Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Artist

"Be not hasty in your utterance... let your words be few." Eccl. 5:1

The Artist is a unique movie in that almost all it unfolds on screen without dialogue. This is a story of a silent film star struggling with the advent of sound in the movies - which we get to experience through the lens of a virtually silent film.

Without words or sounds to rely on, it is essential to observe the expressions and actions of the characters to truly understand what's going on in this movie.

Since "talkies" became the primary cinematic form in the late 1920s, audiences for decades have been able to sit back and listen - but The Artist takes us back in time, challenging the very way we experience the movies. We are forced, then, to pay close attention to the looks on characters' faces, the way that they move and the emotion that they convey. And in these observations, we learn a valuable lesson: it's not our words, but our actions that matter most.

Whether in the movie theatre or in our everyday life, we too often lean on our words. We say a lot and talk endlessly with each other about a multitude of things - but what do we actually do?

As we step into the world of The Artist, silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the top of his game. His vivid expressions, winning smile, and playful interactions with his loyal dog make him popular with audiences, even though no one hears him utter a single word. And while the "talkies" begin to cut into Valentin's share of the market, he remains committed to letting his actions speak for themselves.

But no matter how firmly Valentin stands his ground, the new era of movie-making is here to stay when dialogue and words will be the foundation upon which films are now made.

Regardless of whether or not the viewer sees this stubbornness as the right course of action, the fact that we, the audience, must still take this journey without sound reminds us how important a person's actions really are.

As the author of Ecclesiastes says, "Be not hasty in your utterance... let your words be few." (Eccl. 5:1) Fools, the biblical author says, rely on their empty words - but the wise don't necessarily jump into every conversation that comes their way. How often do we follow sage advice like this?

Take one look at blogs and social media - and we see how much talking is going on out there. Take another look at the 24-hour news cycle - and we hear how much endless babble takes place. On a more personal note, we also take a look at the discussions at the office and the conversations with our friends and family - and start to realize how, sometimes, we talk in circles without much being done.

On a global level, especially in an election year, public officials promise a whole lot, debate over the most trivial topics, and give too many long speeches - but when the going gets tough (and especially if no one is looking), inaction rules the day. Keeping the status quo is easier than taking risks and following through with real action.

And as each year moves onto the next, we make promises and resolutions to ourselves. We plan for it, we script it out, and we talk to others about it... but temptation and distractions can quickly overwhelm us and the actions that could have affected change in our lives slowly get tossed to the side.

Our world is littered with words. We sometimes fool ourselves by putting all our hopes and dreams on those words. Even in our faith lives, words rule the day. The epistle writer James saw how dangerous this trend could be, even in his own day. He exhorted his readers to put aside his letter and get up off their seats, saying, "What good is it, my friends, if someone SAYS he has faith but does not DO good works?... Faith of itself, if it is not active through works, is simply dead." (James 2:14,17)

Watching The Artist reminds us that we need to go back to how we act and less on what we say. This film will go on to grab awards from Hollywood for the simple reason that it gave us a chance to see what actions, expressions, and body language can do to tell a story.

In our own lives, we will be rewarded by God and those we serve for our own actions - for they tell our story more loudly than a mountain of words could ever do.

When we find ourselves saying, writing, or debating more than taking solid action towards the Gospel, it is time to refocus. When we spend more time discussing our faith and less time serving the less fortunate and marginalized, it is time to refocus. When we tell everyone how much we've been hurt, but spend little time forgiving those who hurt us, it is time to refocus.

As Jesus said, "by your fruits, you will be known" (Mt. 7:16) It is not the speeches we gave, the conversations we had, or the righteousness we felt as we penned a blog entry or facebook post that will define us. In fact, sometimes they can bring us down. Instead, it is the things we do for one another, the actions we take to back up our words, and the impact we made on this world that will ultimately be the epithet that we can courageously claim.

And if we are to use words, let them be words that empower, inspire, encourage, and showcase our Christlike compassion - and never to belittle, hate, insult, or spiral into an endless cycle of nonsense. Let our words be few - and let them be the best words we can use - and furthermore, let them be words that will find a response in the actions we take to fulfill them.

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