The Coens for Lent – Tuileries (from Pairs Je’Taime)

The twelfth of nineteen reflections on the Coen Brothers’ filmography and the season of Lent. [View Series]

by guest writer Michael Shepherd

There is a certain comfort in being a tourist. We can plan our itineraries and focus on seeing the highlights of a new locale. We temporarily venture into new terrain, captivated by the people in some new place. We can drink in the novelty of a culture and grow through our engagement with others. Especially at a time when our ability to travel is severely difficult, the idea of exploring a new neighborhood is a tempting distraction.

Of course, there are other times when our daydreams can go entirely off-course once we begin to live them out.

“Tuileries” is part of a 2006 anthology in the film Paris, Je t’aime that looks at the city of Paris through different perspectives and provides the Coen Brothers an interesting format to bring their storytelling and style to a condensed stage. Set entirely at the Tuileries subway station, the short film centers on an American tourist (Steve Buscemi) who finds himself caught up in the escalating absurdity of a trip abroad.

He is traveling in a beautiful city, visiting the Louvre, and quite content. The first sign that this city is not all as it seems is when he gets spit at by a kid passing by. This rattles him, but he distracts himself with his guidebook. After reading about avoiding eye contact with strangers, he immediately catapults into the worst possible scenario that would prompt the guidebook’s warning.

Guidebooks provide a bit of structure for us to explain what we can expect or how to navigate in a strange place. We rely on the words of others to inform us of what others know and to give us a way to enter into a new world. Yet the guidebook can also provide a safe distance from experiencing life around us. In this film, the guidebook doesn’t bring understanding, but propels the Tourist further into his misadventure.

As we enter a season of Lent– a time to foster our spirituality through humility, self-discipline, attentiveness, and suffering –it is tempting to be a tourist. When we are in season that challenges us to look inward to see where we need to grow, we may be uncomfortable with what we find. We may want to hurry past the areas of growth that are too hard to untangle and get back to the hotspots and photo ops of faith.

There are guides who can show us a different way: the minjung, the womanist, the queer, the oppressed. Their voices echo with the truths they have learned from their experiences, which demonstrate that suffering is not incongruent with spirituality. Nor are the safe, privileged places sufficient for our souls.

Like the Tourist character, we cannot live within the security of a guidebook or highlight attractions, but must encounter life (in all of its absurdity and artistry) as it unfolds before us. With our eyes open to the places we inhabit, let us live more intently into the unknown future that God is calling us into.


Michael Shepherd is an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA and writes at mxchaelshepherd.wordpress.com. He is on Twitter at @mchlshepherd

[See all entries in “The Coens for Lent” series]

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