By casting four of Hollywood’s most venerable actresses in its latest release, Book Club,Paramount Pictures was assured box office success before the movie opened. Critics aside, women are laughing, crying, and being surprisingly touched by the romantic comedy about “Senior Citizens”. Covering every relational dynamic (married, single, widowed, divorced), Book Club invites women of all ages into a classic fairytale of beauty, loss, and restoration. Once upon a time there were four friends who after many years found themselves lost in the land of . . . .
Single Vivian, widowed Diane, divorced Sharon, and married Carol have been best friends since their college days. The movie opens with black and white photos, a retelling of their history, and how they have walked through life together, meeting each month for their book club.
While looking successful and well-off outwardly, the years have taken a toll on the women’s hearts. Each one in her own way has fallen into a life of resignation, exchanging love, intimacy, and joy for duty, obligation, and performance.
Vivian, who has never married but engages in a very active sex life, thinks that is the solution to her friend’s doldrums (unable to see her own). Since it is her turn to select their next book, she decides to introduce them to a man named Christian.
Risk and Release
The first risk the women have to take is to pick up the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, for as one of them says, it’s just embarrassing to hold it. But as they read the erotic book and its two sequels, the women find themselves taking personal risks in order to be released from their old lives of resignation. Vivian has to risk losing control and take off her makeup and be vulnerable with a man, while Sharon risks laying aside the black robes of judicial authority and being seen as a feminine woman. For Diane the widower who has spent a lifetime pleasing family members, she risks by saying no to what her daughters want and choosing to please herself. Carol, the only one with a husband, must risk apologizing for her controlling ways and learn to dance alone.
And of course the fairytale is they are all released into a new life of love, intimacy and joy! Sexual intimacy is restored in the broken marriage, while the widower finds a new life in Arizona with a handsome pilot. The divorced woman is set free from bitterness to become beautiful and have her family relationships healed. The single woman, who has secretly pinned for the first love she rejected years ago, is given a second chance to say “yes”! In each and every case, the butterfly immerges from the cocoon and becomes her true beautiful self; no wonder women love the movie. It captures the core desires of every woman’s heart: beauty, intimacy and adventure.1
What the movie Book Club does in a profound way is open up and reveal these core desires. Yes, it is eye candy, yet it makes the viewer aware of her own broken places and deep longings. What the film does not do is provide an answer for healing and restoration.
Reading Fifty Shades of Grey or even the tamer romantic novels women tend to binge/gorge on will not make the fairytale come true. For the fairytale and the happily ever after wedded bliss it ends with,were always signs pointing to something deeper and more transcendent . . . life in union with God. (Ephesians 5:25-33).
There is a famous quote sometimes attributed to Chesterton, St. Francis, or St. Augustine which says, ”a man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God.2 One might add, “a woman reading Fifty Shades of Grey is unconsciously looking for Christ.” It is interesting to note the author of said book, chose Christian (the diminutive of Christ) and Anastasia (meaning resurrection) for her protagonist and heroines names.
Sharon makes a profound speech at her son’s engagement party. In response to the pithy quote “love is blind”, she says that was not Shakespeare’s intent. What he meant was love is only a word until it’s a person. So true; one could not know the God who is love (I John 4:8) until “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:4). And this person has demonstrated his love for all by dying for their sins in order to release them from their deepest and darkest bondage to death (Romans 5:8).
Jesus the Christ was sent to heal the broken hearted, set the captive free, give beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning ( Isaiah 61:1-3). He is the Pilot who opens the way to a new life in His Kingdom. He is the First Love worth returning to. He is the Author of the Song of Songs, the greatest love poem ever written. Reorienting ones life to Him is the way out of resignation and is worth any risk, for to be released into is His life and love is to come truly alive.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he die”. John 11:25
1. Evelyn Underhill wrote everyone has three cravings: “The first is the craving which makes him a pilgrim and a wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’, an Eldorado, a Sarras, a Heavenly Zion. The next is the craving of heart for a heart, or the Soul for its perfect mate, which makes him a lover. The third is the craving for inward purity and perfection, which makes him an ascetic, and in the last resort a saint”. The Essential C.S.Lewis Edited by Lyle W. Dorsett (pg.16)
2. This quote is variously ascribed to Chesterton, St. Francis, and St. Augustine. The only documented source is from the book, The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall; and the quote really is “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciouslylooking for God” (pg.108). www.chesterton.org