Ruby Sparks (movie review)

Five years ago the movie Ruby Sparks appeared briefly in theaters. Reading the newspaper reviews intrigued me and I wanted to view the movie, but it was gone again before I had a chance to see it. This summer, using birthday gift money, I was able to buy a DVD of the movie. It arrived in yesterday’s mail. I watched it last night, and I am pleased to report that it met and exceeded my expectations.

The central premise of the plot is that a novelist creates a character—the title character of the film—and then she suddenly becomes a real person. This story retells the Greek myth Pygmalion, in which a sculptor falls in love with a statue he has carved and a goddess transforms the statue into a living woman. Of course this story has been retold many times in a variety of settings. Ruby Sparks does a better than average job of making the main characters believable, set in a twenty-first century California city.

Paul Dano plays the writer, Calvin, and Zoe Kazan plays the title character. (Kazan also wrote the script for the movie.) Brief appearances by Elliott Gould, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas add texture to the film. Calvin is approaching his thirtieth birthday, having written the Great American Novel while still a teenager. Like many prodigies, Calvin struggles to meet the high expectations triggered by his early success. Early in the movie he is shown in a counseling session in which his self-doubt and fear of failure are clearly revealed. A girl he first meets in two separate dreams, coupled with a suggestion by his counselor, ignites Calvin’s imagination and sends him into a writing frenzy, creating a romantic novel starring his dream girl, Ruby Sparks.

The character of Calvin is well established when the appearance of the real Ruby Sparks begins to be foreshadowed. Her sudden manifestation in his kitchen causes Calvin to doubt his sanity, a verdict in which his brother concurs. Two revelations follow: other people can see Ruby and interact with her, and Calvin can cause Ruby to speak fluent French by adding a sentence to his novel. Calvin soberly locks the text of the novel in a desk drawer, and then he and Ruby establish a beautiful romance.

Of course the magic relationship does not last forever. Ruby wants more excitement than Calvin’s reclusive life offers. She increases her independence until Calvin begins trying to manipulate her through his writing. His own emotional problems are magnified in her behavior, until an ugly and inevitable confrontation between author and character occurs, vividly depicted by Dano and Kazan.

The pace of the movie follows the inner life of the author. His emotional disorders are subtly portrayed in a variety of ways without becoming distracting or insulting. His eccentricities—such as using an obsolete typewriter for his work—are important to the story. Yet many of the reviews I have read this morning miss the point, treating the pace, the actor’s work, and the details—such as the typewriter—as flaws.

Ruby Sparks covers far more than emotional disorders. It delves into the relationship between artists and the products of their art. A creator wants to be in control, yet the creator must also allow the art to develop in its own way. Characters find their own voice, begin to make their own decisions, and even force changes in the plot of the work. I am sure that painters, sculptors, and composers of music can share similar stories of the ways their creations overpowered them and forced them to change the work they were doing.

That said, Ruby Sparks is not a flawless movie. The characters are foul-mouthed and have no respect for the marriage bed (although fornication is not depicted on-screen). The ending tries to be both charming and ambiguous and instead is unsatisfying. One cannot be certain whether Calvin has learned from his experiences or if he is doomed to repeat his mistakes again. Like many good movies, though, Ruby Sparks manages the little nuances which carry the story of the movie without relying solely on dialogue and action. It is more than a romantic comedy; it is a thoughtful approach to creativity and the loneliness of the artist. For that reason alone, I recommend it. J.

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Sunshine Blogger Award

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”. Or so I’m told. The awesome, amazing, astounding, and always adorable “Authentically Aurora” nominated me for this award a few days ago, and I am pleased to accept. Thank you, Aurora, from the bottom of my heart.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same number of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

 

Having already thanked AA, I will now comply with rule number two. The final three steps will have to wait until the end of the week, but I am working on it, I promise.

And, by the way, this happens to be post number 300 on Salvageable.

What is your biggest dream?

