Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

What is the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything? This simple little question is easily answered by the film The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The answer is 42. Okay, that may be easy, but not much to go on is it?

I enjoyed watching this movie with my oldest son, age 11. I was probably a few years older than my son when I first read the book and watched the BBC series on PBS. The film features some true fanboy moments. Watch for a cameo by the BBC version of Marvin the Paranoid Android and Simon Jones (Arthur Dent in the BBC series) appears as the Ghostly Image from Magrathea.

Since I went with my son, I am thankful that the film didn't contain any seriously crude material (not even flatulence, which seems to be routine in every comedy made these days). Of course there is the presumption of evolution; but then again people turn into sofas and yarn dolls in this film, which is just as improbable as people evolving from apes, right? Bottom line, it is all nonsense and smirks.

Yet, buried in the crackpot humor is philosophy. The film takes a humorous point of view on the grandest of all topics, the meaning of life. The hero, Arthur Dent, is an ordinary man who does not have a clue about his role in destiny. He is no more aware of his place in the grand scheme than "a tea leaf is aware of its place in the British East India Company." During the end credits a bonus entry from the Hitchhiker's Guide appears that makes a joke about the scale of life in the universe. Sometimes those who seem great and mighty in their own eyes are actually very insignificant. Isn't this a biblical theme from as far back as Genesis 11?

Arthur Dent, who ends up as the last man from Earth stands in to make us realize just how small and insignificant we are supposed to feel in the galaxy. Bombardment with astronomical numbers and entanglement in galactic bureaucracies also keep us in our place. It is a theme of the movie and it speaks to the sense of paranoia, meaningless, and malaise that our culture seems to be experiencing now and certainly in the decade when the book was written.

I enjoy the humorous take on philosophy, but I certainly do not agree with all of it. Taking in Douglas Adams' story one more time after all these years I cannot help but compare it to the book of Ecclesiastes. The wise Preacher shares with us his quest for the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comforts us in our sense of overwhelming meaningless with the words "Don't Panic" but ultimately tells us that nothing really matters because it is all just chance. Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, unsettles us with the message "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2), but in the end tells us what really does matter.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy we drift along in our quest to find an answer to THE question. We do not find it in bureaucratic meticulousness (the Vogons), or in two-faced, half-brained politicians (Zaphod Beeblebrox), or in institutional religion (Humma Kavula and the Church of the Great Green Arkleseizure), or even in pouring our life into work (Slartibartfast and the Magrathean planetary construction engineers). Not even the super-computer Deep Thought calculating for 7.5 million years is able to come up with an answer. Well, it does but the answer is 42 - again, not very satisfying, right?

Ecclesiastes is slightly more artistic in his conclusion of the whole matter. He has tried it all and lost faith in every imaginable answer that the galaxy has to offer. The one thing that doesn't fail us is this - - "Respect God. Do what he tells you. That's it." (Ecclesiastes 12:13, loosely translated) .

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy realizes that we are a people who are full of questions, but it has enough class not to provide us with a schmaltzy answer to the meaning of life. No one in their right mind could recommend the movie or the book as a source of ultimate meaning. Like hitchhiking itself, it is just free-spirited, aimless wandering. Watch the film and enjoy the ride. But please don't forget to put on your thinking cap when you go and do take plenty of lemons to squeeze into it. Just go see the film and you will know what I mean by that last bit.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Welcome to the Show

I have always enjoyed the movies. For most of my life I thought they were just a diversion. I went to the movies to waste time, enjoy a laugh, or thrill at adventure. Then I began to notice how some films are discussions of serious subjects. I discovered that some films made me think. At times, they even disturbed me. The more I started to notice this, the more I realized that more was going on at the movies than entertainment.

In his book Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker Academic, 2000), Robert K. Johnston helped me articulate what more is going on. According to Johnston, there is a conversation going on about God in Western culture and the church has not been invited to be a part of it. In fact, we are hardly aware of it. I agree with Johnston, and I believe as he does that if this discussion is taking place anywhere, it taking place at the movies.

"The Magic Lantern Show" is my attempt to bring the church back into the conversation. I want to redeem my time at the movies by writing to this blog. Really, I hope it turns into a b’logue, which is my term for a web dialogue, so I urge you to post your comments. In the hopes of good conversation, I want to hear from you. Of course, I should make some clear statements about my intended purpose for "The Magic Lantern Show" so we will be clear what it is and what it is not . . .

1. My entries are a dialogue between faith and film. It is an exercise in engaging the culture with a faith perspective. Whether you attend the movies or not, I invite you to be a part of the conversation. I invite you to disagree and share your faith perspective. Everyone is welcome to join in. Only please, as at the movies, be considerate of others and turn off your cell phones.

2. This website is not intended to be a review or recommendation of movies. I may comment on the content of the film, but please do not use my articles as a guide in determining you viewing choices. Please don’t assume that because I, a minister, went to see a film that it has some sort of religious seal of approval and it is safe for family viewing. You need to use your own discretion in making choices for you and your family. I don’t mind helping you make those choices if you want to email me, but please don’t mistake my commentary as an endorsement of any film. There are many good resources to find reviews on films.

3. Robert K. Johnston’s book is recommended reading. There are also many other websites devoted to a dialogue between faith and film. I recommend starting with the Hollywood Jesus website.

4. I intend to see a movie each week this summer and I intend to make at least one entry a week. I may make continued comments about the movie as the week goes on. Especially if we get a good conversation going.

5. Some of my reflections will be about my personal experience of growing up going to the movies. Going to the cinema is still a public event in many respects and I cannot help but reflect on the cultural and communal aspects of “going to the movies.”

Those are the basics. I have a list of movies I intend to go to but I am open to your recommendations. And now, "On with the show!"