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Ecclesiastes & Film

June 15th, 2007 by Jason · 2 Comments

Up until a few years ago I was not a big fan of movies.  Not because I thought they were bad, but I just didn’t see why the two hours wouldn’t be better spent reading a book, and not because I am some great literary aficionado, but because I saw books as being more meaningful.  Which is a strange thought considering the abundance of junk books that are put out by the publishing industry.    Anyhow, it wasn’t until taking a class on film and theology that I came to appreciate that film makers are more and more the primary story tellers of our age and movies the source of our parables, metaphors, and stories.    Film is one of the primary means through which our culture examines, challenges, and endorses the stories that shape how we see the world and our place in it. Of course some movies are “simply” entertainment, but a number of film makers are taking on some of the big topics of the day—everything from the angst and ennui of suburbia to the meaning of life. One particular theme that I continue to encounter is the depiction of beauty and goodness of life in the midst of our often painful and even vain (useless, short, absurd) existence. Films, as varied as Run Lola Run, Pleasantville, and Moulin Rouge, try to hold together both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly in an attempt not to settle for easy dualist answers ( i.e. the world is a godless void or the world is a rosy, wonderful place).   In the very way that they seek to live in the paradoxes of life instead of escaping them they not only capture much of the mood of the gen-X and gen-Y generations, they also are good as dialog partners with Ecclesiastes.

Medieval scholars dubbed Ecclesiastes one of the Bible’s “two dangerous books” (along with Song of Songs). Told from the perspective of Qohelet, a wise, if not a little jaded, preacher who lived during an affluent age in Israel’s history, Ecclesiastes also bemoans the vanity and meaninglessness of everything “under the sun.” Qohelet sees the vanity in life: death is the great leveler, life is often unfair, and we cannot know what the future holds. Yet, at the same time he affirms that life is worth living: “people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (3:13).

What are we to make of these contradictions?  Is Qohelet just a cynic with a penchant for hedonistic living?  Or is he struggling to answer the perennial question of how we are to live authentically amidst life paradoxes?  As you might guess I lean towards the latter.  Either way, if you’re looking for a way to spend those long summer evenings, but (like me) have a complex about your activities being “meaningful,” check out the book Useless Beauty by Robert Johnston which started this whole process for me.

Tags: pop culture · theology

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Justin // Oct 5, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Sounds like you have taken Johnston’s Theology and Film class at Fuller. Am I right? I’m currently in that class as we speak.

  • 2 Jason // Oct 5, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Justin, you found my source :) Yes, I took Johnston’s class as well and that sparked my interest in movies (before the class I hardly ever watched them). What movies are you all watching?