Just occasionally in the movies a character expresses himself so memorably that he writes himself, indelibly, into the lore of popular culture.
‘Go ahead, make my day’, snarled through gritted teeth by ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in the 1983 movie, ‘Sudden Impact’, comes quickly to mind.
And Clint scores again, as the character Will Munny in the 1992 film, ‘Unforgiven’.
In this movie, starring, and directed by Clint Eastwood, Munny, a former killer and outlaw but now a widowed-with-two-kids-poor-as-dirt-dirt-farmer is attracted by the $1000 reward offered to anyone who will kill two cowboys, one of whom done wrong by Delilah in Big Whiskey, Wyoming.
After Will’s young side-kick, the Schofield Kid, has killed the second cowboy ‘Quick Mike’, the kid has second thoughts about the whole enterprise. He discusses his feelings with Will Munny who offers his insight as follows.
Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man…
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
Whether Munny’s point is simply that we all die, or whether he is commenting on the universality of guilt (at one stage he is accused of killing an innocent man and he asks, ‘innocent of what?’) it resonates with me (as a Christian convinced of the universality of guilt).
But, and this is my point here, that doesn’t mean I would be wise to recommend ‘Unforgiven’ as a reliable commentary on mankind’s problem with sin. While the prognosis the movie offers might match what I find in scripture, it fails us desperately in respect to a remedy.
This dilemma reminded me of an article that appeared in Time Magazine in 2004 under the title, ‘The Gospel According to Spider-Man’. You can see the full article by clicking here. What struck me as interesting (and moderately disturbing) was the revelation that the movie industry has begun to provide Churches with Bible-study guides suggesting movies as useful illustrations of the gospel.
One line from the article, ‘Hollywood doesn’t necessarily want to make Christian movies. It wants to make movies Christians think are Christian,’ came as a warning, to me, as one who shares a blog, blueboxparables that draws material from the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ science-fiction series to illustrate aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (albeit mostly to the converted).
This concerns me on at least two levels.
- First, it exercises my mind in making every effort I can at transparency (i.e. not hiding the fact that I am both a fan of ‘the Doctor’ and I am a Christian).
- But, secondly, it exercises my conscience in that I find myself, indirectly, promoting a product that is ultimately not a friend of the Gospel and which in many ways denies it (and I continue to do this even knowing that writers may be intentionally appropriating biblical themes of life and death, good and evil, faith, hope, trust, and love for their own purposes.
I am not forgetting that these are themes present in all the major faiths and even, strangely to me, in atheism; it’s just that some are obviously Christian-for example Rory, Amy and River Song sharing a last meal of bread and wine with the Doctor before he is killed, and then cremated, and then resurrected-but-not-really-resurrected, in an episode of Doctor Who. (That’s Series Six, Episode One, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’.
You can visit Blue Box Parables for some comments on that episode by clicking here.)
So, I must remember that any given movie may present opposing views without discriminating between them (this may reflect the world in an accurate way) and therefore I need to be careful that, when I refer to elements as illustrative of the Gospel, I must always add that the movie is not the gospel and the medium is most definitely not the message.
- For example, in Unforgiven, Will Munny’s sentiment that we all ‘got it coming’ is certainly echoed by Strawberry Alice after Davy (one of the guilty cowboys) is killed by Munny and his two companions. ‘HE HAD IT COMING! THEY ALL HAVE IT COMING!’ she shouts through her broken window to a stone-thrower who has colorfully accused her and her co-conspirators of murder.
- Yet when Will Munny is about to kill Little Bill Daggett (who most of us by then would agree really did have it coming) he is unpersuaded by Little Bill’s claim, ‘I don’t deserve this… to die like this. I was building a house!’Will tells Bill, ‘Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it’ and, when Little Bill says, ‘I’ll see you in hell, William Munny’ Will simply answers, ‘Yeah’, before firing the bullet that dispatches him there.
So I conclude with this thought; when it comes to death (as the wages of sin), ‘deserve’s’ got EVERYTHING to do with it, but thankfully, when it comes to Life (the free gift of God to everyone who has faith in Christ) what we deserve does have NOTHING to do with it. As one man, Paul, who knew about his own guilt wrote in the New Testament,
‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.’
1Timothy 1:15, 16