Monday, May 09, 2005

some thoughts on About A Boy

Nick Hornby is one of my favourite writers and I'm looking forward to getting hold of his new book which has just been published. Tonight I watch About A Boy, which I think is one of the best films I've ever seen (I've seen it several times now) - its such a brilliant story and apt for our times. Other on konnected I posted an article back in 2003 on the film. I've reproduced here for comment.

'no man is an island' : some thoughts on About A Boy

The film About A Boy begins with the main character Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) outlining his philosophy of life: '. . . And in my opinion all men are islands and what's more now's the time to be one. This is an island age. A hundred years ago, for instance, you had to depend on other people . . . I like to think I'm pretty cool. I like to think I'm Ibizia.'
The story is all about Will learning through his unique relationship with Marcus that we all need other people, or perhaps more theologically, we were created to be in relationship with other people, and to try and function as an individual is to go against what it is to be a person.

Will Freeman believes in the creed of individualism, that is, 'I only need myself to be myself'. Will thinks of himself as an 'island', detached, isolated and unconnected to any other persons: 'He didn't want to meet Imogen, or know who Barney was, and he didn't want to hear about Christine's tiredness, and there wasn't anything else to them anymore. He wouldn't be bothering with them again' (Nick Hornby, About A Boy, 1998, 17). We find Will isn't interested in other people, only in himself. Will doesn't like the intrusion of other people into life, especially a young boy like Marcus. He's happy by himself. As Colin Gunton has said: 'individualism is a non-relational creed, because it teaches that I do not need my neighbour to myself' (The One, the Three and the Many, 1993, 32).

The film follows Will's journey, through his relationship with Marcus, from a belief in individualism to recognising that other people are important and even necessary to being yourself. So halfway through the film Will is at Marcus' home for Christmas with Marcus' mum and an odd collection of guests. Will's voiceover says, 'as I sat there, I had a strange feeling. I was enjoying myself . . . But Christmas at Marcus' gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.' Will at this point is still unable to recognise that it is a sense of community, that is, of being with other people that is the cause of this enjoyment and warm fuzzy feeling. By the end of the film though, Will is having Christmas at his house and is surrounded by a group of friends and is even contemplating marriage(!) He says, 'Every man is an island. I stand by that. But, clearly, some men are part of island chains. Below the surface of the ocean they are actually connected.'

About A Boy teaches us the lesson that being in relationship with people is important, that we cannot exist by ourselves, we need 'backup' to use Marcus' final words in the film. In a world which believes and shouts 'I don't need anyone', the church needs to be a beacon - a light to the world - that we need other persons to be ourselves. A true community is one where the relationships enable and encourage people to be themselves. Why are relationships so important? Because this is what God is like. God is triune, by which I mean he is a community of loving relations - Father, Son and Spirit, and he has created us to participate (take part) in himself, in God. This is the image of God in us - a need for the other, meaning both God and other human persons. We are only truly ourselves when we are in relationship, or to put it another way, relationships - good and bad - make us who we are. Colin Gunton, the theologian quoted above, says 'it is an inescapable feature of our human situation that we are freed or enslaved by the way others love or hate us, thus enabling us to become or preventing us from becoming the people we were created to be'(The Christian Faith, 2002, 45). That is, relationships shape our identity, they allow us or inhibit us from being our true selves.

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