Monday, December 11, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction - My Thoughts on the Movie

My wife and I saw “Stranger Than Fiction” over the weekend. We recommend it – great writing, sharp acting, and a storyline that really drew us in right from the start.


I found this movie to be deeply Christological. Here’s my take. Harold Crick (Will Farrell) is the Christ figure, the one whose life begins to be narrated by an unseen voice, who represents the Holy Spirit. The voice encourages Harold to pursue his dreams, to begin living his life, an allusion to the incarnation. Harold is brought to life by the narrator, who is in fact an author writing a novel (Emma Thompson), as Jesus Christ is “brought to life” by the Holy Spirit. This author has an assistant who helps her write the story, and who I couldn’t help but think of as an angel. (I’m sure that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the part was being played by Queen Latifah.)

Harold falls in love with a baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in the process of auditing her bakery. (Harold’s real life job is as an IRA auditor.) I find it charming that, as he was digging into her life in order to find out what she had done wrong, his motivation was to prevent her from being punished. He said to her several times, “I just want to keep you out of jail.” Isn’t it also true that Jesus digs up our lives, bringing to the surface the things we do, in order to prevent us from being punished for our sins? "Miss Pascal" is at times a kind of Mary Magdalene/disciple figure in the story, and she is won over by Harold’s demonstrations of love, including a gift of “flours” and a heartfelt song. Of course, Ana also plays an active role in Harold’s decision to fully live his life, which happens as she offers him freshly baked cookies. It may be a glimpse of Jesus’ relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, which is one of the most "fully human" moments of Jesus life.

In his incarnation, Harold seeks guidance from a professor (Dustin Hoffman), the all-knowing presence who ends up telling him that, in order to finish the story, he must die. Connected by the phrase “little did he know,” Harold comes to the professor again and again, as Jesus did in prayer to God the Creator. And there is even a “Gethsemane,” the scene at the swimming pool where Harold comes to the professor, who is working as a lifeguard, to ask if there is any other way that this might happen, or “if this cup might pass him by.” The professor replies that this story is the masterpiece of the author, and that there is no other way to finish the story except by dying, just as the story of salvation would not be complete without Jesus’ death. Harold then visits the author, telling her to go ahead and finish the novel, he accepts that it is the only way. “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The “crucifixion” scene is poignant, as the narrator is typing the ending to the story, tears streaming down her face with grief, and Harold walks to his bus stop. As she narrates the unavoidable conclusion, a boy (representing humanity?) falls off of his bike in front of the oncoming bus, Harold dashes into the street and pulls the boy out of the way, and is crushed in the way only the full impact of a city bus can crush a person. Harold dies to save the boy, as Jesus dies to save humanity. At that point, the audience is fully convinced that Harold is dead, and the story has reached its final, climactic moment.

But then the author visits the professor, carrying with her the final manuscript copy of her novel. Handing him the envelope, she says, “I think you will be happy with the new ending.” Harold’s “resurrection” finds him bandaged and bruised in a hospital room, but very much alive. The author says to the professor something like, “He was someone who knew he had to die to save another person, and he did it anyway. Someone like that is worth keeping alive, don’t you think?” Ana comes to the hospital room to find the stone rolled away, and falls into Harold’s arms in joy and relief at his being alive.

The title of this movie is “Stranger Than Fiction.” You know how the whole phrase goes, right? “The truth is stranger than fiction.” The Bible records that Jesus identifies himself as “The Truth.” And so, that’s the way I saw this movie. It’s the Gospel. And it might be summed up with the final words of the author: Someone like that is worth keeping alive, don’t you think?


Elizabeth said...

Wow - your review is much more interesting than mine ;) - never would have come up with this analogy!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't know you but i loved reading your review. I hadn't thought of the movie quite that in-depth. I felt that the climax of the story is when he turns over the story to the author and allows her to write his story. Being a sap I cried at this point. I felt strongly that Harold is us, and this is how we should live our lives. Anyway, yeah, great review.

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