Friday, March 4, 2011

Buried -- frustration, isolation and hell

Director: Rodrigo Cortes, 2010. (R)

In his first full-length English-language feature, writer-director Cortes chooses to create a one-man movie. Ryan Reynolds is the only actor we see and is in every scene.  It could almost be a theatrical play given the close confines and constancy of location.

The film opens with a miute-long frame of darkness until Paul Conroy (Reynolds, The Proposal) opens his eyes. We realize we are seeing what he sees; but it is still dark. We hear his rapid shallow breathing as he panics. Then he finds a zippo lighter and there is light. He looks around and finds himself in a wooden coffin, buried alive. Along with the lighter he discovers a cell phone and a few things left in his pockets.

As he uses the cell phone to call friends, relatives, coworkers and even 911 operators we hear his backstory. He is an American truck driver working a contract job in Iraq. Someone has captured him and he has no idea who, or why, or even where he has been buried.

Working from his own tight script, Cortes draws a fine performance out of Reynolds. He must convey his emotions in his face and his voice, as there is little he can do with his confined body. Cortes uses interesting lighting effects to illuminate the situation; in much of the movie we can barely see Reynolds, his face being visible in the glow of the phone or the lighter. This gives it a tight Hitchcockian feel (think Rope), and creates a tension that is palpable. The minimalism results in a claustrophobic thriller that feels encasing.

With each phone call, though, Conroy discovers the irritations of voice mail and the frustrations of bureaucracy. We can live with being placed on hold in a normal day-to-day situation, but when each minute means a dwindling oxygen supply and a draining cell phone battery, it is literally a matter of life and death.

Buried caused to me think on a biblical parallel and a spiritual analogy. Biblically, this film reminded me of the story of Jonah and the whale. In that Old Testament tale, Jonah was running from the mission God had given him to bring a warning to the Assyrians in Ninevah (Jon. 1:2-3). Fleeing westwards on a ship, God sent a storm to assail the ship (Jon. 1:4) and the sailors figured out that Jonah was the reason (Jon. 1:7). When they tossed him overboard, the storm abated and a great fish ate Jonah (Jon. 1:15-17). For three days, Jonah was buried alive in the belly of the big fish (Jon. 1:17). Like Conroy, he had little room to move and had little hope of help. Unlike Conroy, however, Jonah cried out to God (Jon. 2). Conroy used a phone to call to humans but never prayed to God for deliverance. Jonah did this. He threw himself at the mercy of God. And God delivered, causing the fish to throw Jonah up onto the shore (Jon. 2:10).

A thousand years later, we find Jonah being referenced as a type of Christ (Matt. 12:39-41). As Jonah spent three days and nights buried, likewise Jesus spent portions of three days (Friday through Sunday) buried after he was crucified. Like Jonah, Jesus was raised from his burial. Unlike Jonah, though, Jesus came up from a literal grave, from a literal death to a new resurection life.

As a spiritual analogy, Buried forced me to think about the eternal state of hell. Hell is often depicted humorously as a place of wild partying where the "bad boys" of this world go to live it up. Heaven, in contrast, is caricatured as a boring place where we sit on clouds playing harps. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hell is a place of separation: ultimately from God, but also from others (Lk. 16:23). We will be left alone, with no one to relate to, no one to help us. In a sense, Conroy was left all alone, with no one really helping him. When his zippo was out and his cell phone was not being used, he was left in darkness. Although not complete, Conroy's darkness points to the outer darkness that Jesus refers to as the situation in hell (Matt. 8:12).

None of us want to be buried alive like Conroy was. For most of us, this will never happen. None of us want to be left in darkness alone forever with no hope of rescue. For many, this will actually happen. If we don't accept the rescue from the dominion of darkness that Jesus holds out to us (Col. 1:13), the redemption that was effected in his life, death and resurrection (Eph. 1:7), we turn our back on the only one who can deliver. Our choice in this life to accept or reject Jesus will determine our eternal destiny.

If you don't want to be buried alive for eternity, now is the time to choose Jesus. With him, there is no need for a cell phone or zippo; he is the light of the world (Jn. 9:5) and heaven "does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Rev. 21:23). Without him, no cell phone or zippo will illuminate and save you. It's your choice.
Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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