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Ruby Sparks (2012)
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Language including some sexual references, and for some drug use
Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Elliott Gould, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Alia Shawkat, Asif Mandvi, Wallace Langham, Deborah Ann Woll, Toni Trucks
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing -- as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Zoe Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living,
Ruby Sparks (2012) | Review
On one level Ruby Sparks is a reimagining of the Pygmalion myth of a sculptor who falls in love with his creation. This legend has inspired storytellers through the years—perhaps most famously George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, which gave rise to the film My Fair Lady. In the current film Calvin, a young writer who has met with early success, is struggling in his writing. He begins to have dreams of a woman and as he writes about her he finds he is falling in love with her, even though she is fictional. But one day he wakes up, and there she is in his house. Is he losing his mind or has something magical happened? In fact she is real and he can control everything about her. But is that fair? Can what they have truly be love if it came from his typewriter?
Going a bit deeper into the Pygmalion theme, we can consider a bit about love and to what extent we love illusions we create. Early on Calvin relates why he hasn't been dating. His perception is that women aren't really interested in him per se, but "in some idea of me." Later in the film, when he runs into his ex-girlfriend, she claims part of their problem was that he wanted her to be an image of him. Romantic love is often as much an expression of our own images and ideas of another person as it is about reality. That may be part of the reason passion can cool over time as the reality begins to push aside the "reality" we have created.
What really interested me as I watched was that this serves as an introduction to and critique of Calvinism. (I can't believe the name of the key character is coincidence.) One of the best known aspects of Calvinism is the idea of predestination. (This is a part of a wider philosophical discussion of free will and determinism). A sovereign God must have control of our lives. All we are and our decisions originate in God. (Yes, this is a vast oversimplification, but it will serve for the purposes of discussion.) Calvin has complete control over Ruby. All he has to do is type out a sentence or two about her and it comes to be.
It is of note that Calvin works on a typewriter. There is something permanent about words on a physical page as opposed to on a screen. It is almost as though things are being written in stone. We should also note that, as in Genesis 1, creation comes through words. In many ways Calvin is a bit of a God figure, albeit a somewhat inept God, throughout the film.
So we are able to reflect here about what it means to speak of a God who creates us and cares for us. Certainly Calvin loves Ruby and is warmed by her love and devotion to him. But as time passes and the devotion is tempered, how can Calvin rekindle it? Well, of course he can write new things in Ruby's story. In one scene, Calvin sits at his typewriter writing as Ruby tells of her love for everything about him and how wonderful he is. She has no control over what she says and does. But can it be satisfying for him to know that she only responds because he has forced it on her? Can God be satisfied that we love God because we have been predestined to love God?
The question of free will and determinism is far deeper than just the ideas of Calvinism. But as it relates to the Christian ideas of God, there has always been a tension between the idea that God is in total control of the cosmos and our lives, and the idea that we have the ability to freely choose or refuse to be in relationship with God. Often we find seek a middle ground by viewing free will as a gift given to us by God. That God turns our story over to us.
Ruby Sparks gives us a pleasant entry into some deeply theological reflections. We may consider the "Great Author of Life" and what it means for us to think of God in that way. For some it may be comforting to know that God has a plan for us. For others it may seem like oppression. For still others it may be the beginning of a great love story.
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