I think the problem with Crichton adaptations is that they are NEVER cast well. EVER. Sam Neill and Laura Dern are passable actors, and have done good work elsewhere...but action stars? Come on! Crichton adaptations star the likes of Dustin Hoffman (most overrated actor in history...but that's another post), Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas, Ernie Hudson, Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney (ok, she's good...usually), Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Sean Connery, and in the thrilling conclusion, WESLEY SNIPES and PAUL WALKER! It's like they're not even trying! It's a veritable rogue's gallery of either no-talent box office bankables (Snipes, Walker, Stone, Banderas) or horribly miscast talent (Linney, Dern, and Neill).
One of the greatest documentaries of the last several years (and the last several years have been great ones for documentaries) is Murderball, the story of the United States Quad-Rugby team, a Paralympic team of quadriplegics. "Quads," as they call themselves, refers to the fact that they have lost some use of all four limbs. Almost none of the rugby players have any use of their legs, but many have relatively little impairment in their arms. The level of impairment depends on where the neck or back was broken. "Murderball" is the nickname for wheelchair rugby, which teams play in modified chairs that look like something out of Mad Max. I won't tell too much of the story (because I want you to see this movie...I'll lend it to you!) but just one of the subplots is that the greatest player in the history of United States wheelchair rugby, who finally gets too old to make the team, feels rejected by the US and goes to Canada to coach the competition! There is so much juice in this movie to talk about, this post could well be dozens of paragraphs long. However:
The interesting for us, this time, is the interplay between physical disability and mental attitude. As you might imagine, the quadriplegics who play murderball are some of the most competitive, independent, and feisty spirits in the world. They would kill themselves before letting anyone take pity on them. One of the players, Mark Zupan (pictured at the top), says, "I'll go up to people and start talking (expletive). And they'll look at me like they don't know what to do. And I'll say, 'What, you don't want to hit a kid in a chair?' (Expletive) hit me! I'll hit you back!" You can see the unchecked bravado: He is starting altercations to call attention to his self-sufficiency and strength.
Of course, it's overcompensation. Feelings of weakness (the film begins with a painfully long scene of Zupan simply changing his clothes) lead to professions of strength. These professions, though, are offset starkly by another moment in the film. Scott Hogsett, one of Zupan's teammates, is talking about picking up girls: "The more pathetic I seem, the easier it is to get them!" Beyond the obvious disingenuity of Hogsett's strategy, it's interesting to note that he is claiming, in effect, to be pretending to be pathetic. The technical definition of "pathetic" is "evoking a feeling of compassion," which these men most certainly do. By any standard grammatical definition, they are pathetic. Of course, the word has come to mean something far more negative, and it is that connotation that these athletes reject.
It got me thinking, though...what are the times when we play up our patheticisms (as of now, consider this word real)? When does it serve us to allow our pains (our very real pains) to come to the surface? These quadriplegics are suffering; you can see it on their faces. They live their lives in denial of it, in much the same way that we deny much of our suffering. Confronted with something that they want, though, and they are happy (maybe...and only for a time) to play up their need. Are Christians like this, or are we the opposite? How do we handle our deep-seated sufferings? Do we, knowing that Christ came to and for sufferers, wear the thorns in our flesh as badges of honor? Or are we like Quad Rugby players, keeping our needs deep beneath our surface, in the hope that Jesus won't have to come for us at all? If it's true that sufferers will, in Christ, lack nothing (James 1), why do we work so hard to seem just fine?
We’re willing to let Jesus carry us part of the way. We’re willing to be helped. What we can’t abide is DYING! For us, dying means failure. It means the end. We’re used to hearing that someone “lost the fight” against cancer. We think of dying as losing! This is why we pick fights from our wheelchairs. But Jesus says, “You need to give up on that old heart...that fighting spirit! It’s the source of sin! IT’S the thing that’s holding you back!" But there is good news. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” ALL THINGS ARE BECOME NEW! The old heart has been removed. Not rehabilitated...removed and replaced. Death, for us, is not the end, but the beginning, of life. And so we might sing the great chorus of the Third Day song Take My Life:
Please take from me my life
We don't have the strength. We're confined to wheelchairs. But we're full of fight. It's this fight that the Law ultimately kills. Jesus takes the hearts we refuse to give him, and behold, all things are become new.
I'm a Roger Federer fan. Usually, this leads to nothing more straining than a few hours spent watching tennis four times a year. Last night, however, went to another level. Federer played Robin Soderling (a Swede) in the quarterfinals of the US Open. When Federer came onto the court (immediately after Melanie Oudin's emotional loss -- more on her later), Arthur Ashe stadium was pumped full of -- you guessed it -- Darth Vader's theme music from The Empire Strikes Back! Patrick McEnroe, in his pre-match set-up, even referred to Federer as "Darth Federer." This, I think is an interesting phenomenon. Federer, a quintessentially sweet Swiss, compared to, and greeted like, the evil Empire?
Federer proceeded to absolutely demolish Soderling in the first two sets (6-0, 6-3). It wasn't even close. The crowd started to cheer on Soderling, it seemed, just hoping for some spine! But then, Soderling began mounting his comeback.
Before we talk about the rest of the Soderling/Federer match, let's go back to Oudin for a moment. This is a 17-year-old American who had ousted three consecutive Russian players seeded more highly than she. It was like the US-USSR 1980 Olympic Hockey game all over again! Dementieva - Done. Sharapova - Done. Petrova - Done. Every time Oudin was introduced, it was with one of two phrases, and sometimes both together: "the giant-killer Melanie Oudin" or "Melanie Oudin, the unknown 5'6" American out of Marietta, Georgia."
You could almost hear the announcers say, "Can anything good come out of Marietta?" Oudin finally lost last night, to Caroline Wozniacki, but the crowd was pulling for her the whole time. When her match ended, Federer, the evil empire, came onto the court.
The third set of the Federer/Soderling match was close, and went into a tiebreaker. Magically, Soderling, spurred on by the crowd, won. The turn of the crowd from "in awe of Federer" during the first set to "frantically pulling for Soderling" during the fourth was palpable. They were simply continuing to root for Marietta, Georgia.
Nathanael, one of Jesus' disciples, famously said, when told about Jesus for the first time, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" We WANT our good things to come out of Nazareth. We root for the Melanie Oudins of the world, we play evil marches when Roger Federer steps onto the court, we root for Bud Fox to take down Gordon Gekko. We need a savior that comes from Nazareth. Despite who we find ourselves rooting for in tennis matches and movies, this is counterintuitive. We are still enticed by riches and good looks. We remember Gordon Gekko and Roger Federer. Eventually, we forget Robin Soderling and Bud Fox. Bud Fox? Who remembered THAT name? But for people like us, who so often come from Nazareth ourselves, who feel that we are up against the evil empire and are taken advantage of by Gordon Gekko, it feels awfully good to have a savior from our hometown, be it Nazareth, Marietta, Jersey City, Depression, Loss, Loneliness, or wherever you call home.
As stringent as this sounds, all it's really saying (for our pithy purposes) is that the drunk you might be the real you. There are good reasons to cover it up, but Remy Martin seems to be encouraging you to let it out. Remy Martin is appealing to Freud's id, to the basest part of all of us, the one who wants to see what two attractive people will do to each other when too drunk to stop themselves.