Friday, September 17, 2010

The Ghost Writer -- deception discovered

Director: Roman Polanski, 2010. (PG-13)

Polanski's latest film has echoes of his earlier masterpiece Chinatown, as it brims over with political intrigue, suspense and controversy. Like that film, it has an excellent cast, with such actors as Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting), Pierce Brosnan, Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, and even Eli Wallach. But the characters are less engaging, and not particularly sympathetic.

The ghost-writer (McGregor) lands a lucrative deal to redact the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan). Lang, a charismatic figure, now lives on an island off Massachusetts, presumably Martha's Vineyard, with his wife, his secretary and a security team. Protected from the public he has privacy in this modern but luxurious compound.

Taking on the assignment, the writer discovers that his predecessor died under mysterious circumstances. Further, the memoir itself is long and turbid -- a disaster. Moreover, it is guarded with a level of security that seems beyond its value. Then as he starts his work, Lang becomes embroiled in a major scandal dating back to his political leadership days. All this smells fishy.

The Ghost Writer Publicity StillAll the elements for a terrific suspense thriller are present. The cinematography underscores the solitude and bleakness, perhaps mirroring the inner state of the ghost writer. Yet, this is where the film falls a little flat. The ghost-writer is a ghost, a cipher. We know nothing about him or his life. As the major protagonist, his character does not really change. Yet, like the ghost, he floats almost silently through the film following the trail of clues left by the former ghost.

Polanski brings multiple topical themes into the story, from the state of US-UK relationships, to rendition and torture. Yet, none of these are developed or editorialized. They form the skeleton to the story, a story which carries us along engagingly to an unexpected ending that ambiguously leaves us both satisfied and unsatisfied.

The Ghost Writer Publicity Still
Indeed, there seems little in the way of core material to chew on. Rendition and torture are better discussed in a film that focuses on those directly (such as Rendition or Brothers). What struck me was the deception and conspiracy that was undertaken over the course of years. What was hidden and seemingly buried came to the surface with the digging of the ghosts. Perhaps Polanski is telling us that ghosts in our past can be brought to light by ghosts in our present.

Deception has an expiration date. It does not remain hidden. We sometimes think it will, and no one will ever know. In some cases, this might be true. But even then, God knows and it will come out in the final judgment (Rom. 14:10). For the British politician here, it came out sooner than that. And it carried a terrible cost. Such deception always carries a cost. Better to be open and honest (Prov. 16:13). Then we never have to worry about this future cost.

Most of us won't need a ghost writer since we won't have memoirs to be co-authored. But we author our lives as we live each day, and if we are followers of Jesus we have a "ghost writer" present with us in the form of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit). He is co-authoring and redacting our story, as we allow him to lead us.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
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