Book vs Movie: Silver Linings Playbook

I read Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick, because there it was, advertised every time I turned my Kindle off. Whenever I saw it I thought, Jennifer Lawrence! And the catchy song from the preview would get stuck in my head. So after reading it, what’s a girl to do except go see it?

Mostly, the movie was funny. It’s a story about two damaged people falling in love, a happy thing in many ways. If you’re not going to read the book, watch the movie. It’s a good story, the actors convince us of their characters, and all those other positive movie-reviewer things to say. Two thumbs up.

But still. The book wins. Three thumbs up.

Because: subtlety.

The movie lacks it. In the book, Quick’s balance of subtlety with revelation hits the nail on the head. In diary form, the narrator Pat gradually processes life like a child coming to understand reality for the first time. His past, his relationship with his father, and a new kind of friendship all develop throughout the space between the covers of the book (metaphorically speaking). The movie just announces these things and then focuses on the love story.

The movie barely notices Pat’s healing in favor of playing up the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. First, we’re missing background, including a rocky relationship with his father. Pat’s mental illness seems to come on with only one trigger, as opposed to a lifetime of illness with multiple triggers, culminating in his breakdown.

And then, shockingly, Pat’s unfaithful ex-wife shows up in the movie. This is, in many ways, emotionally satisfying because Pat gets to reject her just as she rejected him.

But that is exactly not the point.

In the book, Pat learns to forgive as well as to love. And he learns to forgive thoroughly.

Nikki, Pat’s ex-wife, cheats on Pat with her coworker, Phillip (no secret if you’ve seen the first few minutes of the movie). Tiffany, his new friend, slept with everyone at work and got fired (no secret if you’ve seen a preview). Do you see that? Pat gets to see Nikki’s unfaithfulness from the other side, from Tiffany’s side. Tiffany is exactly like the person Pat hates most.

In the movie, Tiffany revels in her sex-filled past and Pat revels with her. In the book, however, Tiffany learns to want to move on, leaving those mistakes behind her. And Pat moves on with her, leaving behind the mistakes of his wife and her lover. He forgives Nikki, and the one time he sees her from afar, playing in the yard with her new husband (Phillip—wasn’t he the bad guy?) and two children, he wants her to be happy.

The book ends, not with a declaration of love like the movie, but with an acknowledgement of need. Two damaged people find healing and they do not have to be alone.

This is not a happy ending because Pat and Tiffany end up together. As Sharon points out, what kind of future can we expect for them? The ending induces satisfied sighs because it reminds us that healing comes. It may be painful, it may be ugly, it may leave scars; but everyone gets a happy ending. The bad guys included.

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In which a song is seen to trash its own system.

My biggest problem with the song “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real is that it sounds like the song “You Lead” by Jamie Grace.

In both, a woman is asking to be led. She can’t live life, or be fulfilled, without leadership. But one song is talking about a husband and one is talking about God. Those really shouldn’t sound much alike. Yes, a woman should feel a hole in her life, a need for outside help. She should want to be led.

But handing that role to a man instead of God is called idolatry. Men should be feeling the same need, the same desperate desire for the Creator.

“Lead Me” reveals the weakness of its own system by having the wife and children repeat the same plea to the man, who turns around to say those words to God.

Basing role on sex instead of on gifts ends up defining women by what they cannot do–a childlike role of enforced submission rather than equal submission from both parties.

In this system, women and men are equal in value but different in worth. Make sense? No.

God laid out a pattern for men and women to follow. This pattern is called (you know what I’m going to say) Jesus. Follow up instructions said, “Submit yourselves to each other. Husbands, love your wives and submit to them. Wives, also submit. You guys are like one body now.” (That’s Ephesians, my paraphrase.)

A wife is treated like a child because she is a woman, and a husband is treated like God because he is a man. That’s not how it was meant to be.

 

Doors

Closed doors. The fear of open doors.

I have been warned that I leave too many doors open. I would answer that we’re standing in an open field “and what the heck doors are you talking about anyway?”

For instance: Talking about modesty. Talking about alcohol. Talking about sexuality. Talking about how to worship. Talking about smoking. Sometimes even allowing these topics to be open for discussion gets uncomfortable.

