Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Seven Pounds, watching films in this life chapter, guilt and redemption

Before I reflect upon this film, I realize I do not live on the cutting edge of film reviews. Months have passed since this film has faded from public discourse. A perfect storm must rise before I see a film of consequence. How rare is it that I can get the kids to bed on time, have me or my dear wife be home from work and not be mentally or physically occupied, be awake enough myself, and have something available at the video outlet that I care to watch? Digital cable is not the answer with the household frugality rule. My dear wife and I (pre-children) viewed about 4-8 movies per month--stories that sparked discussion, wonder, and became grist for the homiletical mill.

The reviews for Seven Pounds are almost as interesting as the film. Reviewers felt manipulated, confused, and one wrote he felt "beaten to a pulp." I happen to like vague story lines and teasers. I don't watch films for certainty or comfort, and not necessarily to be entertained. I look for a good story, for perspective, to have my thoughts and assumptions provoked. Seven Pounds accomplishes this provocation in rare form addressing themes from the core of human existence--especially guilt and redemption. I won't tell too much about the story, because surprise is an important factor of the film. I think in this day and age of anxiety and uncertainty, people might look for something more certain and entertaining in their films. I do not relate to the feeling of most of the reviews I read.

From my own faith tradition, guilt is best addressed in the context of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in the context of a congregational community. I couldn't imagine how the guilt expressed in this film could ever be healed in the communities of which I have been a part. For all the bad things said and written about Christian communities, I see that we can be woefully inadequate in sharing a peaceful presence or a word of hope to the guilty. I don't know if I could be a voice of guidance and peace for people crippled by guilt. Considering my sermons over the years, I have high hopes that God does something with the word I speak, because the word I share at my examination seems meager to address the guilt I saw in Seven Pounds and the guilt I have seen in Christian communities (most frequently while doing prison ministry).

The open ended reflection coming out of Seven Pounds for me is "what does redemption look like?" As a Christian, on my good days I believe in redemption through Christ. What I saw in Seven Pounds was a strong desire for human control of redemption. Even though we humans may be able to control some factors in redemption, our sense of justice is flawed, and often tragic. As I said, on my better days I trust that God is at work. Redemption for us humans in the end doesn't come down to our trust or actions, but the actions of God. Such is grace--we cannot control it--and when we receive it, even then we don't want to believe it.

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