The Subtle and Sinister Dynamics of "Walk the Line"
I of course realize that lots of ink (or blog space, however one quantifies it) has been devoted to this movie and its ideas, but I don't really care. It's worth talking about and thinking about again. Jumping in, then, the movie subtly poisons its viewers against Cash's first wife and causes us to root for Johnny and June Carter to get together. Johnny and June have immediate and intense chemistry. They are a great physical match, their personalities play off one another beautifully, and they--how else can you say it?--smolder with desire when they're together. This connection plays against the backdrop of Cash's unhappy marriage to his wife with whom he has several children and little emotional connection. The movie portrays Cash's wife as a nag and a killjoy who is unable to understand Johnny's love for music and his "need" to make it and express himself. June, conversely, perfectly understands Johnny's musical instincts and his wanderlust. She has these qualities herself. The result of these situations is that Johnny and his wife fail to understand one another, fight all the time, and are portrayed as strangers paired in an unfortunate union destined to crumble from its beginning.
To put it mildly, this is trash. Incredibly, the movie directs us to sympathize with Johnny, who essentially abandons his family to make music. Though not without any sympathy for his wife, and never glamorizing Johnny's wild and disjointed life, it nonetheless portrays Johnny far more positively than her. The idea it sneaks into our consciousness is that one must serve one's artistic or professional instincts over one's family. This is a poisonous and destructive idea. Johnny is a deficient father and husband if there ever was one. I love his music, and I understand his desire to make it, but it was his responsibility to put his family before his career, and he did not do that. I felt terribly for his poor wife, uncared for as she was, tied to a man who refused to provide for his family in a stable and self-denying manner. Cash charted a course for himself that I think many young people romanticize today, in which pursuit of one's artistic self-expression takes precedence over the essential duties of life--church, family, responsible employment. Somewhere along the way, it became more "authentic" to indulge one's interests than to assume responsibility. This is a thoroughly postmodern idea, and it has no place in the life of a Christian.
It is "cool" to "follow one's heart" in our day and age. The problem is that "following one's heart" often leads one away from maturity, responsibility, and, to put it bluntly, godliness. If you're a young person, don't pursue "authenticity." Just be yourself. And don't make the world's mistake of thinking you're only truly "real" if you're pursuing your personal interests. That's a thoroughly modern invention. You're being "real" by pursuing what God would have you to pursue, being the creation and sustenance of a family, the upbuilding of a church, and the defense and propagation of the faith. I realize that this mindset won't produce a lot of Johnny Cashes. Some good music will go unmade; some incredible experiences will not be had; and some personal authenticity will go unindulged. In the end, the trade-off, though it appears tragic, works out quite well in the end. Families are created, children are loved, households are sustained, churches are strengthened, and God is glorified. Now that truly is a life worth living.
That is a line worth walking.