JSB: Art and Grace
I believe it was Flannery O’Connor who said that the center of her stories was the idea of "grace being offered." Not necessarily accepted, but offered. Without that, there is no true art, she implied. And with that I agree.
In an earlier post I opined that great art must have a positive vision. That does not mean, however, that a novel or film must have an upbeat ending. But grace must be offered.
In Stephen King’s masterful miniseries, "Storm of the Century," a demon actually "wins" in the end. But the message is quite clear: if you deal with the devil, you will lose your soul, your humanity, everything. In this way, the "downbeat" ending was actually working for a positive theme. It’s even biblical.
I thought about this all again when my film critic son, Nate, sent me a link to a controversy over a film called "Chaos." I’ve not seen it, but it has received almost universal condemnation by film critics. It is, from the reports, nothing but a depiction of outright evil. Nothing redeeming. It’s as if a mirror had been held up to the likes of the BTK killer or Charles Manson, and just left there. Several well known critics were sickened by the whole thing.
One of these is perhaps the most well known of all, Roger Ebert. He gave the film a scathing review and all but begged people not to go see it.
This brought a response from the film’s director and producer. They challenged Ebert, saying this was art, that it was "well made," and in a post 9/11 world, that’s what they were trying to show. The letter was taken out as an ad in Ebert’s paper, the Chicago Sun-Times.
Ebert then wrote a response, which concluded:
"Animals do not know they are going to die, and require no way to deal with that implacable fact. Humans, who know we will die, have been given the consolations of art, myth, hope, science, religion, philosophy, and even denial, even movies, to help us reconcile with that final fact. What I object to most of all in "Chaos" is not the sadism, the brutality, the torture, the nihilism, but the absence of any alternative to them. If the world has indeed become as evil as you think, then we need the redemptive power of artists, poets, philosophers and theologians more than ever. "
Precisely. Now is not a time for Christian artists – or any with a positive vision, for that matter -- to retreat. The world needs us. Our job now is to hold ourselves to the highest standards of our craft.
The full Ebert essay may be viewed at: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050818/COMMENTARY/508190304
James Scott Bell