Grand canyon – its theological vision

            The movie Grand Canyon (1991), directed by Laurence Kasdan, show the interconnectedness of the lives of four main characters: Mack, a successful businessman (played by Kevin Kline); Simon, a tow-truck driver (played by Danny Glover); Davis, a Hollywood director of mindless violent action films (played by Steve Martin); and Claire, Mack’s wife (played by Mary McDonnell).  These characters encounter different problems in their lives that force them out of their ordinary routines and to rethink their lives.

            The Grand Canyon symbolizes the overall scheme of things[1] and how man is actually merely part of a much bigger picture.  The Grand Canyon, as depicted in the end of the movie, with Simon standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, is not merely a place or a tourist attraction.  The Grand Canyon is a symbol that points beyond itself.  The very vastness and majesty of the Grand Canyon indicates an intrinsic connection between the Grand Canyon as the symbol itself and what it symbolizes, which is the greater plan or scheme of things that God has mapped out for the world.   Like the character of Simon standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, it is easy for man to feel lost and insignificant compared to the majesty of the place, and here we see how the Grand Canyon participates in that to which it points[2] which is, to put it simply, the overall scheme of things.

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            The use of Grand Canyon as a symbol of a much bigger world implies that the characters in the movie might come out better by putting their lives in perspective.  It encourages them to not be so self-centered and to remain enclosed in their own little cocoons.  In the movie we see how the experiences of the main characters ended up taking their lives into different turns.  Putting one’s life in perspective as part of a master plan or bigger picture, as symbolized by the Grand Canyon, will allow new levels of reality to open up for the characters which would have otherwise been closed for them.[3]

            Any person standing at the edge overlooking Grand Canyon no doubt feels the greatness of the landmark site.  Its greatness and majesty would hush and awe any onlooker, and it is something that man had no hand in creating.  In this way, the Grand Canyon itself is overwhelming, and since it is no man-made, man feels the awe and wonder for the forces behind its creation.  It is something beyond man’s control, and in the Grand Canyon itself we see the hand of God.  Like the characters of the book, any onlooker of the Grand Canyon would feel small and insignificant.  This is why the Grand Canyon is a good symbol to show the master plan or bigger picture as shaped by God or the universe, depending on what you want to believe.  Symbols cannot be produced intentionally nor arbitrarily[4] and the Grand Canyon itself already awakens that sense of awe of such a creation in people who have seen it.

            This master plan and this bigger picture that God has already mapped out for the characters, as symbolized by the Grand Canyon, indicates that whatever the characters experience in the movie all occur for a reason.  They are part of a bigger picture and they are part of a plan which is not entirely under the characters’ control.  The character Simon, who believes that man lives by habit and doesn’t change, looks over the Grand Canyon and thinks that what man does will not really matter in the long run.  In other words, the characters in the movie, who have near-death experiences (such as Mack and Davis), or who go through life-altering changes (like Claire), have to deal with the anxiety brought about by realizing and acknowledging their meaningless existence.[5]  In the movie, we see how the character react to these experiences and changes by treating them as miracles or messages from a greater force beyond their knowledge.  Yet there is no clear cut answer or solution for each character.  They end up believing in fate and luck, if not necessarily consciously recognizing the God’s hand in things.  The positive thing is that God is implied here as constantly at work, guiding and providing opportunities for the characters to rethink their lives and to deepen their sense of purpose in this world.  We see God at work in each character’s life every time a character stops and considers “Am I doing the right thing?”[6]  As each of the characters in the film undergo this, we see how their paths and lives cross, and how these miracles or messages that occur in their lives are somewhat interconnected with each other.  The function of the Grand Canyon as a symbol then is meant to be humbling for each character, as they try to improve their lives and finding purpose in their existence, and that this very existence is part of a bigger picture.  This awareness or awakening encourages a transformation in the lives of the character, as the Grand Canyon as a symbol functions to encourage transformation of each character’s life for the better.[7]

The message of the movie seems to be that people should not despair, and that beside the dramas and trivialities in their lives, each person can still turn their lives around and make a difference.  This is most obvious in Claire, who takes in an abandoned baby, but less obvious in Davis, who though he tried at first to switch to making quality movies after he was shot by a thief, simply goes back to making blockbusters.  The point is each character went through a period of reckoning, wherein each sat down and re-evaluated his or her life.  God is at work in each of these characters in that they encounter moment that are life-altering and thus lead the characters to ponder their loves.  Each character at one point went through an experience which can be described as spiritual and which inspired them to live their lives better, reinforces their faith that they are not alone in the universe or challenges a character to see some aspect of his or her life in a new and different way.[8]  The characters in this book did not go through dramatic transformations, but at least we see in each their lives how God sometimes reminds us to re-evaluate the way we live our lives and how we view the world.  The movie also reminds us that despite all our little dramas, everything is still part of a bigger picture that God has mapped out.  The choices we make steer our lives, but not everything in our lives are within our control.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.  (no date). “Film Review – Grand Canyon.” Spirituality and Practice, available at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=3136.

Godawa, Brian.  (1999). “Postmodern Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Relative, Part I.” SCP Newsletter, Spring 1999, Volume 23:3.

Jennings, Jr., Theodore W. (1976). Introduction to Theology: An Invitation to Reflection Upon the Christian Mythos Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

McNulty, Ed. (1998). “Spirituality and Film: An Essay.” Presbyterian Church USA – The Electronic Great Awakening , available at http://www.pcusa.org/ega/more/spiritualityfilm.htm.

Roten, Robert. (February 11, 1982). “Grand Canyon: A dull treatise on the meaning of life.” Laramie Movie Scope, available at http://www.lariat.org/AtTheMovies/old/grandcanyn.html.

Tillich, Paul. (1958). Dynamics of Faith. New York: Harper & Row.

[1] Robert Roten, “Grand Canyon: A dull treatise on the meaning of life.” Laramie Movie Scope (February 11, 1992), available at http://www.lariat.org/AtTheMovies/old/grandcanyn.html (last accessed on July 24, 2006).

[2] Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 42.

[3] Ibid, 42.

[4] Ibid, 43.

[5] Brian Godawa, “Postmodern Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Relative, Part I.” SCP Newsletter, Spring 1999, Volume 23:3.

[6]Frederic Brussat and Mary Ann Brussat.  “Film Review – Grand Canyon.” Spirituality and Practice (no date), available at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=3136 (last accessed on July 24, 2006).

[7] Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., Introduction to Theology: An Invitation to Reflection Upon the Christian Mythos (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1976), 54-57.

[8] Ed McNulty, “Spirituality and Film: An Essay.” Presbyterian Church USA – The Electronic Great Awakening  (1998), available at http://www.pcusa.org/ega/more/spiritualityfilm.htm (last accessed on July 24, 2006).

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