Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not just "Bedtime Stories"

Skeeter (Adam Sandler) grew up in a family hotel run by his loving and creative father, who ends up having to sell the hotel to Mr. Nottingham who turns it into a Hilton-style hotel but with a promise to Skeeter’s dad to find a place for Skeeter in the future. That day, Skeeter (who is now a maintenance man in the hotel) learns that Nottingham is building a new hotel and chose someone else to run it.

That night, a dejected Skeeter tells his niece and nephew (Bobbi and Patrick) a pessimistic fairy tale that mirrors the events of his day. Sir Fix-a-Lot, he tells them, is a peasant who knows best how to run the kingdom (the hotel) but is passed over as champion by the king (Nottingham). So, Sir Fix-a-Lot moves into a shoe and then jumps into a mote filled with "sock-a-diles." "
The end," Skeeter pronounces.

Patrick: The end?! That can’t be the end.

Skeeter: Why? Why not?

Patrick: It’s not happy.

Skeeter: There aren’t happy endings in real life. The sooner you guys know that, the better.

Bobbi: It’s not fair!

Skeeter: What? What’s not fair?

Bobbi: I’m mean shouldn’t Sir Fix-a-Lot at least get a shot to be champion?

Skeeter (thoughtfully): A shot? Hmmm.

Skeeter retells the story, having the king give Sir Fix-a-lot “a shot.” In the story, the whole castle erupts into celebration and dancing. Now engaged in the story, the two kids start dancing in their beds and adding bits and pieces to the story.

Patrick: —And it started raining gumballs!

Skeeter (looking at him askance): Raining gumballs?

Patrick: Why not, it’s a bedtime story. Anything can happen.

Skeeter: Yeah, yeah, I guess in a story. I just wish it was like that in real life. I really do.
Now, I’ve admitted more than once that I am generous when it comes to films—perhaps too generous. And I’ll likely be accused of that when it comes to my take on Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories. In some ways, it was destined to be a film I would like—after all, it is a story about the power of stories (a theme I love) that stars Adam Sandler (whom I adore). The film didn’t garner much critical acclaim, but I (and my family) really enjoyed it.

In particular, I loved the above scene, which occurs early in the film and reveals how we know that stories are supposed to have happy endings. The kids are the first to point this out, but gradually throughout the film Skeeter and even the children’s cynical mother (portrayed by Courtney Cox) acknowledge it.

And, of course, I love this theme because it echoes a larger truth. We know the world we’re in isn’t working the way it should. If Scripture is right, we were created for a different world—one that was created good, where we walked with God and each other in the wide open spaces of his grace and glory. Then came that day when we tore ourselves from God, when our hearts ripped and broke, when the cancer that is sin greedily scuttled through the wounds and with a dark hunger ravaged our very core, breaking our relationship with God, others and the world around us. But God is working to fix it all. He is relentlessly at work to bring us and his creation back to the way were meant to be. Our story, filled as it is with suffering and unfairness, is even more permeated with God’s love, goodness, just-ness and right-ness as he moves our Story towards redemption, renewal and life. And we know the Story has a happy ending. We know there will be a happily-ever-after.

But, here in the middle of the Story, the world is still broken and, as a result, we suffer. As the film depicts, families break up, marriages disintegrate, and greed hurts both those it consumes and those it rides over.

But for the early followers of Jesus, suffering (even that perpetuated by the actions of others) wasn’t the end of a story but a part of the middle of the story—and even a means towards the happy ending. For example, Paul tells us “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” And James points out suffering as an opportunity to work with God in growing into deeper Christ-likeness—the way we were created to be—and Peter tells us we can be a blessing to those around us through suffering.

But that doesn’t mean we are supposed to sit by and endure suffering and injustice. We are called to confront and stand up against it. And we can walk with hope and courage because even in the midst of the darkest suffering, God is there. And often, he works through and with those around us to reveal his presence. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, Archbishop Rowan Williams was asked about where God was and he responds:
The short answer is that God is where God always is, and that is with those who are trying to comfort and bring light in any such situation. I would guess in such a situation and, how can one imagine the nightmare in that school, how can one begin to imagine it, I would guess that there must have been older children putting arms around younger children, you might see God there.
We see echoes of this play out in this film in a myriad of ways. In the more obvious way, we see this when Skeeter realizes that the site of the new hotel is going to be built on the grounds where his niece and nephew go to school (and his sister is principal), and he works to save the school (even after those he loves lose faith in him). More poignantly, however, we see this when his niece asks whether her father (who divorced their mother and left) is coming back, he responds with love and a promise to stay committed to them. In this film, there is a pattern of goodness and love overcoming suffering and evil—a beautiful echo of a biblical theme and truth.

Also, while some of the coincidences between the bedtime stories and Skeeter’s life play out with natural explanations, there are far too many others that don’t, and that suggests some sort of higher power playing out. In the film, it is the power of story itself, but it reminds me of something greater: a God who wants justice, goodness, right relationships and fairness in his world—and one who has already ensured the Story will end that way.

It is only as we see Skeeter choose acts of love that he begins to grasp another truth: happy endings aren’t always what we think they are. In the beginning of the film, Skeeter thought riches and power undergirded a happy ending, but by the end of the film he realizes that the love he shares in the relationships around him are happy endings. And that echoes another aspect of the truth that I can appreciate. Here in the middle of our Story, love is not only an echo of the world and life we were created for but also the presence and break-thru of the world as it was meant to be, is becoming and will be again. It is this Love that has-and-will conquer suffering, injustice, brokenness and unfairness once and for all. It is this Love that guarentees a happy ending.

The film definitely has its flaws—it’s editing not being the least of those problems. And the film's concept of justice leaves little redemption or grace for those who were on the “villain” end of the spectrum. But I, for one, enjoyed seeing a story that reminded me of the Story where anything can happen—and where happy endings are a part of real life.

(Image: Walt Disney Pictures)

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