Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I don't see that you have a problem

After watching only a few episodes of the popular show, House, you can get a pretty good sampling of how the "religious person" is portrayed in today's TV and movies. A priest that doesn't really believe in God sees a vision of Christ after downing too many glasses of Scotch. A boy who claims to speak with God and claims virginity turns out to have an STD, and anyone claiming to have any faith at all probably won't make it long in this evolved world of reason. At best (which is really worse, but the writers feel they're throwing us a bone) the "person of faith" is weak and insipid, believing in a God that is neither all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-loving, in short- a sappy Jesus who they just wouldn't feel comfortable forcing on anyone. And this is supposed to be the typical Christian that we identify with.

So I was quite surprised (although this movie is older, which I suppose is in its favor in this respect) when watching The End of the Affair (with Deborah Kerr, the newer version is absolute rubbish) that the movie makers actually stuck w/ Graham Greene's spirit of the story! (He wrote the book that the movie is based on.) The priest in this movie who Sarah goes to for guidance is quite impressive for a movie priest.

Looking at the title you might think this movie is about an affair, but that's not quite the gist. It's about hating a God you don't believe in. The affair is the back-drop, the situation that forces the characters to see their souls for what they really are. It all begins with Maurice stating, "This is a record of hate far more than of love."

SCENE 1: A small party at the Miles's to which Maurice in invited. Enter stage left, Henry. Henry Miles, the mild-mannered civil servant who in all likelihood wouldn't hurt a fly. (This most resembles the "Christian character" in House and the like. And in some parts of the story reminiscent of Wilson.) When Henry is pressed by his wife, "Henry, do you pray? Henry, what do you believe?" He responds with, "It's quite simple, really. One does one's best." And there you have it in a nutshell, folks.

The Dr House-like character in this movie would be both Bendrix and Smythe. Richard Smythe is a "soap box orator" that is "mad at God" as Sarah tells Bendrix. (She refers to the air raids, bombs and war, and states that "it seems like a dangerous time to be mad at God".)

Bendrix responds, "Hurling thunderbolts? It's like walking under ladders. Come, you don't really believe all that do you?"
"No, but I don't walk under ladders either."

You can either watch the movie or read the book, but Graham Greene shows how painful and unwelcome a belief in God is for Sarah (and later for Bendrix and Smythe). After his rooms are bombed, Sarah makes a promise that she doesn't want to keep to a God she doesn't believe in. She tells the priest, "I promised that if God gave him back his life, I mean make him not be dead, I wouldn't be with him again." To which the priest responds, "I don't see that you have a problem. If you made a vow to someone that you don't believe in, why keep it?" Sarah tells him, "If there is a God, then he put the idea (of the promise) into my head, and I hate Him for it!"

Not to give the entire story away, but Sarah has a few conversations with said priest. Once she asks him, "God. Always God. Can you priests say nothing else?" He tells her, "There is nothing else."

As I said, you must see it for yourself, but I'll give a bit away by saying that Sarah 'remembers her baptism' and near the end she tells Smythe,

"You helped me to find God. You taught me to believe in Him."
"I taught you?"
"By your hate. Richard, you can't hate something who isn't there."
"It's easy for you to accept the idea of God, you have no complaint. But why should I love a God who let me be born with this?"
(note: He looks a bit like two-face, and that's what he's referring to here.) This is when it dawns on Sarah.
"Oh my dear Richard, your belief is far deeper than mine." (Smythe's physical pain, and reaction to it, puts one in mind of House.)

At the end Maurice has Sarah's diary and reads her thoughts,

"I'm praying to God all the time that He won't be hard. And I've learned that you must pray the way you make love- with everything you have. I believe there is a God. I believe the whole bag of tricks, there is nothing I don't believe. I've fallen into belief the way I fell in love. I've never loved anyone as I love you (Maurice), and I've never believed in anything as I believe now. Maurice dearest, you were on His side all the time without knowing it. You hated in me the things He hates...You are apart of this, Maurice. Just as you are apart of me and we are apart of God."

To read about another priest (though not quite as stellar) of Graham Greene's creation, read The Power and The Glory which is, in fact, more excellent.


Bess said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I added the movie to our instant queue on Netflix. Didn't know it was a Greene story.

Esther said...

Our library has the VHS, and the book.

Lydia said...

Excellently said! But can u really recommend P&G to mixed company? Why yes, yes you can. Everyone may see thru different eyes, but if it is a good book then good literature should always be passed around and read, well received or non. (Like my French, and how I just answered my own Q ;)

Esther said...

What did you think of P&G?

Lydia said...

I liked it, but I have my dark side that understands and loves a story about a whiskey priest who has no one to talk to and nowhere to lay his head. I also like Dostoevsky's The Gambler. What does that say about me? I guess because to me it is not dark. It is redemptive. Fascinating how God can love a wretch like me. But when it comes to these books I also very much understand others' dislike and indifference to reading them. So with that said, Bess, please read it and let me know what u do think about it, because to u it may not be uplifting and spiritually moving. We all have different spirits moved in different ways.