Saturday, July 11, 2009

Truth is Stranger than Stranger Than Fiction

(Spoiler Alert: This is not a film critique or review. It contains spoilers, giveaways about the major twists of plot and ending to the film. If you haven't seen it, and don't want me to ruin it for you, stop reading here. If you have seen it, don't plan on seeing it, or don't care about it being ruined, then read on.)

The old adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction," is so time-worn that it is nearly cliche. The story that is told in the film "Stranger than Fiction" is also time-worn, but will never be cliche. It is a story about a man who is going to die, but he doesn't know he's going to die. But then in a bizarre sort of way learns that he is going to die. And knowing that he is going to die changes the way he lives. OK, that part is cliche. It has even found its way into a country music song, confirming its cliche-ness. But there is more to this story. In fact, there is an old, old story that is written between the lines of this screenplay.

The film is billed as a comedy, and with Will Ferrell in the lead role one may expect that slapstick and sophomoric humor which has made him famous (not to mention wealthy). While the film is funny and lighthearted throughout, there are moments which do not feel comic at all. In one ironic scene, Harold Crick (played by Ferrell) learns the difference between comedy and tragedy from Professor Jules Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman): "In a tragedy you die, in a comedy you get hitched."

Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson) is a renowned novelist with a decade long case of writer's block. Harold Crick is a tax auditor with a case of life block that is probably even longer. But the two develop a symbiotic relationship when Eiffel begins unknowingly telling Crick's story, and Crick can hear her telling it in his head. Crick learns from the narrator in his head that he is going to die. He doesn't know when or how, but is determined to figure out the mystery. When he meets Eiffel face-to-face, he pleads with her to change the ending, leaving her perplexed. Upon reading the first draft, Professor Hilbert claims that it mustn't be changed because it is the masterpiece of her stellar career. Crick must die just in the way that Eiffel has narrated.

Long story short, Crick doesn't die the way she narrated. In fact, he doesn't die at all. Oh sure, the events unfold just as she originally penned. Crick throws his life in front of a moving bus to save the life of a young boy. Viewers, like the bystanders on the curb, are certain that he is dead. Moments later, the scene shifts to the hospital where Crick is recovering in traction.

Herein is the Truth that is stranger than fiction. We are living out a grand story, a metanarrative being told by a Third-Person Omniscient. It is God's story. He knew how it would end before it began. And in God's story, the hero is not Crick but Christ. Like Eiffel's story in which Crick must die, in God's story Christ must die. But neither are tragedies in the end. For starters, both "died" sacrificially, laying their lives down to save another. Crick laid his life down in front of the bus to save the helpless boy in the street. Christ laid his life down on the cross to save helpless sinners. And secondly, death does not have the final word in either story. After meeting Crick, Eiffel changed the ending to her story. Crick in fact did not die, but received a second chance at a fulfilled life and a romantic love. Christ did die, but His death was not the end. Through His glorious resurrection He lives, offering all who come to Him a second chance at abundant life and divine love. God never changed the end of His story. The hero had to die, but death would be swallowed up in victory.

Upon reading the revised manuscript, Professor Hilbert asks Eiffel, "Why did you change the book?"

She responds, "Lots of reasons. I realized I just couldn't do it."

Hilbert questions, "Because he's real?"

And Eiffel states, "Because it's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die, and then dies. But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway, dies, dies willingly knowing he could stop it, then, I mean, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"

After reading of his own death, Crick finds Eiffel on the street one evening and says, "It's lovely ... I read it, and I loved it, and there's only one way it can end. ... This seems simple enough. I love your book, and I think you should finish it." In other words, Crick has seen the way he will die, and he accepts it, knowing that it is a good way to go out, a poetic and beautiful way for his life to end, and that the result of his death will be great success for the author.

God's story, like Eiffel's is about a Man who is going to die. He knows He is going to die. He accepts the reality of His imminent death and says to the Author of His story, "It's lovely ... I read it, and I loved it, and there's only one way it can end. ... This seems simple enough. I love Your book, and I think You should finish it." In other words, Christ has seen the way He will die, and He accepts it, knowing it is a beautiful way to go out, laying His life down for sinners. And He knows the result will not be a Pulitzer Prize for the Author of His story, but glory (Compare John 17:1 and Hebrews 12:2 to what Crick said on the street). He knows He's going to die, and dies anyway, dies willingly knowing He could stop it. And He is in fact alive today, risen from death. Isn't He the type of Man, the type of God-Man, you want to be alive? He is. This is not fiction. It is stranger than that. It is Truth (John 14:6).

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