Thank God for Babel, and Joss Whedon

Thank God for Babel, and Joss Whedon May 3, 2014

Warning: This post contains massive spoilers for The Cabin in the Woods, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and Gravity (kind of, if you can spoil that movie)

The Ogre and I watched The Cabin in the Woods last night, finally, to celebrate the end of a semester that felt like a horror movie. Well, okay, there was often a blond woman screaming into a window facing alligators, so in that sense, it kind of was like a horror movie.


This wasn’t my favorite Joss Whedon movie. To be honest I felt kind of nauseated by the whole thing, except the end, which I felt was a solid (if not shining) example of Whedonology. It can be loosely boiled down to this: the greatest good is love, and the best person to love is the one in front of you.

It’s not a sophisticated theology, but it’s about as Catholic as pop culture gets. I know half of you are ready to throw me to the wolves for saying that, and hey, Deo gratias.

But I really mean it.

I grew up hearing people say “it takes all kinds,” and I never had any idea what that meant. It was always said with unsubtle condescension, like the time one of my teammate’s fathers showed up at a slow-pitch softball game for 6-year-olds with a cooler of Natty Light and my mom sighed, saw me looking at her, tried to cover her sigh with a shrug and said, “it takes all kinds.”

Here’s what kind I am: I’m the kind that thinks y’all are crazy for preferring free-floating Bullockian astronauts to space cowboys.

(and just for funsies, space hookers!)

I’m the kind that is constantly aghast when people are all giddy over the latest incarnation of Aryan Jesus

Cosmetic dentistry was surprisingly advanced in first century Palestine

but who have never heard of Lars and the Real Girl.

Honestly, which of these pictures is more interesting?

I think that Captain Mal and his band of merry, tortured marauders, or Lars and his blow-up Bianca, are way more in line with the Catholic Church as I understand it than Bullock and Clooney bantering in perfect space with their stupid perfect faces, amidst perfectly-timed specially-affected THRILLS.

That’s why I liked The Cabin in the Woods. The gratuitous bloody horror-fest near the end got to me, as gratuitous bloody horror-fests are wont, and I almost turned it off. But I loved the end, when these two college kids were like, “hey, is it worth killing my last friend to save the world on the dubious word of an uncannily coiffed Sigourney Weaver? Nah, probably not.  But there’s this joint*, anyway.”

It’s something, isn’t it? For two college kids to eschew the GREATEST GOOD EVER (read: the friggin’ salvation of mankind) in favor of the much smaller, but infinitely more human good of saving each other?

I’m a fan of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which I think is one of Joss Whedon’s greatest triumphs. If ever a made-for-internet-special showcased what real spiritual struggles look like, this one does. It’s one thing to play the rebel, to posture for the masses and pretend to a certain level of antagonism that sets you apart, below, above, whatever, as long as it’s other…it’s another thing for all your posturing to lead you right through the gates of hell.

I think I speak from experience here more than I’m even fully aware of, and certainly more than I’d like to admit. But since I tend to be more honest on my blog than I am anywhere else, ever, I’ll go ahead and spill my soul all over the internets again. I know how Doctor Horrible felt, when everything was theoretical and emo and no one was dead. Also I kind of know how he felt at the end, when he was all wrapped up in red and passing into the Evil League of Evil, a passage he had paid for by sacrificing the one person he loved on the altar of his own ego. Somehow the fact that it was unintentional almost makes it worse, because you can’t really hate Doctor Horrible, or think he got what he deserved, but you also can’t feel sorry for him or excuse his actions. He’s just so…sad. So human.

Sorry, am I getting too uncomfortable? I’m certainly uncomfortable, so I’m betting you are too. Let’s go back to Gravity, shall we? Gravity wasn’t really much of a story at all. It was more of a vast, beautifully rendered blank canvas for a metaphor. You could pick whichever one you wanted to see in it — triumph of the human spirit, abortion and childbirth, human longing for God, the token Christ allegory — they’re all there…or at least, pieces of them are. That’s part of the reason why I hated it. It showed me a thousand potentialities, without ever showing me a single actuality.

If you like faith-based movies, and they inspire you, make you feel good, that’s fine. It’s the rare, rare one that does it for me – that’s all I’m saying. I’d rather go the Sam Phillips route and see what surprises God may have in store through a film that sheds light on the human condition and grace.

A real Christian movie would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

(Read the rest here)

Sister Rose wrote that a few weeks ago in a great post about how movies can help save people. She’s totally right. Stories are more important for the development of culture, and of human beings, than anything else — yes, even more important than religion. If you think about it, all religions are stories. Catholicism won me over because of the majesty of the story, the greatness of it, the constancy, continuity, and unparalleled truth that rings through it. Stories are the mirror by which we can see ourselves more clearly, and the window through which we can see beyond ourselves…even all the way to God.

That’s not to say that I want to throw all movies that don’t feature space cowboys or Nathan Fillion out with the bathwater. Loads of people loved Gravity. My best friend, actually, told me point-blank with her sweetest smile (and seriously, how does she do this?) that I was utterly wrong about it. Somehow, coming from her, it was practically a compliment.

She loved Gravity, and I don’t think she’s stupid or backward or not as super-duper smart as I am. I think she’s smarter than I am. I still think Gravity sucked majorly.

But that’s what’s cool about being Catholic…we’re all children of Babel.

Thank God for Babel. Thank God for screwing with our language enough to make us speak, think, act, feel, and be different from one another. I love Catholicism because on the one hand, you have people who view everything through a ClearPlayer, while on the other hand you have me and Sister Rose insisting that a movie about a man’s chaste love affair with his inflatable sex doll is one of the most Catholic movies ever. Some people don’t even like stories enough to watch movies…some people get bored by movies but weep over Aquinas’s proof for the existence of God! Some people approach truth through physics instead of stories. For crap’s sake, Leah Libresco uses math to explain the relationship between art and truth!

This is the great thing about Catholicism, and the greatest thing that we all forget…it takes all kinds. It takes the Jesuits with their intellectual prowess and the Benedictines with their hospitality, the St. Therese of Lisieuxs with their little ways and the St Catherines of Sienas with their fiery exhortations. It takes the beauty and the sacred mystery of the Latin Mass, as well as the sometimes vulgar but so familiar Novus Ordo. God made the Church wide as well as deep, so that all could find a way to her.

I could understand if you wanted to kick me heels-over-head out of the Church. Really, I could. I curse like a sailor, I love zombies, I think Joss Whedon is basically a modern-day Dante, and I’m not entirely convinced by the arguments against the canonization of Doctor Who. But dang it all, Flannery O’Connor wrote about a traveling salesman seducing a one-legged girl so he could steal her wooden leg, and an unassuming grandmother with a character baser than the serial killer who murdered her. Good God Almighty, if she’s still on the SuperCatholic Guest List, I’m pretty sure I’m okay to sneak in the side door.

I’m just not coming in without Joss Whedon.


*PSA: I do not condone the smoking of pot, except possibly at the end of the world, then maybe I’d give you a pass

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