The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 7: Forgiveness

September 25th, 2012 by

Last week and this, I am exploring theological themes in relation to screenwriting, considering them metaphorically because in my view, we see these themes in movies all the time. By understanding them, we can use these theological themes to enhance the meaning and depth of our stories.

For background on the general subject, you may read my introductory comments in Part 1 here.

Today in Part 7: Forgiveness.

There is Sin. There is Guilt. But there is also Forgiveness. This idea is right there in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

In Matthew 18:20-22, there is this exchange: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.'”

Whatever one may think of Jesus, there is a powerful insight in these words. As theologian Frederick Buechner writes in his book “Wishful Thinking”:

When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.

When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.

For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence.

I can think of no greater illustration of this in movies than the relationship of Forrest to Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump.

When Forrest is shipped to Vietnam, his commanding officer is Lieutenant Dan Taylor. Upon their first meeting, Forrest notes:

Lieutenant Dan knew his stuff. I felt real lucky he was my lieutenant. He was from a long, great military tradition. Somebody in his family had fought and died in every single American war.

Dan Taylor believed that was his destiny. Yet when gravely wounded, Forrest saves his C.O.’s life. Here is Lieutenant’s response when facing recovery in a hospital after losing his legs:

Soon thereafter Lieutenant Dan confronts Forrest:

Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Nothing just happens. It’s all part of a plan! I should have died out there with my men, but now, I’m nothing but a goddamn cripple, a legless freak! Look. Look! Look at me! You see that? Do you know what it’s like not to be able to use your legs? Did you hear what I said? You cheated me! I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field with honor! That was my destiny, and you cheated me out of it!

Much later after a New Year’s Eve when Lieutenant Dan has hit rock bottom, then Forrest has started his shrimping business, this happens:

And then eventually this:

“Forrest, I never thanked you for saving my life.” That is a statement of forgiveness. And in coming to a place — beyond his grief, beyond his rage, beyond his sense of humiliation — where the Lieutenant could utter those words, he found something he had not known since before those terrible days in Vietnam, perhaps never before. As Forrest says:

He never actually said so, but I think he made his peace with God.

When someone does something wrong to us, it hurts. For awhile, it may feel empowering to allow ourselves to embrace that sense of hurt. But the longer we live in that space, it becomes more like a prison, chained to the anger and bitterness we harbor against our transgressor. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to forgive.

What other movies come to mind that feature the them of forgiveness? I can think of dozens. How about you?

For Part 1: Sin, go here.

For Part 2: Conversion, go here.

For Part 3: Predestination, go here.

For Part 4: Salvation, go here.

For Part 5: Doubt, go here.

For Part 6: Guilt, go here.

Tomorrow: Another theological theme in screenwriting.

6 thoughts on “The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 7: Forgiveness

  1. blknwite says:

    Changing Lanes. Brilliant movie. Brilliant acting. Underlying theme of chance vs. fate. Revenge vs. forgiveness.


    1. Scott says:

      Great call, blknwite.

  2. Win Vahlkamp says:

    Scott, do you reckon sanctification is reflected as a common theme in movies? I’m thinking so, but am curious to hear your thoughts on that.

    1. Daniel Smith says:

      I think so, but I’m not certain it can be explored as a separate theme apart from the likes of Conversion and Predestination (and maybe others) because it’s always intimately tied to other themes. Furthermore, at least in Christian theology, sanctification is something that happens to an individual. It stems from God and is not something an individual can initiate on their own. Thus the protagonist can’t easily be proactive in this theme and these other themes dominate.

      The movie that came most readily to my mind was Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child. The tasks he has to work through are a type of sanctification but even they seem more like part of a larger Predestination theme.

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