Garden State: Good or Bad?

In our second to last post exploring how to engage with culture we will be evaluating the film Garden State

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. Remember the four key questions that we use in our evaluation:

  1. What does this tell us  about God?
  2. What does this tell us about man?
  3. What does this tell us about man’s greatest problem?
  4. What does this propose for the solution to man’s greatest problem?

From here we would then compare those answers to the Biblical worldview.  Let’s dive in…

What does Garden State tell us about God? Not much.  God does not make an appearance in the film.  It would seem that there is no sense of a divine presence.  The characters in the film are apparently on their own to figure out the world.

What does Garden State tell us about people? It has much to say here.  Zach Braff paints for us a crystal clear image of the fallenness of humanity. All of the characters are deeply flawed. One is a liar, one a thief, and the other on a quest to finally enter into reality.  We see the darkest realms of humanity through the quest of the characters.  The low point of the film is a journey through the heart of a hotel where you can see people behind closed doors, we witness the depths of depravity. We also learn that humanity is capable of great love.

What does Garden State offer as man’s greatest problem? Quite simply the problem is humanity itself. We find that those who are rich are just as awful as those who are poor.  We find that those who are loved well are just as broken as those who are unloved.  Humanity itself, Garden State proposes, is its own problem.

What is the solution to man’s greatest problem? The film offers the solution of forgiveness and sacrificial love. The turning point in the film is when the three main characters arrive at “The Ark” and meet the caretakers of the “Abyss”.  They find that they are content, happy, and satisfied because they love one another self-sacrificially.  It is here that the characters come to a turning point and are radically changed in their quest. The film ends by the thief sacrificing his ill gotten gains, the liar speaking truth, and the one looking for reality finally dying to self on behalf of another. All this is in the context of forgiveness given and received amongst the three and others.

There are many more themes and threads and similarly to our review of the Lion King (see Rob’s comment there) this barely scratches the surface (there are many connections to the Illiad, many sub themes, etc…).

Are there any bridges or connections to the gospel? I think there are many. This film is a great portrayal of original sin and the need for love and forgiveness.  It is imperfect in communicating these things, yet, it provides a grid for some very real and clear conversation regarding these themes.  There is not a single perfect character and every character needs love and forgiveness.  I would suggest that this film provides a fantastic jumping off point for conversation and discussion of the gospel.

There are some thematic elements (drug usage, alcohol abuse, sexual situations) that are inappropriate for young viewers and should be discerned.  However, as a presenting worldview it is significantly less harmful and may even be helpful as compared to the Lion King. That discussion is for next week.

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