Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Fountain: A Different View

An alternative perspective on The Fountain written by Daniel Saunders, - a friend , a student of theology and sociology, and, most importantly, a bloody good football player.

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Firstly, I must clarify by viewing The Fountain with a Christian theological lens you must first realise that the writer was not writing this from a Christian perspective. There is milieu of religious influences, from Buddhism to Mayan philosophy. Therefore, it seems a little harsh to be critical of the fact that it had no explicit reference to the resurrection. With this in mind, perhaps the better question is: From a Christian theological perspective where can we find agreement, even if there is still some tension, and even if there isn’t a complete answer? From this perspective, I believe the film poses a good question that can be framed in Christian thought.

Before I begin to state this question, here is a very brief synopsis of the film.

Apart from being a simple love story, the Fountain's main theme is “fear of death”, often depicted in the film as a movement from darkness to light. The film follows Jackman’s character, Tommy, who is unable to come to terms with the very real prospect of his wife’s terminal illness. Tommy even states at one point that death “is a disease” needing to be stopped. However, his wife, Izzi (played by Weisz) responds in a different manner. She views death as not the end, but rather as the “road to awe” or “as an act of creation”. Although the film does not explicitly state what this actually means, perhaps that is to allow the viewer to determine this for themselves – a reader response if you will. I will come back to this later. Lastly, here are some quotes in the film that I feel stand out, and from which a Christian theological perspective can be applied and built upon. 

“Lord of Xibalba: “Death is the road to awe.”

“Izzi: So what do you think? Izzi: About? Izzi: That idea. Death as an act of creation.”

One of the major questions the film poses is: ‘People in society do not like talking about or facing up to the reality of death?’ Even as Christians, we often give precedence to life on earth, rather than viewing it from the perspective of eternity. This fallen world is temporary, just a speck in comparison to eternity. Like Tommy, people are far too preoccupied with trying to remain in this world, and holding onto all that it offers. Through objects (consider the rich young man) and relationships people are relentlessly filling their lives as though this life is it, and so we make the best of it. Perhaps, one of the biggest graces from God was not allowing humanity to live forever (Genesis 3: 22-24). Imagine living endlessly in a world of perpetual sin, with no escape. Thus, death forces us to make a choice: to live in eternity with or without God. Paradoxically, Death holds in tension its power and powerlessness. In the one hand Death has power to make us consider our eternity and acts as a gate all must pass through, but on the other hand, for those in Christ, Death has no power at all (see 1 Corinthians 15:55 & Hebrews 2:14). For Tommy, he saw Death’s power and his inability to stop it. For Izzi, she saw Death as point in time rather than an end. Yes, the film fails to explain what was next, but why not bring the Christian message in here? Therefore, as Christ brought new life in his death and resurrection, those who are in Christ, also find new life in death – In a sense, for those who are in Christ “death is the road to awe”. As 1 Corinthians 13: 12 states:

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Considering God made us in his image; the most fulfilling and joyful thing, the very purpose of our lives, the fabric of our true nature is to be in perfect communion with God. As Christians we have a sense of this, but it is only a partially understood, there is still much that is a mystery whilst we live on this earth. Therefore, as God’s children, we should be eager to get back to Eden! Before the fall, this was a place and time where Adam and Even were in the full intimate presence of God. To be in God’s presence, in all his fullness; to see Him and experience Him in all of his glory and splendour; this is what we as Christians should eagerly wait and look forward too! As Paul stated, 

‘…to live is Christ and to die is gain.’

We could write an endless theology on what Paul meant by gain. Suffice to say; perhaps words cannot do justice to describe what eternity with Christ will look like. It should certainly leave one in “awe” at that thought.

The Fountain has gaps, but that can be said of any film. It’s not meant to be theologically sound. However, I would rather emphasize the positive reflections this film can bring, especially when talking to a society who rarely consider or want to face up to the reality of death. 

I conclude with a quote from the film: “Every shadow no matter how deep is threatened by morning light.” Why not talk about that light as being the personification of Christ? I see an opportunity to share the gospel out of this film, to bring to the forefront of people’s mind questions on death and what lies beyond. In my mind, people today, try to stay away from such thoughts. So, I applaud a film that is willing to begin a dialogue on death. As Christians, we must ask ourselves what we then do with this. See it as another chance to be critical, or an opportunity to speak of, “the mysteries God has revealed” (1 Corinthians 4: 1).

1 comment:

  1. My clarifications may come in dribs and drabs, so I'll start with this:

    This is, to some extent, christian theology, or at least it can be rightly critiqued as an (admittedly syncretised) expression of it. The film opens with a quote from Genesis, and two central objects are the Tree of Life and the cross (shaped by the light in the door).

    Also, while I may have come across like I was looking for a clear "Jesus has been raised!" message from the film, that's not at all what I was looking for. But just like The Tree of Life framed its central death within a context of life, that's what I would have wanted from this work that aims to be truly hopeful given the reality of death.

    For me, however, "death as an act of creation" or "death as the road to awe" doesn't cut it. I can't but see death as the enemy of creation, the nothingness that must not be harnessed, but defeated. So while there is merit in some of the finer points of the film, I think overall it is severely lacking in terms of what it presents as the story of the universe (i.e. its theology).