Theme: The Real World vs.The Reel World; The Exchanged Life
Insights: In his latest film, The Majestic, Frank Darabont returns to the themes of salvation and redemption that he has successfully used in previous films.1 The Majestic is a story about two very different worlds and the choice one man makes between them.
The film opens with the scriptwriter, Peter Appleton, listening to the Studio elites dictate the script for his next film Ashes to Ashes (Genesis 3:19)2. The symbolic meaning is "they" are writing the script of his life, while he believes he is sitting on top of the world. After all, this is Hollywood; his town where he writes "B" movie scripts and is willing to compromise his way to the "A" list. Unfortunately, his name appears on another list -- "The Black List". Years ago he followed "Eve" into the Bread and Bullets Club, and this simple act has now come back to destroy him. Ashes to Ashes is put on hold, and Peter is cast out of the Studio. When the forces of darkness (the Committee) are after someone, the world (the Studio) has no protection to offer. Crying over his drink, Peter tells the bartender his new movie is about pain, nobility, the human condition, and truth. These are things he seems to know little of.
Leaving the bar quite drunk, Peter suggests to his stuffed monkey3 that they should drive up the coast, change names, and start a new life. The moonlit drive leads to a one-lane bridge. Bridges are always symbolic of a transition from one state to another. They also suggest linkage between the real and heavenly realm, between man and spirit. The lighting, music, and sign "One Lane, Use Caution" all suggest that this is a point of transition for Peter Appleton.
The scene of the car hanging on the precipice reveals the fragility of man as he clings to life by a single thread. The heavens open as if to assist in Peter's fall over the edge into the dark waters. Surfacing, the first thing he grabs hold of is the rock (2 Samuel 22:2-3). Hitting his head, he is knocked unconscious.
Awakened by a Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Peter, who has lost his memory, is led to the small town of Lawson. As he walks into town early in the morning, we sense this is a new day for Peter Appleton. Unlike Los Angeles, which was preparing to crucify him, Peter is welcomed in Lawson like a long lost son. Peter has transitioned from the real world to the reel world.
Harry Trimble identifies Peter as his lost son, Luke. Peter is led to Harry's home over the Majestic Theater. Closed and covered up, the Majestic's former glory seems shrouded. Without the son who loved it, the lights on the father's house have gone out. Now that "Luke" has returned, all Harry can see is the palace coming to life once more. As he explains to Luke, "This is the place of dreams, like heaven; where problems are forgotten and the magic is all around. The trick is to see it." Luke, unfortunately, can't see it. "Harry!" he cries, "I don't know who I am." This is the question all lost souls struggle to answer.
Who Am I?
Taking Luke to the local cemetery, Harry leads him through the graves of Lawson's lost sons. Stopping at one special grave, he tells him about a very unique son. This one kept doing what he had to do, sacrificing himself in order to save the lives of others, and even though his body was never found, he was awarded the highest medal of all. Hanging the medal on Luke, Harry tells him, "His name was Albert Lucas Trimble. He was my son, and that's who you are."
By now its lunchtime, and the streets of Lawson are no longer quiet and empty. The good news of Luke's return has brought the entire town to Mabel's Diner to welcome him home, saying that the return of one lost son is a blessing to all. The mayor calls for a grand celebration.
When the prodigal son returned home and was given a celebratory feast, not everyone was thrilled. Bob, a crippled war veteran, is angry and envious like the prodigal's older brother (Luke 15:11-32). Luke, however, having been celebrated, tested (piano playing), approved, and re-introduced to Adele is not about to let one suspicious person destroy his joy.
The Majestic Reopens
In a poignant scene where Luke finds Harry viewing an old silent film4 something touches Luke's heart, and he calls Harry, "Dad", for the first time. All along Harry has known Luke, but at this moment "Luke" connects to the father's heart. With that connection, the lights quickly go back on as the Majestic is restored to its former glory; a project in which the entire town participates. Not only is the Majestic reopened, but also the monument for all the fallen sons is finally brought out of the basement and dedicated.
The doctor had warned Luke that at any time his memory might return. So, it is no surprise that as Luke watches Peter Appleton's Sand Pirates of The Sahara, his memory returns. Luke/Peter suffer this attack of the heart just as Harry suffers a massive heart attack. The tender scenes of Harry and Luke's last moments are a powerful portrayal of the love the father has for the son. It gives a beautiful insight into how God the Father views His lost sons as His most Beloved Son.
The Real World
Now that Peter knows his identity, the real world comes back with a vengeance. Driving into town like a pack of dark angels, "the accuser of the brethren" (Revelation 12:10) comes to subpoena Peter to testify before "the Committee". Even Peter's old Studio boss (the world) is there to reclaim him. "These aren't your people; it's not your town, L.A. is. If you want your life back, all you have to do is make a statement, sign a false confession, implicate others (echoes of Genesis 3:12-13), renegotiate the contract."
As Peter goes to return Luke's medal, he meets Adele in the cemetery. During their confrontation, he tells her, "The rest of us have to live in the real world." He is not noble and sacrificial like Luke; he is a survivor at any cost. In profane words, he says that he wants his cursed life back and will do what he has to in order to get it.
Just before he boards the train leaving for L.A., Adele's father hands him a package. It contains a copy of the constitution (the contract) that Luke had given to Adele, and his last letter to her. In it he reveals his love, his sacrifice, the life he is purchasing for her, and his eternal presence. His blood that he willingly gives will seal the contract. The real Luke is the real son and is the Christ figure.
The Bigger Issue
Standing before "the Committee", Peter changes his mind and does not read his false confession. He calls everyone's attention to a bigger issue. What happened to the America that Luke Trimble died for? How has it descended into this bitter, cruel, small America? Holding up Luke's medal, he tells them that they cannot renegotiate a contract paid for with his blood. After walking out to a standing ovation, the world makes one last attempt to ensnare Peter. When his lawyer says, "Come off your cross, kid," it is no idle expression. He recognizes that Peter's willingness to give up his life for others identifies him with Luke.
Sitting just as he was when the movie started, listening to the Studio elites once again write his script, Peter looks the same, but inside he is radically different. When asked what he thinks, he tells the truth, "This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of," and walks out.
The Exchanged Life
Peter returns to Lawson and is welcomed home as the favorite son. As the song "I Remember You" plays, we see a photo gallery telling the story of Peter's new life. By dying to his old life in Hollywood, he has received a new life...an abundant life...Luke's Life.
Scripture: Luke 15:11-32
Frank Darabont's previous films include The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
The Hebrew word for dust in Genesis 3:19 can also be translated "ashes".
Monkeys are often symbolic of the sins of lust, malice, greed, drunkenness, laziness, and vanity.
The silent film was his mother's favorite. It shows a solider going off to war. Note in the film that pre-war is Eden, war is the fall, and after the war is the fallen world.