Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movie Bible Study: The Devils

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!
Matthew 7:21-23

Most religions believe that by crying, "Lord, Lord!" often enough, they can contrive to enter the kingdom of heaven. A flock of trained parrots could just as readily cry the same thing with just as little chance of success.
            The Devils 

...with as little chance of success.  Friends, let us take the words of Jesus Christ seriously.  There exist those among us who consider themselves of God's flock, but their names are not penned in the Book of Life.  They will die to find damnation.

Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
I am in pain and distress;
may your salvation, O God, protect me.
Psalm 69:27-29

Ken Russell's The Devils, as a film is almost entirely concerned with sexual liberation.  Almost.  The controlled madness of the events that take place assure us that as long as we love openly and honestly, we will not suffer the consequences of our unrequited lusts.  For this reason, we are not given even one nun in the film that is not overwhelmed by frenetic tyranny.  The exorcists and politicians masquerading as Fathers, Priests and Cardinals, do not offer anything but pervasive perversion.  This theme of sexuality, as filtered through the lens of 1971 almost overcomes immensely impacting thoughts hiding behind the outrageously ignoble acts of devilry and fornication.  Almost. 

Russell gifts the audience with one lone hero.  This lonely knight in shining armor is a priest who has a penchant for at first sex, and by grace, begins to know love.  His name is Father Urbain Grandier.  He is our flawed hero.  His life will express just how sinful we men can be and still be regarded as righteous by our Heavenly Father.  Grandier's character arc is one in which the Lord bestows upon him much grace in such a way that his eyes become illuminated to the wretchedness that pervades the city he is supposed to be mentoring.  

Despite its content, The Devils survives to be a film containing many blasphemies without itself being blasphemous.  Such a feat is not easily accomplished for a flick that includes masturbating nuns, excessive scenes of torture, legions of decaying dead, and maniacally crowds crowing clammering only for ever greater madness.  As an audience, we have our daring knight, Father Grandier to lead lead us through the narrow road to salvation.

We too, in this life, have the Holy Spirit of promise to lead us.  We must be careful to listen.  We must not be deceived by the surrounding crowds.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, 
unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  
But encourage one another day after day, 
as long as it is still called, "Today," 
so that none of you will be hardened 
by the deceitfulness of sin. 
Hebrews 3:12-14

Whether Ken Russell's intent was present in the primal question of the film’s story is unimportant, as the central question exists regardless of intent: Do we dwell in a world in which God has been destroyed, or is His presence enduring?  With a title like The Devils and a third act that emboldens the enemies of our protagonist, it would appear that the answer is that God is dead, never existed, or has been overcome by the devils of the world.  Appearances are deceptive.

Our leader, Urbain Grandier, by story's end, chooses to take a stand against the abominations he has witnessed in his own town.  It is too late.  The worldly rulers burn him for his (barely) steadfast conviction.  
And so burn, he does.  It is no accident that Grandier alludes to Matthew 7 whilst he dies strapped to the stake.  His eyes glare at the town’s cackling – they know not the meaning of the Lord’s voice when they hear it.  Surely in that moment, beyond the physical pain there is a degree of emotional torment as well.  He was the religious leader of this town, and he taught them nothing of the Lord’s character.  And so they act like hyenas, rejoicing in his devastation.  This completes Grandier’s arc, as his burning perhaps pays penance in this life not for his promiscuity, but for the lives he never cared to bring humbly to God in prayer.   

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to come short of it.  For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
Hebrews 4:1-2

God is not dead.  He is not a creation of man, yet, you will not find him in the town of Loudun.  The devils have banned Him, and in their lustful bliss, make communion with the twisting of virtue.  Grandier, a man who goes to visit his Lord by film’s end, is a tragically flawed hero.  At his trial an accusation that he is Satan’s servant, he replies, Call me vain and proud, the greatest sinner ever to walk God's earth, but Satan's boy I could never be. I haven't the humility.  Sadly, it was this vanity and pride that kept the town's only true priest from calling back the town's soul to righteousness when there was still the murmur of hope for salvation.

Our salvation is sealed not by our acts of goodness, but by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our pure and holy sacrifice for our sins.  We need only to accept this gift of grace to enter into His rest.  All we do is accept.  And yet, with that acceptance, we become disciples of the Living God.  We act therefore in obedience, and commit our lives to His glory.  There is no half-assing Christianity.  You're in the Book, or you ain't.

The Devils cannot help but become a cautionary tale.  Be humble always, and be obedient, understanding that the true consequences of following the Lord may be great.  Do this, lest you call His name at judgment day only to find that He abhors the sight of your filth, for He never knew you.
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  
Revelation 3:5

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