Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Fountain

I watched The Fountain last night, at just the right time. Or just the wrong time. Leaving aside the fact that Hugh Jackman is the Australian Orloondo Bland (a nickname which represents Mark Kermode's finest contribution to the world of cinema), I found the film philosophically and theologically unconvincing in its portrayal of death.

Earlier that day I had read this from Robert Jenson:

It is illegitimate within Christian theology to think death without thinking resurrection.

The Fountain as a quite explicit work of theology in the form of art is thus illegitimate. It does not deal with death properly, because it has not first of all understood death in the only light that it can now be understood - the light of resurrection. To compare this film with The Tree Of Life is to see its theological faults exposed. Where The Fountain finds meaning and purpose -- even being -- in death, The Tree of Life offers us a vision of the glory of God as a gift given, and then given again.

David Bentley Hart is scathing with regard to what he calls "tragic theology". Thinking within the logic of resurrection, he has this to say:

Rather than seeing the resurrection as a speculative (that is, dialectical) tension that eternalizes the cross, theology must recognize it as a reversal of the narrative of violence that makes crucifixion seem meaningful. In the self-oblation of Christ (which is the entire motion of his life) God indeed comprehends suffering and death, but only as a finite darkness exceeded - and conquered - by an infinite light; God's infinity embraces death by passing it by as though it is nothing at all and by making it henceforth a place of broken limits.

Hart's criticism is that tragic theology (and tragic storytelling) does not in fact take death seriously enough because it has not comprehended the comedy of resurrection which works against death.

Finally, film critic Peter Bradshaw delivers the coup de grâce:

Dying young is a painful, horrible business, full of agony and rage and indignity. For Aronofsky to imply that it can be brought off looking all floaty and snowy and ethereal like a pale L'Oréal model, and that there is a spiritual superiority and sacrificial redemption in death from brain cancer - well, that is naive. And slightly creepy.

In all honesty, I am not convinced that I've understood Robert Jenson's reflection on death, nor am I convinced that David Hart is right to reject any and all theology of a "suffering God". And more importantly, what do I know about death anyway? All I can say is that The Fountain left me rather blasé at the thought of it, and that didn't feel right.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting... as I have been myself thinking a lot about death recently. I think no one thinks of death seriously until they are personally faced with it. Death and life are united...It caused Jesus Christ death to bring us life. Phil Ryken observes in his book, Loving the way Jesus loves, "Death is the most fearful and the last enemy as it separates us from those we love. Yet, at the same time it unites us with Him who loves us beyond understanding. The divider has became the uniter"...Amazing how God works...beyond our understanding indeed. Yet, as Christians I believe we should have the right understanding on death and grieve and then allow ourselves to grieve properly and thus live.