Sunday, April 17, 2011
"And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29
Source Code is a captivating sci-fi movie with technological, ethical, and moral questions swirling around at an incredibly fast pace. Amid the action and intensity of this film, social and theological issues regarding the dignity of life and human consciousness, about use and abuse of our technology and our understanding of quantum physics, and about the cosmic reality of alternate universes linger with audiences far beyond the credits.
There are so many religious and spiritual matters at stake here that one could write volumes of blog posts on this film - enough material to last a whole year of conversations.
But for Source Code, what really engaged me spiritually weren't those mind-bending philosophical questions - but instead the perspective of the main character,
Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), an army helicopter pilot now on a mission he can't quite understand. He is sent digitally to a Chicago Metra train for the last eight minutes of its morning commute to discover the origins of a bomb that exploded there this morning. Stevens' mission is not to save the people on that train, but to root out and find the terrorist before he unleashes an even bigger attack on the entire city of Chicago, potentially killing millions of people.
Stevens is sent back in time for those eight minutes over and over again. His military handlers, Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), won't let him stop until he finds the bomber using whatever means necessary. But each time he returns, even though he learns more and becomes more strategic in his outlook, the bomb again explodes, killing those Metra commuters in yet another universe.
(the following contains plot spoilers, so be warned)
Finally, after many attempts, Stevens locates the terrorist, American extremist Derek Frost (Michael Arden) - and despite being killed in the alternate reality - is able to pass on the details to Goodwin and Rutledge, making this new technology (tapping into a brainwave "source code," hence the film's title) a major success in stopping terrorism before it can occur.
As a soldier, Stevens is taught that the sacrifice of the few is okay for the safety of the many. But it eats him up inside that in one reality or another, those Metra commuters still die (and the fact that millions were saved is little consolation to him).
Capt. Stevens' dilemma is similar to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37) where two people pass by a dying man right in front of them in order to do something that could save many more souls, yet a third traveler is able to see and fix the tragedy right in front of him.
Jesus posed his parable after telling an opponent that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love one's neighbor unconditionally. When challenged, "And who is my neighbor?" (Lk. 10:29), Jesus goes into this familiar story.
Capt. Stevens might also ask his handlers, "And who is my neighbor?" His duty is to save the country, but in so doing, must he also risk the lives of the people before his very eyes? Aren't they neighbors too?
With the help of Capt. Goodwin, Stevens is able to go back one final time to save the people aboard the supposedly doomed Metra train. At first annoyed by these people, he learns to love each of them (and their quirks) with each passing trip into the past, especially Christine, the beautiful woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan).
Those commuters are like the beaten and bloodied traveler in Jesus' parable - that are expendable to Dr. Rutledge and others like him, but who are so very important to the Good Samaritan Stevens. He must save them.
In our own global world, with our eyes so focused on big issues and international concerns, we sometimes lose sight of the neighbors before our very eyes. Like those Chicago-bound commuters, they can be annoying or quirky, but Jesus says they're worth it, too.
When we advocate for life, for instance, we can easily get wrapped up in legal arguments and working in very big ways for the eradication of abortion or capital punishments. But how well do we tend to the life before us - in our daily experiences? How well do we treat the pregnant mother? How often do we pray for the prisoners on death row? How do we maintain the dignity of life for the people in our office, those we pass on the street, those we meet at the restaurant, and those we stumble over on our way to the next important thing?
Jesus calls us to be like Capt. Stevens, fighting for the expendable ones, the forgotten ones, and the seemingly mundane ones in our day to day lives. It's great that we're soldiers in the fight against social wrongs and for the least in society at large, but not at the cost of the people we meet every day.
In one respect, Stevens had it a little easy. It's not hard to care for a beautiful woman like Michelle Monaghan sitting across from you on a Metra train. One wonders if she weren't in his leaps to the past if Stevens would have bothered to care for those other commuters. Thankfully he did, but the bigger challenge lies for us in our everyday lives.
Those seemingly expendable people won't all look so good - yet we are still called to care for them, to look out for them, and to love them unconditionally like the Good Samaritan - for they are our neighbors just as much as the global community in which we live now.