The Old Guard / John Lewis: Good Trouble

So I was watching The Old Guard and John Lewis: Good Trouble, and they got me thinking about the long arc of God’s history… “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is an obvious absurdity to putting a Netflix summer action hit into conversation with an intimate documentary about a Civil Rights titan who passed away on Friday. I hope that in doing so that there is absolutely zero sense of minimization of the impact or legacy of Lewis, or the need to reckon with his life and death. At Theophany, we believe that God dwells in and through the lives and stories of people like John Lewis, and in the fantastical stories that find their way into the homes and minds of the tens of millions, and thus this is meant to make God bigger, not make Lewis smaller. Comparatively speaking, precious few will ever watch John Lewis: Good Trouble for a variety of reasons. In droves, people have and will take in The Old Guard, which surprisingly shares many of the same underlying convictions. This is due in part, I believe, to the movement of God, and also in part to the creative voice and drive of the film’s black female director Gina Prince-Bythewood.  Bythewood has made nothing but critically successful films and yet has been marginalized by the film industry into only having opportunities to make movies nearly once per decade. Hopefully, The Old Guard changes that. Both of these films bear witness to a truth which I would contend is a Christian truth: Forces of good are more powerful than forces of evil; and though our lives may be too short to witness its full arc, we must live and work as long as we can with the hope and courage that justice wins. The Old Guard uses sci-fi and superhero motifs to exercise this idea. A team of immortal warriors spend millennia trying to bend the world to goodness, guided by some unknown force. But over time, they become jaded, seeing the progress as too slow and painful to witness, leading to despair. The movie charts the journey of Andy (played by Charlize Theron) out of that despair and into renewed hope. This journey is aided by the new arrival of Nile, played by Kiki Layne, whose newness to this world offers a reminder that the world is still lovely and loved by so many. Perhaps even more so, Andy is brought to renewed hope by Copley, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has charted the unseen good across generations done by the team, through the lives they have saved. While the film is incredibly violent at times, it is ultimately a meditation on hope that unseen forces are bending the world slowly toward justice, often in ways that even immortal warriors are blind to. John Lewis: Good Trouble, chronicles the fight for Civil Rights in two eras: the official era of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, and the less publicized daily battles within the halls of legislative government. John Lewis’ long life bore witness to the many arenas in which the fights for justice are fought, and has done so with the a once-in-a-generation hope and perseverance. That he passed away on Friday is a devastating loss, but one that highlights the truest thing about his life – that it was never about John Lewis or any one individual, but a collective hope and courage that enable us to tap into the long arc of goodness and live into its trajectory. John Lewis himself said it best: “You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.” These are words that could just as easily be said at the end of The Old Guard. As a lover of movies and their potential to change hearts and minds, I am sad that as many people will not watch Good Trouble as watch The Old Guard. But I am simultaneously grateful that movies like The Old Guard wrestle with many of the same truths that are our best documentaries, and our best people, reckon with, and are able to do so for such a large audience. Rest in power and peace, Mr. Lewis. EDIT: A helpful commenter pointed out a crucial distinction between these films: their opinion on the efficacy of violence in order to bring about the good world God is calling us to. John Lewis was trained up in and committed to a form of nonviolence that was active and confrontational that echoes the actions of Jesus in confronting powers of his day. The Old Guard, being an action film, prefers shooting and killing nameless henchmen as a means of accomplishing good, a means of which I think we ought to be critical.

Theophany’s mission to bring God to light in film has another branch: a YouTube channel of video essays. Check them out, and don’t forget to like and subscribe while you’re there.

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