Her and Him: Digital Love and Divine Analogues

Sunday at the Oscars, Spike Jonze deservedly won Best Original Screenplay for Her, his dystopian love story for the cybernetic age. In an alternative world, the kind that Jonze likes us to inhabit in his films—strange but relatable, infinitely ironic—I’m pretty sure that he also took home the award for Best Parable.

Or, in keeping with Jonze’s boyish persona that seems to shrug at his own brilliance, perhaps it was Best Parable In Spite of Itself.

Why in spite of itself? Because while Jonze obviously set out to write a screenplay, and then direct a film, I suspect that he did not task himself with the conscious making of a cinematic parable in the same gospel vein employed by Jesus of Nazareth.

But he did, and to no unimpressive end. (Not surprisingly, after all, this being the director whose precocious dexterity in his early films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation felt like effortless deliveries of gemstones on a skateboard.)

Just put on your inner Jonze and imagine that Jesus hailed from Nazareth, Pennsylvania in our day and age. You can almost hear him begin the parable of Her to a street crowd in Philadelphia, many of whom must remove their earbuds and headphones to listen:

“There was a man who fell in love with an operating system…”

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My Valentine

Only after I hung up the first time we spoke on the phone did it hit me. I had called her the day before and left a message, but in keeping with pride or protocol Tracy waited the conventional twenty-four hours before calling me back.

Soon enough I would realize the timing was more in keeping with a happy combination of providence and happenstance.

Technically speaking, we had spoken on the phone for the first time six months before, when mutual friends put me in touch with her before my departure for travels in China. Tracy had lived there for three years as a teacher, naturally leading Robin and Declan to think she would have some good advice and helpful tips for me.

She most definitely did not. Her advice on China amounted to the recommendation of a book about Tibet, and her distracted air made me wonder if she was more involved in an email on the other end. Later I would learn about the family drama she was steeped in at the time; but suffice it to say that I hardly hung up thinking will you marry me? A book about Tibet? That was helpful was more like it.  

But when I walked into Robin and Declan’s birthday party back in New York several months later, and picked her out in the crowd even before we were introduced, it didn’t take long to forgive her subpar travel advice. That’s Tracy? I thought. Whoa!

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Media Matrimony for Better for Worse, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I began to explore the questions posed to me by W. David O. Taylor about why marriage is often treated in such an unseemly light in much of current TV and film.

Having addressed the divide between what is being pitched or written in Hollywood and what is being made there, a divide whose numbers alone would likely assure Taylor that more redeeming efforts of the kind he describes are being made than meet the screen, I now come to the heart of his inquiry.

Is there any reason why the complexities and tensions as well as pleasures and inherent “goods” of traditional marriage no longer capture the imaginations of producers and writers? Is it a dramatically uninteresting subject matter? Is the fact that over 50% of today’s marriages end in divorce a reason why writers cannot imagine it any other way? Is it a matter of a “trend”?

It’s hard not to hear each successive question for its rhetorical effect. My first response was to add one of my own to the list: is a generally disenchanted picture of marriage in our entertainment climate an unconscious, cultural form of collective self-amelioration, by which we come away feeling better about our own marriages in comparison?

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Media Matrimony for Better for Worse, Part 1

Recently a friend put me in touch with Christian author, W. David O. Taylor (editor of a book of essays titled For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts), who is writing an article about a two-pronged question pertaining to my profession: Why is there such an overall dearth of healthy onscreen marriages in television and film? And where might we find some exceptions?

Taylor was hoping to reach someone in the industry who might have some insight. Truth be told, though, despite the fact that I’m Christian, a screenwriter, and married, to boot, I often feel as vexed by the question as he does.

Thus what better place to ponder it than here at “Good Letters,” whose incisive readership might shed light upon the matter thanks to the comments box below.

With Taylor’s permission, I share his query in full:

Do you know of any Christians who are writing for TV or film, who happen to have written storylines about marriage, specifically about traditional sorts of marriages, in the “Friday Night Lights” or “Before Midnight” or even “The Incredibles” and “Downtown Abbey” vein?

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This Great Hunger

“Right there is where it started,” he says, pointing out the window to emerald pastures several headlands away. Here, where the forty shades of green meet surprisingly blue seas on the southern coast of Ireland in West Cork, a breathtaking tableau dappled with dairy cows in any direction, blight is not a word that comes to mind.

But right there is where the Great Famine began.

We’re standing in late August at what will be my desk until Christmas, on a quick tour of the house whose owner should be packing for America. But with his Irish sense of time, one quite different and more expansive than my American variety, he has already taken us on a boat ride and is about to lead the way to a digging lesson up in the potato garden.

Minutes later, pitchfork in hand, I unearth a healthy bunch of spuds from rocky soil and am no less delighted than my children by the sight. The dirty yellow skins make a fine addition to the jeweled picture stretching out before us from Union Hall to Skibbereen—the finest of all, no doubt, if we were a family of five facing starvation in the mid-1800s.

That was three months ago, when we arrived for a family sabbatical now about to end. Given the somewhat last-minute nature of the plan put together over the summer, I had no idea that we would be living so close to the origin of Ireland’s defining watershed.

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