Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, April 02, 2007

More about "Pan's Labyrinth"

The more I think about Pan's Labyrinth, the more I think it is important for Christians to experience (a word I rarely use as a verb). It is not just a matter of the ending, which naturally I will not reveal. After all, the theme of sacrificial love is easy enough to recognize, and is not uncommon in movies, drama, and literature. What interests me even more, now that I have had time to reflect, is this movie's sustained realization of what we may call "transvision," the capacity to see through the events of this "real" world into the transcendent world of God.

More than the Narnia stories (and movie), even more than The Lord of the Rings (book and movie), Pan's Labyrinth excels in showing two parallel realities, or so I think. Now it is true that some reviewers have stated that the fantastical elements in the movie are all taking place in the young girl's imagination. Maybe that was the director's intention, maybe not. For me, I can state categorically that I suspended disbelief. The two strata in the movie were both actual, both "really" happening. The stratum of fantasy is as "real" as are the violent and horrific scenes taking place in 1944 in the Spanish mountains as the fascists were rooting out the last outposts of the republican resistance.

This is a New Testament parable, it seems to me. What is happening in the "real" world is that resistance to oppression often appears to be making its last, hopeless stand. The oppressors are gaining the upper hand, assisted by the plutocrats and (yes) the princes of the Church (as the movie deftly shows). What is happening on the transcendent level is that unseen powers are working through the most unlikely personages to subvert the oppressors and ultimately to overcome their rule. The victory of the unseen powers is invisible to the actors in the earthly drama except through revelation. That, indeed, is precisely what the book of Revelation depicts.

Modernism (the Enlightenment project) will have none of this, of course. It is post-modernism which has allowed such dimensions back into our thinking. There is an openness to transcendence now. I may be wrong about this, but I think that seeing Pan's Labyrinth and accepting both of its parallel stories as being in some sense "real," while receiving the fantasy world as more real and more true than the other, is like reading the Bible with the eyes of faith. The invisible world invades the visible one at crucial points, and it is revelation that startles us into understanding this.

I just got a wonderful email from a friend who was reminded of a teacher he had in seminary who, when teaching the story of Abraham and Isaac, began the class by saying, "What can we say about this aside from the fact that it never actually happened?"

The teacher was a Muggle. Modernists are Muggles. Modernists don't believe in Track 9 and 3/4. Modernists don't get it that God is active in the world through little girls (remember the story of Naaman?). Modernists think the Bible is all a product of the human religious imagination.

See Pan's Labyrinth and behold for yourself. (But don't even think of taking children.)

Perfect Palm Sunday

I do not intend to turn this blog into a personal journal, but I want to report on my perfect Palm Sunday. Dick wanted to go to services at his church in Greenwich, so he did that, but I had my sights set on New York City. I attended the morning service at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, which was virtually flawless from my perspective (the Coverdale Psalms! "Ride on, ride on in majesty" to the old tune! Luis de Victoria Passion! "Ah, holy Jesus" as the conclusion! etc.!) At first I was worried because the congregation did not participate in the shout of "Crucify Him!" but I needn't have been; the rector, in a five-minute homily that said everything that needed to be said on this particular occasion, reminded us in very strong terms that we were part of the story, playing the parts of Judas, Pilate, and the bloodthirsty crowd. Hence our need for the Lord's death, not for someone else, but for us.

Then I went (and this is the real reason for this blog entry) to see Pan's Labyrinth. I urgently recommend it to everyone. (Everyone over 18, that is-- even older teenagers, if they are at all sensitive, will be upset by the graphic violence.) It is a magnificent combination of two parallel stories, one set in the "real," brutal world of fascist Spain, the other in the imagination of an 11-year-old girl. The ending startled me; it had distinctly Christian implications. The director did not intend this, I suspect; he had earlier turned down the opportunity to direct the Narnia movie because, he said, he did not want to do the resurrection of the lion. Nevertheless, if you go, you will see what I mean. For a Christian, it is unmistakable. And, ironically, the penultimate transfiguration scene has a distinct flavor of C. S. Lewis' fantasy tales. (Just one thing, and this is the point of Palm Sunday: the sacrificial death of Christ was not for the innocent, but for the guilty.)

To finish the day, I went for the first time to the "Bach Vespers" at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 68th and Central Park West. In the context of a truly worshipful service with prayers, Bible readings and homily, Cantata 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir.... ("Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord") was performed with ineffable simplicity and artistry. How have I missed this wonderful opportunity all these years? If you live in the city, here is the link: