06 February, 2009

Redemptive Violence Works!

I like movies. I like them when they're deep and thought provoking. I like them when they're funny. I like them when they're chock-full of symbolism and allusion. (Thank you, Dr. Gaines' "Film as Literature Class.") I like them when they're terrible enough to be funny. I like them in a box. I like them with a fox.

And I even like them when they are absolutely mindless entertainment.

I saw Taken last night, which fits neatly into the latter category. Fifteen minutes of set-up, a kidnapping and an hour and twenty minutes of Rob Roy running around Paris killing or torturing-then-killing bad guys. (I hope I haven't ruined any of the surprise for anyone....)

For what it is, it's well done. Tightly-paced, no convoluted twists de plot (but a few appropriately cheesy plot devices), lots of action and a good guy we can cheer for because, after all, he's doing the Right Thing. And, better yet, he's doing the Right Thing against some Very Bad Foreign People - nasty Albanian kidnappers, corrupt French police and vilely gluttonous middle-eastern royalty.


Unless you stop to think about it.

I've grown up in the Church and now find myself slouching toward ordination as a United Methodist pastor. That's 36 years of trying to follow Jesus, who amongst his various titles, is known as the Prince of Peace. This is the chap who said, "Turn the other cheek." Same dude what inspired Gandhi and thence Martin Luther King, Jr., to practice non-violence as a way of changing the world.

I like to think I'm a fairly non-violent guy. Aside form a few dust-ups in elementary school (I'm looking at you, Jason Spear...) and another one in Junior High, I have been a fairly meek fellow.* But I cheered for good ol' Liam as he punched, elbowed, electrocuted, stabbed and shot his way through a menagerie of Deserving Stereotypes.

"But his daugter was kidnapped and being sold into slavery," says the plot, "He was only defending his child. You would do the same thing."

I wouldn't do the same thing, mostly because I'm not a retired CIA agent with "a very particular set of skills," access to a private jet and various intelligence and law enforcement contacts. I might want to do the same thing, but I couldn't.

And that, I suppose the movie's makers would argue, is the point. We all know we can't do what Mr. Hero does on the screen. We know it's a fantasy world and for 90 minutes we get to live in that world and have things go exactly how we wish they could.

But I'm bothered by the cheapness of the violence. (After travelling to France and killing, I don't know, dozens of people and leaving dozens more headed for Parisian hospital, Mr. Neeson makes his way safely home, with no trouble from French law enforcement.) I'm bothered by the cardboard stereotypes used for target practice. (A greasily obese middle eastern prince who comes to Paris to buy young white virgins for his pleasure? Really?) I'm bothered by the ease with which violence solves the problem of violence. (Do we think that works in any other facet of life? "My goodness, this floor is really wet! What we need is some water!")

Maybe it is just a story, mindless fantasy for the sake of two hours' escape. But Jesus told lots of stores, and he told them, at least in part, because he knew something: Stories get lodged in our heads and can, over time, shape us into a new people. I wonder what kind of people we are shaping ourselves into by these stories of redemptive violence...

It was so easy and so fun to cheer for the hero as he violenced his way to justice.

Maybe I should have seen Bride Wars after all.

much peace, much love, etc.

*My little sister would say that I was not that meek in our childhood, but she's a liarhead and I'll beat her up if she says any different.


  1. Hey Clay,

    Just read an article where the cross was referred to as redemptive violence - what do you think?

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  3. No plot ruined for me. Got pretty much the same visual synopsis for weeks in the theatre. But, uh oh, do I hear some questioning of the blood theology lurking in the backgrounds too? Check out www.preachingpeace.org for some deeper reflections on nonviolent atonement theology.
    Thanks for the reminding us of the stereotypes that hinder our journey in the footsteps of Jesus.
    Can't say anything about "Bride Wars" as an alternate but I can tell you a great laugh is for the taking in "YES Man."

    Shalom, Namaste & Ahimsa

  4. The cross is redemptive violence? I think I'd rather say that the cross is redeemed violence...