"Enchanted" and the art of cynicism

I have been wrestling a lot with the idea of cynicism and hope. I think it goes without saying (even though I’m going to say it anyway) that our generation has cynicism down to an art. We’re even cynical about being cynical. We can tear things apart to no end. Sarcasm is our generation’s language.

Lately, I’m finding that, rather than move toward and engage in cynicism (which up until now has become an increasingly favorite pastime of mine), I’ve been wanting to run toward hope and move forward.

I heard someone say recently that even though we’ve got cynicism down to art, it’s our starting point that really counts. Do we approach things from a starting point of love or suspicion? Can we meet disappointment with grace? Are we willing to build up over what we’ve torn down?

I saw the movie Enchanted recently and was fully prepared to swallow its sugary, cheesiness in all its saccharine, Disney glory. As many of you know, I have a soft spot for musicals and tend to be more forgiving toward easy answers when they’re cloaked in song and dance. Because often times, musicals surprise me and turn out to be more complex than they initially appear.

For those of you who haven’t seen Enchanted, let me sum up. The film is about a princess named Giselle who lives in the fairy tale land of Andalasia. By a stroke of an evil plot thanks to her evil stepmother-to-be, she’s whisked away and thrown unceremoniously into Times Square in NYC, a place where we hear that there “are no happy endings.” She brings her wide-eyed charm and enthusiasm for life and love into cynical New York and eventually captures the heart of a jaded lawyer, played by Patrick Dempsey.

The movie pokes fun at its more naïve, innocent days of cell-animated princesses who had woodland creatures that helped sew and tidy up while she–and her slightly too large eyes and angular features and a pretty dress–waited for some smooth, singing looker on a horse to whisk her away into the sunset. Despite the obvious absurdity of someone like Giselle being thrown into postmodern urban life, her energy and innocence is simply infectious. Patrick Dempsey’s character, aghast at Giselle’s unshakable belief in true love and happy endings at one point quips, “It’s like you escaped from a Hallmark greeting card or something.” And she replies: “Is that bad?”

In a strange way, the movie Enchanted kind of helped personify hope for me. The film to me turned out to be an unlikely window into our culture. We poke fun at our younger, naïve days. We realize that often times relationships don’t lead to where we thought they would, and that “true love” is a myth that at best is a fantasy that can never be, or at worst a lie fed to us by media in a subverted attempt to promote commercialism. Or as Jim Carrey’s character says in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favorite movies of all times: “Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies in order to make people feel like crap.”

In true Disney form, the film eventually abandons its light self-mockery (which never reaches Shrek-like proportions) and resolves into typical fashion, where dreams come true and people find happiness… but for some reason it didn’t strike me as being untrue or inconsistent with reality.

The truth is, we all have plenty to be cynical about. You can be cynical about everything from the Chicago Cubs, relationships, up through the state of the church, world hunger and poverty. But the point is our starting point… Do we begin from a starting point of love or suspicion? Hope or cynicism? And do we decide to build up what we’ve torn down?

That is why I walked out of the movie strangely feeling happy and at peace with life (well apart from the songs that were either so darn catchy or genuinely moving: note the classic Disney ballroom dancing scene).

I’ve become cynical over the years about falling in love, the church, stability, family, even the state of my own wretched self’s attempt to be a Christ follower… Some of my cynicism is justified, some not so justified.

But the point is I have a responsibility to hope, to dream, to plan, to build, to LOVE. I have the PRIVILEGE of these things.

And I’d rather not waste them, not while I have life left in me…

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