Monday, August 03, 2009

The Gospel According to "Rachel Getting Married"

This weekend Jessica and I watched a film that had been on our Netflix que for quite a while, Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married". It was a pretty good movie, thanks mostly to Anne Hathaway's performance.

I was really surprised, though, to see a tremendous message of redemption and some (most likely unintended) gospel metaphors at the end of the movie.

Anne Hathaway's character, Kym, reminds me of a number of people I've encountered at various times in my life. She's just come home from another stint in rehab, and it becomes clear very quickly that Kym has constructed her entire identity around being messed up. She wants everyone to know all about her problems, and she always has to be the center of attention. It's most likely crippling insecurity masquerading as vapid narcissism, and it works. We find out that her whole family is oriented around her disease. Her father is the peacemaker who will do anything to keep things peaceful keep her from going off the deep end. Her sister, Rachel (who is getting married, hence the title), is getting a PhD in Psychology so she can give voice to all the dysfunctions in her family. This is a textbook case of what addiction does to individuals and families.

Disclaimer- spoilers ahead. If you haven't seen this movie and don't want to know what happens, stop reading!

The night before the wedding, Kym gets in a fight with her estranged mother that gets physical, leaving her with a black eye and a swollen lip. She runs from her mom's house in a very emotional state, drives off, and quickly totals her car. She then falls asleep in the car, only to be awoken by police in the morning. Kym arrives back at the house as everyone is getting ready for the wedding in terrible shape with her father worried sick. Even though this is her sister's wedding day, she is once again drawing all the attention to herself.

Here's where the fantastic gospel metaphor shows up. Kym knocks on the door of Rachel's room and just stands there saying nothing. Rachel is already in her dress, but she takes it off to help Kym get cleaned up, made up to cover her eye and lip, and dressed for the ceremony. Even though Rachel had gotten fed up with Kym's antics in an earlier scene, we see Kym broken and contrite and helpless, so Rachel's actions show her forgiveness in a way words never could.

Kym's silence is significant because she has had the vast majority of the dialogue throughout the film. But from the moment at Rachel's door, she barely has any lines at all. The director, Jonathan Demme, had made Kym the center of almost every shot, but all through the wedding day she is on the margins of the screen. Kym has finally gotten over herself and thought of somebody else for a change. She has accepted that life is not all about her and her problems, and that she truly needs others to help her make it through each day.

This isn't a "Christian film" by any stretch, and I doubt if any of the filmmakers have any particular religious inclinations, and yet we see the gospel shown in the brokenness and humility Kym shows after she crashes her car. She's finally hit rock bottom and has accepted her powerlessness in the face of her addictions and other problems. She understands and accepts that redemption is going to have to come from a force outside herself.

The movie may not have the requisite doctrinal presentation (the only mention of Jesus is when the characters frequently break the third commandment) for some Christians to consider this film as containing a legitimate gospel message, but I think the humility and redemption Kym displays speaks for itself.

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