I’m not willing to live my life like a topical sermon, assuming that all beliefs I have been handed are true—and working from there.

Life is not a maze. You don’t have to run hysterically down the hall slamming doors lest the monsters come out and get you.

Fundamentalism likes this door:It will never be opened.

What happened to fundamentals? Why are we even talking about alcohol?

So now Together for the Gospel has decided that Complementarianism is a fundamental. (That door doesn’t exist, by the way.) They are looking for doors to close. See what that path got Fundamentalism? Teetotalling, culottes, and only one kind of music in church, ever, world without end amen. More doors.

All this about doors and you’re probably expecting my conclusion:

Jesus is The Door.

And that’s how simple it is. Jesus is the door. Enter, and welcome.

Now you are free.

Hunger Games Review

A little belatedly, I would like to add my two cents to the conversation about The Hunger Games, specifically responding to: this Gospel Coalition blog‘s guest post (where author ND Wilson whines about how bad readers are at reading) and this concerned father’s post (which floated around my circles on Facebook for a while).

1. You’re not done reading Hunger Games until you’ve read all three.

2. You heard me. Read. Not watch. The movie is a companion to the book, flattened by the need to streamline the story.

3. Do not compare Hunger Games to Harry Potter. Do not compare Hunger Games to Twilight. Why do people do this? Fantasy is not the same genre as science fiction is not the same genre as romance.

4. Do not be confused. Suzanne Collins is the author. She gets to decide what situation her characters are thrown into. I’m sorry it’s not something you see happening this week in middle class America. But sometimes ethical choices are really hard, and Collins decided to make the circumstances in her story extreme to highlight something, to drive home her message.

5. Katniss is a round, consistent, complex, original character. She is revealed to us over the course of the three books. In the first book, she was not a revolutionary. She takes the easy way out sometimes. She lets the Capitol manipulate her. Wilson says, “She needs to stop giving a rip about her own survival (the most dangerous men and women always forget themselves).”

I respond with his own words: “File this under misunderstanding humanity, which is just another way of saying that [Wilson] misunderstands courage, inspiration, oppression, and nobility.”

As Katniss develops she does choose the harder path and suffers for the sake of everyone who the Capitol is oppressing. But let’s not forget that every human hero remains human. Jesus is the perfect hero–he forgot himself completely in his heroic acts. Katniss is a human character–she will still act within her flawed nature.

6. Peeta. How I love Peeta. Wilson’s accusations against him descend from a flawed understanding of gender. “[Peeta is] fundamentally passive and submissive,” Wilson says, using that as ground to bash Peeta for letting Katniss initiate their relationship. Read this blog post and look again at the accusations from Wilson. Someone has their knickers in a twist over middle class Victorian ideals.

Peeta is, in fact, fundamentally passive and submissive. What I don’t understand is why ND up there thinks that’s such a bad thing. I’m thinking of that perfect hero again, and how he was led like a lamb to the slaughter and did not open his mouth. Passive and submissive? Yes. The ideal heroism.

7. Yes, refusing to eat the berries could inspire a rebellion.

8. Gratuitous violence is violence that doesn’t have a point. Hunger Games violence in the arena and in the battles to follow serves the specific function of driving home a point about the nature of culture and violence. So… it’s not gratuitous.

9. A potty mouth, let us be clear, uses swear words excessively. Katniss says “hell” and “damn” at appropriate moments of surprise or anger.

10. Why would portrayal of “a body-pierced homosexual” offering “respite from the madness” be a problem? Who were “Dad and Emily” even talking about? What?

11. Cheer for the right winner.

The Generations With Vision post summarized like this: “It was the fact that there were two audiences watching the game, and everybody on both sides of the screen was rooting for the winner.” I included this post in my discussion at all because of this point–one that I considered as I sat in the theater at midnight watching Katniss being called into the arena.

But “Dad and Emily” miss what the Capitol audience is cheering for. The Capitol audience is not inside Katniss’s head like the reader is. It sees star-crossed lovers when we see Katniss struggling to keep her family safe. The Capitol audience cheers for its favorites in the arena, thriving on the bloodshed, and then wonders what’s for lunch, while the reader suffers with Katniss as she agonizes over her position in the arena, as she slowly learns to shake off the presuppositions that the Capitol has relentlessly driven into her worldview.

