I have recently watched two films, both of which provoked in me a sense of what could be called righteous anger. I call it that because I felt my heart stirred in a way that was beyond the usual superficial reaction one experiences when watching visual media; it has stayed with me and the related discomfort has barely lessened. Films are, of course, intentionally evocative, and exploit their ability to manipulate our emotions, but that can be a worthy aim if it awakens our sensitivities and causes us to act.
The first film was entitled “No-one Knows About Persian Cats”. It is one that I had not heard of before but was recommended as an insight into the life of Iranian people living, as they do, under an oppressive and unbearably intrusive government. The story follows two young musicians who are attempting to form a band in time for a gig arranged in London, and the risks that they are taking in doing this under the noses of an authority that has already imprisoned them for breaching the ban on ‘Western and decadent music’.
The tag of the movie is “The Film That Sings, Screams and Chants ‘FREEDOM’”. That’s not the message that I took away. If anything, it was the complete opposite: the main characters are shackled by a great swathe of fears: of the police, of the arbitrary implementation of nefarious rules, of their own neighbours who will readily pass on information in return for ephemeral peace. It is almost impossible for us, in our liberal democratic society, to appreciate that even the most basic and fundamental of practices here take concerted determination and wilful flouting of the imposed rules in a nation where human rights are not high on the agenda. The difficulties of obtaining passports and visas highlighted this: vastly expensive and essentially unattainable except for on the black market. When the shifty head of the black market passport business is detained by the secret police, the heart sinks at his impending mistreatment at the hands of those responsible for ‘justice’. Hope is not a word often discussed.
My overriding feeling when watching this film, compounded by the gut-wrenching ending, was that this is NOT what God wants for his world. There was beauty readily found in the enduring positivity of the characters, their commitment to the talents they knew they possessed, the strong relationships forged amidst this adversity; but as ever there was a caveat, a shadow casting its choking darkness over the scenes. Iran is a nation of rich hospitality and great vibrancy, but it is ever marred by the power of the minority. An Iranian friend tells me that the film is somewhat overplayed and is not wholly representative, but he does not deny the issues that are presented; indeed, he has attended many of the anti-government rallies and is currently living in the UK so as to escape the repercussions. Such terror lurks everywhere. This is NOT what God wants for his world.
The other film that I saw was the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”. Fiction it may be, but the scenes depicting World War II are unlikely to be far from that which our forebears experienced. Learning that the young Private Robbie Turner did not return from the front line but was one of the countless lives lost – it wrenched my heart. The technicolour destruction brought home once more a feeling of sorrow at the knowledge that such suffering is experienced daily in so many different guises around the world, whether it be war, or famine, oppression, poverty or any of the rest of the endless list of ills that befall God’s world.
The reach that we have as individuals and the difference that we can make can seem pitifully and hopelessly small in the face of all of this, but for this one enduring truth: God is with us. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed; a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9). “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126: 5-6). “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13). Thank the Lord for that, because our world needs it.