My biggest dream is to be a successful writer. By successful, I do not mean rich and famous. I want the things I write to be meaningful and helpful to readers. I would like to believe that at least one thing I have written will have enduring value—that it will be meaningful and helpful even after I have long shuffled off this mortal coil.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

My first inclination is to say that I would like to return to my childhood home. Readers of last week’s posts will know that such a visit is no longer possible. I have no burning desire to visit any one place, but I would like some day to see the major sites of Europe, west Asia, and Egypt. On the other hand, China and Japan also interest me. And India….

Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

Undoubtedly an introvert. On a scale of one to ten, where one is totally introverted, ten is totally extraverted, and five is purely ambiverted, I would probably score a two. Maybe one and three quarters.

Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?

“Always” is a big word. As a boy, I dreamed of being an astronaut, a preacher, a police officer, a professional baseball player, and an author. As I grew older, author became the main dream. Then I realized that, whatever I did, I wanted to do for Christ and the Church. I received a proper education and began full-time work in the church. After two moves, I realized that what I was doing was not what I really wanted to do. Mid-life crisis? Near nervous breakdown? I’m not entirely sure. I found a different full-time job in the secular world, one that sometimes involves writing but is not focused on writing. I also have two part-time jobs, which keeps me busy. Having the opportunity to write, to teach, and to share the Word of God, I think I am doing what I was meant to do, and that’s good enough for me.

Do you usually follow your heart or your head?

My head. I am Mr. Spock in human flesh. Even my career change, mentioned above, was carefully calculated, not an impulse or a whim.

What are you most thankful for? 

I am most thankful for redemption through Jesus Christ. Without his saving work, nothing I have and nothing I do would have any value.

What’s on your bucket list this year?

I am not a bucket-list kind of person. I tend to live more I the moment, one day at a time. That said, I will have the chance next summer to see something I have always wanted to see—a total eclipse of the sun. Missing that would be an enormous disappointment, so I hope the sky is clear that day.

What’s your favorite food ever?

That depends upon a great many things. At this moment, I am going to say a traditional German dinner of sauerbraten and several sides. The best German food I’ve ever eaten was in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, not far from Iowa City. Over the years, I have learned how to make a respectable sauerbraten in my slow-cooker. In fact, I made some last Sunday.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

When I was preparing to go to college, heading towards a career in the Church, my father said, “J., don’t go to a Christian college. Go to a school where you will learn about the world and about how people think in the world outside the Church.” I took his advice. In religion classes I learned about the historical-critical method of studying the Bible, and in other classes I was exposed to a wide variety of thoughts and attitudes. I also learned how to defend the Christian faith in a hostile environment. As a result, when I began graduate school, I knew what the professors were talking about when they warned us against those things. And I have known how to discuss these things with more light and less heat than happens among many Christian apologists.

Which of the places you’ve traveled to inspired you the most, and why?

When I was in high school, my grandparents gave money at Christmas to my parents so the three of us could have a nice vacation in the summer. We went twice to the Grand Tetons near Yellowstone National Park and twice to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, staying on guest ranches each vacation. Being up in those mountains was truly inspiring, and I have enduring memories of those trips.

 

My job is not complete until I have nominated other bloggers for this award, but I am done writing for today. More will come later in the week. J.

sunshine-blogger-award

Guest post–Carl’s reply

Once again, I have taken the liberty of correcting some grammar, punctuation, and spelling. J.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to last Friday’s brotherly admonition, although I must say that I hoped for something more from Salvageable. He is the author who invented me, and I expected some sort of defense on his part, rather than leaving it to me to explain myself. Whether he means me to be an object lesson of some kind or he has a different purpose in mind, I’d like him to take the trouble to take my side, at least, if people are going to be expressing their opinions about me as a person.

Be that as it may, I cannot deny that time spent with Number Seven is my most treasured part of every day. Do you know that she has dimples when she smiles? and her eyes twinkle with joy, and she has warmth in her voice that soothes my troubled heart. But if she were to express any concern to me that I am giving her too much attention, I would do three things. I would apologize at the start. Then I would assure her that I am too fond of her to want to harm or threaten her marriage. After that, I would ask her to tell me my limits and to feel free to send me on my way when she feels uncomfortable with my presence. I don’t see how anyone could ask any more of me.

