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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Helms’

To read part one, go to https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/the-meaning-of-life-in-jeff-who-lives-at-home-part-one-of-two/

The quest for meaning is very much a part of the human “dance,” in my view.  It is part of the “stuff” that makes up our existence, and it speaks of our desire to be dancing to a meaningful “tune” as opposed to moving mechanically along some cosmic assembly line.

Jeff’s quest for meaning leads him to risk his life to save complete strangers from drowning.

Jeff on Toilet

Now this hearkens back to the beginning of the film, where Jeff reflects on the fact that the characters in the movie “Signs” are saved by water at the end.  He sees the connection between this and the unfinished glasses of water left by the Abigail Breslin character throughout the film, which he takes as an illustration of how all things happen for a purpose.

His own search for “signs” leads him to the very same end, for the scene in question indeed involves salvation by water, not just from water.

The religious and spiritual allusion is quite clear here (although I can’t say whether the filmmakers, Jay and Mark Duplass, had this in mind, it is often used as a literary element).  For a Catholic, the notion of salvation by water refers first and foremost to Baptism:

“Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word” (CCC 1213)*

Noah's Ark

But the term also evokes the Old Testament imagery of the Great Flood (remember Noah’s Ark?) and the Exodus from Egypt, both of which the Church understands to be prefigurations of Baptism.

In both cases, we see at the same time salvation by water and destruction by water.  This is quite consistent with the character of water itself, which we all recognize has life-giving and destructive sides.  Partly for that reason, it is a fitting symbol and instrument of salvation.

The great paradox of the self is that you only find it by losing it.  If you are looking for yourself – that is, your deepest self, your true identity as a unique, individual person – you’ll never find it.  Only by forgetting ourselves in the service of God – for none of us exists by our own power — and neighbor – for none of us exists in isolation – can we find and become who we were born to be.

What needs to die, what needs to be destroyed in the deluge, is the ego.  If I want to live an authentic life, I have to give up my self-centered, self-willed, self-serving ways and actively live out my vocation, the same vocation each and every one of us has — namely, to love.

Far from being a mere feeling, love is the decision to want and seek what is good for the other for the other’s own sake, rather than for the sake of our own gratification.  And to be willing to sacrifice everything one has — even to the point of dying, if necessary — for the sake of another is the highest form of love.

This is a major part of life’s meaning, and I think that’s the lesson Jeff and his brother, Pat, learn at the end of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”

Any reader who knows me well knows that I am far from perfect in this area.  Like most of us, I have yet to surrender all of those aspects of my personality that are concerned with my own prerogatives.  And for that, I am sorry.  I beg patience with a work-in-progress such as myself.

Still from the film obtained through a Google image search; photo of Noah’s ark obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

For citations of primary sources, go to http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P3G.HTM

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Jeff_Who_Lives_at_Home_FilmPoster.jpeg

I rarely review lesser-known independent films.  Not because I don’t think they are worthwhile – far from it; but I started “Into the Dance” out of a desire to dialogue with the culture of which I am a part, and this entails writing about films that I can be sure a reasonable number of people are seeing.

But I cannot resist the opportunity to comment on “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” an independent comedy from 2011.

I saw this movie on Netflix with a couple of acquaintances over the past weekend.  At first, I wasn’t expecting much.  My impression was that this was going to be another low brow comedy   of which there is no dearth nowadays.  Not only did the film have a totally different style from such movies, it also had a depth that I never expected to find, let alone comment upon.

Jeff and Pat

The film follows the misadventures of two brothers – Pat (Ed Helms), a modestly successful businessman, and Jeff (Jason Segel), a lazy, unemployed, marijuana-smoking 30-year-old who lives in his mother’s basement – through Baton Rouge, Louisiana during a single day.

We can see two prevalent worldviews embodied in each of the two brothers.  In Pat, we see the rationalistic viewpoint that basically takes the universe to be a giant mechanism guided more by chance than by purpose or meaning.

In Jeff, on the other hand, we see someone who is, in his own (admittedly unhealthy) way, seeking refuge from such a world and yearning to be part of a meaningful universe where everything has a purpose (we get this in his opening monologue on M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 sci-fi thriller “Signs”).

Kevin

And so when he answers the phone and gets a wrong-number call from someone looking for “Kevin,” he takes this as a sign that will somehow lead him to his destiny and eagerly gets to work on figuring out its meaning.

At first, he turns the name “Kevin” into an anagram, going through several combinations until he finally comes up with “knive.”  He then goes to the kitchen and pulls a large knife out of a utensil holder…it’s not clear what he plans to do with it, but he eyes it with great curiosity.

At that moment, his mother (Susan Sarandon) calls and asks him to go out and buy some wood glue.  It is then that the adventure begins.

Having already begun to reflect on what I would write about “Brave” (posted yesterday), I could not help but see this as a moment of grace.  Jeff saw what he believed was a sign, followed it as far as he could (beyond the point where his actions even made any sense), and then at the right moment got a directive from without.

While he is out, Jeff runs into his brother, Pat, and becomes involved in one of his problems.  Nevertheless, he continues to follow all persons and things with the name “Kevin.”  But whatever path he takes, it just leads him right back to Pat.

Jeff and Pat 2

Towards the end of the film, Jeff reflects on his search for signs.  His key insight is the idea that perhaps not all signs are about him.  There are others in whose lives and destinies he has a part, and among these his family members have pride of place.

The invitation beyond a self-centered “slackerly” existence to a life lived out of responsibility for others culminates in the film’s climactic rescue scene, in which Jeff must risk his life (whether or not he dies I will leave unsaid) to save a drowning family.  This is, of course, the ultimate act of self-giving:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

This is just a basic sketch.  I’ll return either tomorrow or Saturday (depending on how much time I have tomorrow) with deeper insights into what these aspects of the film meant to me.

Top image from http://www.wikipedia.org.  The rest were obtained through a Google image search.

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