Friday, April 11, 2014

Save Me from My Sin

I watched a fun little movie on Netflix, Robot and Frank. It is about an old man who suffers from senile dementia. His family loves him, but his son lives several hours away and his daughter travels the world, and his wife isn't around. He needs someone around to keep house and mind his health, so his son buys a robot.

Frank rejects the mechanical valet until it helps him shop-lift a soap from a local boutique. You see, he is a cat burglar who has been released from prison in his dotage. He is surprised at the complete amorality of the robot, and soon he is teaching it how to pick locks.

The robot obliges, because its primary mission is to keep Frank engaged and active while monitoring and helping to improve his health. The robot would prefer they work on a garden, but its programming is flexible.

They burgle the local library, and after that succeeds, they go after bigger prizes. It's a lot of fun because the "mark" is an unpleasant and annoying man.

If you dislike spoilers, stop reading and come back when you've seen the film...

It's OK, I'll wait...

No, really, I'll be right here when you get back...

What works well in this story is misdirection and uncertainty in the audience about how much or little is wrong with Frank's memory. As the cops close in on him, he summons his son, feigning death. He gives him a packet that's the same size and shape as the millions in jewels he's stolen.

The cops stop the son and demand to see the package. They find useless shoplifted trinkets. The son is furious to discover Frank is not dying, and the cops proceed to search the house with the son's consent. Frank flees and while he's on the lam, he has to erase the robot's memory.

The movie ends with Frank in a nursing home when his son comes to visit. Frank's dementia seems worse. He joins the rest of his family and they share a bittersweet visit. As his son is leaving Frank say, "Dig under the robot's garden."

The movie ends with a laugh that Frank has fooled the cops, his annoying son, and the audience who feared that Frank's final score would be lost. A lot of modern crime stories work this way with a similar "happy ending" as the crooks get away scot-free.

Which brings me to my point. I was taught as a child to fear God and believe in Heaven and Hell. My terror of the dark prompted me to seek God's mercy by asking Jesus into my heart. I didn't quite understand this transaction until many years later. (If you weren't so taught, and you do not so believe, that's OK, I promise not to pass an offering plate.)

My flawed childish understanding that I was "saved" from Hell and the devil's punishments in recompense for my acts of wickedness as defined by, say, the Ten Commandments, the whole of the Torah, or merely Jesus' summary to Love God and one's fellow man.

I didn't understand that Jesus doesn't save me from Hell, but he saves me from my sins. Whether the movie's Frank burns in Hell or not is immaterial. He's a thief at the beginning of the movie, and he's a thief at the end of the movie. He is never saved from being a thief.

Stealing makes you a thief. Lying makes you a liar. Adultery makes you an adulterer. And so on.

Stories can swing between the extremes of pornography and art, based on how they handle truth. If your story just panders to the audience's appetites, even non-sexual appetites, I call it pornography. Conversely, if your story tells the truth, even truths that make you uncomfortable, I call it art.

I once heard that there are some laws you never break, but you just break yourself against them. For this reason I think it unwise and untrue to tell stories where lawbreakers get off scot-free.

You might think this is moralistic claptrap and that's your prerogative.

But suppose that instead of being a thief, the movie's Frank were a murderer?

What if there's a body under the robot's garden.

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