Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Redemption in Elizabethtown

Most people, it seems, didn't like the movie Elizabethtown. Reviews were not good (27% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), as I recall, and if you go through the blogsphere, you'll probably find more people that hated it than loved it. Bad-script, bad-diaglogue, and stale-performance glutton that I must be, I really enjoyed the movie, and more specifically, I loved the redemption aspect in the movie. For me, it brought to life a lot of the parallels of my own personal Christian journey, and I'd imagine it might resonate with some others (27% of our readership, maybe?) as well... if you can allow that Claire is the Christ-figure in the movie. Obviously, with a movie about a romance between a guy and a girl, this analogy won't be perfect, but it's works for me.

“Claire literally saves his life.” ~ Cameron Crowe, the movie's writer and director. "His life", here, refers to the life of the movie's protagonist, Drew Baylor, played by Orlando Bloom.

The beginning of the movie is where Baylor recognizes his sin. He states later that developing shoes is the only thing he knows how to do. Essentially, that's life for him. To wit, we receive this narrative epiphany by the lead character:

As somebody once said there's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-presence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco... a fiasco is a folktale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because it didn't happen to them.

A fiasco. In life, if I'm honest, that's what I am. A train wreck. We tell ourselves something else most of the time. Socially, who wants to show the truth? We walk around trying to act as if we have at least some of it together. If I grow up not messing up too many times, have a good career, a respected family, get my retirement in line, graduate my kids from college, go to church on Sundays, help out in the community when I have time, at the end of all this God's gonna invite me in, saying, "Welcome, My good and faithful servant." Another line in the movie, spoken by Claire, penetrates the real truth.

Do you ever just think 'I'm fooling everyone'? Drew Baylor's reply is honest. You have no idea.

The truth for many of us is so much different than the facade we put up. I verbally abuse my kids/my parents all.the.time. I spend every leisure minute playing video games or fishing or on the computer or watching TV, away from everyone else unless it's on my terms. I told one friend that my other friend was a loser, because I always want to make myself look and feel better. I cheated on my wife/husband/significant other. I want to skip church this Sunday... well, every Sunday. I hate my job. I don't have time or will to pray. I scammed the government on my taxes. I'm divorced. I'm a drunk. I physically abused my child. I read/looked at crap on the Internet. I stabbed my best friend in the back. I'm "living in sin." I hate my husband. I don't tithe or give to charity. I like taking drugs. I want a better everything. I want my neighbor's wife. I can't help lying. I can't help cussing. I want to be left alone. Or worse, I'm so much better than all the people who do any of the stuff on this list. We're a fiasco.

And if we can't come to the realization ourselves, at least we have helpful hands to lead us there. Family, friends, co-workers, church members, teammates, enemies, books, movies, the Bible... to get the Law portion of what we've done down. In Elizabethtown, Alec Baldwin, plays shoe guru and corporate exec Phil Devoss, who enlightens his protege on the realization that Drew's already come to:

How do I make the concept of $979 million dollars more real to you? It's the operating budget of a midsize country... a small civilization. It's big! It's so big you could round it off to a billion dollars.

The sin is a gap so big that it could never be made up, never be paid off. You're stuck with that legacy the rest of your life. And really, with a legacy like that, it's not only going to affect you, but it's going to affect your children and your children's children, down to the fourth generation, quite possibly.

The result of this horrifying realization is death, and that's just what Drew Baylor aims to do. Kill himself. However, just before he does exactly this, he's informed of another death, that of his father. When his sister calls him while he begins the act of suicide, Drew's informed, because his mom and sister are in such bad states, that he's the one who needs to carry out his father and family's wishes for cremation. So he avoids killing himself for the time being, but instead walks around like death warmed over.

However, on the way to Elizabethtown, his dad's hometown, he meets his redeemer, Claire Colburn, who happens to be an airline stewardess. At first, little does he know the effect she;ll have in his life, and really, he doesn't want anything to do with her. Nonetheless, she gives him some directions that he has a hard time following - and that seems true-to-life for me, at least for some, with our first encounters with Jesus.

Yet, through the movie, Claire and Drew get to know each other better. However, Drew can't tell her his deep, dark secret. Not until later in the movie after they've been intimate. The next morning, Claire's out the door after trying gently but unsuccessfully to rouse Drew, but he awakes soon afterward and realizes she's gone. He runs after her, and she turns to him with the open and welcoming smile of someone willing to save him, saying:

Just tell me you love me and get it over with.

Finally, though, he comes out with what he's been hiding:

Four days ago, I lost a major shoe company... frankly you could round it off to one billion dollars! And by tomorrow afternoon, everyone will know. Something's gonna be published that pinpoints me as the most spectacular failure in the history of my profession, which is all I know how to do. And I've been here this whole time trying to be responsible and charming and live up to this success that doesn't exist. I have a very dark appointment with destiny. That's my secret. That's who I am.

Drew states what I alluded to previously - we try to be responsible and charming, and we try to live up to a success that doesn't exist. Not to belittle sin, because Christ paid the ultimate price for it, but rather in the relational context, I think Claire's answer is perfect:

That's it?

The next exchange is funny, because here's it's where we think that God can't forgive us for this monumental sin or the monumental sinner we are, while He just wants us to love Him.

Drew: Yes, that's it.
Claire: I guess I just thought a small part of you might be a small bit sad to see me go. But I guess this is all mostly about a shoe.
Drew: Of course, I'm sad about you. But this is just a little bit bigger than you and me. And by the way, I didn't say million. I said billion. A billion dollars! That's a lot of million!
Claire: So you failed.
Drew: No, you don't get it.

It's like God's saying, "Love me, Rich." And I'm saying, "But God, I've done this. How could you ever love me. I did this. I'm a wreck." And God's replying, "Yep, you did that. You surely failed there, Rich. But I'll take your wreck, thank you. Love me anyway." "No God, wait!" I counter, "You still don't seem to get it." As laughable as I sound here, there's a lot of truth in this exchange - and I don't mean just once. This is recurring theater between God and me. So finally, as Claire says, God puts it in perspective:

So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand.

You have the Creator of the Universe, your Creator, right here, Rich, right in front of you, loving you enough to have died for you, knowing every last foible and flaw and all the grandiose, colossal fiascos you've had, have, and will have in your life. I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. Just tell me you love me and get it over with. Ah, grace. That's really the whole story right there.

At the end of the movie, after Drew's dad's ceremony has completed, Claire gives Drew a road map, with cassettes of her voice to help lead him along this time of wilderness and introspection. I love this part of the movie as Drew goes from place to place, seeing it, somewhat, through the eyes of his redeemer, and spreading his father's ashes at special places along the way. And then he comes to a reckoning place:

Here you have reached a fork in the map. You can go to your car and the rest of the directions will take you home. Or... look for a girl in a red hat who's waiting for you with an alternate plan.

Drew decides then and there that he's not going to try it his own way anymore. He'll thankfully go with the one who loves him. Because we're human, we know, even that doesn't make things perfect. Additionally, we also know that even if Drew did go the other way, God would have sought him or waited on him - He's saved him.

What an awesome God we have that loves us despite the fiasco. Loved us enough that He sent Himself, His Son, to the Cross for us. Boyoboy, do I need to remind myself of that over and over. Everything that we couldn't do, can't do, and never could do, He's done. That's a great love story.


Diabolical Genius said...


DugALug said...

That is a great parallel of a movie not so high on my list.

It makes me glad I watched it so I could follow your analysis. ;)

God Bless