As the Book of Job has been the Old Testament lectionary reading for the month of October, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. And it’s led me to also think quite a bit about the film The Graduate, and how alike they are.
I know that probably sounds crazy. How can an ancient text about incredible loss, suffering, renowned poetry, exemplary righteousness and GOD have anything to do with the iconic 1960’s sex comedy about sleeping with your dad’s best friend’s wife, falling in love with her daughter and having a first date at a strip club where performers are able to twirl their bodies in ways you never before thought possible?
Well, for starters, neither has much to do with plastics.
And for another thing, both involve main characters living very well in a stable happy world who are then thrown suddenly and completely unexpectedly into a world they’ve never known before, one that is endlessly unfriendly, chaotic and painful. Nightmarish in every way.
And for another thing, both of these stories are satires. They mock the status quo and conventional wisdom by making their character’s journeys into lost-ness “over-the-top” in scope so as to look ridiculous.
That’s probably pretty obvious with The Graduate. Sleeping with your parent’s best friend’s wife who makes clear she doesn’t care about you one iota and does it out of over-the-top boredom and depression while you do it because you are just that at-wits-end about what next to do with your life, is a darkly amusing push-back to the suggestion of “plastics.”
In the Book of Job, maybe the satire is not so clear. But if you take a look through the Comic Lens….
…You will note first of all the “test” God allows Satan to “give” to Job to prove his faithfulness is so extreme it’s absurd. We’re told at the start Job has 10 of everything (10 is the perfect number). In but a moment it’s all taken from him and then some. He’s relegated to an ash heap scraping a body ridden with sores.
The conversations his friends and he then embark upon to try and figure out why this has happened, while beautiful in language, profound in logic and powerfully searing in emotion, go nowhere. His friends can’t stop insisting this sudden downturn of events must be the result of something Job did.
(Fortunately, Job isn’t a Cub fan so at least we don’t have to be reminded here it may have something to do with a billy goat, but I digress….)
Job’s responses to his friends go nowhere either. Actually, he doesn’t really respond; rather, just complains and complains and complains that his plight is grossly unfair. He can’t say enough about how cruel God can be. He could go on forever.
Until God comes down and harangues with His equally elegant and LONG “whirlwind speech” that doesn’t respond to anything his friends or he have said but does shut everyone up with the always irrefutable go-to last word: “I’m God and you’re not so there!”
These all combine to make for a very long, magnificently dense, 38-chapter“non-conversation”, that, at the end of the day, is as empty and drolly unsatisfying as the sole conversation Benjamin tries to have with Mrs. Robinson – the one where she agrees to talk about art, then says she has nothing to say about the subject (except to finally admit her college major was art).
Then there is the way both of these pieces end. At first glance they seem to suggest a very happy ending.
But are they really happy???
It is pretty clear that the ending of The Graduate is actually one big “Huh?” Benjamin rescues Elaine from her wedding to a boring law student and they escape to a passing school bus, giving one another looks that become increasingly less thrilled, joyful and warm and more quizzical, fearful and cold. But not completely…we don’t necessarily think things are for sure going to be bad for them as they move onward with their lives, now together; we just don’t know.
The same is really true for Job. While he is finally restored to most-excellent circumstances – God bestows upon Job twice as much stuff as before and 10 exceptionally beautiful (new) children – we are nevertheless left with a giant “huh?” as we toddle down Scripture Road, ie turn the page.
After all, this “test” that God has allowed Satan to perform has led to the deaths of all of Job’s original progeny and livestock and animals. How can a good and loving God allow testing to go that far? At least when Abraham was tested with sacrificing Isaac a ram was found.
While Job is invariably floating around in his Ancient Near Eastern counterpart to a backyard swimming pool upon an ANE counterpart to an inflatable raft holding a cup filled with some libation warranting an accessorizing ANE counterpart to a toothpick umbrella, does he feel uneasy that so many perished for him to now be where he is? Does he wonder how a loving gracious God could allow this to happen, even if God is God and he isn’t? And could he not be at least a little angry and frustrated that God never really responded to his pleas for connection as he sat alone and abandoned on that ash heap?
Perhaps Job now experiences God’s goodness in a much grander, beyond-language sense, because his encounter with God was nothing like he expected or can really make logical sense of, and that’s okay, that’s great! But it’s soo not the direction we would expect the story between a most righteous man and his supposedly always-compassionate Lord would take….
Both of The Graduate and the Book of Job seem to tell us no matter where we think life is or should be taking us, the bets are always off. Efforts to figure out why may very well be doomed to fail. Happiness is certainly possible, but it won’t look like and very well may not feel like anything we expect. Or even want to admit.
And when you think about it, that’s actually a really good ending. The best ending a satire can come up with, anyway.
And, if I may add just a couple more words at the present juncture….it’s the best ending for a Cub fan….