I hope you’re enjoying your summer. It’s been plenty hot here, but we actually got a tiny bit of rain a couple days in the past week! Unheard of, especially for this time of year. It mostly missed our house until yesterday morning, and then it was the most beautiful sound and smell. Just sitting by an open window enjoying that made me feel refreshed.
Today’s movie was … well, I was going to say I was, um, torn over it, but that’s a pretty bad pun, even by my standards (which are relatively low: I like puns).
Here’s a little anecdote to put my feelings about this movie in context. A week or so ago, Charles and I had lunch with some friends, a very long lunch with a very long, wandering conversation that covered a multitude of subjects. Little Mister kept on sleeping, so we had the luxury of plenty of time. Like discussions do, this one wandered into the subject of movies we’d seen and would recommend and such.
At some point, it came up that Charles didn’t really enjoy movies without a happy ending, and the wife of this couple agreed with him. If movies are for enjoyment, their thinking goes, then they should be enjoyable all the way through. The husband and I, though, aligned more on the side of believing that things can be enjoyable and worth watching / reading / listening to even if they’re not “happy,” or don’t end up happily.
But I had to admit that my beliefs on this have changed over the years. It used to be that I would read or watch, or whatever, almost anything that had a reputation of being “worthwhile,” and just as I was willing to sacrifice “happiness” for “worth,” I was willing to sacrifice spiritual worth for aesthetic worth. I didn’t realize for a long time that that’s what I was doing. I thought I was just extending the worth > happiness equation, so that if I was unhappy with a movie or book, though it was well-made, then it must be my problem. It took awhile to realize that a skillfully, intelligently, beautifully made movie or book might still be completely dead and twisted and wrong.
This is one of the lines a Christian who is a critic (or even just a thoughtful consumer) has to walk. Paul counsels us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is because, as the proverb says, “You are what you eat,” or read or watch or basically spend your time and attention on. So, it’s important to my spiritual health and growth that I am discriminating about what I consume. But the truth is that I can’t just say, “well, then, I can only consume media with the label of ‘Christian’ on it,” as though it were the equivalent of “organic” or “cage-free.” There are great, humane, spiritually redeeming works of art that are not explicitly Christian, and there’s a lot of garbage that does carry that label.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure that I’ve probably already gone into this once or twice (or twenty times) over my last 100 posts (by the way, I’ve now written over 100 posts on this blog! Crazy!). And I can never feel like I’m done with it, especially since I’m not writing extended essays in this forum. Suffice it to say, it’s part of my algorithm for choosing and experiencing cultural objects.
All of which is supposed to help me explain why I’m conflicted about An American Werewolf in London. Here’s the long and the short of it: It’s a good and enjoyable movie, but like This is Spinal Tap, I can’t give it an unqualified recommendation.
What I can say, though, is that it’s not in any way mean like Spinal Tap is. American Werewolf is a classic horror story put into a modern setting with a modern, intelligent, very sympathetic protagonist who is also the monster. While I don’t like horror as a genre, I do like most of the classic horror books I’ve read and their early movie adaptations. And by “classic,” I mean “before 1930,” and by “early,” I mean “before color.” This story is straight out of that tradition. There are some blood and guts, but most of the impact comes from the dread and sadness of what’s befallen David, the hero. He’s wry and reasonable and sweet; he falls in love during the movie; he calls his family to say good-bye when the end is near. He’s a good guy and could almost be a friend in real life. He doesn’t deserve what happens.
But don’t get too depressed. The movie is more fun and funny than sad. You’ve got to appreciate a werewolf movie in which CCR’s Bad Moon Rising, Van Morrison’s Moondance, and three versions of Blue Moon all feature prominently. I would absolutely wholeheartedly recommend this movie were it not for the fact that the characters are young adults and act like most young adults: they swear casually, they have sex, and David meets his undead friend in an adult theater. He also, in the venerable tradition of werewolf movies, has a temporary aversion to clothes during his full-moon night. Honestly, though, all of this is presented quite matter-of-factly, which makes it seem more realistic and less prurient, and therefore less disturbing than it might have been.
I liked American Werewolf, enjoyed it more than Hoosiers and Spinal Tap, and would be happy to watch it again. It is definitely not Christian, and there are elements that aren’t “pure” or “noble,” but I think it is, at its heart, excellent and praiseworthy and certainly true, in the way that classic horror stories are often true. Symbolically and psychologically, they illustrate our vulnerability to sin and our need for rescue and redemption. And that’s a good thing to be reminded of now and again.