Friday, September 16, 2005

Wisdom and the Purple Rose of Cairo

I still remember seeing The Purple Rose of Cairo when it came out in 1985. I was in Europe, studying in Munich for my second semester abroad in college--but even more intent upon spending as much time as possible with my Dutch fiancee a bit further north. It was during one of those times in the Netherlands that we went to see, as it turned out, the latest Woody Allen flick. Only one scene from the entire movie remained with me: the image of poet and explorer Tom Baxter leaping off the movie screen into the life of Celia, a forlorn depression-era waitress (which clip you can see by clicking the movie poster above).

That was the image that came to mind... when a friend and I began preparing to team teach a class on the Gospel of John for a church fellowship this semester. The Gospel of John opens in a dramatic way: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the Word was God." Picking up on a long-established tradition in Jewish circles--one in which a personified Wisdom aids the Lord God in creation and eventually makes its way to Israel in the form of the Mosaic law, John casts Jesus in the role of Wisdom with a surprising twist to the old story. Wisdom is no longer embodied in the law and enshrined in the temple; it is enfleshed in Jesus, who becomes the new temple of God's presence. While the Mosaic wisdom of old did make its home in Israel, Jesus is rejected by those who should have received him as the proper climax to the story of Wisdom.

In the Woody Allen film Celia's search for 'real' happiness is as fruitless as Tom Baxter's quest for the purple rose of Cairo. The incursion of film and fantasy into the harsh realities of this world is by its very nature temporary and illusory. "I gotta speak to you," Tom says right before he makes the leap. The Prologue to John speaks a better Word, one which truly becomes flesh and tabernacles among us.

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At 1:21 PM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

What a great illustration, Bill! It paints the picture so well of the way I've come to reading my Bible...a story whose main character really did step through the screen to bring the True Story into our lives and make it ours.

As I watched the clip, I thought of the other characters after Tom Baxter leaves as being like most of this world...people whose lives are lived in a confusion they can't even name because they have missed the Main Character of the Story.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous one of your lovely children said...

all of your entries are so intellectually deep dad.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But there is another enormous theological moment, when the human actor Baxter and his character from the B/W film argue over reality and image, Baxter indignant that he has created the character after his own image ("I gave you life"), and the character adamant that his role has made Baxter famous. It's a redound of First Genesis, and a cinematic commentary of man's disobedience, having been fashioned in the image of God.


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