Friday, May 11, 2007

Further Thoughts on Walk the Line

I had not anticipated the veritable flood of comments that came from my post on the movie Walk the Line's deficient picture of manhood. With that said, let me first say that I appreciated everyone's contributions and found them stimulating. As I've said before, my blog regularly benefits from a group of erudite commenters and thinkers. Thanks to all who contributed--newcomer glorygrace, trevin, riley, the master-of-Bible translations r. mansfield (he has a neat blog), and the reg's--paul, ben, al, and gf.

My post attracted a variety of comments on a number of different ideas. Let me state a few points at the outset: 1) I am not saying that Cash did not become a Christian--that is nowhere my point. 2) I am not saying that we should expect unbelievers to live like Christians. You will not find that point in my post. 3) I am not saying that Walk the Line is not in some sense a redemptive film. There are certainly redemptive elements. 4) I too am glad that Hollywood did in some sense choose to portray Cash's sinful lifestyle as destructive.

Those comments are my clarifying comments which I hope will illuminate my earlier post. I might say generally that my post was not about Cash's life as it actually happened but about Cash's life as portrayed in the film. This portrayal was influenced by Cash's writing but it was also heavily influenced by the viewpoints of the writers and director. Having offered these nuances, then, I want to say that I think that Ben is onto something when he notes that Walk the Line mostly portrays redemption as redemption from pain, not redemption from sin. That's an excellent point, albeit one that's easy to miss. So I could not wholeheartedly say that the film is a redemption story. It is in part, and does show that Cash in some sense "got religion," but it actually interprets redemption more along psychological than spiritual lines.

Furthermore, I do not think that the movie depicted Cash's failures as a husband in a thoroughly negative light. Yes, it showed that Cash's lifestyle was not good. But it nevertheless romanticized his quest for personal authenticity which was characterized by an understandable hunger for musical expression and affectionate, connected romance. The end shows that this quest had negative effects, to be sure, but it does not show that the negatives outweigh the positives. It shows that Johnny, though hurting some folks along the way, ultimately got what he needed: June. It never truly condemns Johnny for his failure to responsibly provide for his family and lead them and love his wife as she needed. As I said earlier, the movie directs us to root for Johnny in two harmful ways: 1) to get with June, and 2) to make music. In these ways it calls us to side with Johnny as he follows his heart. This quest may have some difficulties, but in the end, it's worth it all.

I close then by affirming what I said earlier, that this is a disastrous picture of manhood, one thoroughly driven by postmodern conceptions of responsibility and "authenticity." I would suggest that the story Johnny Cash himself tells about his life is bound to be different. It is my understanding that Cash came to understand that his sin in the past was terribly destructive and that forgiveness, not music, not June, and not even connection with his father (however understandable) constituted his one true need. We can only wish that Walk the Line had made the same point.


Blogger Claire said...


11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mom says Happy Birthday Owen. Wish you and B. were in Maine to enjoy our beautiful spring weather
and chocolate cake.

11:56 AM  

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