Compact: A New Post-liberal Magazine
"Es ist vollbracht" -- "It is finished" (Bach, St. John Passion)

"Run, y'all!"

Another one of the many bits of C.S. Lewis's writings that rattle around in my head is one in which he discusses a phenomenon which troubled his youthful Christianity: he was not able to feel things that he was told, or at least that he felt, he should feel. It may be in Surprised By Joy. Or maybe it's a discussion of his reasons for writing allegorically in the Narnia stories.

Anyway, I have the same problem. In a few days I'll be attending various Holy Week liturgies, and in some of them, especially the Stations of the Cross on Friday, I will be contemplating the Crucifixion and quite likely, depending on the texts, be reciting words that say I'm weeping, filled with grief, and so on. But for the most part I won't actually be feeling these things. For whatever reasons, having to do with long familiarity but not only limited to that, I don't feel the intense emotions I rightly should feel about the Passion. I don't mean that I'm indifferent, and sometimes  am touched, but mostly my reaction is somewhat abstract: I think very cosmic thoughts about the awesome significance of it, rather than feel simple human grief for this innocent who is so wrongly tortured and killed.

I did feel those emotions very powerfully once, long ago, watching a TV show. Sixty years is a long time not only to remember a TV show but to be touched again by the pity and sorrow which it produced. I'm pretty sure I would find myself having difficulty speaking if I were to try to tell the story out loud. 

The show was the old General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. I thought I remembered that much, and thanks to the Internet I was able to find more exact information: the episode was called "The Patsy," and it was first broadcast in February of 1960. So I was eleven years old. 

It starred Sammy Davis, Jr., whose name is probably not as well known as it once was, at least not to younger people. He was one of the most successful and best-known black actors of the time--well-known even in comparison to his fellow members of the "Rat Pack"--Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others. In the show, Davis is the titular "patsy" (a dupe, a scapegoat, the butt of jokes--I point that out in case that old bit of slang is no longer generally known). He plays the only black member of a squad of soldiers. He's naive and maybe somewhat simple-minded, and the other men are constantly making fun of him, playing practical jokes on him, and so forth. If I remember correctly he does his best to take it good-naturedly but is clearly hurt by it.

In the final prank, one of the men drops a grenade which everyone but the patsy knows to be a dummy. The others feign fear and move away. The patsy throws himself down on the grenade and lies there yelling "Run, y'all! Run!," waiting in terror for it to go off. When he realizes it isn't going to, he just lies there, sobbing, still muttering "Run." 

At least that's the way I remember it. As a boy growing up in that post-World-War-II time, I had heard of this act of heroism, seen it enacted in movies. The thought of such a self-sacrifice was always moving, but what made it so very much so in this case was that the one giving his life was despised and rejected of men.

*

I won't be posting again until next Monday. But I'm not going offline completely (probably should), and will still see comments, and respond if/when inclined.

Comments

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Oddly enough, the movie that most affects me in this way is Edward Scissorhands. There are scenes in that movie that make me unbearably sad.

AMDG

I've never seen it.

I choked up just reading your text description.

Me too.

I wouldn't have chosen to watch it. I suppose one of my children had it on.

I do remember The Patsy.

AMDG

You actually saw it back in 1960? And remember it? Wow--because you're several years younger than me.

Two. I might have seen it in later reruns. I might be confusing it with something else, but I don't think so.

AMDG

Impressive, anyway, even if you were nine. :-) "rerun" is kind of a disappearing concept. "summer reruns"--I guess that's over, even for Regular TV.

Sam Cooke was in "The Patsy," too. According to YouTube.

You can watch it on YouTube?

It was just a clip.

There doesn't even seem to be a regular season, but they do rerun shows in the summer.

AMDG

There are some very sad/painful movies which I thought were powerful but to me are too harrowing to watch again. The Pianist comes immediately to mind -- very glad I watched it once but would most likely never watch it again. Maybe The Green Mile. And although I've not seen it, I've heard similar comments from others about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. That and Schindler's List are two movies I've purposely avoided because I have the feeling I'd find them unbearable. Ditto things like 12 Years a Slave.

There are elements in the TV show Rectify that are like that, but because they do such a good job of weaving a redemptive thread though the thing, I found the pain on display easier to bear. They don't wallow in the sadness, and the redemption angle never comes across as cheap or facile.

I've not watched Edward Scissorhands since it first came out on video way back when, but I remember finding it very moving. Probably should watch it again.

I've never seen any of those except part of Rectify. I avoid Holocaust and slavery movies for the same reasons. It's not like I need to be informed of how horrible they were, and the experience of watching a movie about either is likely to be very unpleasant without providing any compensation.

I bailed out on Rectify partly for those "elements" but also partly because I just didn't much like the main character, or much of anything else about it. It was well done and all, just...a matter of personal taste I guess.

"I avoid Holocaust and slavery movies for the same reasons. It's not like I need to be informed of how horrible they were, and the experience of watching a movie about either is likely to be very unpleasant without providing any compensation."

Yeah, I feel the same way. Learned that lesson with The Pianist.

Helpless and hopeless suffering does not make good drama. Sounds kind of cold to say that, I guess, but it's true. The helplessness and hopelessness extend to the viewer.

Like reading 1984?

I wouldn't say that. It's grim and it ends badly (to say the least), but there's movement.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes about lying in bed and praying, and believing that his prayers were insufficient unless he had a realization (I think that's the word.). It was some kind of feeling that he couldn't always produce or experience. It kept him awake and suffering, so when someone explained to him why there was no God, or some such thing, he gladly grasped at that escape.

AMDG

It is much easier for me to read things like that than to watch them. I haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned. Or maybe I saw the beginning of The Pianist.

AMDG

I agree, about reading vs watching.

Funny you mention that Lewis bit, as I just read it yesterday, while looking for something else. It really was horrible. I understood it to be a compulsion to feel that he had fully attended to every single word. He would get to the end of his prayers and not be sure that he had done that perfectly and have to start over.

Fully attended to and sincerely meant.

"It's grim and it ends badly (to say the least), but there's movement."

Not sure what you mean by "movement", but both my wife and my son, who just read the book, don't agree with the last part.

I'm not sure what "the last part" refers to. But what I mean by movement is dramatic movement, across the whole length of the book. It's been a long time since I read it, so I don't remember many details, but it's not just a more or less static picture of miserable life in a totalitarian state. Smith has kind of an awakening, gets involved in a rebellion of some kind, and has a love affair. It's not an either-or thing--of course a dramatist can embed an individual story in a holocaust or slavery narrative, and I'm sure there are many, or at least some, successes (artistically speaking). But in my limited experience the tendency is just to kind of pound away at the portrayal of how awful those situations were, and those who aren't deliberately obtuse are well aware of it. The holocaust especially: you know before a holocaust story begins that almost everyone is going to suffer horribly and then die.

"I agree, about reading vs watching."

Ditto.

One of the things I liked most about Rectify was its handling of the faith element. I'm not sure whether the writer/creator is a Christian or not, but he's definitely familiar with the Evangelical milieu and portrays it pretty sympathetically, which is quite a rarity in the media these days. The one major character who is a devoted believer is neither an ignoramus nor a hypocrite/crypto-villain -- that in itself is a small cause for rejoicing. While watching the show the first time I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop in regards to that character, but to my great surprise and pleasure, it never did.

That is indeed both surprising and pleasing.

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