Guilt and Sacrifice

I’ve seen a number of films in the past little while that seem to have a reoccurring theme around those who are guilty sacrificing themselves for those who are innocent. Most recently, I saw The Brothers Bloom. A con story about two brothers who grow up in less-than-ideal foster care homes, moving from town to town. The older brother, Stephen, starts coming up with cons, not only to make a bit of extra money, but also to facilitate his brother, Bloom, having more social connection with the local kids. In the end, Stephen creates the perfect con (which he defines as everyone getting what they want). Stephen dies so that his brother can make a life with the woman he loves.

Throughout the movie, it is clear that Stephen is doing what he does for Bloom. And it is Bloom that has qualms about what they’re doing. Stephen’s character oscillates between being the forceful (and even manipulative) leader and a martyr, creating stories that will make Bloom happier. Even though what Bloom says he wants is to stop living stories that have been written for him, Stephen seems to think that he knows better what Bloom needs. I’m not sure if this is out of arrogance or delusion. Both perhaps.

It reminds me of another film I watched recently, Gran Torino. In this film, a similar theme plays out wherein Clint Eastwood’s character decides to sacrifice himself as a way to save his Hmong neighbours from the knot of complex and violent racial and class dynamics that they are trapped in.

I don’t know enough of christian theology to know exactly how these histories intertwine, but it seems that one couldn’t talk about guilt and sacrifice without reference to Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of man. Is Clint Eastwood trying to pull a Jesus? Or is he trying to redeem his own sins by sacrificing himself to save others? Is this a selfish act, or something to be admired?

These spectacular solutions to messy problems miss the opportunity to explore less violent and more nuanced solutions. It makes it seem like other solutions are not possible, when in fact they might be. Even in the face of such violence. They might not be so quick and easy though.

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