Friday, December 3, 2010

The Good Night -- dreams, and orbits

Director: Jake Paltrow, 2007. (R)

Middle-age seems to get older in real-life, especially as we ourselves age, but younger in Hollywood. Here Gary Shaller (Martin Freeman) is going through a mid-life crisis even before he reaches 40 or has any kids. Good night! Get real!

The film begins documentary-like, with talking heads discussing Gary, reminiscing on what he was like before, when he was one of the stars in the band. Even Paul (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz), his former band mate and friend, offers up on opinion. Then the film moves back in time 2 years and into a more normal narrative.

The band has broken up. Gary is working for Paul composing music for commercials, selling out his artistic creative talent, replacing it with artless copying of familiar tunes. Clearly, his job is going nowhere. His girlfriend Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow, the director's sister) is tired and bored with him. Their love-life is so absent, he reads "The Idiot's Guide to the Middle East" in bed and has to put that aside to allow Dora to get her sleep. Can it get any worse?

Then Paul gets a promotion . . . and the house in the country, upstate New York. Jealousy raises its ugly head. Though Dora is thrilled, Gary is envious. Nothing seems to go wrong for Paul; quite the opposite of his experience.

Jealousy is a nasty sin. It can poison attitudes and kill relationships. Although Gary continues to be friends with Paul, this impacts his relationships, particularly with Dora. It comes from our fallen nature. The apostle Paul calls it one of the acts of the flesh and places it in a black list of vices: "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21).

Then Gary meets Anna (Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces). She is beautiful and sexy, and is crazy about Gary. She is the girl of his dreams, quite literally. He meets her when he sleeps, and wants to learn how to control his dreams so each day's end can become the good night. Through this desire he meets Mel (Danny DeVito), an apparent master of dream techniques. As Mel tells him,
Sometimes I wish that you could just hit the sack and never wake up. If your favorite song never ended, or your best book never closed, if the emotions mustered from these things would just go on and on, who wouldn't want to stay asleep? The guy who discovers that perpetual dream, he's my man.

Most of us at some time want to escape the humdrum reality of our lives. Some try drugs, others adventurous recreation. But if dreams become our reality, then we will pursue them instead. They leave us at the center of our universe. But they are an avoidance of reality. Like the old men in Inception who sleep for days to live in their very own dream-worlds, reality has lost its lustre and anything we can substitute we will.

Gary recognizes this. He tells Mel, "I used to believe that everybody was at the center of their own universe. You know, like we're all suns being orbited by the people in our lives. But at a certain point, if things don't go your way, maybe it's better just to pick someone or something great and just orbit that." Gary picked Anna, though she was a figment of his own dreamworld imagination.

Gary is spot on with this observation. We all want to be at the center of our own universe. But this is a dream. The reality is far better. There is a person who is really at the center of the universe: Jesus. He sustains all that is (Col. 1:17). And he does want us to orbit him in true worship. But it is our choice. We can live out a lie, thinking everyone orbits us. Or we can focus on the one truly worthy of our praise and worship.

Jake Paltrow's first movie as a director does not give him the content to show if he has the stuff great directors are made of. But since he wrote the screenplay himself, he must shoulder the blame. The potential of the concept fizzles after an hour and then we want to say good night to The Good Night.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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