Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sweeney Todd

"Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have with one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you." Colossians 3:13

This review contains spoilers. Be warned.

All Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) had to do was forgive. Because he did not, a chain of unfortunate events led him (and many others) to a tragic death.

In Sweeney Todd, Barker was falsely accused and imprisoned for fifteen years for a crime he did not commit. Meanwhile his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) was raped by a jealous judge (Alan Rickman), and his daughter (Jayne Wisener) was imprisoned by the same man. While it may have been hard to do, all he had to do was forgive.

Instead, Barker morphs into the vengeful, brooding Sweeney Todd, a barber whose lust for blood is perfect for the sinister Mrs. Lovett (Helen Bonham Carter) who uses Todd's dead victims for her mincemeat pies. But this bloodlust leads Todd to accidentally murder his own wife, and eventually to his own death.

But had he forgiven the injustices to him (severe though they were), he would have avoided this sad twist of fate.

Jesus said "Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven." (Matt. 18:18). In other words, since Benjamin Barker was bound to his hatred, the very hatred was bound to him. He led a dark, unhappy, friendless life and died a tragic, loney death. Had he loosened his anger, maybe his new life would have been less tragic, perhaps even joyous?

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things for us to do. Anger and hatred are our human response to the injustice in this world and to ours very selves. When we are hurt, our body naturally wants to react against it; it is our primal nature. But Christ came to show us that we are better than our primal nature. Forgiveness goes against the laws of nature, for it shows us a glimpse of the laws of heaven.

Paul begged the Colossians to "bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have with one another" just as "the Lord has forgiven you." (Colossians 3:13) I love the translation here: "bear with one another" - sometimes it simply comes down to this. We may not like forgiving each other, but we must grin and bear it - for it is the essense of the kingdom of God.

Benjamin Barker had much to be angry about. His life and all that was precious to him was taken from him in the blink of an eye. More than that, he could point to the very people who put him in this place. It is understandable why Barker become the vengeful Sweeney Todd.

But that is not our calling, if we are to be followers of God.

No matter what harm or injustice befalls us, we are commanded to forgive. For if we don't, we might be bound to the hatred that overwhelms us and our lives may never be the same. I am not saying that those who forgive will lead sunny, perfect lives; but I am saying that those who do not forgive will never lead sunny, perfect lives. Psychologists have even discovered that those who don't forgive are tortured throughout their lives, and that torture eats away at their pysche. Sweeney Todd is an extreme example of this proven phenomenon.

Jesus ceaselessly preached forgiveness. It is one of the major themes of the four gospels, not to mention countless other religious texts from around the world. Two thousand years later, we still haven't heard it enough, for vengance and hatred are still present in our world.

What freedom, what joy awaits us when we let loose our anger. Imagine what joy the world might experience if everyone did the same. What great possibilities await those who forgive!


Anonymous said...

I had a quick question for you -
Just because someone celebrates Christmas and Easter, does that neccessarily mean a person believes in God too? Just curious.

Jarzembowski said...

Depends. The secular celebration of Christmas and Easter (Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, sleigh rides and easter eggs, etc.) is distinct but related to the religious celebration of these holidays.

To celebrate them does not necessarily mean they believe in God, but there's a good chance they do. Thanks for the question. Have any other questions, especially on the blog on "Sweeney Todd"?

Anonymous said...

As I was reading your post again, I was thinking about how much I struggle in just being able to forgive myself. I feel I set very high standards for myself and feel responsible for the other persons feelings, which leads to guilt.
It's almost like a vicious cycle-
anger - guilt - fear.
I'd be interested in your thoughts on that. Thanks.
I find the topic of forgiveness to be very interesting.

Jarzembowski said...

The only way to stop a vicious cycle is to start with forgiveness. Anger is hard to stop. Fear is even harder to control. And guilt just won't go away. But forgiveness is the first step, and the one that we have most control over. Anger, fear, and guilt (not to mention other pesty emotions) usually stem from our reluctance to forgive others and sometimes even more damaging, to forgive ourselves.

When Jesus said, "...and the second command is like it. Love your neighbor as you love yourself," he was giving us several commandments in that one sentence. Not only does he ask us to love one another, but he is asking us to love ourselves (which is something we have a hard time doing in our modern culture). Forgiving and loving ones self does not mean selfishness or narcissism, but rather a healthy sense of your own worth and contribution to this world. To care for your mental and physical health, to keep a temperate outlook on life, and to discipline yourself are all ways of loving yourself.

When we look back on our lives, almost like "Sweeney Todd" himself, do we see where we could have stopped a cycle of anger, fear, and aggression with a simple act of forgiveness - either directed at ourselves or others? Just imagine what would have happened had you forgiven. How much more happy might you have been in those times of anger and fear? Keep that in mind next time you find yourself spirling downward toward this horrid cycle. God bless you in your journey, wherever it takes you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback. I had a different angle that I wanted to share with you, and ask your thoughts on. What I find hard is praying for our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us. I find myself in situations with people whom I don't even consider to be friends, but find fun in making jokes about me without my knowledge. It really angers me and I find that it makes life hard. You don't know who you can trust and who you can't. I just wish it did not have to hurt so much. Any suggestions, feedback, etc..? I'll try to respond back to you as well.
Thanks for the encouraging words!
- LS

Jarzembowski said...

I am sorry that you feel betrayed behind your back. What others are doing to you is just wrong, and you have every right to feel angry. However, anger is an emotion that should have limits. While it is fine to be upset, it is not fine to let that upsetness turn into brooding and never turn into action.

We become tempted to react, to enact vengence on those who treat us poorly, even those who would insult or humiliate us. We become tempted to hold onto that anger and let it seep into our subconscience. We should resist these temptations as much as possible.

Surround yourself with people who do not insult you, who love you for who you are. And if you come into contact with those who would be your "enemies," treat them with utter compassion and respect. As the old saying goes, "Kill 'em with kindness!" The combination of a healthy environment of good people and treating others with great love and respect (no matter what they do to you) will not only make you feel better, but it will make you a better person overall.

God does not want to see his people miserable. And you can actually control that yourself. We become miserable because we sit in the sesspool of frustration, bitterness, and angst instead of picking ourselves up from this mire of anger and fear and doing something positive with our lives.

Hopefully this helps. I will pray for you, and I hope you will pray for those around you, even those who make fun of you for no reason. They probably need your prayers more than you realize.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking time to respond. I really appreciate it. It helped me today to get a more vivid picture of how quick anger will trigger me. I was able to recognize it and choose how to handle it. The weather interfered with my plans, and I was able to recognize that anger brewing internally. I can't change my situation, so I just have to make the best of a "snow day".
Maybe there is a lesson somewhere in this about practicing acceptance with situations out of my control, instead of letting anger and other negative emotions control my reactions. Hope that makes sense.
Thanks again!