Saturday, May 3, 2008

August Rush -- Music/Beauty surrounds us

August Rush is the pseudonym for child-prodigy Evan Taylor. Conceived in an impulsive and passionate roof-top one-night stand between Irish rock singer/guitarist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Juilliard-trained cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell). With two talented musicians for parents the kid is destined for musical greatness. But he was birthed in circumstances that led him to be carted off to a state boys' home, abandoned by his mother, who neither knew he was alive nor knew where his father was.

Cut ahead 11 years and we meet Evan (played so brilliantly by Freddie Highmore, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland). He is considered a freak by fellow orphans because he can hear music in everyday sounds, from the wind blowing through the trees to the staccato strumming of a basketball game. He knows he has a gift that others don't. And he believes in it: "I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales. But I hear it came from my mother and father. Once upon a time they fell in love." Like all fairy tales, there is a quest, and his is to find his parents. He knows nothing about them, but decides to run away from the boys' home with nothing but the business card of a New York social services worker, Richard Jeffries (Terence Howard).

Arriving in the Big Apple, we see Evan listening to the sounds of the city. Where others hear cacophonic traffic noise Evan hears the chords of a beautiful symphony. He eventually ends up in an abandoned theater, home to street kids and the Wizard (Robin Williams), a figure that looks much like Bono's character in Across the Universe. Wizard is a "music-pimp" controlling these street-busking urchins, living off their tips. But Evan finds musical instruments and discovers his gift is not only hearing music but creating it, even in strange and innovative ways.

"The music is all around you. All you have to do is listen," says Evan. There is beautiful music surrounding us, if we simply remove our iPod headphones, stop and take the time to listen. When was the last time we really listened to the sounds around us? Are we missing the beauty of our lives? N.T. Wright, in Simply Christian, says "Beauty , in other words, is another echo of a voice." And that is the voice of God calling out to us. Indeed, Evan says to the Wizard about this music, "It's like someone's calling out to me, only some of us can hear it," and Wizard retorts, "Only some of us are listening." Are we listening to the echo of the voice of our creator, who is gently calling out to us? Or are we so busy that we fill our time and our ears with noise and miss out on the one voice above all others that would bring beauty out of chaos?

Wizard recognizes the potential in Evan and sees in him his meal ticket. But he needs a stage-name that is catchy, not simply Evan. In an interchange with him, Wizard says "If you could choose any name in the world, any, what would you want to be?" To which Evan replies "Found!" And this is at the root of his dissonance. We can resonate with this because deep down we are all lost. Not necessarily abandoned like Evan, yet we are estranged from our Heavenly Father (Rom. 5:10). And deep down we all want to be found, to come home to him. But unlike Evan, we don't go looking for the Father; we don't need to because through Jesus He came looking for us (Lk. 19:10). When we find Jesus we have found our parent.

Evan gets a new name from Wizard -- August Rush. And he gets a guitar. But he needs more. He needs to find his parents, and music is his vehicle to do so. "The music. I thought if I could play it, they would know I was alive. And find me." He has a deep child-like faith in happy endings. And he gravitates to a church where there is more music (and even prayer). Through the help of the pastor he winds up at the Juilliard School of Music, where they recognize he is a child prodigy. Very quickly he has composed a symphony that will be played in Central Park to an audience of thousands.

Meanwhile, these last 11 years, Lyla has given up her concert-playing and is coasting along as a music teacher. Louis, in turn, has given up playing in a band and is a successful yet unhappy business man. He has not forgotten Lyla, and he has not gotten over her. Both are pining for someone, Lyla for a son she thinks is dead, and Louis for a woman he does not know.

Then, in a hospital encounter that reflects the earlier one, Lyla discovers her son is alive. But she does not know his name or location. Her world is rocked. Now her quest is to find him, whatever the cost. Simultaneously, though three thousand miles away, Louis realizes that he loves music and Lyla and needs to rediscover both. And this sets up the other half of the story, the parents' search. Both searches culminate in the climactic concert in the park.

August Rush is a fun film to watch. It is heart-warming and even a little tear-jerking at the ending, despite how obvious it is. Its success stands on the innocence and guilelessness of Evan/August. Though he is lost wherever he is, his childlike faith in his birth parents and his ever-present joy in his gift of hearing music captivate and endear him to all he comes into contact with. He makes this film what it is.

Yet I can't help to think how much it glamorizes the one-night stand sexual encounter at the start. This "true love" fairy tale prince and princess barely know each other's name before jumping into the sack as "soul-mates." Sex is good, even great. But God gave it as a gift to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage not before, not outside of (Heb. 13:4). When we violate this boundary damage occurs. In this case, a beautiful prodigy progeny is created but two lives are damaged. In real life it usually ends more sadly than this.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

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