The Big Kahuna is not necessarily the movie to see on Christmas Day. The options for the Harts are to re-watch Family Man (which is a very clever retread of It’s A Wonderful Life set in contemporary New Joisey) or Metropolitan, both with Christmas themes. (Unfortunately, the copies that we own of each are in VHS, which means having to find the old video cassette player — chore one — and then reckon with the existing shelves and wires — chore two on steroids.) If neither of these is available for free at Amazon Prime, we may trot out My Architect, a wonderful documentary about the Philadelphia architect, Louis Kahn, made by his illegitimate son, Nathaniel. What does My Architect have to do with Christmas? Not much, except that at holidays we turn nostalgic and Philadelphia’s presence in the movie reminds the Harts of our life there. (At the risk of going stream of consciousness, a recent viewing of Stories We Tell, by Sarah Polley, another poignant documentary about fathers and mother, reminded the Harts of My Architect and put us in the mood.)
Speaking of nostalgia during the holiday season, an outing to Ann Arbor yesterday allowed us to see a double-feature (for the price of two admissions, mind you) of Nebraska and Saving Mr. Banks. Nebraska has its charms, as do most of Alexander Payne‘s movies (among them Sideways, About Schmidt, and Descendants). But Saving Mr. Banks stole the show. I for one cannot get enough of Emma Thompson. But the portrayal of a proper Londoner (via Australia) having to reckon with Hollywood was priceless. It was in several respects the flipside of My Week with Marilyn, a movie about Marilyn Monroe’s starring in a Sir Laurence Olivier production, filmed at Pinewood Studios, The Prince and the Showgirl. (Seeing Kenneth Branagh play Olivier is wonderful.) Watching the clash between English formality and American casualness in both these movies is priceless.
This is a long-winded way of making available to Oldlifers — and especially Roman Catholic critics of Oldlife errors — a clip from The Big Kahuna that is arguably the best scene from a movie that gets evangelicalism right and portrays it surprisingly sympathetically. (For those pressed for time, the really poignant lines come around minute 2:50 and run for a minute or so.) And what the movie gets right is a born-again innocence that exalts in its own righteousness without noticing the log protruding from an outlook that overlooks the fundamental tension of the Christian life — being both saint-and-sinner. The scene also exposes the sort of self-righteousness that we often see in Protestants who convert to Roman Catholicism — an exaltation of the “true” church while ignoring all the warts that make Rome less than appealing and the claims of converts less than believable. Modesty is incumbent on all Christians. But for those with a church whose past is as tainted as Rome’s is (give Protestants time, we only have 500 years experience), such modesty is not simply becoming but necessary. The way Phil looks at Bob in this clip is the way I often feel when reading Jason and the Callers.
What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Nothing, really. No problem, though, it’s a secular holiday and I am grateful for the time off to watch movies.