Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Game -- keeping control or having fun?

David Fincher has become an accomplished director of psychological thrillers, edge-of-your-seat knuckle-biters. Before his two tense movies of this decade, Panic Room and Zodiac, he developed his game with Alien 3, Se7en and The Game. The Game has moments of tension, quite a few actually, but the story is thinner than his two more accomplished movies.

Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy investment banker who is divorced with no friends. He is living "the American dream," but without hope and without fun. He has total control of his schedule and of his life, but in actuality is lacking life. As a boy, he witnessed the suicide of his 48 year-old father who jumped from the roof of his mansion. Now, as a man, Nicolas has withdrawn and protected himself from risk and danger by taking control of all aspects of his life. his 48th birthday, a significant birthday, his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn) appears to give him an intriguing birthday gift -- a membership in the "Consumer Recreation Services." Although not clear what this is, he asks Conrad why he gave him this. "Make your life . . . fun. You know what that is ... uh, you've seen other people have it," says Conrad.

At first Nicolas is unsure about this gift. He does call the number and goes through the day-long "interview" process, but still he does not know what it is all about. When he overhears a member of his exclusive health club talking about CRS, he buys him a drink and asks about it. "You wanna know what it is? What it's all about? John 9:25. 'Whereas once I was blind, now I can see.' " With this strange interaction, Nicolas' curiosity is piqued enough to kill all nine lives of the proverbial cat. He starts seeing things afresh, looking for something but not knowing what. Everything appears mysterious and perhaps involved with the game. But as CRS starts to embroil their way into his life, his life changes. a beautiful young woman, Christine (played by Deborah Unger), and following enigmatic notes, The Game feels almost Hitchockian. With a score that plays to the mysterious mood, the tension mounts as surprise follows surprise for Van Orton. Until the very end, the movie maintains interest, keeping the suspense heightened.

Two chief complaints emerge, though. First, Van Orton is a cold and callous protagonist. It is hard to root for him as he is unlikeable and not easy to empathize with. And it is difficult to accept that Van Orton would take the initial steps that start him on the road to inevitability. Why would he give up the control he so desperately wants? its heart, The Game raises two key ethical issues for consideration. First, who is in control of your life? Nicolas Van Orton despised surprises. He was rich enough to think he had complete control of his life. Surprise, even spontaneity, was an unwanted bedfellow. Are we like Nicolas? (I must confess, I am often this way.) If we are in control, where does that leave God, even the sovereign God? In many places in the Bible, God makes it clear that it is He, not us, who resides on the throne. Two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, will suffice: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails," (Prov 19:21); and "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow" (James 4:14). To want control so badly is to demonstrate a heart and life not fully committed to the Lord.

If the first issue is about control, the second, and related, issue relates to fun. Do we take life too seriously even to the point of having no fun? By driving out spontaneity, we are driving out the joy-filled experiences that give life its color. Author Leonard Sweet, in his book "Soul Salsa", addresses this issue for Jesus-followers when he says "it's time to play with God. . . . We must surrender to life's surprises. All life is placed within God's control." He urges us "to live life as adventure over life as plan, to hardwire surprise into your life." How are you doing with adventure and fun? Is fun a part of your life as you follow Jesus? Or are you a "serious Christian" with a glum face and a dour rules-list? It's time to cut loose and enjoy "the game" of life, the great adventure of following Jesus with spontaneity and spunk.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs


  1. Hey Martin, if I were you I would move away from a director like Fincher (who's only really good film is Fight Club) and over to some Auteur directors. If you were to watch some Scorsese or some Coppola or even some more Coen brothers. The renaissance of film was the late sixties and the seventies, that's where you should be searching for your gems.

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks for the comment. I have seen a lot of Scorsese and even posted a review of "Gangs of New York" recently. I will perhaps explore more Coen brothers, but I have en eclectic taste, and sample a number of genres and directors. "The Game" was recommended to by a friend. And Fincher's "Zodiac" is worth a viewing.