Koontz Ultimatum

I just finished my first book by Dean Koontz. Called Life Expectancy, it is a book about a family stalked by a psychopath, but beneath the storyline it is really about marriage, faithfulness and an abundant life.

Koontz was first brought to my attention in an interview in National Catholic Register with Tim Drake. Koontz is a Catholic and his work is becoming more explicitly religious in his Brother Odd books.

I’m interested in the interface between Catholicism and popular culture. Ann Rice, the author of some pretty famous vampire novels has recently returned to her Catholic faith, Koontz writes suspense novels with some pretty graphic scenes of violence. Christian themes keep cropping up in mainstream movies too. Steven Greydanus, film reviewer for National Catholic Register, comments intelligently on them. X-Men and Spiderman are mainstream action movies with strong sub plots of forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of violence.

Last night I went to see the Bourne Ultimatum. Beneath all the mayhem and murder is strong comment on the ethics of mind control, torture, black ops, and the increasing use of surveillance and ‘security’ measures that are outside the law. In addition to that the series of films are really about a young man’s search for identity in a world coming apart with confusion, guilt fear and anonymity.

For my money, it is the products of popular culture that are making the most profound comments in our society. Of course there is lots of dross, but there is also a lot that is thoughtful, well made and very powerful.

What are we to make of the disagreeable elements in popular culture? What of the violence and sex in so many films and novels. I don’t think the actual presence of sex and violence in a novel or a film is the most important problem. There are two more important questions: “How are the sex and violence depicted?” If they are shown in a way that is arousing or encouraging a prurient curiosity, and if they are gratuitous, then the depiction of the sex and violence should be criticized.

The second question is, “What is the wider moral context of the sex and violence in the film or novel?” This is much more important than the mere presence of sex and violence. Do the violent end up getting what they deserve or does violence turn out to pay dividends? Is the violence glorified or shown to be for losers? Is the sex within a wider context of faithfulness and marriage, or is it simply recreational promiscuity?

Finally, what is the overall moral universe portrayed in the film? Most films actually show the good guys beating the bad guys. Most films portray a universe in which there is a battle between good and evil, a universe where real choices matter and where they matter forever. Because of this the vast majority of films and novels actually serve to support a general Christian world view. They may not be explicitly Christian, and may have objectionable elements, but they serve within the popular imagination to help maintain belief in a world that is essentially moral.

Good stories in movies and novels ultimately support a theistic view of the world. In his essay n fairy tales, J.R.R.Tolkien wrote about the ‘eucatastrophe’ or the ‘happy or just ending’ to a story. The happy ending to a story reminds us that life can have a happy ending, and if a happy ending, then meaning, and if meaning, then purpose, and if purpose, then a plan, and if a plan, then a planner.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03892529674664589034 Jeff Miller

    I can definitely recommend the Brother Odd books. I read the first two after some positive recommendations in the Catholic blogosphere and found them quite good .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08384291674560438678 Julie D.

    Ditto to what Jeff said. Here is my post after I read the Odd Thomas books. You would especially like the third book, Brother Odd.http://happycatholic.blogspot.com/2006/12/he-sees-dead-people-odd-thomas.html

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t know Dean Koontz was a Catholic, I have enjoyed lots of his books his take on the Frankenstein story is excellent.Angela

  • bernadette

    The faith standpoint of the person is the key to seeing the link between popular culture and our faith. For example. The Lord of The Rings, from a Catholic perspective is an allegory of the Incarnation (in a nutshell). But viewed through the eyes of some of my New Age friends, it is a fantasy all about differing types of magic. What I`d be interested to know, is, do you think Fr Dwight, it is likely that a person of no faith could be nudged towards the Catholic faith (or even a Christian faith) by going to see some of the more favourable films that you mention. Is it more or less likely that a film/popular culture can build on an exisitng faith and affirm it. We live in secular times now and I just think that unless the evangelisation is explicit and clear ( e.g. “The Passion of The Christ”) then no matter how many positive themes or Catholic ideas there are, its just going to go over people`s heads. Am I being negative ?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07007618921884871637 jim thompson

    “koontz ultimatum”… that’s kind of funny. it is so odd that people don’t see the perpetual presence of a Messiah-figure on the big screen. and if that is not clear, the theme of redemption certainly is.and oh, lovely to fellowship the other night, brother.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The great themes of redemption, forgiveness, right moral choice, and a happy ending keep alive in our culture a Christian worldview. Films that are not explicitly Christian may not evangelize explicitly, but they help the evangelization process by keeping current a worldview that looks for a savior.

  • Anonymous

    Did you notice Jason Bourne’s dogtag at the end of the Ultimatum? “CATHOLIC” was stamped on it. Of course. I have an atheist friend who is seriously considering the GOD question. She loves Koontz and Ludlum (Bourne author). I ask her often, “Why do you love those stories?” Because they are either true, good or beautiful …. in their humble heroes, in their self-sacrificing messages. Reaching people where they’re at!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Wow! what a cool detail. Is Ludlum Catholic?The neat thing about Catholicism and the arts is that Catholics aren’t ashamed for the message in the story or the music or the art to be buried deep.This is because the Catholic faith is so incarnational. The Word is made flesh. The Word is hidden in Mary’s womb, in Nazareth, in Galilee, in the horror of the cross…

  • Anonymous

    Fr. D., I haven’t found any evidence that Ludlum was a Catholic, at least in his early years. Nothing said about where he was buried from. His Bourne books were changed quite a bit for the movies, so I’d put it down to the fact that many soldiers, policemen, firemen, come from Catholic backgrounds… at least they used to….

  • David Eden

    Regarding “Catholic” on Bourne’s (Webb’s) dogtag, I also found that very interesting. It could just be that a large (25% +?) proportion of the US population is Catholic, and so it’s a “random” detail. However, I like to see further meaning in it. Bourne’s drive to make ammends could be seen as a latent benefit of a catholic upbringing. Catholics can’t claim a monopoly on repentence, but our faith certainly has a strong focus on it. Confession requires and stimulates resolve to correct past wrongs. I was particularly moved by the scene in the Bourne Supremacy when he apologizes to the daughter of a couple he killed, and tells her the (still sad but less horrific) truth that her parents were simply murdered, rather than her mother causing a murder-suicide as Bourne had made it out to look at the scene of the crime.