Monday, February 3, 2014

Growing From a Maximus to a Lawrence

The summer after I graduated from High School was the most carefree and memorable time of my life. It was filled with camping and driving my truck all over Kansas with friends, listening to Tom Petty, and dreaming about the future. It was also the summer that I saw the film Gladiator. I was just a teenager. I'd never seen a real film epic. I didn't know what a proper film epic was like. The closest thing to an old Hollywood epic I'd seen was The Sound of Music. I saw Gladiator, and my favorite thing about the film was the triumphalism of it all. The movie gave you a bloodlust for Commodus, and in straightforward Hollywood fashion it was satisfied by the end. There was a triumphalism and a victory and something that gave me, as a young man launching in to the world, a sense that the world was also mine for the conquering. It sounds so dumb now, but that's really what the world looked like to me back then.

A year later I had an opportunity to see Lawrence of Arabia. By this time I'd had in my mind an impression of what a grand Hollywood epic would be like. The film was a huge disappointment to me. At first it was exciting, but the film ended with Lawrence very unhappy and broken. It didn't appeal to me because I wanted victory, clashing swords, and happy endings.

Soon after, I watched Ben-Hur (the one with Charleton Heston) and basically expected to see Gladiator again. I was shocked by how liberally Gladiator borrowed from Ben-Hur, and so I thought I could predict the film's formulaic ending, but was again disturbed when I realized this was a film that dwelt on the brokenness of its protagonist and dissatisfaction with the revenge that was being sought throughout the movie. This time, I got it. This time I understood that something was wrong with me. I wanted flashy Hollywood spectacle and considered something inferior that was actually offering a mature exploration of human brokenness.

As a young man, I wanted the flash and the victory. Now I'm in my thirties, and I know that doesn't make me a wisened old man, but I have had my share of both beautiful and painful experiences in life. I've been to my father's funeral. I've failed at things I've tried to do. I've held my baby boy in my arms as his last breath left his body. Even those closest to me don't realize I've wept great tears more times than I can count. Life hasn't been the way I thought it would be when I was a fresh-faced High School graduate. It's a beautiful and painful world we live in. Tonight, I watched Lawrence of Arabia again. Peter O'Toole is such an amazing actor, I became lost in his performance.

For the second time in my life I watched the part where Lawrence has to shoot the man he went back through the desert, risking his life to rescue - Gasim was his name.  I don't know about the real T.E. Lawrence, but the Lawrence in this movie never recovered from the moment he had to shoot Gasim. He was never the same man. A hardness came upon him. He could never go back to being the person he was before. Maybe it wasn't wrong what he did - he was administering justice, after all. But it changed him, regardless.

The point I'm trying to make is that now I realize that life isn't Gladiator. We get hurt, and we don't always heal. We change and grow. We don't stay the same, and yet paradoxically we don't move on, either. Part of growing up involves experiencing life as it comes and having the perspective to see how you've grown through it without resentment or bitterness, trusting God's providence in it all. This is a lesson I wasn't ready for, coming out of High School. It's one I'm still trying to get used to.

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