Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Leaving the 99 Part 1: Arthur Christmas (2011)


     A series that I’ve wanted to do on “Reel Christianity” for a long time has to do with a parable that Jesus tells, as recorded in Matthew 18. After preaching to his followers that they must have the faith of a child to enter Heaven, he warns them not to let one of them stumble in their faith, that each one of them matters.

     “‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’” (18:12-14)

     This idea of leaving the “ninety-nine” to save one soul is one of the most discussed ideas of Jesus’ teaching. There have been books written about it, songs written about it, you name it. It is much less clear, however, to see this idea portrayed in film. As far as I see it, though, it is still in many films if we simply look for it. And this month, I’m looking at five movies that deal with this idea of going out of one’s way to find one single person in need.

     Today’s article, however, is probably going to be pretty short, because it’s a very simple movie that I felt was less about this idea and more about just entertaining kids. And I apologize for writing about “Arthur Christmas” at the beginning of May, I know it feels really out place; but it still portrays this theme pretty well in my opinion.

     This film is about the son of Santa Claus, for some reason named Arthur Christmas (voiced by James McAvoy), who lives humbly in the shadow of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie), who heads a company of elves armed with a bunch of high-tech gear and gadgets that basically help Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) accomplish his mission of delivering billions of toys around the world in one night. It’s sort of like those “Prep and Landing” cartoons, but British.

     But one Christmas, all the presents are delivered—except one, a bicycle for a girl in England named Gwen. When Arthur realizes this, he panics and reports it to Steve, who shrugs it off. He tells Arthur that one present missing is nothing to worry about, and that overall, this year’s Christmas Eve was a success. But Arthur will not succumb to this, as he tells his grandfather, who apparently goes by Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), about the situation:

ARTHUR: In two hours, she is going to wake up, tear downstairs, search under the tree, and... the look on her face! When she finds that there is nothing there, she won't understand! She will think that she is the only one kid in the whole world that Santa does not care about! She will feel so left out! …On Christmas night, he comes! Gwen cannot fail to have a present from Santa!

GRANDSANTA: Do you know, Arthur—there is a way!

ARTHUR: It's impossible!

GRANDSANTA: They used to say that it was impossible to teach women to read! Follow me!

     That last line I threw in for free, I got a chuckle out of it. (Sorry, ladies.) But yeah, long story short, the two men go from the North Pole to England, going through a bunch of obstacles along the way that I won’t write about here, and Gwen’s bicycle is delivered. When she opens it on Christmas morning, her belief in Santa Claus is confirmed—and eventually, Arthur is rightfully declared the new Santa.

     Even though this is a simple, cartoonish movie that I think aims to entertain rather than impact audiences (that was the case for me; I was entertained but not really impacted). But this was one of the first movies I thought of when I thought of this idea of leaving the ninety-nine. Arthur literally goes to fulfill one child’s wishes on Christmas when the people around him believe that a single child is nothing to worry about—and that is what Jesus tells us.

     In Luke 15, when Jesus tells the Pharisees this parable again, he adds: “‘I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’” (15:7) And I hope that this month, you will join me as we look for this theme in other films.

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