’ll go with her—George gets this point. 8/10

10.5. virgin mary-figure This one is weird, because Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas) actually qualifies (despite the incestuous implications). She’s not having sex with her husband, she gets interrupted before getting that far with George, and she once worked a miracle—curing Sam’s ear infection with her tongue. 9/10

11. john the baptist-figure This could almost be Colleen since she calls in the extra workers in the third act, but that’s stretching a bit. 9/11

12. death and resurrection While George does not resurrect from his actual death, his collapse at the start of the film is followed by “four days” of being absent. But, actually, since he was off to work at the start of the film, it had to be a Monday. When Robin picks him up from the train station, it is Thursday. So, he has been gone for three days and three nights. (He also goes into the ocean and emerges.) 10/12

13. triumphalism Kozlovic tells us, “Christ’s death results in a triumphal victory, even if it seems a Pyrrhic victory at the time” (para. 49). Dying from cancer, I think, qualifies as Pyrrhic. 11/13

14. service to lessers “The Christ figure’s sacrifice and/or death is specifically for others based upon higher principles, and it is usually done with honest, sincerity and nobility” (Kozlovic, 2004, para. 50). George builds the house for himself, but also for his son, and ultimately for the girl whose life his father ruined. 12/14

15. willing sacrifice Definitely. 13/15

15.25 torture Though George is undergoing pain, nope. 13/15

15.5 stigmata Nope. 13/15

15.75 atonement That is the point to what George is doing. He’s making up for his father’s drunken abuse, for that accident that killed two mothers and put a little girl in a wheelchair, and for his own bitter life that followed. 14/15

16. innocence George is definitely accused of building code violations and “missing his height envelope” on his construction, but is not found “guilty.” 15/16

17. cruciform pose Just see that image above. 16/17

18. cross associations Inevitable with a building under construction, all those beams, but just look at the scene in which they are raising them up. 17/18

19. miracles and signs Robin performed the miracle in the past, Sam performs a miracle in the present (inexplicably, for everybody else, getting Dokos off their backs). Healing this family could count as a miracle, even if it already gave George the point for atonement. 18/19

20. simplicity George foregoes computers and cellphones. 19/20

21. poverty George lives in a shack to start then moves into a garage. 20/21

22. jesus garb Nope. 21/22

23. blues eyes Nope. 21/23

24. holy exclamations Well, Sam does say, when complaining about the unenclosed toilet: “God! It’s probably in the Bible.” 22/24

25. j.c initials Nope. 22/24

So, Cinematic Christ-Figure? With a score of 22/24, definitely.

References

Brussat, F. & Brussat, M.A. (2001). Life as a House: A Values & Visions Guide. Spirituality & Practice: Resources for Spiritual Journeys. Retrieved from http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/visions-features/view/15420/life-as-a-house

Cunningham, F. (n.d.) Faith review of film: Life as a House. Retrieved July 8, 2015 from upsem.edu/theologyandfilm/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/life-as-a-house.pdf

Kozlovic, A. K. (2004). The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 8. Retrieved from https://dspace.flinders.edu.au/jspui/bitstream/2328/14295/1/2004054629.pdf

Larsen, J. (2013). Man of Steel and the tiredness of Christ figures. think Christian: no such thing as secular. Retrieved from http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/man-of-steel-and-the-tiredness-of-christ-figures

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