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Spring Edition
Volume 98, Number 4


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When the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction showed in Messiah's Parmer Cinema, The Odd Men were there, some to see it for the first time, others ready to take a second look at the movie directed by Marc Forster. The evening was unique, for a number of reasons.  Not only was it NOT an odd Wednesday (it was a Saturday), but also the group invited family and friends to come along, for both the movie and the discussion following. Why the break from tradition? The film group wanted to share the experience of having guests Crystal Downing, professor of English and film studies, and Sharon Baker, assistant professor of theology, who led a spirited discussion of the movie, its characters, symbolism, themes, and theology. Crystal and Sharon have co-authored a review of the film which will appear soon in Christianity Today's review column at http://www.christianitytoday.com/books/

You're invited to read the following email dialogue in which three members of the group share their thoughts about Stranger than Fiction.

Read responses to this review by other Odd Men — Gene Chase and Paul Tucker

"An almost unbearable exploration of ultimate sacrifice"

Stranger than Fiction — A review

By N. Curtis Byers ’80

For some time now, the best animated kids' movies like, say, Aladdin, Shrek, or The Incredibles, play out on two very different levels simultaneously. There is the ostensible kids' movie the parents bring the family to see, and then there is the grown-ups' movie slinging out humor and witty pop culture allusions way over the kids' heads. The lucky adults are the ones who stay in close enough touch with their inner child to be able to enjoy the movie on both levels and laugh at the kids' jokes too.  

Stranger than Fiction — a movie about the man Harold Crick, who figures out he is a character in a novel— is also a "different movie to different viewers"— but  it was almost certainly not intended by its screenwriter and director to be such. The movie's premise has obvious comedic potential:  the man discovers he is a character in a novel when he starts hearing his life being narrated as he goes through his day, only to discover that his author always kills off her heroes. The movie's humorous possibilities are fully exploited by actors Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  So Stranger than Fiction is funny enough that critics' almost universally review it with mild praise as a comedy (the acting alone is good enough throughout to warrant that). The strictly comedic classification is ironic in that a plot theme is Harold Crick's urgent need to figure out if his life is a comedy or a tragedy, so he can identify the author of his life to tell her, as it turns out, that her creature lives. But if comedy is all that Stranger than Fiction is or intends to be, faint praise is the most that it deserves. 

 

Very likely it is only those with eyes to see, say viewers informed by a Christian world view like the Odd Men Out (OMO), who are able recognize in that very same movie the other Stranger than Fiction, that is a minor masterpiece and the OMO Movie of the Year 2006: a profound and, to more than one member of the OMO, almost unbearably poignant exploration of the reasons for, and possible rewards of, ultimate sacrifice. OMO member Gene Chase is on to something in characterizing Stranger than Fiction as a 21st century retelling of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi." The only problem with that comparison is that the cost to the two givers of their gifts in O. Henry's story is ultimately trivial. In Stranger than Fiction, the two givers both make a sacrifice that each has reason to believe is, on their own terms, total. That the movie is also very funny is merely the bow on the box of that rare gift from Hollywood, a movie that is both deeply moving and delightful. One can only feel sorry for those viewers and reviewers of the unopened box:  Stranger than Fiction, the comedy.

 

Curt Byers '80

Curt Byers works as a counselor and plays the role of theologian in the film group Odd Men Out.

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