WHAT RICHARD CURTIS' FILMS TELL US ABOUT LIFE, GOD AND TRAVELLING THROUGH TIME
Being human, we struggle to find a fruitful balance between the past, the present and the future. Thankfully, God has given us some leads.
The release of the romantic comedy About Time is a cuddly reminder for austerity Britain of the wonders of RichardCurtisLand which sadly exists only in the mind of this celebrated scriptwriter. In this mythical place, houses and flats are big and shambling or cute and trendy. The people are reassuringly middle class and well mannered. Young women are pretty and obliging and usually American. Polite young English men stutter in front of them but their clueless diffidence turns out to be the perfect chat-up tactic. London is crisp and beautiful and under-populated and lovers can embrace on the Underground without anyone else to spoil the scene.
Weddings go absurdly wrong and everyone sees the funny side. Even the statutory middle aged misanthrope (played to delicious effect by Tom Hollander in this case) is revealed to have a heart. Who could possibly not want to inhabit this world?
It is easy sport to satirise, but impossible to take offence at Richard Curtis’ personal mission to romanticise Britain and its surly inhabitants. There is a winning generosity about his work which transcends the usual dynamic of man meets woman, falls in love, falls out of love and falls in love again. Relationships between brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren are equally if not more important and a powerful antidote to the selfish individualism which sometimes spoils families.
In About Time it slowly becomes apparent that the love being celebrated is between a father and a son and that the relationship the son has with his sister is just as meaningful in its own way as with his wife. The plot’s fantasy that the men in the family concerned are able to travel back in time to incidents from their past (but not other events from history, thus saving us from endless options like killing Hitler or preventing 9/11) may require a further suspension of disbelief on top of the friendliness of Londoners but it rewards effort. How many of us would cherish the chance to return to the scene of a personal humiliation in order to put it right? Eventually Tim, the son in question, tires of time travel and the easeful rectifying of his mistakes and learns to value the day he is actually living in. The moral feels banal, but the background to his personal story lends it lustre and freshness. Few people will be able to sit through the final scenes in the table tennis room and on a Cornish beach without prickly eyes.
Being human, we find it hard to strike a productive balance between the past, the present and the future. Some are trapped by the past, either guiltily or nostalgically, and become prone to depression. Others are preoccupied by the future, nervously expecting the worst or dreamily anticipating the best, and become anxious or distracted. Meanwhile, still others are consumed by the present and succumb to hedonism and superficiality. There must be a fruitful interplay between the three which God is calling us to inhabit.
The people of God are invited in scripture to reflect gratefully on the great acts of God in human history as evidence of his love and his power to move likewise today; they are also called to hold before them the hope of a world to come where every tongue shall confess the Lordship of Jesus. Both are inspirations to the only sphere in which God can meet with us and use us: the present. It feels embarrassingly banal, talking about living in the present, but it is the foundation on which productive discipleship is based. Without it we may become trapped like the couple on the road to Emmaus on resurrection day, disciples who mournfully reflected so hard on the past with Jesus and the future without him that they failed to see him standing in front of them and laying a new claim on their lives.
As St. Paul said, without the estimable benefit of Richard Curtis:
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.
It is in the endless present that God unfolds his limitless power.
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