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"The River": Reality gets so much bigger

"Reality gets so much . . . bigger."
~Dr. Emmet Cole

ABC's The River—one of the latest in a line of horror related television series—is a fictional documentary-style series about the search for missing explorer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) led by his wife (Leslie Hope as Tess) and grown son (Joe Anderson as Lincoln) in a mysterious and very creepy region of the Amazon. The series has gotten both good and bad reviews, and my reaction is somewhat mixed as well. Horror isn’t my favorite genre, but this one is rather tame so far—though, I must admit, I did jump a couple of times and several scenes were downright creepy. It is a predictable and somewhat mediocre story, but it kept our interest. And I quickly tired of the reality-TV-style camera shots and its contrived story line, which might explain why I felt somewhat disconnected from the characters. But the premiere had its moments—one of them in Emmet Cole’s observation above.

Speculative fiction or storytelling—which includes genres like science fiction, fantasy and horror—is particularly suited to this kind of exploration. By their very nature, fictional genres invite us to consider larger issues. Romances can invite us to explore what it means to love and be loved. Stories of action, adventure and war are rich ground to explore the virtues of sacrifice, valor and honor and the struggles we have with power and corruption. Procedural and crime dramas invite us to consider issues of law, justice, mercy, and grace. And, by its nature, speculative stories invite us to consider that reality might be so much bigger than we think.

I have always been a fan of speculative fiction in most of its form (horror being my least favorite) but over the last few years I've grown fascinated by how popular these stories are in popular culture. Films like The Matrix, Book of Eli, Spiderwick Chronicles, and Hellboy and television shows like Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and Once Upon a Time all invite us to consider that there might be more to the world and universe around us than we think. Sometimes that larger reality is frightening, horrifying and dangerous—and sometimes it is breathtaking and beautiful. But it is always bigger than we thought.

Ultimately, of course, I am drawn to stories like these because I think they invite us to reflect on the larger Story that we live in—and the roles we are playing, whether we know it or not. They cause us to examine ourselves, the choices we make, the paths we are walking in light of this larger Story. These kinds of stories, as Paul puts it in his letter to Colossian believers, get our eyes off the ground or the things right in front of us. They remind us to “Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is.”

Yeah, yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch to connect the reality presented in The River to the reality of the Story. But I can appreciate this series (at least for now) and even enjoy it because, like other speculative stories, it reminds me that reality gets, well, so much bigger.