With that said, I want to correct a misunderstanding I noticed in last Friday’s stern warning. The writer compared Rosa, my old flame, to women named Michelle, Jessica, and Crystal. Those names have no special meaning to me. I gather they are characters in some of Salvageable’s other stories. To think that Salvageable would be such a clumsy writer as to keep on telling the same story over and over again with only the names changed is offensive even to me as one of his characters. Treating fiction as thinly-disguised autobiography is a poor sort of literary criticism.

Salvageable likes to say that the first two words of every story are, “What if?” At the beginning, when the story is still developing in the author’s mind, the author might think, “This is what I would do next.” Sooner or later, though, the characters take over the story and do what is most natural for them. By the time the author is writing, the characters are no longer pictures of the author or of other people the author knows. “What if?” has taken a direction which may be very different from the way the author acts in the real world.

At any rate, an attempt to step into a world of fiction to correct a character’s mistakes seems fruitless to me. You might as well suggest to Alice that she not follow rabbits or play with mirrors. While you are at it, you might suggest to Santiago that, the next time he catches a large fish far from shore, he should carve the meat off the carcass and store it in his fishing boat. From outside the story, a reader can see how to fix all the problems facing the characters. From inside the story, life is not so easy.

I will continue visiting with Number Seven as long as she doesn’t object to my presence, no matter what real people have to say about it. While I’m at it, I’m going to become closer to the intern with the blonde hair and the bright blue eyes. She’s a friendly sort, and a man can never have too many friends. Carl.

My name is Salvageable, and I approved most of this message. J.

Seeking advice

I need advice from those of you who are writers (maybe from those of you who are readers too). I’m five thousand words into a story that’s been dwelling in my mind for months if not years. I very carefully chose names for the main characters: Frank, Laura, and Charlie. Yet as I’m pausing to think of the next line before I type it, I frequently think of Frank as Larry, and I frequently think of Laura as Carol. Should I stay with the names I chose, or should I change Frank to Larry, change Laura to Carol, and maybe change Charlie to Wally or something like that?

Your opinion matters. J.

About last weekend–reading and writing

Reading and writing were two goals I had for this long weekend. On Tuesday morning, I look back at the past three days, and I see a glass half-full and half-empty. I did some good reading and some acceptable writing, but a lot of other tasks went undone.

Over the weekend I composed a two-part essay on post-modernism and Christian faith. The second part is not finished, and the whole essay needs more polishing. I might not ever post or publish what I wrote this weekend, but at least it has helped me to focus a bit more on these issues.

Among the things I read this weekend were portions of a writer’s notebook I created when I was younger (so much younger than today…). Back then I kept track of my short story ideas by swirling them together in a longer work in which they occasionally became entangled with each other. Part of the inspiration for this style came from Arthur Hailey (Airport and Hotel) and Allen Drury (Advise and Consent and its sequels), but a stronger influence was Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions), with his minimalist approach to description. Friends who read portions of this notebook compared it favorably to Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), whose work I had not read when I started that notebook. This weekend I’m reading through this older writing to see if anything can be culled from the various plots and characters to stand alone as a short story. If I find anything I like, I will share it.

Last month I created a new WordPress blog containing a book I wrote a few years ago for a class I was teaching. The blog is not quite complete—I’ve not had time to read every post to make sure that I didn’t drop or repeat sections when uploading it, and I’ve not selected tags and categories for it yet. If you’re interested, though, you can find it here. The class was for church workers and was called Principles of Bible Interpretation. Technically, the subject was hermeneutics, but I tried to avoid technical terms in the book. (Exegesis is reading the Bible to learn its message—the “what” of Bible reading—and hermeneutics is the rules by which we read—the “how” of Bible reading.) Of the books selected by the program directors for teaching this course, one book was meant for graduate students, and the others (though more readable) disagreed with key teachings of my denomination of Christianity. Hence I wrote and used this book, trying to make it both approachable and doctrinally correct. It has since been used by another teacher of the same course. I thought I would make it available as a free online book. At first I called it “How to Read the Bible,” but the proper title of this book is “It’s All About Jesus: A Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Bible.” I hope you will take a look. J.

