People in Motion


Molecules, atoms and electrons are in constant motion. As they move, they collide and transfer energy. I think of these collisions when I see the Grand Central Station scene in The Fisher King (1991). Masses of people rush toward their destination almost colliding in non-stop motion. Then Perry sees Linda, the love of his life. For a brief moment, this chaotic mass becomes a grand waltz of perfect harmony.

The film Genius (2016) opens with hundreds of people walking city sidewalks on a rainy day. In the constant clatter of feet splashing, we feel the frenetic energy of the place. People collide in conversation, in business, in creativity, in joy and sometimes in anger. In the middle of this living town, two men meet. The ever-animated writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) bumps into the staid world of editor William Perkins (Colin Firth). This encounter sets in motion a collaboration that will reorder the lives of both men.

Perkins is quickened by the unquenchable vitality in Wolfe’s words and life. Wolfe needs the focusing, shaping and disciplined editing that Perkins can bring to his novels. More than words are exchanged. Perkins and Wolfe share a friendship and love like a father and son. This relationship flows over onto every other relation in the film, including Perkins’ wife Louise and Wolfe’s mistress and patron Aline Bernstein.

These relationships expand outward even to the general public in Wolfe’s published works. All the while people of the city continue move like molecules as ideas, loves, sorrows, and even struggles are crashing about and effecting change.

Each we day, we step into a circle of exchange between friends, strangers and enemies. Joy and pain ripple through the fabric of society in beautiful and horrific ways. Athanasius, fourth-century bishop of Alexandria, writes about sin as the undoing of the cosmos. This undoing is rippling out and deforming all things. Since the world was created in and through the Word, he says the world must be redeemed in and through the Word. He creates a picture of redemption in Christ rippling out into all the cosmos.

In Christ, we participate in the healing of creation. Personal encounters can become thin places where the love and grace of God flow in and through us to the people around us. From momentary exchanges in the marketplace to extended encounters in creative endeavors like collaborating on a novel can become places of refreshing and even healing.

In Genius, we see hints of an personal exchange much deeper than the project, but we also see a sad and damaging exchange between Perkins and Wolfe, Wolfe and his mistress and even Perkins and his wife. All of us know the ache of broken relations or harsh words, but we’ve also seen glimpses of harmony like the dance in Grand Central Station. As I think about the film, I cannot help but think hopefully of the dance where each of us is learning how to give and receive gifts of love and healing.

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