Will Ferrell, Kurt Warner, and The Meaning of Life

Will Ferrell, Kurt Warner, and The Meaning of Life February 3, 2009

strangerthanfictionI recently watched the movie “Stranger Than Fiction” and found that it suffers from a typically cinematic kind of mistake: it equates real living with a narcissistic, irresponsible, work-shirking kind of life. That, quite simply, is problematic.

The title character, Harold Crick (played by former Saturday Night Live actor Will Ferrell) muddles through life as an IRS salesman until he has to audit a baker named Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, with a suspicious character name), after which he falls in love, goes AWOL from his job, and exchanges his responsible if sedate existence for one that involves eating lots of cookies, illicit sex, and nearly dying.

Though the film makes some interesting points, not least of which on the matters of fate (a secular version of predestination) and literature (how closely the lives of authors and their characters intertwine), it comes to a thudding, concussion-inducing halt when it offers us its version of living. Crick, it argues, only gets to experience life when he shirks the IRS, sleeps with his baker friend, and generally does whatever he wants to do.

How different this picture of fulfillment is from a tearjerker produced by ESPN on NFL player Kurt Warner. Warner, a married Christian with a bunch of kids, a number of them adopted, has despite his fame and wealth devoted his life, it seems, to helping others around him. Though he lives the life so many men covet, being a Super Bowl quarterback with an attractive woman on his arm, he has found fulfillment and happiness not in serving himself, but in serving others. Where Harold Crick finds happiness in narcissistic pursuits, Kurt Warner finds happiness in loving others and communicating through Word and deed the love of Jesus Christ. He plays football, but he loves Christ. (HT: Matt Perman’s excellent blog)

This is a reminder to us. Have we subtly bought into a Cricklike mentality? Has Hollywood, or whomever, fooled us with its equation of selfish hedonism with true happiness? If so, shame on us. And how sad we ought to be. We won’t find happiness in serving ourselves. We find it only in serving God and, by extension, serving our fellow man in the purposeful love of Jesus Christ.

The life that is worth living is the Christian life. It is odd, against one’s selfish nature, and cruciform in shape. It does not involve shirking responsibility, but taking it. It does not mean serving oneself, but serving others. For men, it does not mean sleeping around, breaking hearts, using women, but stepping up for the kingdom, in many cases taking a wife, loving her tenaciously, and raising children to go out and transform their surroundings. It does not mean disdaining work and provision, but in approaching it with unquenchable zest and energy. God, after all, is the original worker, and the creator of work. If we blaspheme work, we blaspheme God.

In the end, then, the choice is clear. We can live for ourselves, or we can live for God and man. One choice makes sense to the sinful heart; the other is, truly, “stranger than fiction,” and a thousand times more happy besides.

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  • This is an excellent post. I found it on SBC Voices. Very well done!

  • Owen,

    Here’s my two cents:

    Jesus is the variable that’s different between Warner and Crick. If you took Jesus out of Warner’s life you have a man with a heavy burden, add Jesus back in and you have a man with a calling.

    The real story on Crick is that he is closer to heaven than he may ever be. He is simultaneously experiencing common grace and the wages of sin. Unless Jesus saves him he’s in a cycle of existential pain and satiation of “self fulfillment”.

    This is the reason that the calling of Christ on your life is so important—it changes everything. You repent of the sin and previous burdens become conduits of worship.

    Jesus is the joy of Warner, and the stumbling block for Crick.

  • Ryan

    If I may, I would like to mention one problem with your analysis; the movie does not end with Crick maintaining this attitude of self-directed pleasure, but with an act of self-sacrifice and appreciation for lives and intentions greater than himself. It’s not Christianity, but it surely resonates with aspects of Christianity. Your contrast of Warner and libertine Crick is valid, but doesn’t the last third of the movie change the whole scenario?

  • owenstrachan

    Dave–thanks very much.

    Mike–good analysis. The difference between the two is Jesus.

    Ryan–good thoughts. Yes, Crick does offer himself as a sacrifice. That’s true. I was focusing on how the movie explicitly presents Crick as not living before he abandons responsibility, etc. If I’m not mistaken, there are words to that effect in the narration.

    Yes, Crick does find purpose in the end by self-sacrifice. That’s true, and a helpful point. But the movie still suffers to a significant degree from a worldview that equates hedonism with fulfillment. The last ten minutes tweak that, sure, but they do not repudiate what has gone before. We are left to think that one should still tune out from responsibility, though doing good works is important and even cathartic.

    I appreciate your challenge. It would be worth a sentence if I were to edit this. Thanks!

  • What is the real meaning of life? In a lot of cases, people never find the answers to the questions they do have. People that cant find their life purpose are the ones that arent really seeing life for what it is