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To Days of Inspiration

Rent was magnificent. I own the movie and the abridged movie soundtrack, but I thought this was much better in some ways. It wasn’t quite as good in others . . . Mainly, if I hadn’t seen the movie first, some things might have been difficult to follow. But I had, so that wasn’t really a problem. The movie version also cut out several numbers, including a really great song called “And It’s Beginning to Snow” that is one of my favorites. I thought the actors really got into their roles more on-stage, and there was an emotional electricity that was lacking in the screen version.The musical is based on La Vie de Boheme. It follows a group of starving artist types living in New York City as they struggle to survive and create over the course of a single year. It is not the sort of musical that I think a conventional Christian worldview incorporates easily, with what could easily be perceived as a glowing endorsement for Bohemianism (a rejection of society’s values in all forms), open approval of homosexuality, advice to live by the whims of the moment without regard for consequences, and so on.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I think Rent has a great deal to offer a Christian audience: artistically, intellectually, spiritually, and (of course) thematically. Allow me to explain.

First, Rent is a really good musical. It’s not my favorite ever, but it’s one of them. It has a well-developed cast of likable characters and a rich setting. The songs are all horribly catchy, and there are several real show-stoppers mixed in amongst many are just pure fun. Just about anyone should be able to appreciate its merits on an artistic level alone, to say nothing of the rest.

Second, Rent has a great deal of valuable insight into the culture it is examining. I think all too often we dismiss the value of understanding cultures that we should be reaching out to. It is perhaps easier to recognize the importance of this when in a foreign country, since we have to learn a whole new language with its own idioms and history in order to even communicate. But why would anyone suppose that those principles don’t apply just as much when reaching across worldviews as when reaching across the world itself?

As such, if you’re interested in the philosophy and subculture represented in Rent, the musical is a great place to begin. At the least it would be worth experiencing as a point of entry with the show’s large and growing following. A whole lot of people are attracted by something that they see here. Maybe it’s worth figuring out what that is.

Third, if you watch Rent and come away (like the Plugged In reviewer did) with only the sense that you’ve just watched a commercial for a lifestyle you don’t agree with . . . Well, congratulations on your ultra-shallow analytical skills. This may be an expression of the Bohemian lifestyle, certainly, but it is hardly a glorification of it.

These people’s choices have not been affirmed by society or circumstances, by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve obviously had a lot good times in the past, but by now they are definitely on a downward spiral. They live, starving and freezing, in the worst conditions. Two of them suffer from the consequences of destructive addictions. Four of them are dying of AIDs. Almost all of them carry the scars of fractured or fracturing relationships. This willingness to take such a raw and honest look at the realities of this life smacks of a certain commitment to truth.

This is a commitment sorely lacking in a good 99% of Christian movies, which do not care to acknowledge the fact that, regardless of your lifestyle or religious affiliations, life is not all cotton candy and faberg頥ggs. In fact, Rent‘s gravest misstep comes when it succumbs to that same hollow formula at the very end. The moment rings incredibly false, all the more so because it has rung so true up to that point. We are happy that the story has ended well, but really, who could see it for the first time without rolling their eyes when Mimi invokes the hackneyed “light at the end of the tunnel” gag. It cheapens everything the musical has accomplished. Despite that, there is a great deal of value in the truth of what we have seen before this.

Finally, I would say that the central narrative tension of Rent (although it is rife with subplots) is the question of relationships (especially the one between Mimi and Roger). Angel and Collins have the perfect relationship: a selfless commitment to the other person that doesn’t dwell on the past or the future. They serve as a contrast to Roger’s fear and Maureen’s unwillingness to give up playing the field. Mimi and Roger meet just after Roger has declared his deepest desire: to leave behind just one song to be remembered by, so his life (a mess of drugs and death and AIDs) won’t have been a complete waste.

Throughout the couple’s long coming to terms, he hangs on to that desire as he has first expressed it, unwilling to give it up. The creative process is a convenient excuse for him to insulate himself from more painful relationships. But what he finally realizes (almost too late) is that he has not only cut himself off from a relationship that is more fulfilling even than an artistic legacy, but in so doing, he has cut himself off from the source of his art itself.

Take a chance on love first and everything else will be added unto you. Tomorrow is not soon enough, because today might be the last day you have. It’s not so much about disregarding consequences for impulsive behavior as it is about taking advantage of every fleeting moment you have. We may not have a system by which to measure the value of how someone spent their life, but if they have at least truly loved and been loved, then they haven’t wasted their time.

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~ by Jared on April 3, 2007.

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