… “they are trying to find the antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
Before I was saved I was of the world. After I was saved I became not of the world. (John 15:19). Given that this is stated plainly in scripture many times, it might seem obvious. And it is. However, what does that ‘of the world/not of the world’ look like in sanctification? In daily life?
After we are justified (declared righteous by Jesus) we grow in sanctification until we die. GotQuestions’ definition of sanctification is:
To “sanctify” something is to set it apart for special use; to “sanctify” a person is to make him holy.
Our overall trajectory should always be headed up. Though we might make temporary snail trails circularly or even go backward, our overall sanctification is always more, higher, up. (Colossians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Before I was saved, I really loved movies. I bought Roger Ebert’s books. I read the Times reviews. I subscribed to the New Yorker. I enjoyed foreign films and independent movies and prided myself on knowing about them before everyone else. I knew each Oscar nominated movie and had a definite opinion on each.
The point of a secular movie has noting to do with the plot. It’s not obvious but is usually an is undercurrent, buried a bit. It’s there though. Movies are mainly a worldy endeavor and if it is written by a secular writer it will always reflect his fleshly world view. Not being saved and having the same world view as the world I missed that. I just thought movies were great.
After I was saved I continued to watch movies but my increasing sanctification made me sensitive to sex, profanity, and the like. We all notice that as we grow. Words or actions the characters take bother us when they didn’t used to. I mean, the very popular 1990s book Bridges of Madison County was made into a film (1996). I read the book and watched the film. I thought the movie had much to say about marriage, deeply exploring concepts and drilling down to the essence of everyman and everywoman in us. Upon re-watching the film after I was saved, I was horrified to find that it’s just a two-hour advertisement for adultery.
Secular movies by definition have to reflect the empty world view because that is the world view the writer of the book or movie possesses. They can’t see anything else. Though they try to get at the center of things, and they write around the hole in their heart, neglect the void in their conscience, there is nothing they can present to us on the pages of a book or in a film that will solve their eternal issue. They’re empty and they know it.
Since school ended for the year I like to watch movies or documentaries. I’ve watched Up in the Air with George Clooney, Men in Black III, 48 Hrs, Midnight in Paris, Trading Places. In all of them there runs a palpable sense of despair.
Wikipedia: “the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential attitude”, or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. This is existentialism or existential nihilism.
I’d watched Trading Places out of nostalgia, and found it enjoyable but less sweet than I’d remembered. A couple of scenes I really hated. That brought me to 48 Hrs, another Eddie Murphy movie, which shocked me with the amount of profanity I’d forgotten it contained. Looking for something happier, I turned to a George Clooney movie, but Up In The Air was so nihilistic I wanted to shoot myself by the end. Clooney in that movie IS the poster boy for the very definition of nihilistic existentialism (And forget The Descendants and The American. Classy despair is still despair.) Noticing this undercurrent of despair veritably makes secular movies for me, unwatchable.
In one scene in the Movie Up in the Air, Clooney’s prospective brother-in-law got cold feet immediately before the wedding ceremony. Clooney was called in to give the groom some courage. Here is the groom’s worry:
Well, last night I was just kinda laying in bed and I couldn’t get to sleep. So I started thinking about the wedding and the ceremony, and about our buying a house and moving in together. And having a kid, and having another kid and then Christmas and Thanksgiving and spring break. Going to football games, and then all of a sudden they’re graduating. They’re getting jobs, they’re getting married. And, you know, I’m a grandparent. And then I’m retired. I’m losing my hair, I’m getting fat. And then the next thing you know I’m dead. I’m just, like…I can’t stop from thinking, what’s the point?
It is the exact question asked of all people who dwell on this earth without Christ. Philosophers have made entire philosophies in trying to fill the void, celebrate the void, explain the void. In the movie, Clooney told the groom that sharing an empty life is what it’s all about. It makes the emptiness slightly more bearable. OK, Clooney didn’t say that exactly but that’s what his advice boiled down to. He did actually say this: “Life’s better with company.” I guess two people can stave off the despair better than one.
In searching for a sweet, nice movie to watch I stumbled on the very excellent Midnight in Paris. The opening 3 1/2 minute montage was a postcard ode to Paris, in cinematic softness and lovingly photographed. Main character Owen Wilson is a writer who wants to write novels in Paris but his high-maintenance fiance wants him to stick with script writing and buy a house in Malibu. One night as Owen was walking along a Parisian cobblestone street, musing about his writer heroes of the Paris of the 1920s, he was gestured inside a 1920s Peugeot and happily and wonderingly finds himself time-traveled back to the 1920s. He meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein. At one point in his magical evening, as Stein held court at her salon with budding artistic and creative luminaries swirling around her, she said to Owen,
“We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
The movie’s lightness, effervescent hopefulness, softly rounded hills of romantic perfection could not stop the undercurrent of secular truth. Masked it for a good while, but it came out nonetheless. I haven’t been able to find if the real Stein ever said that in real life. But searching endlessly for the antidote for the emptiness of existence has made Woody Allen (who wrote and directed the movie) a rich and successful man…who is still searching for that antidote.
I have no doubt that if you said to most screenwriters that they are unwittingly revealing the Book of Ecclesiastes in their movies, they’d deny it. But there it is. Vanity of vanity, all is empty- without Christ.
Christ is that antidote, and I find it curious that the screenwriter used the word antidote. You need antidotes for a poison, a disease. Life on this earth ultimately is a disease to unsaved people because they are dying, dying. Sin is a poison, a disease for which we sinners all need a cure.
The antidote is the blood of Jesus Christ.
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
Only Christ satisfies. Chasing the endless vapor of possessions, pleasures, or people leaves one exhausted and even more discontent. There is nothing under the sun which will ever eternally satisfy. Only the Son, who comes from beyond the sun and in whom there is life, peace, rest. Solomon knew. His life is the plot for every movie to ever emerge from any screenwiter’s heart. And Solomon said all is vanity…but in Solomon’s despair there is hope, at the end.
Since God purposefully subjected the physical creation to vanity, therefore we can honestly conclude that all this vanity is a reality that serves our overall good in preparation for the Kingdom of God. It is a challenging obstacle. In His wisdom, He has determined we must first experience the emptiness of life without Him, become thoroughly disillusioned with what it has to offer, throw it off, and depart from it. The sufferings that vanity imposes help us to make a true assessment of the value of His grace and goodness, as well as truly and zealously commit ourselves to Him and His purpose. In such a circumstance, vanity will not have the last word.
John W. Ritenbaugh, Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)
The river of discontent and vanity running through secular movies, though depressing, reminds us once again of the emptiness we ourselves once felt when we were in our youth and without Christ. Ecclesiastes 12:11-14–
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
[By Elizabeth Prata]