Soren Kierkegaard

He was a theologian, a philosopher, a poet, and a public figure. He tried to use his personal experiences as metaphors for the life of Christian faith. He sought to reform Christianity in his homeland, but he ended up confusing both believers and unbelievers. He is called the father of existentialism, although he probably would recognize no relationship between his writings and the existentialists of later generations.

Soren Kierkegaard was born in Denmark in May 1813. By virtue of his birth in Denmark and his baptism, he was officially a Christian citizen of a Christian land. The state church in Denmark was Lutheran, but its schools of theology and philosophy were heavily influenced by the great thinkers of the time, particularly Hegel. Many common Christians reacted against the state church with a movement called Pietism, which stressed an inner, emotional relationship with God. Kierkegaard’s family was drawn toward Pietism and it is reflected in his writings; but Kierkegaard opposed both the philosophic Christianity of the state church and the sometimes shallow and prosaic thinking of the Pietists.

Kierkegaard wrote his Master’s thesis on The Concept of Irony, with regard especially to the person of Socrates. Much of the rest of his writing, both published and private, reflected his interest in irony. Kierkegaard wrote many of his greatest works under pseudonyms, which was not unusual in the nineteenth century—Samuel Clemens wrote as Mark Twain and Charles Dodgson as Lewis Carroll. But Kierkegaard employed a series of pseudonyms, each using a different approach toward communication and toward understanding truth. In this way, he experimented with various ways of dealing with the conflicts within the Christian teachings of his time, without necessarily committing himself to any one approach. If Kierkegaard were alive today, he likely would have six or seven WordPress accounts, each under a different name, each publishing different messages, and probably debating one another in the comments of each blog.

Under his own name, Soren Kierkegaard published “Edifying Discourses” throughout his writing career. These were devotional essays, not in the sense of one or two page reflections on Christian topics, but more as lengthy (twenty pages or more) approaches to faith and Christian living. He wrote in the style of his time, not with short declarative statements, but with complex sentences that enabled him to relate a number of intertwined thoughts and themes. Although his writings are not easy to understand, they are worth the effort to read, for much of what Kierkegaard wrote nearly two hundred years ago applies to faith and Christian life today.

At the same time of his “Edifying Discourses,” Kierkegaard wrote a series of works that were semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical, somewhat philosophical, and somewhat theological. These include Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Reflections, and Stages on Life’s Way. Kierkegaard’s relationship with Regina Olsen, to whom he was engaged for some weeks, apparently inspired much of his thinking about total commitment to God, renunciation of the world, the meaning of Christian faith, and the power of love—human love and God’s love. Fear and Trembling also marks the first of three great pre-Freudian psychological works, also including the Concept of Anxiety and The Sickness unto Death. In these three books, Kierkegaard explored the meaning of faith in the life of a sinful man, the need for God’s grace to bring, not only forgiveness of sins, but reconciliation to God and discovery of the true self.

Kierkegaard’s towering great works are the Philosophical Fragments and the ironically titled Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, which is several times as long as the work to which it is a postscript. The Fragments was Kierkegaard’s clearest statement of the meaning of Christianity to that time, although it is often overlooked in favor of the Postscript. In these works, Kierkegaard stated that “truth is subjectivity.” This does not mean that truth is relative, or that it is different for each individual. It means that truth is not significantly true if it does not matter to the believer. For example, if you are not Japanese and have no dealings with the government of Japan, the truth that Tokyo is the capital of Japan is probably not significant to you. You know it is true, but you do not treat it as a Truth. Kierkegaard spoke against those writers who contemplated the truths of Christianity without treating them as significant truths, but merely used them as starting points to wander into deep thoughts far removed from Christian Truth.

Kierkegaard did not believe that it is necessary to prove the existence of God. He found every such truth to be evidence of a lack of faith rather than evidence of Christian faith. In so doing, Kierkegaard compared Christian faith to a leap into the unknown, trusting the promises of God without requiring proof as a prelude to faith.

