Friday, September 03, 2010

Understanding The Religious Spirit through 'Chocolat'

During summer many a friday nights my family gets to see a brilliant display of fireworks right from our house, shooting up and glittering the skies up, a result of the local baseball team winning on their home turf. The spectacle is beautiful and it usually ends in this grand finale of  phat pat phat phat phat pat boom, badoom, phoosh ending with a thunderous applause rising to the sky. Last night was the same, though I missed the finale the sounds were a  refreshing reminder of the joy in the Father's heart when a sinner repents, or when life happens, shalom reigns and His life is infused in something that was dead and wretched.

Talking about dead and wretched - a religious spirit is just that. It inbreeds within us; inculcating and feeding pride, hypocrisy, cover up, and adorning itself in self righteousness.  Its squeaky clean outside but very hollow inside. To illustrate the point I want to talk about a movie "Chocolat" adapted on the book written by Joanne Harris. The movie and book are brilliant in portraying what the false religious spirit is all about. The story takes place in 1959 French countryside a small village surrounded by its age old tradition of religion and rules...tranquility or tranquillité reigns supreme. Worship, orthodoxy and even the sermons written by the church priest was tightly controlled by its mayor Comte de Reynaud. Renaud who made sure that none of these age old ways and traditions of the fathers were disturbed. Nothing out of the norm was to be even thought of. The monotony of the village life crushed life and spirit itself from within. The people of the town became slaves of their own traditions and kept it up for external appearances.

It is the season of lent and as the north wind blows in, a single mother and her pre-teen daughter move into this small town. Its as if God has send a woman to purposefully disturb the tranquility, shake up life and blow holes in the false outward religiosity of the simple folk of the town. The woman Vianne Rocher and her young daughter are drifters and are met with skepticism and resistance as they set up a chocolateier in a rented house that stood before the town church. Vianne’s chocolate creates quite the stir, improving one couple’s love life, inspiring a wife (Lena Olin) to leave her abusive husband and reuniting a old woman (Judi Dench) with her grandson. In a more serious film, this would all seem quite convenient and unlikely, but few viewers will fail to notice that chocolate is a metaphor here for something bigger. It embodies that blurred line between what is temptation and what is a healthy possibility. As Vianne begins to work her magic with delicious chocolates and helping people who don't neatly fit in. Renaud the town mayor has silently launched a tirade of gossip campaign against her morality of starting up a chocolate shop during the season of lent. Vianne's warm friendly personality and incredible chocolates manage to win many townsfolk except for the mayor and few men who hold up the resistance. Things get shaken up even more when a group of gypsies led by Roux stop into town (to the even greater distress of the mayor) and Vianne takes up with him.

Chocolat - Vianne Sets Up Shop from Sam on Vimeo.

The movie takes on its brilliant course when Vianne finally gives up and is ready to move out of the town after a fire incident and constant threats from the town's leadership against her presence and the existence of her business. However Josephine rallies with the help of the friends (whose lives were made different by Vianne) to keep running the shop, Vianne is persuaded to stay by the love expressed by these friends. In the meantime the mayor's false veil of religiosity breaks and he ends up in Vianne's shop devouring the chocolates that he had prevented others to buy. The mayor realizes the freedom in love and unity was much better than just keeping up a false pretentious face over things that really didn't matter. Pere Henri (Hugh O’Conor) delivers the closing words of the film at Easter Mass after appearing as a peculiar and weak character throughout, the story’s message of accepting others who are different from us, allowing life to flow in freedom of faith, trust, relationships and  love rather than religious veil of hypocrisy.

Another cool aspect of the story is Vianne's own struggle, a bondage that came down from her mother who belonged to a native american tribe that discovered 'cocoa',  with an unusual curse of her people. The curse was whenever the special north wind blew she would get up and leave the place with her daughter, leaving her home, husband and the roots that she had set up. Vianne's daughter Anook hates moving and has not found a place to call home because of this bondage. The north wind has blown again and Vianne struggles once more 'to pick up & leave everything she has come to love', but this time she overcomes this bondage from her mysterious past and has decided to put down her roots. A woman is created by her maker to put down roots, bring stability, give life and make things grow. She leaves the curse behind, leaves it for someone else to go to new places, find new friends and change lives.

“Chocolat” could easily be construed as critical of organized religion, Catholicism in particular, but Pere Henri’s speech beautifully connects the film’s call for embracing life with Christian philosophy. It’s a timeless message with timeless components, but the unique premise and setting make “Chcolat” a fresh tale of great wisdom.

Yeshua came to give life and not just life but life in abundance. 

Blessings & Shalom,

Sam Kurien

1 comment:

Julianne said...

Amazing Post! Love reading your perspective.