I just finished watching the movie Wanted. It is full of violence and vulgarity, and many will love it or hate it for that reason. But beneath the “action flick” surface is an incredibly profound parable, one that parallels a key theme and message of the Matrix films. [WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW, although I will try to be vague!]
The movie is about the feeling many people get of boredom and dissatisfaction with their lives. We long for someone to come along and tell us that we are significant, to redefine how we understand ourselves through just a few words revealing our true identity.
What both the Matrix and Wanted show is that, on the one hand, what is needed in order to save us from a meaningless existence is, above all else, desire and discipline. In all the great hero movies that have even a hint of realism, the main character doesn’t just go from ordinary to superhero. There is a need for a “repairman”, someone who teaches the individual the discipline needed in order to realize what they – what we – are capable of.
Wanted, like the Matrix films, also highlights a key danger. Those who mediate the message of our potential to change, to be something more, to find meaning, are also capable of manipulating that message and its power to their own ends. Neo discovered that his being “the One” was just another layer of control and manipulation. Wesley discovers that what was allegedly fate was in fact manipulation.
We all want to be significant, but it is only relatively recently that it has become the expectation that we will find that fulfillment from our jobs. Some of us are indeed so fortunate. But in bygone eras, one’s farming or cattle herding was simply a means of survival. If someone’s words made a huge impact, as for instance the words of Amos did, it wasn’t because he was a prophet “for a living” necessarily, but the sense of calling and the willingness to make the time to do something else as well.
The special effects and stunts are impressive, but to get caught up in them would be to miss the central message of the movie. If our lives seem dull, we long for excitement and adventure. Those who live daily on the edge, their lives in danger, regularly wish for “normality”. The ability to curve bullets or see life in bullet time won’t bring meaning or liberation from being controlled and manipulated. To take control of one’s life to the extent that it is possible, and to fill one’s life with meaning, it takes understanding, discipline, and committment - among other things.
A message may come to you that changes your life, that makes you aware that there is life-changing power that can improve your life and help you find meaning. But without digging beneath the surface and seeking understanding, and daring to question the uses to which the power of such a message is put, we may not escape manipulation but actually serve it.
“The truth will set you free.” It now seems ironic ironic to me how frequently in my more conservative days I felt terrified of changing my mind, of being confronted with arguments that might persuade me to think differently. Seek to add wisdom and understanding to the power, because (as someone else said) “With great power comes great responsibility”. Even a positive, life-changing power is not above misuse for selfish ends. Indeed, that sort of life changing experience is particularly open to such abuse, because, as the movie’s title hints, it is what is most wanted by so many people.