How will we be saved from our sins today?
There are other movies which haunt me for days on end. Why? Mystery. Mysteries captivate our attention. Mysteries will not let us go. Mysteries compel us to say “I’ve got to see what happens.” Mysteries are premised upon shock; we ask “Why did this happen?!” Mystery stories remind us that life is full of sin. We want to watch mysteries because we know there has to be a solution to the problem of wrongdoing. Humans are finite and we are also fallen. Mystery movies depend on sin; without wrongdoing there is no mystery. For drama in movies to be successful, sometimes mystery forms the plot.
Rebecca, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest are ranked as some of the most suspenseful movies of all time. Why? Alfred Hitchcock. From the music, to the camera angles, to the epic facial expressions, one is both horrified and glued to Hitchcockian thrillers. Hitchcock masterfully plays with our psyches, making us examine even the best of our intentions.
To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep are vintage film noir (“dark film”) masterpieces by the legendary film director, Howard Hawks. As a storyteller, Hawks creates a moral path in these two films. The decisions characters make in the movies are concrete. In the same way, the problems we face are very specific, the decisions we make are always tangible. Hawks requires the moviegoer to walk on the moral path he has created, making ethical choice real, not abstract.
Anatomy of a Murder is the gold standard for all courtroom dramas. Otto Preminger’s masterpiece provides the best combination of characterization, story-line, script writing, and atmosphere for any mystery. What we discover about the killing is not so much driven by a lawyer’s cross examination, but what we discover about our own dark heart.
Prisoners Any father who loves his children will feel every anguished moment of this film. Driven by the abduction of his little girl, a daddy upends his life trying to do what the police have not done, find his daughter. As a father and a grandfather I am compelled by the emotional roller coaster I find myself on in Prisoners. This is a mystery I want solved with a happy ending.
The East finds that our allegiances may shift as we come to know others. Who is the terrorist? Do we believe the business man or the anarchist? Will the undercover agent be found out or will she find out the cover story? Sometimes mystery is delivered to us with questions for which there is no clear solution.
Redemption Can one person find emancipation by sacrificing himself for another? Jason Strathorn plays a veteran who has his own problems finding work, shelter, and food. But given the opportunity to help another, viewers must redefine “redemption.” Sometimes the mystery is not the suspense in the movie but the anxiety of what we would do given the same situation.
All is Lost We enter a life, near the end of a life, where life becomes more precious in every passing scene. We are not told why Robert Redford’s character is on this boat or why the catastrophic events which befall him occur. We do find ourselves asking the two questions anyone would ask in such circumstances, “Why me?” and “How will I respond?”
At its heart, a mystery movie depends on sin born by our own depraved hearts. “Mystery” does not always mean we lack understanding; rather, we understand our own inherent corruption all too well. Yes, there is much in life we do not comprehend. Our finite, fallen natures are best displayed within tension and mystery. Here we find our human limits. We know not only our need for salvation but also that we cannot provide it.
At the end of every mystery film a tag line should run, “How will you be saved from your sins today?”
Mark counts dramatic films as his favorite genre. As long as we live in this life we will face the mirror of mystery. Dr. Mark Eckel teaches tension between good and bad, sin and salvation, dignity and depravity at Capital Seminary & Graduate School.
All movie images: imdb.com; dark heart image: photobucket.com