God in the Abstract (God in Film Pt 7)

To sum up this blog series in a nutshell, divinity is hard for humans to relate to. This creates an interesting question for filmmakers: can you make movies where God or angels show up and keep them from seeming cheesy or absurd?

There may be several ways to get around this problem.

You can lean into that absurdity by making the story funny or focusing on how strange God seems to mortals.

You can make a story that explores evil really well and therefore shows our need for God. Or you can talk about God more subtly via Christ figures or showing what he accomplishes (the seemingly miraculous encounters people experience).

But if making a story about miracles feels a bit too direct, you can also talk about God’s actions in a more abstract way.

You can show moments where something paranormal breaks into the story, building up the idea this paranormal thing is something holy. God is pushing his way into the characters’ lives, although maybe not in a way that makes them immediately realize what’s happening.

Roy Anker suggests one movie that does this effectively is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film Three Colors: Blue.

The film focuses on a young woman, Julie, whose husband and daughter die in a car crash.

Racked with anger and grief, Julie withdraws from life. She sells almost all her possessions, moves into a small apartment in Paris and dedicates herself to interacting with as few people as possible.

The only thing she brings with her is an ornament from her daughter’s room, a glass mobile with blue beads.

As you’d guess from the title, blue ends up being an important color in the movie. In fact it seems to pursue Julie.

Julie keeps having these moments where blue light fills whatever room she’s in, followed by orchestral music. Sometimes these moments happen when she’s alone, sometimes other people are present but only Julie detects what’s happening.

As Anker argues in his book Catching Light, these moments are “at once transfixing and beautiful, they have a marked kinship with the long tradition in the Christian West of quasi-mystical revelations of the divine presence” (Anker 365).

Julie doesn’t talk with anyone else about these moments or give any indication she sees them as being miraculous.

Still, the movie makes it clear these moments are more than just hallucination, because they connect with other elements in the story that push Julie back to a healthy life.

Blue is the color of the candy Julie’s daughter ate, of the special room in her house  where she kept the glass mobile, of clothing worn by special people she meets.

The music which follows these “blue moments” is equally important, because Julie’s late husband was a composer. The music thus reminds her of family, and of a piece her husband never finished.

Just in case we missed all these connections, the movie ends with the discovery this unfinished composition includes a Greek chorus, where singers sing the words from 1 Corinthians 13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, if I have not love I am a noisy gong….”

As Jeffrey Overstreet puts in his book Through A Screen Darkly, when viewers discover that chorus, “we suddenly realize the true power of the song and understand why it has become so important for Julie to accept it and offer it to the world (308-309)

The blue moments, with their symbolic colors and music, push Julie to give up her attempts to live alone, without love.

Thus, Anker argues that “Ultimately, what [Julie] has to confront within these aural-visual epiphanies is no less than the Spirit of God wresting her back from despair and numbness into hope and love” (365).

 

Any thoughts about this? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them. 

Also, stay tuned for the next article in this series, where I examine another possible way to show divine encounters in films.

4 thoughts on “God in the Abstract (God in Film Pt 7)

  1. Pingback: Chance Encounters (God in Film Pt 6) – G. Connor Salter

  2. Pingback: God in Nature (God in Film Pt 8) – G. Connor Salter

  3. Pingback: The Need to Do Art Well (Why Art Can’t be Strategized Pt 2) – G. Connor Salter

  4. Pingback: Films on Faith I’ve Enjoyed – G. Connor Salter

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