In America

October 1, 2004

[Djimon Hounsou in In America]Kay & I watched In America on Saturday night. (You can see I’m still playing blog catch-up.) I’d never heard of this movie until I watched it with da boyz at Soliton — it is outstanding. Some reviews I’ve read call it sappy. Screw them! If you, like me, enjoy sappy films, this is one not to miss.

The movie is about an Irish family struggling to make it in New York City, still feeling the aftershocks of the death of their son Frankie. I noticed something in the credits that I missed the first time: The movie is dedicated to a Frankie Sheridan, and was written by the director Jim Sheridan and some other Sheridans. Turns out he co-wrote it with his sisters, and their brother died at the age of 10.

I do not mean to make the movie sound morbid, but real. In terms of character and human touch, this may be the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. It helps that the narrator is one of the girls in this Irish family, so you get a child’s-eye-view of life, full of magic.

** CAUTION ** Spoilers follow!
Read no further if you plan to watch the movie!

“The Man Who Screams” (pictured above) is a pivotal character in the movie — Mateo. He goes on to become a more obvious Christ-figure towards the end of the movie, but I was struck by his Christlikeness in the middle scene where he & Johnny are having it out.

Johnny: Are you in love with her?
Mateo: No… I’m in love with you. And I’m in love with your beautiful woman. And I’m in love with your kids. And I’m even in love with your unborn child. I’m even in love WITH YOUR ANGER! I’M IN LOVE WITH ANYTHING THAT LIVES!

This roar of love, dear friends, is God personified.

I was also struck by the ending. Johnny’s salvation lay in pretending to believe before he actually believed. In an earlier scene, Johnny and his wife Sarah talk about pretending:

Johnny: I can’t make-believe anymore.
Sarah: Sometimes I think our entire lives are make-believe. This is make-believe. The air we breathe is make-believe. Just make believe you’re happy, Johnny.

In the end, though no longer present, Mateo helps Johnny to make believe, to pretend. And suddenly he experiences his breakthrough. As Kay & I talked about the movie, it suddenly struck me: Couldn’t “pretending” be a new model for coming to faith?

I hate altar calls. No offense to Charles Finney, it was a powerful instrument during the Second Great Awakening of the 1800s. But the “with every head bowed, every eye closed, pray the following in your heart” seems like unnecessary spoon-feeding combined with Christianity Lite. But how about the following as an invitation to faith, Altar Call 3.0:

“You may be wondering if this could be real for you. I say, jump in and find out. You don’t believe? That’s OK! Just pretend. If you live as if it were true, this is the essence of faith. Here’s the catch: You can’t just do this ‘in your heart’ as a private act. The Life is found in a spiritual community, because the Life is a Community. So if you’re going to pretend this Jesus stuff is real, come and pretend it with us. You don’t have to believe to be part of us. As Jesus said, ‘Come and see.'”

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

4 responses to In America

  1. That was a great movie, Jon. Thanks for the reminder – we’ll have to rent it again.

  2. I liked it, too. David’s mom took us to see it with her. I love movies where husbands and wives actually work with each other, share life together, are passionate about each other, play together, and love each other. Those movies are too few.

  3. interesting model – taste and see

  4. Roy, yes: “taste and see.” One person on Twitter said he thought my “just pretend” sounded like “fake it ’til you make it,” but what I mean is that people are more likely to experience the tasting in the context of community. Of course the challenge is also for Christians, to treat other people as no different and dare to involve them in Christ-focused prayer, service, etc.