Reacting to anger and fear with love and compassion.
While I thoroughly enjoy the holiday of trick-or-treating, I did not see this Halloween-set movie in the theatres when it opened this past summer because it was being released in an odd time of year for such a haunted movie.
So I saw Monster House this past week on DVD, and it was much more rewarding to have waited until the autumn season to experience it.
This computer animated film, about three neighborhood kids who grow suspicious about a “haunted house” across the street (they have eyewitness proof that the house has devoured kids’ toys, a pet dog, and their babysitter’s boyfriend), is, at its heart, simply a story of how we deal with anger and fear.
The kids experience a mix of that anger and fear toward the house (voiced by Kathleen Turner) and its owner, Mr. Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi). In this swirl of emotions, the three kids resort to spying, panic, and invasion of private property.
Almost in reaction to their fears, the house itself becomes angry and ultimately eats them (yes, you read that right).
We learn that the house became “haunted” because of an unresolved anger and fear that Constance, Nebbercracker’s wife, had as she died. She was abused and laughed at in life, was killed when she fell into concrete due to that same abuse; she then carried that same resentment and anger into the afterlife, into the very fiber of her husband’s home.
This non-stop reactivity between the neighborhood kids and the haunted house has fed into a seemingly endless and vicious cycle. That is, until one day when one of the kids realizes that compassion and understanding are what is truly required for all of this to end.
In our own lives, we experience much of the same. We are tempted to return anger for more anger. Sometimes we interpret Jesus’ message to “do onto others what you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) as “if someone doesn’t like you, you don’t have to like them either.”
What’s so bad about that, you might ask? On the global stage, this cycle has erupted into Shi’ite and Sunni infighting (or Israeli and Palestinian wars) in the Middle East, or in our country, the polarization of Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C., especially right around national elections like we have this very year.
The cycle, whether personally or in the world, ends when hatred is greeted with compassion.
It’s not easy, though, as the film suggests. In the movie, we see that the compassion of the kids was rejected by the house; the home gets even more angry and tries to kill the kids and her husband. It would have been easy to give up the compassion route then, but the kids and Mr. Nebbercracker continued to fight fire and anger with water and love.
It eventually paid off in the end of the story, but it took serious effort and unconditional understanding. This is what forgiveness is all about, and this is the very principle that Christ died for, and continues to offer up to us: stop this vicious cycle, forgive one another, offer compassion for hatred and understanding for anger and fear, thereby leaving any vengeance to God, and we can be busy working for peace and justice.
This and only this is the true way of the Gospel.