Suzanne Collins wrote a page turner. She trusted her readers to be thinking as they read. Hunger Games succeeds in making people think about difficult ethical dilemmas, violence in entertainment, and the making of a hero. But the books actually give an answer, the right answer. Collins doesn’t stop with making you ask questions; she answers them.

But I don’t want to give anything away. Go read the books. All three.

Mercy Rising

A Live Coal In the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle has become a favorite book of mine. It is the sequel to Camilla, a book about the title character’s emotional coming-of-age. Live Coal starts with an end for Camilla, a retirement party. Through a series of flashbacks and some focus on her granddaughter, Camilla’s life unfolds like intricate origami.

Critics often accuse L’Engle of too-perfect families. They forgot to read this one.

Camilla’s family, like most families, looks idyllic, but their smiling public faces hide the most painful of secrets: betrayals.

Betrayal of spouse, friend, child. Blatant and secretive. Sexual and platonic.

The book is dark, and at the very darkest of betrayals, light splinters in. Painfully merciful.

L’Engle communicates how messed up families can be. How agonizing the past can be. How some mistakes can never be forgotten.

How mercy rises above it all.

 

The Stiff Collar of Religion

What does your religion look like?

A suit and tie? A skirt that covers your knees?

That was the appropriate attire to wear to a Baptist service as outlined in the book How To Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook. It’s pretty true. Most Baptist churches I’ve visited make the jeans-and-polo-shirt guy the odd man out.

(Why the author made Baptist its own religion is understandable to me even though she’s wrong. But that’s another topic.)

The point is, the radical right wing conservative churches of the Bible belt (Independent Baptists) can be described by their outsides.

My dad prefers to wear a suit to church. He is a dignified man and likes to dress up for appropriate occasions. My mother always looks beautiful. She dresses up to go to church and her skirts always cover her knees. (They’re Presbyterian.)

My brother wears a t-shirt and jeans. (He’s non-denominational.)

My sister wears a dress. (Baptist.)

My skirts never cover my knees. (Not telling.)

None of that matters. I love that the church I attend has a member with dreadlocks and multiple men and women with multiple facial piercings.

The church catholic shouldn’t be describable. Ideally, that book would have had a chapter called “Christian,” wherein the author struggled to group or describe these people at all.

Because what should set us apart is that we all get along, despite being so different.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Does that sound like arguing over what to wear to church?

Mary, of John 12, disregarded every social expectation with her worship of Jesus. Displaying her hair like that was the sluttiest thing she could have done. And Jesus commends her for it.

The easier way is to follow a specific set of regulations. The easier way is to say long skirts are ok, short skirts are not. The easier way is to say put on a tie to go to church.

But there is a better way.

As Milton says toward the end of Areopagitica, “How many other things might be tolerated in peace and left to conscience, had we but charity.”

That should be the church’s main descriptor. We are unified because we are clothed in love.

A Woman Like Jesus

Many women I know are afraid of the mall. Of going out at night. Of living alone. Of walking in crowds. Of walking in deserted areas. They feel men’s eyes leering at them from every sector and fear that every stranger wants to rape them.

This mindset has been drilled into them: you must dress modestly to keep men from lusting and you are very vulnerable without a husband to lead you. So they have been taught.

During one Bible class discussion of helping the homeless, the girls were excused from helping if their safety was at risk.

Fear. Excuses.

This particular fear–this particular excuse–is not only supported but encouraged by many Christian leaders. Christian women, especially young Christian women, are shuffled away from dangerous service.

But Jesus calls every kind of person to his service. He did not give caveats. He did not give gender-specific commands. He says, “Follow me.”

Not, “Help the helpless unless you fear for your safety.”

Not, “Reach the lost unless you’re a scared woman.”

Following Jesus is the ultimate identity. Every other identity is encircled in it: Christian friend, Christian parent, Christian man. Christian woman.

