Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lessons from John Carter

Occasionally a scene or image - or even a whole movie - will catch my attention for its cinematography, story, depth, acting, or symbolism.  I have a weakness for good metaphor in particular and so, as you may recall, I loved Labyrinth for its marvelous depiction of the subtle yet insidious ploys of evil, and I mentioned House of Flying Daggers recently for its depiction of the burdens and honor of being a woman with a calling.  (Okay, that's not exactly what I said but it's kind of what I wanted to say.)  I have had good conversations lately about even the disappointing Snow White & the Huntsman, which I thought did one thing well: It painted an amazing picture of one of the great feminine conflicts.  (Some men resonate with The Hulk as they wrestle with their own anger and aggression.  Some women will find their story in the duality of Snow White and her Wicked Step-Mother Queen: Both were scarred by tragedy because of their beauty. Both faced decisions as to how they would offer their beauty to the world in response.)

Today I was caught by surprise by the movie John Carter.  Specifically there were two scenes that changed my entire experience of the story.  I will only discuss one here, particularly in light of my note about Snow White. I think I can do it without creating any spoilers.

The scene is short and simple.  The princess Dejah faces a typical royal dilemma: Will she sacrifice herself for what appears to be the greater good of her people?  It is the moment of her final decision and she makes one more appeal to the man she has asked to help her fight...

She stands in a position of power that requires this man to kneel before her, yet we know she is helplessly caught up in a greater power play - even down to the fact that she is draped in finery she detests, that displays her as the object she is destined to become, but that she has no choice but to wear.  It is in this moment she uses what power she does have to do something she hasn't yet attempted up until this point.

She poignantly releases all  overt control, manipulation, deception, or blackmail.  Instead, she shares with this man her heart, her vision; she recognizes and accepts him and his story; and she lets him go.

Even though it is obviously painful for her to do so.

Even though she clearly hopes that he will choose her
that he will fight for her
that he will partner with her for this greater good.

Even though it means she faces an unimaginable future without his help.

She offers her heart.

She makes her request.

And she lets him go.

It is a moment in which she operates in true power and authority, in the beauty of knowing who she is and knowing her own strength.

And right down to the very moment when her captors burst in upon her room only to look around in bewilderment - she waits.

"Princess, are you alone?" they ask, confused.

She turns and as the tears well up in her eyes she finally says, "Yes.  Yes, I am alone."

She has done all that she can do.  She has acted in humility.  She has acted in true strength.  And now she is alone.

She takes a breath. She stands up tall.  And she walks out to do what must be done, to be the woman that she knows that she must be, to face the difficult reality that is before her.

"Yes.  Yes, I am alone."

I think it is often a woman's story - to be given a facade of power, a "pretend" humanity, choice when there really are no choices.  And I think it is her greatest fear to have to face this great injustice, to see the great horrors of the world, to try to be a woman of strength and beauty and integrity, only to find herself utterly alone in it.

I don't know, but I think it is a woman's greatest fear.  I think every woman at the core of her being wants to have strength and character and integrity; I think every woman wants to sacrifice for a greater good. I think women uniquely bear a burden over the horrors and tragedies of the world around them and I think they want to do something.  Yet in so many ways we are helpless, powerless.  We cannot do it on our own.

Do we dare to believe in ourselves? Do we dare to reach out?  And if we do, what if it is only confirmed?  What if we find that we really are powerless?

"Yes. Yes, I am alone."

Many women are driven by this fear, I think.  Like Dejah, they may try to exercise their power to manipulate, control, deceive, hide, or pull any number of mechinations in an attempt to avoid that moment of choice, that moment of truth.  Perhaps it is the case with men, too, but this is something to which I cannot speak.  All I know is that I myself have been a coward in my own life, unwilling to face what is required of me, unable to face it alone.  Until the day came that I stopped running, stopped trying to control what was never mine to control, stopped trying to manipulate or blackmail or cajole.  One day I stood as Dejah did, accepting both what I had power over and all the ways I was distinctly powerless.  One day I decided to believe in my heart, to share my vision, and to ask for partnership.

And just as Dejah did in that moment, I found that I was alone.  It was my worst fear realized.

And I think that's the point.  I think that is the true line of integrity, the true test.  Are we willing face our fear, find that it is true, and stand in the face of it anyway? Are we willing to choose the path of integrity - even when our greatest fear is realized and we find we face it alone?

I read a blog recently written by a friend, a man appealing to women to forsake pornography, explicit novels, and other exploitive material/media, describing the impact that partaking in such things could have on men, particularly in their own struggles.  He is right.  If women choose to abandon this point of integrity because men have already abandoned them for the same, it only escalates the problem; it doesn't solve anything.  (That is the lie of sexual sin - any sin, really.  It poses itself as the solution. It pretends to be the answer, but it only creates a greater problem.  It only begets more sin and pain.)  But though he was right, the difficult truth for men has been one that I think women have faced for a long time now.

Will you choose what is right regardless as to who stands with you or abandons you?


Will you choose the difficult thing, the painful road of self-sacrifice, character, and integrity, even if no one sees it and no one stands with you?  Even if you do not get what you need?  Even if you have been wronged, belittled, or have suffered a great injustice?  Even if you find that you are alone?  That is the choice that men must make on the issue of pornography regardless of their own hopes and dreams and helplessness and suffering, regardless of women.  That is the choice that women have had to make in the midst of all the injustice that has been perpetrated upon them, too.

I, for one, can say I made my choice.  I chose to do the hard thing and I found my greatest fear realized.

"Yes. Yes, I am alone."

And I survived.

The fear said that I could not do it but I did.  The fear said that I would not make it but I did.  And it was only in facing this fear that I was finally able to truly accept that I was not alone at all.  God was and had been with me, and he had been raising up a woman of character within  my very skin.

My story did not turn out like Dejah's.  But by letting go as she did, I found that I was capable of real love, real sacrifice, real life, and real hope.  By letting go, fear no longer controlled me.  By letting go and finding that I was alone, I was able to receive the gift of not being alone when it came.

It makes me think of Esther.  When it came down to it, no one else could do what she did.  No one could walk the path to the court with her, no one could step out beside her as she presented herself to the king and offered up her life.  She was alone.  She had limited power; she was a figurehead, an object in the harem of the king.   It's a woman's worst fear.  And her story is recorded as a testimony to each of us about the calling God has placed on each of us.

All that, in a 2 minute scene from John Carter.  ;-)

1 comment:

  1. I was reading in Luke 1 this week. It is an amazing story of two women, Elizabeth and Mary.
    One older, one younger. One who had been barren for a lifetime, the other a virgin. Elizabeth was the one woman on earth who could be there for Mary, in her joy and her fear. The years of humiliation, and sense of feeling left behind by God and others in a pretty public way, had shaped her and made her able to be that one woman. I just know that it is hard to see sometimes, what God has in mind. But, He does and it is good.

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Thank you for your thoughts!