Sunday, December 04, 2005

When Best Laid Plans Go Felicitously Astray

So last night some friends and I had planned to go see Aeon Flux, since the Slate review said it "doesn't suck." It was exactly what I was in the mood for.

Unfortunately, JP and I arrived at the theater only to discover that it was sold out; worse, Mike and Derek ordered tickets in advance, so we were S.O.L. There was nothing else playing that we wanted to see. Fortunately, this being Times Square, there was another movie theater across the street. (There's a few more around the corner on Eighth Avenue, but JP and Jim and I didn't feel like seeing "Horny Teenage Sluts Take Palm Beach IV.") Because of time constraints and sold-out shows, we didn't have much choice. We settled on Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Johnny Cash is not a musician that has ever really captured my fancy, and I hadn't really intended on seeing this movie, but I am so glad we did. It was outstanding. I think Joaquin Phoenix is an underused, underrated actor, but on the other hand I'm glad he isn't over-exposed like so many.

He did a great job, but for me the real story was Witherspoon as June Carter. If that wasn't an Oscar-worthy performance, I don't know what is. She was astounding; phenomenal; charming; heartbreaking. It's one of those performances where the actor's emotions aren't merely contained within facial expressions and vocal inflections; somehow through the medium of film she leaps off the screen and grabs you and brings you along for the ride.

The Christian ethos of the film was quite striking. It would be too easy to have made June a cloying, dimwitted sap of a goody-two-shoes, contrasted against a background of wooden fundamentalist archetypes. In one scene, a perfect stranger confronts her in a store about her recent divorce and sternly lectures that "marriage is forever." Most people would probably respond by telling her off, saying it isn't any of her business and who is she to go around lecturing people when she doesn't know the first thing about them. Instead, June sadly responds, "I'm sorry I let you down." The nobility and humility of that moment was transcendant.

Later in the film, a record producer tries to discourage Cash from his plan to record an album live at Folsom Prison. "Your audience is Christian," he says. "They don't want to hear you singing songs to murderers and rapists trying to make them feel better." Cash retorts, "Then they ain't Christians."

In today's cultural climate, it was nice to see a movie that gets Christianity right. The overall theme was the recognition that humans aren't perfect, that temptation presents itself all too often and we succomb too easily, and yet no matter what we do or who we are, we never stand in a position to judge anyone else. It showed that to love someone takes work and sacrifice, and lots of forgiveness. It showed that Christianity is the embrace of the real, not a flight into denial.


Jean F. said...

Your writing makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me ponder things I don't know much about. You have such a gift and I'm glad you are willing to share it with us. This review was so thoughtful I can't wait to see the movie.

Esther said...

I am interested in seeing that movie and I am glad to see a good review. I had read one recently that was completely unfavorable and accused Joachin Phoenix of doing a poor job: something that I know isn't possible.

Steve said...

Well Andy the movie may have gotten it right but mostly important Cash and Carter-Cash got it right. If you read or hear anyone talk about their lives, they lived Christianity as faltering, sinful people. That is the reality.

I think that is the striking part about the movie. Real people lived authentically, their beliefs and changed people's perceptions of what Christianity was/is. To think their message is still being heard.

Good stuff!

little-cicero said...

I'm one of Cash's biggest fans, but to your last statement, the record executive's concern was not one of denial, but of richeousness. It is important to keep in mind that Cash's audience was made up of murderers and rascists, who are not to be embraced, but pitied. Personally I see his performance as simply a cool thing to do, and a smart business decision, but morally speaking, Jesus did not embrace unconditionally the murderers of his time, and if a Christian does not, he is not in denial!

Rachel said...

Amen, Andy! My thoughts exactly. i LOVED that movie and I felt the same way about it!! Oscars all around!!