The 10 Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars comprise a motley, incongruous bunch: real kings, deranged ballerinas, violent marshals and animated toys, to name just a few. Yet if you look closely at the movies they represent, you’ll find a handful of shared themes that will be familiar to followers of the Gospel.
Forgive as you have been forgiven
Both “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are All Right” turn on the notion of forgiveness within families. Dysfunction in the first and betrayal in the second are defeated under the power of undeserved grace. In “Toy Story 3,” forgiveness is offered to Lots-O-Huggin' Bear (the year’s best villain), but he rejects it and ends up strapped to the front of a garbage truck. “True Grit,” meanwhile, suggests forgiveness is only for the weak. This is a movie, as its poster claims, steeped in punishment and retribution.
God works in mysterious ways – and unlikely people
How is the story of the Gospel told? Through Jesus, yes, but also through unlikely figures such as Zacchaeus. Similarly, “The King’s Speech” and “Winter’s Bone” follow lead characters who achieve grace against all odds. In the first, England’s King George VI overcomes a debilitating speech impediment and rallies his nation before World War II. In the second, a teen in backwoods Missouri stands up to an abusive patriarchal subculture in order to protect her younger siblings. Heroes? Not in the traditional sense, but in the Biblical one.
We need each other, something Jesus emphasized by sending the Holy Spirit to form the early church. In two of the Best Picture nominees, figures who reject the notion of community pay a dear personal price. “The Social Network” captures how a man with 500 million “friends” can still be trapped in isolation, while “127 Hours” documents the peril of stubbornly striking out on your own. Sure, Aron Ralston – the real figure behind “127 Hours” - survived his ordeal with determination and courage, but he also came back short an arm.
Perfection can only be found in Christ
The characters in both “Inception” and “Black Swan” seek perfection in the worst of all places: themselves. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, the hero of “Inception,” enters a state of shared dreaming with his wife, where they jointly imagine a perfect existence for only the two of them. Natalie Portman’s Nina, the driven ballerina of “Black Swan,” won’t rest until her performance is flawless. In both cases, the women go mad. Taken together, the tales are a reminder that although we’re called to redeem this broken world, seeking perfection on our own terms – and for selfish reasons – will always fail.
(Photo courtesy of Todd Wawrychuk / A.M.P.A.S.)