A Christian conservative on “secular” film

in Opinion by
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact clarion@bethel.edu.
By Janice Collova 

I inwardly groaned as I watched the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Why did Josh Gad portray LeFou this way? What happened to the brainless, lovable goofball from the animated film? Why do we now have this weirdo trying too hard to be a playboy-narcissist type? And why does his signature song, “Gaston,” seem … creepy?

I groaned my way through the movie until the film’s climax, when Gaston throws Belle and Maurice into a wagon headed for an insane asylum. “Wait,” says LeFou. His face, once radiant with joy, has grayed and hardened at witnessing such a violent act. Then, as Gaston leads an angry mob to kill the beast, LeFou follows sluggishly, energy sucked dry from him, his face blackened by doubt.

I am reminded that we often seek purpose from others. Affirming words, hugs, gifts, random acts of kindness and other gestures all seem to validate our existence. When we’re not certain of what others think of us, we wonder if there is a reason to live.

Until this point, LeFou has spent the movie idolizing Gaston, copying his mannerisms, following him everywhere, calming his tantrums, and singing about him. LeFou has believed that companionship with the dashing war hero is his life’s purpose. Then Gaston’s true violent nature erupts, and that purpose is snatched from LeFou. I finally sympathized with LeFou, as I watched him grapple with his hearbreak.

I am reminded that we often seek purpose from others. Affirming words, hugs, gifts, random acts of kindness and other gestures all seem to validate our existence. When we’re not certain of what others think of us, we wonder if there is a reason to live.

As Christians, we are told that what truly validates us is God’s love, manifested in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that our life’s purpose is serving Jesus. I believe this. I also believe that it is easy to forget that God validates us, as we cannot physically interact with God the way we can with human beings. Like LeFou, I have found it very easy to depend on mere men for validation. Like LeFou, I have found it very heartbreaking when my dependence on men is stolen from me. 

In short, LeFou’s story reminds me of how difficult it is to be human, and how desperately I need a savior’s forgiveness.

Stephen Strange’s story is a little more hopeful. The titular character of the film Dr. Strange is initially so adamant that his life’s purpose is being a reknown neurosurgeon, he is overwhelmingly narcissistic about it. Then a car accident renders his hands incapable of conducting surgeries, much less doing anything. His purpose has been stolen. Hunting for a cure, he eventually finds himself in Nepal, where the Ancient One teaches him how to wield magic. Learning how to control supernatural forces – even being aware of the supernatural – humbles Strange to realize that the world is much larger than he thinks it is, and that he can live for much more than himself.

I believe Strange only gets to that point because other people show mercy to him. I specifically recall a scene when Strange and his ex-lover, Christine, recuperate from trying and failing to resuscitate the Ancient One. A grieving Strange washes his hands absent-mindedly; Christine notices his blank, stiff stare and takes his hand. Then they turn to each other, gaze into each other’s tearful eyes, and hold each other’s faces. In this tender moment, their past conflict is erased. Never mind that Strange used to belittle her on a daily basis, or refused her help when he was first recuperating from the car accident. Now all that matters to Christine is that her friend needs comfort. Gently, she takes his hand, embraces him, and whispers sweetly to him. To me, this is how she forgives Strange.

What I also love about this scene is how Strange responds to Christine’s forgiveness. First, he dwells in her presence; “I don’t want to go,” he tells her. Yet he knows he must go, in order to save the world from the Dark Dimension. He asks Christine, “Do you remember when you told me there are other ways to save lives? Well, I think this is it – being a superhero.” Remembering and finding confidence in Christine’s words, he goes. He is afraid, but he goes, for he has found a new purpose.

When I first watched this scene, I recalled God’s forgiveness. God forgives again and again in the Bible, with Paul’s conversion; Peter’s reinstatement; the woman caught in adultery; the naming of Solomon; the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem; Christ’s own death and resurrection. In every example and more, God does not condemn or inflict shame – sometimes he doesn’t even acknowledge that sin has been committed. Instead, God eradicates sin from our identity, and shows us he loves us. We are so thankful that we want to serve him – which we realize is our true purpose. Too often we forget our true purpose, and try to find it in something else – like in men. But we are also thankful that no matter how many times we seek purpose in something besides Jesus, Jesus still loves and forgives and wishes us to serve.

I could explicate other examples; about how Ethan and Benji’s steadfast friendship is what propels their endurance through fatal missions in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation; how Deloris Van Cartier gets to wipe her slate clean by reviving a church choir in Sister Act; how it is friendship with his fellow codebreakers that helps Alan Turing find value in The Imitation Game. But I think you understand: movies, no matter how “secular,” can remind us how much we need love, and how important it is to show love to others – just as God first showed love to us.

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