At this point in his career, Kierkegaard became a public figure in Denmark much as the Kardashians are public figures today. People did not understand what he wrote, and they did not try to understand. Instead, the newspapers mocked his posture, his wardrobe, and other aspects of his personal life. Instead of defending himself, Kierkegaard used the experience of public ridicule to expose the problem of what George Orwell would later call “groupthink.” Kierkegaard insisted upon the importance of the individual against the demands of society. This led him to emphasize the Pietistic notion that individual faith matters more than church membership. As a result, Kierkegaard’s later writings constitute attacks on what today would be labeled “organized religion,” although these attacks were interspersed with continued devotional discourses which contain some of the most beautiful and meaningful expressions of faith and Christian living that he ever produced.

Kierkegaard is considered difficult to read today. He used the writing style of his time, and often parodied that style in his effort to undercut the prevalence of Hegelian thinking among the professional writers of his time. At the same time, no reader can understand Kierkegaard without first comprehending the Biblical themes that inspired him, as well as the writings of Martin Luther and of the Lutheran theologians who followed Luther. Kierkegaard’s writings cannot be meaningfully reduced to a sentence-a-day calendar. Many of the quotes of Kierkegaard that appear in later writings are taken out of context, ignoring the approach of the pseudonym under which he was writing, or missing the surrounding context which supplied meaning to the individual statement of a single sentence.

For those interested in starting to learn how Kierkegaard wrote, I recommend two of his shorter works. The first is Fear and Trembling, written during the time that Kierkegaard was obsessed with the Christian significance of his broken engagement. Using the account of Abraham, who was commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord, Kierkegaard discussed the significance of doing what would otherwise seem wrong because the Lord commanded it. The second is The Sickness unto Death. Here Kierkegaard discusses the meaning of sin, of redemption, and of faith, all in context of his earlier writings (including the Concept of Anxiety and the Philosophical Fragments), but in a way that successfully stands alone. Read with the presupposition of the truth of Christian teachings, and with confidence in the truth of the books of the Bible, these works express a genuine and deep Christian faith and a thorough understanding of what it means to exist as a Christian in a largely-unbelieving world.

The twentieth-century existential writers considered themselves heirs of Kierkegaard, although he would have disagreed with most of what they wrote. Drawing on the themes of the importance of the individual, and the need for a subjective relationship with the Truth, those writers overlooked the Christian and Lutheran voice in Kierkegaard’s works and largely miss the real meaning of what he was communicating. In one sense, Kierkegaard would feel vindicated by this reaction; he frequently reveled in the knowledge that he was widely misunderstood. On the other hand, Kierkegaard appreciates the “single individual whom I can call my reader,” one who patiently follows Kierkegaard on his winding paths of communication and finds the treasures of Christ’s Gospel hidden in various places along those paths. I hope that, for this title of his reader, I am qualified. J.

All*rgic to (YOU KNOW WHAT)

I got to work this morning, and I saw that my duty is to form (or script) a paragraph without a most common sign or symbol. How can I do this? And on a Monday morning to boot! I will try to stir my brain into action, but it is hard to gain victory and claim any award on this occasion. Thank you for this amazing and difficult task, A. Aurora. I will claim my victims (for this duty) tonight. J.

If all that puzzles you, read through it again and see what is missing. Do you notice? The paragraph does not contain the letter e a single time (unlike this paragraph). I enjoyed Authentically Aurora’s challenge almost as much as I enjoyed her clever paragraph, which managed to include the theme of allergies while omitting the letter e. (I’ll bet she thought that no one noticed.)

The other part of my assignment is to choose five other bloggers to write such a paragraph. Here are the official rules:

Write a whole paragraph (a paragraph sounds easy right?) without any word containing the letter “e”. Challenge at least five bloggers to do the challenge. They must do it within 24 hours or it is considered as failure. If you fail or pass, suffer in the Page of Lame. If you win, wallow in the Page of Fame.

I would add the suggestion that the twenty-four hours begin when you first see the assignment, not from the time I post the assignment.

And the five honored candidates are… drum roll please…

Lauren Haley

kaleidoscope49

See, there’s this thing called biology

Playfully Tacky

Bonnywood Manor

Good luck and happy writing! J.