Friday, May 6, 2011
The Tourist -- two sides of humanity
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2010. (PG-13)
Venice is a beautiful city, one of the most romantic in the world, perhaps second only to Paris. Yet, it has its back canals that are dirty and ugly. We never see those, but we know a city has two sides. We see only the gorgeous side here, along with some glimpses of Paris.
The film opens in the French capital, where Elise (Angelina Jolie, Salt) is under constant surveillance by the local cops, Interpol and the British police. They are tracking her to get to her long-departed lover, a criminal who has walked away from the mob with a bucket load of money. But she knows she is being watched.
When her lover finally sends her a message it tells her to leave Paris and catch a train to Venice. She is to find a man on the train who might resemble his last known appearance. Though she burns the letter, the police are able to make out enough from the ashes to piece together the train time. Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) sends undercover cops to sit on the train and monitor her. When she sits opposite Frank (Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland), a pudgy Wisconsin school teacher, she seduces him with her beauty and charm, drawing this tourist into her web of deceit.
In Venice, she takes him to her hotel, kisses him in front of an open window to make it clear to all watchers that he is her lover, and suddenly Frank has a bulls-eye on his back. Archeson and the police want him. So does the British mobster and his Russian henchmen. The tourist’s life has become transformed into a target’s life.
The Tourist was panned by most critics, but I thought it was a fun romp, even if it was superficial and mostly mindless. Clearly not in the league of classic “mistaken identity” films (e.g., North by Northwest), yet it had enough light humor and twists to engage. Von Donnersmarck (whose previous film was the superior, The Lives of Others) makes the most of the stunning surroundings but wastes the two superstar leads. They lack chemistry and seem to be going through the motions. As an adventure, it lacks enough excitement. As a thriller, the thrills are mostly missing. Yet I still found it better than expected.
One theme emerges from the Janus motif. Janus was the Roman god with two faces, and his visage appears on Elise’s necklace. She explains: “My mother gave it to me when I was little. She wanted to teach me that people have two sides. A good side, a bad side, a past, a future.” Just as the city has two sides, so people have two sides.
It is true that people have two sides. Outwardly, we often look good, projecting the “perfect image” we want the world to see, just as Elise did. But inside we know our true selves. We cannot completely deceive ourselves. Very few are transparent enough to live their true self for all the world to see.
This duality also reflects the truth of our nature. Our bad side reflects our Adamic nature. Made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), yet his original sin caused the entire human race to be plunged into sin so that even from birth we are depraved (Psa. 58:3). Our fallen human nature veers to sin (Jer. 17:9). We lack the capacity to do good (Isa. 64:6). But the true image of God can be restored when we choose to accept Jesus as God and follow him for our life. He makes us a new creation, giving us a new nature like his (2 Cor. 5:17). In this life our old nature, though crucified (Rom. 6:6), remains and fights against our new nature (Rom. 7:21). The good and the bad coexist, though Jesus gives us the strength through his indwelling spirit to resist the temptation of the old nature and live victoriously (1 Cor. 10:13).
We may think we are tourists in this life, but like Frank we have been kissed by Christ, chosen by him to become something more (Eph. 1:11), even if it does place a target on our back that Satan sees and pursues. Will we accept this kiss and fall in love with Christ the kisser?
Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM