I can hear it already. Those groans that smother computer screens that are currently focused on this post. In seeing the “romantic comedy/chick flick” Love Happens with my fiancee and friends two weeks ago, and in reading nothing but negative reviews of the film, there seems to be little chance that Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart as a couple can emote any positive sentiment from movie-goers.
However, let me attempt to articulate such a sentiment.
First, let me say that I understand the frustration with Love Happens. The previews make you think it is a romantic comedy when in reality it is more of a romantic drama (and heavier on the drama side). (Yet, for us men who are dragged by our women to view this film, perhaps the sudden shift in genre is a relief.) In addition, Eckhart and Aniston didn’t click as they should have, and the plot development was very weak. The timeline was just confusing. (Seriously, how much longer than a “few days” did it seem like Eckhart was in Seattle?) There were also a lot of unexplained incidents that left one scratching their head.
In spite of the amount of negatives that accompanied the film, one frequent criticism I don’t agree with was that it was “too heavy.” I know this goes back to the already stated criticism that the movie was more of a drama than a romance film, but I’ve pondered whether more romance comedies necessarily should shy away from “heavy” material.
It is more than true that romantic comedies, or chick flicks, fill female minds with unrealistic, unbelievable accounts of what love and relationships are to encompass. Many times in counseling female friends at Erskine or even through seminary I have had to remind them to stop viewing life like a romance movie. Happy endings don’t always occur between two people in this life. Many times that happy ending comes after much “heavy” suffering and heartache. The reason this is true is because the story of the Bible is like this. In this grand book that has produced much fruit and wisdom for civilizations, we see that all relationships are “messy.” (The fact that relationships in the Bible are messy demonstrates why some people improperly use the scriptures for unscriptural ends such as oppression, violence, racism, etc.)
Human-Human, Divine-Human, and Divine-Divine relationships pervade the biblical text. They all have one thing in common: messiness. Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 already have tension between them, and that tension intensifies with their sons Cain and Abel. Righteous Noah and his family that was to “start it all over” seem more like Al Bundy and his kids from Married With Children. Divine-Human relationships also are messy in that man rebels from God, even twisting God’s very words, so that one has to wonder how “all shall be made right” by the end.
One would figure that God’s relationship with himself as the triune God should display that perfect love that all relationships should emulate. The relationship of the Godhead is the true romance movie where all goes right.
In fact, the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is the messiest of any relationship portrayed in the Bible! The Father decides to have his Son humble himself and become human. (Ever think that the God of universe needed to be poddy-trained?) Then the Father has the Son’s earthly family, disciples, followers, and fellow religious leaders all misunderstand and/or betray him. Then finally on the cross the infinite gulf of sin tears the Father away from the Son. Jesus was not merely saying “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” to fulfill a prophecy (Psalm 22:1). Jesus truly was forsaken by God. The entire wrath of the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of the universe broken this innocent God-man, Jesus.
That’s a mess.
But while no relationship has ever been more estranged than the Divine-Divine, no relationship has also witnessed more reconciliation and restoration!
So with Love Happens, I witness the messiness that inhabits the life of Burke Ryan, a man who seemingly “has it all together” until his dark secret cannot remain in him any longer. He, the “expert” on coping with tragedy, sheds tears in front of all his customers. Exposed forever. (What a mess.)
The immediate scene with Burke and Martin Sheen’s character, Burke’s father-in-law, is truly moving as the gap between these two individuals is erased and they become father and son again.
I almost lost it at the end because it came by surprise (in part due to the terrible plot development). But I wonder how much the church (and those outside the church) can learn from this film in trying to apply the romantic comedy genre to life. If we admit the messiness of relationships, the virtue of confession and vulnerability, and the goodness of reconciliation, would we stop trying to live out our favorite movies and actually truly begin to live? Jesus makes himself vulnerable, confessing his separation from his Father. Those of us in leadership or training for leadership, need to share our burdens and slavery to sin with others who may even be “beneath us.”
This is why I enjoyed Love Happens. It’s okay to admit our messiness and our need for redemption. We can’t help ourselves, so we literally confess ourselves so as to receive outside help. Then the Father comes to help us. And we realize that Jesus made himself more vulnerable and bore a heavier burden than any human in history so that we might receive a liberation and a love that will never let us go.