And the Christian life is not one to be lived in fear. We are to be like Jesus, reaching into the darkest, dirtiest corners of humanity, where safety will undoubtedly be at risk, to spread the good news.

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

In this world we are like Jesus. This statement does not divide into one section for godly men and one section for godly women. Every believer must use his hands and feet for the sake of the gospel. We are told not to fear. We are told to be like Jesus.

Meditation

The over-spoken, under-defined, under-employed virtue.

It is manipulated to speak of infatuation, of lust, of satisfaction, of preference.

It is limited so that fulfilling its requirements is out of anyone’s control. A matter of machinated actions.

An impossible task.

A word that can be used for my mother-in-law and my spouse, my best friend and my cat. A word that describes Chinese food, green, soft leather, gardenias, and Beethoven.

Grace. Mercy. Compassion. Longsuffering. Charity.

The beginning of hope, because God chose to define himself this way. The end of hope and the beginning of sight, with a marriage feast in celebration.

It lives. It grows. It dies. It can be given, but not taken. It is won, lost, accepted, rejected. It is both elastic and fragile, quiet and jubilant.

All of it, pagan and Christian, is of God.

For if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

He is the source of all that is good. In him, an impossible task becomes a way of life. Without him, I could not love gardenias or my best friend. His love created and redeemed, sustains and teaches.

For God is love.

Lemonade and Freedom

Why couldn’t I write?

The need for perfection without the spur of the deadline and the grade. What I have to say is perhaps not profound enough. Perhaps not new enough. Perhaps not100% right.

Perhaps not.

And so I waited for perfection–the perfect idea, the perfect plan, the perfect words.

They did not come to me. Meanwhile, this blog was very boring.

I am currently planning a wedding, and hard as I’m trying to make it ours, it is everyone else’s wedding. I will come down the aisle in a white dress. We have a photographer and we will have reception food and I’m making my bridesmaids wear dresses that I like (and hope they will wear again). My two best friends are getting married this summer too–three weddings that will be not very different, actually, as different as they seem to the three of us. A person from the other side of the world could visit and take her pick and be able to say she’s seen an American wedding.

Things are going to go wrong. It’s not going to be the perfect wedding. I don’t get everything I want. My mom and I have to put a lot of effort in to pull it together.

And that’s not stopping me. If we end up serving pickle juice instead of lemonade I will be happy, as long as Dustan is still there. Being with him, after all, is the point.

And the point of writing is not to get it perfect. I hope to post more often. I hope to post worthwhile things. But nothing is going to be perfect, and perfection is not my goal.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

I live in the freedom that lemonade will not make or break my wedding. I live in the freedom that making a mistake on my blog will not ruin my writing career. I live in the freedom that this imperfect life is a celebration of the coming wedding supper, the ultimate union when Jesus will take his bride.

It is with this freedom that I intend to break out of my paralyzed state and live in the joy of the Spirit.

For I was called to be free.

How Not to Find a Good Book at the Library

  • Check out a book because the author has written so much.

Chances are, you’ll end up reading cardboard fiction because the author is churning words out so fast that she doesn’t have time to stop and think. Prime example: Danielle Steel, who has written more than 100 books that are not worth your time. Major exception: juvenile and children’s fiction. Mary Pope Osborn, for example, has written a delightful string of Magic Tree House books along with their nonfiction companions.

  • Force yourself to finish every book you start.

Not only will you start accruing late fees before you get around to finishing, trying new books will become a discouraging prospect. If you happen to pick up a book that doesn’t suit, nothing obligates you to finish it.

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Peer through the double negative–yes, that says to judge a book by its cover, at least sometimes. If the people on the cover are too beautiful to be true and/or their clothes are falling off, put the book down. If the people on the cover are Amish, standing in a field, and looking very sad, don’t bother. If you’ve ever read Amish fiction, you’ve read it before.

  • Always read from the same section of the library.

Always read thrillers? Try a biography about a spy or a nonfiction book on criminology. Always in adult fiction? Mosey on over to juvenile fiction. Try a classic. Try a memoir. Spread your wings.

  • Never pick at random.

Sometimes, a book will surprise you by leaping to your hand and begging to be read.