A Review of the Movie

The Chumscrubber

"In no way, whatsoever, do I blame you for what happened." If I had to pick the through line for The Chumscrubber I would have to go with this one. At least that's the phrase that has haunted me the most. Other lines would do too. For example: "Don't ignore me" and "I'm not dead but you call this a living?" Each phrase is simple but voices a dark reality that runs beneath suburban bliss...

Amidst captivating as well as uncomfortable images and characters, the dialogue made the movie for me. Well, actually the lack of dialogue, a dialogue that constantly misses the point and speaks past the listener. Weaving in and out of their banal existence and their "hollowspeak", the citizens of Hillside Estates manage to eek out quotes that fall on our listening ears with a solemn, dead weight and we just know we are watching a movie about everyone's life at some level. We could be the neighbour who strives for perfection or the parent who is silently enduring the biggest loss of her life, all the while smiling a smile that anyone with heart could see through. We could be the aimless, the driven, the druggie, the utopian, the status-seeker, the seductress, the thoughtful one, the appeasing one or the one who just couldn't handle it anymore and ends it all with a rope. The Chumscrubber tells the story of the sinner.

Into our third week of the Ignatian movie group, we chose this movie to speak to the theme of "Sin of Humanity" as it is told through the myth of Adam and Eve: their experience with fall and sin and turning away from God. It is the week where the idea of separation and ontological loneliness moves from the cosmic stage and hits us at a personal level. The Chumscrubber seems tailor-made in all sorts of ways.

It wasn't hard to step into the idyllic Eden-esque world. The Chumscrubber is set in a pristine neighbourhood where yards are perfectly manicured, smiles pasted on just so and lives are programmed for success and happiness. Families are picture perfect; it's as if they are all trying to go "back to the garden". Until the cracks start to show, and the externals begin to shatter. Wine is spilt, heads hit concrete, identities are mistaken, funerals and weddings get mixed up and vengeance is in the air. Things aren't as they seem. Children are unhappy, bored, spiteful and in need of a fix, and surprise, surprise so are the parents. The vision of Hillside is intoxicating but not enough to transcend the imagination. Rather, their lush environment only leads to pathological narcissism and a chronic case of deafness. Everyone speaks at each other and in the end no one hears each other. It is no wonder, despite all appearances, Hillside Estate and its citizens are in a state of banishment.

But back to the line that struck me so significantly: "In no way do I blame you" or was that really "I blame the world for my misery "it's your fault that I am the way I am" I AM BITTER". It's a perfect example of doublespeak and for me hearing those words was the way into the myth of Adam and Eve. In all honesty, the myth of Eden for me has always been just that, a myth. An ancient story that is a creative way to explain the history of Israel and their exile. But somehow through the Ignatian exercises, the biblical passages, watching the movie, and allowing worship in community to enter the scene, this ancient story made its way into my own personal history. Like everyone else, I am banished and cut off, desperately needing not a fix or something to placate me, but a true connection, a unity that is real. It's not because I'm so messed up or unique; it is the human story that we all share. Of course this natural state of angst takes on unique forms of expression. Perhaps my unique brand of banishment is when I take part in doublespeak; in other words, when I use my language and my words to create distance and maintain pleasantries that won't rock any boats. Through my smiling lies I am choosing to hide myself from creation and from God. I am the lost, selfish, superficial character I see on the screen. No amount of pill-popping or well-manicured dialogue or nicey nice posing will save me from the state of being "outside".

As it turns out, the only encounter that will redeem my imagination and restore me to a sense of real relationship with God, neighbour and myself is with the Chumscrubber, the archetypal figure who destroys all niceties, all things unreal and all things unloving. The movie, perhaps without even knowing it, is all about saving judgment. Maybe it's in the eyes of the beholder but the Christic themes ring loud and clear.

The wisdom of the movie wasn't so much in its critique, although it did quite well. The wisdom is almost unspoken in that there is a palpable sense of hope and renewal even though the world of Hillside is undergoing an apocalypse. The hope comes at the very end in a simple exchange between the mother and friend of the dead boy. The words are few, but they are honestly spoken and grace is mingled with truth. There are tears, not self-indulgent tears or tears of despair, but tears that cleanse the heart and renew relationship.

What was renewing and hopeful for those who watched The Chumscrubber was not merely engaging in a critique of our superficial lives that's a given. Despite the stories of self-annihilation we continue to tell and live by, where the hope came from us was that the Suffering One who is willing to stand on a hill, to be hung from a cross and survey the state of our souls, never turns away or averts his glance. It is a simple exchange but a real and lasting one. Christ's suffering death and love is grace and truth joined together. It is not merely theological but very much relational and it is the perfect ending in that cosmic salvific way to the story that began so long ago. It is an offering of exchange; a new story for a story that is old and worn out. Exchanging tales of being left out and banished for a story that welcomes all back into the family of God, a family that speaks with a true heart and listens with a healed imagination. Good news as they say.

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