Monday, June 15, 2015

The divine drama

Philosophical theologians explore various analogies to model the hypostatic union and God's economic relations. Let's consider film and drama.

There's a certain paradox to acting. Actors memorize their lines. They know in advance what they are going to say. When they play a scene with another actor, they typically memorize the lines of their dialogue partner. That way each one knows when the other one is supposed to stop talking, so that they can jump in. It avoids awkward pauses.

By the same token, actors know what's going to happen next. They know how the story ends. They read the script from start to finish. 

So what's paradoxical about that, you ask? Well, actors usually play ordinary, timebound characters who don't know the future. The character doesn't know, from one moment to the next, what is going to happen to him. He doesn't know how he's going to respond to someone before they speak. 

So there's a tension between what the actor knows and what the character knows. The actor knows more about the character than the character knows about himself. The actor knows what the character will do before the character does. 

But to be convincing, the actor can't let on to knowing more than the character he plays. Even though an actor may have practiced his lines, he must act as though this is the very first time he's spoken those words. He must act as though he doesn't know what to expect. Doesn't know what will happen to him. Doesn't know what he will say next. He must feign surprise and disappointment. 

In this respect, an actor is to the deity of Christ as a character is to the humanity of Christ. Respecting his divine nature, Jesus is like the omniscient actor who knows everything the character will say and do, and everything that will befall the character. Respecting his human nature, Jesus is like the finite character who must think and act one step at a time. 

An actor expresses himself through the character, which, in turn, limits what he can express. A character has definite traits, based on the persona which the screenwriter gives him. Conversely, the actor brings something to the character by adding his own personality. And he exists outside the role.  

In addition, we could extend the comparison to another level. Some actors prefer acting on stage to acting on screen. That's because stage actors have much greater control over their performance. Although they must do what the director says in rehearsal, once the curtain rises, how they perform is between them and the actors they play against. 

In film, by contrast, the director has the final say. Some directors, like Orson Welles and Stanley Kubric, are very involved in editing the film. Indeed, some actors resent some directors because they think their best scenes wind up on the cutting room floor.

But it's more subtle than that. It's not just a question of outtakes. I once read John Gielgud talk about working with Orson Welles in the Chimes of Midnight. In addition to reciting his lines, Welles would ask Gielgud to stand here or stand there, look here or look there. He took various shots of Gielgud from different angles.

As a consequence, when Gielgud saw the film, the result was unexpected. It wasn't a continuous shot of Gielgud reciting his lines. Rather, through creative editing, Welles created a different dramatic effect than Gielgud intended or anticipated, by juxtaposing different shots.

It's not that Gielgud was critical of the result. But the editing produced a dramatic effect that Gielgud did not and could not intend. Gielgud could control how he spoke and his facial expressions. But what Welles did with that raw material was beyond Gielgud's control. An unforeseeable artistic effect. What Gielgud meant to convey was different from what Welles meant to convey. By changing the overall context, Welles was able to change the overall meaning. And that's reminiscent of Biblical passages like:

7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God (Isa 45:7-8).
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen 50:20).

5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
6 Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;
8 for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
9 Is not Calno like Carchemish?
    Is not Hamath like Arpad?
    Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
    whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
    as I have done to Samaria and her images?”
(Isa 10:5-11).

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