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So why does almost nobody else get weepy at the ending of The Game, or even seem to perceive that the film aspires to that sort of intense catharsis? (I’ve found one lonely like-minded soul so far.) I can’t answer that. But I can speculate about why it affects me so powerfully.

THEORY #1: Just some goofy personal predilection, inapplicable to others.

Sorry to have wasted your time. I have in fact noticed a recurring theme in films that hit me especially hard, though I can’t find any big “Aha!” moment in my past that would explain why I’m so susceptible to it....

THEORY #2: I secretly want to believe in God.

Which I do not. Believe, that is. But The Game’s underlying message is that every horrible thing that befalls you is actually part of somebody’s elaborate plan for your salvation. Douglas’ character “dies” and is reborn—twice, actually. (The first time is in Mexico.) CRS, as several people noted shortly after the film opened, is the word “Christ” with every other letter omitted. Even for a diehard atheist, there’s something immensely moving about the idea that you’ve misinterpreted all the hardships you’ve endured, and that the door you imagine leads to your death will open to reveal all your friends and family decked out in party hats. It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy, craftily disguised as a bizarre form of shock therapy. And for stuff like that to truly get under the skin of a natural cynic, it really has to be well-disguised, because the moment I recognize it for what it is, my defenses go up. Hence the need to encode the meaning, as well as 99 percent of the film’s emotional power, within the twist, even if that apparently backfires on the much larger percentage of the population who get fixated on the twist’s real-world plausibility.

What I like about this, and especially, of course, Theory #2, is that this is precisely the way I've always thought about my powerful responses to certain devices in books and movies that I think speak to me of transcendent realities -- the difference being that I do believe, and so I see those those powerful responses as rooted in longings that God has placed in our hearts.

Two examples of this I noted early in my film writing are my powerful response to time-bending tales like Frequency and the superhuman grace and freedom of the Wudan warriors in Crouching Tiger.

It's easy to discuss the tear-jerking power of Frequency in terms of unresolved daddy issues, intimacy problems, and other this-worldly concerns, and I don't deny any of that -- though it doesn't particularly scratch where I itch, so for me the center of gravity of the film's appeal is elsewhere. To me it speaks to the longing not unlike D'Angelo's picture of friends and family in party hats beyond all the apparent hardships of this life: I want to see the wrongs and hurts of this world put right retroactively, to see the years eaten by the locusts restored, to see our own lives rewritten as they were meant to be.

Not that I think God accomplishes this by literally rewriting history. But it's a powerful metaphor for a mystery that I believe lurks behind that fraught word "redemption." Suckiness doesn't just go away eventually. It is undone in a way that reaches back to the beginning.

Likewise, one could view the powerful appeal of Wudan warriors skittering over rooftops and floating through treetops as a heightened form of the appeal of any extraordinary display of athletic grace and skill. For me, though, it goes beyond that.

Here is humanity semi-transfigured, semi-glorified, at least partly freed from the constraints of mortal existence as we know it. We were meant for something like this. The medieval theologians spoke of the resurrected body in evocative, analogical adjectives: agility, subtlety, impassibility, clarity. For me, Crouching Tiger offers a dim reflection of this hope.

Even the overwhelming phenomenon of James Cameron's Avatar, and the massive appeal of Pandora behind it, can be seen as partly rooted in similar impulses regarding nature as well as harmony with nature. Here is a query I got at the time from a reader:

From your review of Avatar it seems you’re pretty thrilled with Cameron’s imaginary world of Pandora. I heard somewhere that another critic complained that Pandora isn’t a whole new world, that it’s just a “glorified South America.” What say you?

My reply: "I say, who wouldn’t want to see a glorified South America?"

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Interesting. When I watched the movie a year or so ago, I dismissed it as a dry-run for Fight Club--call it Fight Club for the investment banker set. But reading that review (and especially Theory #2, which I think could lead off in a number of directions) makes me want to give the movie another go.

(Incidentally, The Game has certain similarities to a Chesterton short story called "The Tremendous Adventure of Major Brown," as mentioned here. It's also very like an episode of The Avengers titled "Honey for the Prince". There are probably other examples....)

Edited by NBooth
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Link to the first and second pages of our 'twisty-ending thrillers, heart, and heartlessness' thread on the old Novogate board.

It includes links and references to, among other things: my 1998 Christianity Today article on The Game as a more-Christian, less-Gnostic alternative to The Truman Show; SDG's declaration that "I find the interpretation of driving a man to attempt suicide as an allegory of 'grace and redemption' to be deeply problematic and unconvincing"; and a re:generation article that called the film "perhaps the single greatest Christian allegory to come out of the motion picture industry since its inception".

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I quite like THE GAME, I really do. It has some inspired moments, moments that I like more than anything else in Fincher's body of work.

But I don't think the film offers us a redemptive story, per se. I think there's a real ambiguity about Michael Douglas' character arc, and the way that The Game plays on his psychology. THE GAME feels a bit deterministic/mechanistic in the way that it treats him. The Game seems to be less concerned with revealing the protagonist to himself that he might reflect and change than it is individuals pressing a bunch of psychological buttons so that he ends up a certain way in a kind of brutal shock therapy. That the journey ultimately pushes him toward suicide is significant, and the incongruity between that moment and the result is eerie and unsettling. If that's a kind of Heaven, it's a Heaven haunted by all kinds of troubling, unanswered questions.

Edited by Ryan H.
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I watched this again due to the thread. Thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks, gang.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Suckiness doesn't just go away eventually. It is undone in a way that reaches back to the beginning.

That is some great NT theology right there.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 3 months later...

So, THE GAME is coming to the Criterion Collection in September.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Some of us have owned the Criterion editon of Fincher's The Game for years.

Oh, you mean it's coming to Criterion DVD. wink.png

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Some of us have owned the Criterion editon of Fincher's The Game for years.

Oh, you mean it's coming to Criterion DVD. wink.png

...and Blu-ray!

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

Twitter.
Letterboxd.

Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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  • 3 years later...
  • 4 years later...

I watched my Criterion Blu-ray last night with the audio commentary turned on, and was felt pleasantly affirmed when one of the screenwriters referred to the Christian imagery "all the way through" the film. 

I tweeted about how the film has always struck me as redemptive, but that my Christian critic friends never really talk about it. I should've checked this board first! I even participated in this thread. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've always seen the film as redemptive as well, although I haven't quite thought about it in terms of Christian imagery. I have the Criterion, so I should take some time to listen to the audio commentary.

Somewhat related: I saw this film in a movie theater in London when it was released way back in 1997. It was raining heavy that day; the weather outdoors kind of fit the feel of the film. I got so caught up in the story itself that I genuinely did not know what was real and what was part of the game, and, during the climactic scene on the rooftop, I really thought that Nick/Michael Douglas shot his brother. The Game is such an effective and efficient thriller.

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