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                         When Good Things Happen To Bad People

 In both movies, the characters involved aren’t really inclined to be moral.  They act on their whims and desires, and delude themselves into believing that the consequences will be manageable.  As each film develops, the main characters experience setbacks in their grand plan of selfishness, and, through their interaction with the people around them, actually end up choosing a more ethical path.  We hope that there is an inner transformation that accompanies the change of behavior, but in each case, we wonder, at the end, if the characters are really that different, or if things just didn’t work out according to plan.  Can good things happen to bad people?  Or is there no such thing as bad people, just ordinary people caught up in adverse circumstances, albeit of their own making?  And would a person who had decided to do wrong, but was somehow prevented from going through with it, utilize that experience of being thwarted as an opportunity to truly repent?

 “Married Life,” though set in the 40’s when divorce was still considered scandalous, is not very optimistic about marriage.  Harry (Chris Cooper) invites his long-time friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), to lunch, in order to tell him that he intends to divorce his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), because he has fallen in love with a younger woman, Kay (Rachel McAdams).  Apparently Harry is so in love with being in love that he fails to notice that Richard, who is single, and Kay, a widow, once introduced, quickly begin to develop an interest in one another.  He thinks he’s being noble in prolonging his departure from the marriage, convinced that his good wife would be devastated, but it turns out that she might actually be relieved.  She just doesn’t know how to tell him.  And when he contemplates a more radical solution, he deludes himself into thinking it would be for her own good.  So this turns out to be a kind of Sartre-esque stage play where everyone is miserable, and nobody can possibly reach for happiness without making someone else more unhappy.  However, in the interest of pervasive civility, everyone is unfailingly nice to each other in public, and impeccably dressed at all times, even at home.  It’s as if they’re striving mightily for a dignity which they do not feel, and longing for a moral compass which they do not possess.  Like the period costumes, the characters inside them are elegant but empty.

 “First Sunday”:  Durell (Ice Cube) has made a series of mistakes and bad decisions.  He’s divorced, jobless, behind on his support payments, and in mortal fear that his ex-wife will move out of State with his son, who is “all he has left.”  His buddy LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) is also desperate for money, and in peril from mirthless loan sharks, so they impulsively decide to rob a local church.  They arrive on the evening when the choir is practicing and the finance committee is meeting, and loudly corral everybody into the sanctuary as hostages, waving guns, confiscating cell phones, and demanding cash.  But of course their ill-planned scheme immediately goes awry.  The choir director, Rickey (Katt Williams) at first tries to ignore them, then makes fun of them.  The would-be robbers stumble on an internal conflict between the Deacon and the Pastor’s daughter, with the Pastor squarely in the middle.  The church is unbearably hot because the air conditioner is broken.  And then something amazing happens:  the church members begin to transform the robbers, who really aren’t bad people, they’re just in a bad situation.  Oddly enough, it all gets settled in court, including what happened to the church’s missing money.  This is a quirky comedy/drama with significant religious themes, including forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and repentance.  And best of all, some (but not all) church members are actually portrayed in a positive light, as warm-hearted people who can have a good influence, even on reluctant converts.  Imagine that.

 Questions for Discussion:

1)      Have you ever decided to do something that you knew was wrong, but then were prevented from actually committing the act?  Did that cause you to truly repent?

2)      How much sin is committed by deciding to do something wrong, but then not going through with it?  Is there such a thing as sinning in the heart? (see Matthew 5:21-32)

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas