My sole Oscar pick for this season is the short animation Adam and Dog. Download it here in HD (you may not watch it in SD, I won’t allow it) turn the lights down, the sound up, and focus for the next 15 minutes. You’ll be glad you did.
The great difficulty of Christian art is to find a way to explore truths that have been believed, codified, and preached for the past 2,000+ years, and possibly even do so in such a way that the audience can discover them anew. The reason the second half of that sentence so rarely happens is–no, not that Christianity is old hat–but that Christian artists tend not to bother themselves overmuch with the misty, the wistful, the fleeting, the orgasmic, the sort of “new” that actually means “now,” the sort of mystery that is actually only the presently unfamiliar. It is easy for American arts, particularly the film scene, heady on the above spiritual draughts, to be dull to the subtleties of religious expression. But once in a while, once in a very long while, a piece will break through and hit us over the head with the peace which passeth understanding. I think it has happened three times now in the past ten years. Makoto Fujimura’s The Four Holy Gospels, Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life (via Heidegger), and now Minkyu Lee’s Adam and Dog.
I’ve been rather disheartened at the critics’ reviews I’ve seen. Not because they aren’t all attending Sunday School now, but because they seem to be taking pains to avoid the import of this film’s theme, particularly when it only takes the reversal of the word “Dog” to divine it. Mr. Lee has said all the right things about his film, the universality of Grace in the human experience, the intentional avoidance of heavy-handedness, and speaking through pastel and forest ambience (the artist need not comment exhaustively on his creation.)
Regarding interpretation, I will gladly grant that it can cut several ways, and not always in a theistic direction. It could be about the doglikeness of God or the godlikeness of Dog (i.e. nature). I’d accept that impasse as it is one of opposing beliefs and interpretations and not ignorance. But the comment on this film has most frequently stopped at “it’s about a dog.” The symbol is not being appreciated, and that concerns me. This one comes the closest, but no cigar (unless I’m missing some rhetorical playfulness. I’ll retract if I am):
Ultimately, although the garden of Eden is lost, the story takes us to a place where man, woman and dog find their eternal roles together…I give a special nod to capturing the joyful and fearful spirit of dog.
I recently heard a college professor’s speech on his journey away from atheism in which he called his atheism the “willful denial of things he already knew.” I thought that sounded fanciful at first, but now I’m starting to believe him. Avoiding the dramatic landscape of biblical symbolism in favor of distasteful comment on its “gender politics” is irritating–though understandable given a liberal humanist ethic–but the strange aversion to granting Lee’s film any thematic content at all (instead contenting ourselves with technical comments on the craft and quality of the visuals, as if we are industry insiders) is just thickheadedness verging upon disrespect for Mr. Lee’s artistic ability. It’s not like there are layers upon layers to unravel here. Just familiarity with the most general outlines of biblical imagery. There is a profound and lovingly presented symbol here and while I can’t force any of my fellow bloggers to enjoy or laud it, nor even interpret it in the “correct” way, I can’t abide them missing it entirely. Maybe a little Sunday School would help our art appreciation skills. We can do better, America.