Finding Purpose in 3D | Forum for Theological Exploration

Finding Purpose in 3D

By: Dori Baker
December 13, 2011

This Christmas season I received a gift I love so much I can’t help but give it away. I took my 13-year-old daughter, donned the dorky 3-D glasses, and dove into 127 minutes of delight: Martin Scorcese’s new film “Hugo.”

I rarely see first-run films. At $13.50, it seems absurd not to wait a few weeks until it comes to the dollar theatre. But I raced out to see Hugo after an email from a friend who said the movie reminded him of our work at FTE. Indeed, he was right: the movie hit me where I live, reminding me why I do what I do, love what I love, and care about what I care about. Hugo creates a space to celebrate all the things we embrace in the work of VocationCARE: holy listening, story-telling, community as source of healing—and perhaps best of all—unlikely friendships across generations, mysteriously in service to finding (or re-finding) one’s place in the world.

I won’t spoil it for you. If you want more, see Jason Stanley’s excellent review. But here’s the briefest synopsis. The movie is set in a 1930s Paris train station, where the clock-keeper is an orphan who lives alone in the station’s steam-filled inner core. Hugo (played by Asa Butterfield) watches the shopkeepers to know when to steal a baguette or a bottle of milk, and tries to stay away from the station’s overzealous inspector, who is onto Hugo’s scent. In the boy’s spare time, he uses parts stolen from a toyshop to fix a broken automaton rescued by his father. In the automaton’s repair lies the hope of a message from his deceased dad.

The film is so full of clocks, gears, and watches that one can’t escape pondering its allusion to Newtonian era views of God as a clockmaker. It depicts a world of industrial glory, where the universe seems to function as a well-oiled machine. Everything has its place is this landscape governed by reason alone; there are no spare parts in this design.

The owner of the toyshop, we discover, is at odds with his own past as pioneer cinematographer George Méliés (Ben Kingsley). Young Hugo befriends George’s goddaughter, Isabelle, (Chloe Grace Moretz) and begins working at the toyshop. Together Hugo and Isabelle launch into the film’s central adventure. Using as many SAT vocabulary words as one film can hold, they investigate George’s secret past and wonder why, cloaked in sadness, he is in exile from it. If there are no spare parts, Hugo wonders as he gazes at the Eiffel Tower, mustn’t every person have a role to play, a purpose in the grand scheme of things? Hugo’s purpose is to fix things: perhaps this extends to fixing people.

But in Hugo’s dreams, the timepiece goes missing and trains derail. What if God’s not a clockworker and the world’s not a machine? Perhaps reason alone cannot fix things, particularly human hearts and souls. In such a world, maybe the best we can do is create spaces where people are free to embrace their own brokenness, seek their own healing, and discern their own purpose. The movie’s climax is precipitated by what VocationCARE practioners will recognize as a self-awakening question. Imagine a young person asking an elder about a time in his life when all his most creative energies flowed in sync, pouring out into the world in feasts of whimsical, communally-made works of art full of dreams, magic, and illusion. This is what happens as Hugo asks the aging George a question and stands by to hear the answer.

At FTE, we frequently quote Quaker Douglas Steere, who writes that “the greatest service a human being can perform for another is to ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery. “ Perhaps the greatest gift anyone can give is to ask a thoughtful question and then hold the space, as if there is all the time in the world to hear the story that pours forth.

That truth lies at the center of VocationCARE. If you’d like to immerse yourself in a parable that brings this truth to light, grab a young friend, get yourself to Hugo, and dive in. (Or wait until it comes to the dollar theatre, and take your whole church).


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