And so these movies. These two simulacra. It’s a Wonderful Life and Schindler’s List. Are quite similar in their subject matter. In the focus of their stories. And not surprisingly they are quite similar in the quality of their outcomes. Schmaltzy party in the one. Schmaltzy real life people and actors join hands across the generations in the other.
In a sense, they are both fictional. Fictional because they do place before us dramatizations. Imitations. Mimetic semblances. Stories that are quite selective as to what they include and exclude, unlike real life. Stories that are acted for us by professional actors whose job it is to play a plausible someone. A possible someone. A someone we might know or be ourselves. Or could be. Or could be like. Stories that include dialog that strictly speaking, in the case of Schindler’s List in particular, may have never happened. At least some of it. Dialog that is there to support the story. To make the story more compelling. More interesting. More explicable.
Most of our stories aren’t altogether explicable. Most of the time, we do things that are. Oh. Random seeming. Out of character. Whimsical. We wonder off track for no apparent reason. No good reason. It happens all the time. Look for example at all the Christians who divorce. Half of Christians divorce. Christians, mind you. People who are supposed to be taking the Bible seriously. Taking God seriously. Taking love seriously.
But we all have this tendency to go random. Go evil. Do destructive things. Say harmful things to people we love. Not once. No. Many times. But sometimes once is enough. And then it’s done. Then we’ve participated in the destructive processes of the cosmos. Then we become members of that army. That relentless march of the living enlisted in the army of death. That army that hurries itself on toward its own destruction and that tears at itself, tormenting itself as it goes.
And so what these two films do is to show us a different way. A different way to be human. A different way to be before God. To be in God’s presence.
And they show us that we aren’t necessarily talking about self-control here. Personal discipline. Resisting temptation. An act of the will in defiance of or rebellion against our natural impulses. We aren’t necessarily talking about denying ourselves anything when we choose to turn toward love and life and God.
What these films intimate is that there is something natural and wonderful in us. Residing in us. In our hearts. Something that wants to love and care for and look after and nurture and provide saving help to others. Even though this may be costly. Even though we have to sacrifice.
And sometimes. I don’t know. I think that love and sacrifice are the same thing. Aspects of the same thing. The same reaching outward to affirm. Encourage. Support. If you think you can love without sacrifice, maybe it isn’t really love. Maybe it’s something masquerading as love.
So these stories encourage us to rethink our willingness to love. To love practically. To love faithfully. To love in how we live. They allow us vicariously to participate in the protagonist’s love. His acts of love. And by doing so they encourage us to try our hand at this sort of love. To take it into our lives and see if we don’t feel that sense of.
Oh. That presence of the beautiful. That presence of the divine. That we experience when we watch these movies. But maybe it’s also possible out here, we think, as we watch the credits scroll up into nowhere. Maybe its possible also with us, out here. In our particular stories. In our normal, everyday lives. To experience the beautiful also. To experience love this way also.
Maybe it’s possible for us to be protagonists. For us to be the main character of our own particular story, rather than the bystander or the Potter or the Goth we sometimes feel ourselves to be. Maybe we have, today, the opportunity. To.
Well. Despite all our self-doubts and fears and second-guessings. Maybe we have the opportunity to love like a protagonist in a novel. In a play. In a movie. Maybe we have the possibility of living as if it really did matter. As if it really could bring hope or faith or peace or safety or love into somebody’s life. As if it could really save somebody’s life. As if it could open the door to the light of the beautiful and allow that light to come flooding in.