Sunday, January 6, 2008

I cannot remember a time when I didn't know that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father. There must have been some point when I learned that fictional fact, but one of my earliest memories is of watching Star Wars on television (we were taping it, and I pressed the pause button at the wrong time, thus deleting about half of a climactic lightsaber battle); I simply can't remember when the plot of George Lucas's epic was not part of my life.

I was reminded of this today, because in the book I'm currently reading (Through a Screen Darkly), the author, Jeffrey Overstreet, mentions how awestruck he was when he first heard James Earl Jones's voice say, "Luke, I am your father." It was a kind of defining moment for Overstreet, in which he learned that heroes and villains are not always exactly as they first appear, and that even the most terrifying villain can have a final moment of redemption.

Sometimes, I'm sad I've missed out on revelatory experiences like those. I knew what was really going on with Norman Bates long before I actually watched Psycho, it feels like I've always known that the Wizard of Oz is really just a little man in a green suit, that Dorothy and Toto will make it back to Kansas safe and sound, and that Bambi's mother doesn't escape the hunter.

Much more significantly, knowing that Jesus died to save me from my sins feels like something that's been in my head from the time I was conceived.

I'm fascinated by missionary documentaries where the natives are so outraged and shocked that Jesus gets crucified, and then so jubilant when they hear about the resurrection. I really can't imagine what it would feel like to hear that story for the first time.

I think that's part of what drives me to seek out obscure and (especially) foreign movies. I want to see directors I've never seen before fleshing out scripts by writers I've never heard of, so that actors I don't recognize can tell a story I haven't already heard. I want to be surprised and amazed, to have to consider something from a new perspective, to wrestle with ideas I haven't comprehended, to root for a character without knowing her fate beforehand. New and unknown stories let me enter into them and experience them in a way that familiar stories just can't.

So that's why (at least in part) I watch movies about an abused French donkey (Au Hasard Belthazar), an oriental boy with a camera (Yi Yi), two German angels in trenchcoats (Wings of Desire), and a man who guides a scientist and a writer into the Zone (Stalker).

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