death, grace, peace

The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 1)

This post is the continuation of the previous post, Moving Towards the Comedy of Death.

The “dark” comedy. It may be my favorite film genre, partly ’cause I like the brand of humor — which is generally irony and understatements in the face of frustrating, trying, bizarre, or farcical circumstances — but mostly because the good “dark” comedies are the gospel parables of our time. Simply, they’re about the redemption of broken relationships.

I have in mind three great “dark” comedies, The Royal Tenenbaums, Little Miss Sunshine, and Death at a Funeral. These extend beyond the wikipedia definition for a dark comedy, which in my opinion (although I am no professional film critic) is lacking: “a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo (such as death, rape, or domestic violence) are treated in a satirical or humorous manner…. usually includes an element of irony, or even fatalism.” Instead, I find that a more adequate definition of the wonderful movies listed above centers around the following: an odd assortment of diverse and well crafted characters who strive for what they want but do not receive it. Instead, in the end the characters get what they need.

Interestingly, each of the three movies relies on not the nuclear family, but an extended family. Halden has touched on the nuclear family, and I am quite sympathetic to his view, but would like to build upon it a little. Importantly, the only way redemption could exist in the movies above is through extended family interaction. Uncles need their nieces and nephews, grandparents need their grandchildren, and in-laws or future in-laws need the family they married or will marry into. Such notions of interaction and redemption ought to call into question how we exist today as family units. How much redemptive work are we missing in our family alone, much less the church? That gay uncle you have shunned? He is important, and if the movies are true, he is fundamental to any true fulfillment/redemption in the family.

Its not about grabbing what you want, its about being told and given what you need. Theology calls this grace. And in theory, the justice that the church works towards, the redemption of people and their broken relationships, is the climax. Peace is the aftermath, the dénouement; it is after the narrative resolution where peace lives between people and where almost, if not literally, the lion lays down with the lamb and swords are beaten into plowshares, or where in the movie, familial enemies hug and so begins the flowering of a previously damned relationship. This is the Christian life. In the face of death or farce, we peaceably seek a scandalous redemption.

(As for this last image, the family was arrested together because they showed real solidarity with Oliver.)

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4 thoughts on “The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 1)

  1. Steve says:

    I’m glad you find such films nourishing– I usually don’t. Irony is not a necessary mainspring for “gospel parables of our time,” and some of us have low tolerances for it.

    That said, I mostly agree with what you’re saying here. But, other than the topics of the films you mentioned, where is the connection with death? Restoring broken relationships is one important thing; facing the death of oneself or one’s loved ones is another important thing. I do not them as the same.

  2. I did neglect to mention that this is the first part of the response. Oops. I’ll change that. However, I still think they’re loosely connected, although I probably should have connected them better. From the previous post:

    “However, this is exactly what Christianity can give us in spades, the ability to laugh when faced with our death — a liberation in the acceptance of our limits. This isn’t liberation from death, but the acknowledgment of our finitude and that it is okay to be a creature. However, it does not stop there, otherwise this theology would be insensitive to what it ought to take seriously, the suffering of others. And this leads me into a follow up post in the near future about the very core of Christian existence: “The comedy of death.””

    And at the very end of this post:

    “This is the Christian life. In the face of death or farce, we peaceably seek a scandalous redemption.”

  3. I just want to mention that I do in fact find such films spiritually nourishing David. I add all films directed by PT Anderson, and Wes Anderson, to your Wes Anderson example (Royal Tennenbaums).

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