Nothing illustrates the difficulty in coming up with a masterpiece than ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, a fable about a person living his life and a writer writing about his thoughts and choices. The twist in this film —- In a crazily ‘meta’ perspective on life and the unseen hand (I guess in this film it is ‘a seen hand’) —- the writer (Emma Thompson in a role that probably made me want to instantly check out something that had to do with the brand ‘Emma Thompson’: interviews, films, screenplays… ) discovers that her main character is actually a living breathing being. Not just an idea running around in her imagination.
The beautiful thing about this arrangement is that the main character (played brilliantly by Will Ferrell) suddenly gets a glimpse of what his life might look to an outsider. A particularly brilliant stroke, because who else gets to know first what happens? It’s us, the viewer. Right? Did Jack Bauer first know about the mole? We the viewers got first dibs.
Being able to hear Karen Eiffel’s narration about his life changes him somehow, and helps him make bigger changes later on. Kind of like that scene in 16 Blocks (link to film) when Jack Mosley ‘wakes up’. No flying bullets for Harold, yet that jolt (a voice narrating your every move) is enough for his story.
One pivotal scene in the film is when Harold Crick visits Karen Eiffel to let her know that he’s read her book, and that it is beautiful. He surrenders completely and accepts his fate even if it meant his death. While rewatching the film recently, this scene just felt a bit more emotional to me, as I could imagine having a conversation with the ‘uber Christian’ version of myself:
Uber Christian Me (UCM): Um…so…are you really willing to let Him paint your masterpiece? Maybe not for you to be bedridden for life…just your creature comforts.
Me: What are you talking about?
UCM: Haven’t you felt prompted to give up some of your TV shows? To free up your hours more? Remember that thing about Homeland?
Me: Noooooo! Not Homeland!!!!
UCM: Ok, maybe not that yet. How about your need to sit in front of the telly even if there’s nothing worth watching…and just limiting your hours as an exercise? How about starting with the discipline to keep to certain sleeping and waking hours?
Me: Okay UCM. You’ve made your point.
The most difficult thing about being a Christ-Follower is being able to say: ‘Sure God…let me get right on that’ without seeing the masterpiece. You know it’s there but since you’re human — there’s that doubt creeping in that comes in the form of: ‘Wait…did you really ask me to do that? Are you sure God?’
Unlike Harold, we would be unable to read that masterpiece or even get specific clues about it. I remember coming across a number of messages (While at Church or while browsing a message library of a Church) that could be distilled this way: ‘Well…if God explained to you why He wanted you to do something, either you wouldn’t believe that what He is saying is possible or your limited mind would just be unable to comprehend the complexity.’ And I remind myself it comes down to the commitment when I became a Christian.
Thankfully, we do have a way of making it slightly easier when those doubts come. Finding the right small group, Church, and friends who are as much invested in our spiritual growth as we are. I had previously mentioned the concept of ‘The Circle of 15’ which is a way to remember that we would benefit greatly if we had at least 5 people from the three tiers: People who we can learn from, People who are on a similar stage of their journey, people who we can teach.
There is an amusing scene while Harold waits for the bus and his watch goes crazy, and we see in the foreground the explanation: Anna was nearby. Because Harold never paid attention to his watch before, he had missed an opportunity. It constantly amazes me how God uses a number of things to give us countless ‘lightbulb moments’. Because ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ is indeed as strange as it gets in terms of storylines (a smart romantic fable?), Harold’s watch helps him get to the epiphany: ‘risks are necessary to find the best version of yourself’.
The watch could stand for that friend who you didn’t want to ask for advice despite knowing that they had a consistent ‘Time With God’ and seem to be sensitive to God’s voice in their life. It could be that book that you have sitting on your bookshelf that you knew you had to read, but just somehow find excuses not to because of the likely discomfort you’ll feel when you do. I’ve since learned that change can be subtle (especially if it’s something that requires little steps, like daily workouts) yet still painful (its so easy to skip that workout for today!).
Masterpieces are not without risks. Just like being able to successfully land a restaurant in the Zagat guide, the names that made it aren’t just living their day to day (like Harold did before his ‘awakening’). Failing and being ready to keep going when it happens. For example, it took a lot of guts for Harold to open up to a therapist, also when he asked the ‘just in case I had a narrator’ question while searching for a solution (and maybe reason) to the disruption he had just experienced.
I ponder this film more deeply and each time I watch it Its themes of faith are so apparent to me that I’m quite surprised it isn’t used for ‘Church Movie Night’ more often. While reading film reviews, I chanced upon Roger Egbert’s and was reminded how we are each a masterpiece.
Roger Egbert Writes:
“How rare, to find a pensive film about the responsibilities we have to art. If Karen Eiffel’s novel would be a masterpiece with Harold’s death, does he have a right to live? On the other hand, does she have the right to kill him for her work?”
In our walk with Christ, we are left to decide which parts of us have to die. It could be that tinge of jealousy after getting in touch with a Kindergarten classmate who found their spouse and seems to be really content in her life. The part of us that keeps getting distracted and has a tendency to compare our lives with others.
I imagine myself sitting in an airport, waiting to board (in my daydream the flight is to Cardiff) [insert link to airport] and one of the airline staff approaches me with the bag labelled ‘jealousy’ and asks if he can put the contents in the incinerator for me. He humours me and says: ‘Don’t worry…you get to keep the bag during your flight. We’ll give it a good clean for you before you get it’.
The reality is, you have a different journey to anyone you attempt to compare yourself to. Even how similar it seems on the outside. And yes, even if you find out that person has been writing orchestral arrangements and haven’t yet released them to the public.
Two verses serve as loving reminders for us about our responsibility to the masterpiece that is our life:
Ephesians 2:10 (New Living Translation) For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Isaiah 64:8 (New International Version) Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
The beauty of life is that despite all the situations we face where there are no good choices, no easy answers, we remain captains of our journey—we still get to have a say in what we choose to do. We get to choose regardless of how our anxiety-ridden minds try to convince us we don’t.
So the big question I can leave you with (even if you are a person who is not interested in exploring your faith at the moment) is: ‘What’s the masterpiece you’re painting?’ and could also be revised as: ‘Who’s masterpiece are you a part of?’ A songwriter might write a particular song because they were particularly inspired by a painting they saw and in turn inspired a film after the song is released.
Maybe there is an option that you have yet to explore (a project you have to say yes to…but are reluctant to because you don’t feel like it sounds like you)? Just like Anna’s first thought about Harold Crick (‘err….he’s not part of my masterpiece!’) during their first, second, and third encounters — and by being open, she was able to be around to hear that song.
Taking it further. Is it a masterpiece only when other people say it is so? Karen Eiffel changes her manuscript (which Jules Hilbert tells Harold that he has to die in order for the masterpiece to be complete —- well…not in those words) and lets Harold live. Does it make it less brilliant? A number of reviews have called this film a derivative of another, apparently a more watered down version which does a disservice to the story arc.
Well…this one makes me more likely to think deeply about my choices and life, particularly as a Christ-Follower. So even if you feel like my life hasn’t been the masterpiece that people around me were expecting, I aim to constantly remind myself that people who would consider this ‘new version’ a masterpiece, might just be on their way to crossing paths with me.
Mini Bio: Leigh Lim is a Sydney musician helping brands get their mojo back. When she is not is not doing that, she can be found pondering story ideas for a music discovery project. Her recent frustration is finding engaging talks and appreciates suggestions! Meanwhile she is thankful that Northpoint makes their messages available for public viewing.