Brian McLaren (who is on so many postmodern book jackets in recent months) comments on Robert K. Johnston's Useless Beauty "Johnston reads Ecclesiastes with a rich, postmodern hermeneutic--not the more common simplistic, linear, moralistic, or formulaic approach that threatens to drown Bible readers in the shallows. His reading has great value for people seeking new ways to find meaning in Scripture. Personally, it helped me weave my life experience with my viewing of the film and my reading of the Bible, and it left me feeling alive and energized."
Johnston dialogues with some recent poignant films such as American Beauty, Monster's Ball, Run Lola Run, Signs, Magnolia, among others.
He asks, "Some in the Christian community will no doubt question the appropriateness of giving one's attention to some of the movies chosen. Should anyone, they will ask, (Dan interjects: actually my wife asked this not knowing Johnston had anticipated her) choose to view the explicit violence and sexuality depicted in Monster's Ball?"
In what may be considered pomo fashion, Johnston answers, "But life's messiness knows no borders and cries for meaning. It will not be ignored. Moreover, Scripture itself is realistic in its depiction of the underbelly of life. (Think of David and Bathsheba; or the rape of Dinah, Jacob's daughter, and the slaughter that ensued. The Bible refuses to whitewash. Attention to life's struggles as depicted on screen and in blibcal text can help us attend to life's paradoxical reality--its joys that are found within its pain."
He observes, " Themes of life and death, choice and chance, loneliness and connection, God's absence and presence fill the pages of Useless Beauty, just as they permeate our present cultural landscape. Ours is a time when we feel threatened by chaos and contradictions. Yet it is also a time of fragile joy and hope. Useless Beauty provides one exploration of this paradoxical spirit of our age."
I decided to rent Monster's Ball. As Johnston rightly comments, it "is both disturbing and deeply moving, a film that stays with you long after the screen goes dark." Themes of loneliness, loss, and personal progress in the journey are big in the film.
I think Johnston's book helps us dialogue with movies that would be considered taboo on first reflex. Brian has a point. There are more dimensions in Monster's Ball for example, than just a thin description of sexuality. The pain of relational disconnects is vividly portrayed in the film. I don't want to give too much away, in case you haven't seen it and want to.
Useless Beauty is a good read that engages the contemporary films in our pomo age. Its going to make you think about Christian responses to films like Monster's Ball.