blog: archive

February 17, 2008


Movie Night at Riverwood - Babette’s Feast

by Jimmy Hopper

Babetteâ??s Feast is literally a feast of theological and human insight played out in this beautiful movie. The overriding theme is that the totality and immensity of Godâ??s grace and mercy allows us to live in joy and with grace and alone gives us the ability to forgive others. The corollary is that seeing grace as miserly, narrow and needing our works to be complete causes Christians to be narrow minded, joyless and unforgiving. Here are some questions of interest to interact with and address, but given the depth of the movie, you probably have other ideas to put forth. Also, your impressions of the movie as a movie and as theology would be very interesting. Let everyone know what you think about the movie and the idea of grace it puts out.

â?¢ The hymn of the little church contained their credo and spoke of the coming of the new Jerusalem at the end of time. Did the church membersâ?? almost total concentration on this improve their ministry or did it in fact create obstacles in their mind?

â?¢ The hymn uses Jesusâ?? illustration of giving your son a stone when he asks for bread. Is there an irony in singing this given their concentration on austerity as being proper and â??holyâ? before the feast?

â?¢ The most enthusiastic participant at the dinner and the one who delivers the speech about the grace of God is the worldly general. Why is this the case? Consider this in the light of the story in Luke 7 in which the one forgiven much loves much.

â?¢ Martine and Philippa turn away from love and art respectively, believing that it would be displeasing to God. What, if anything, does the dinner and through it, the discovery of the richness of grace teach them about these decisions? What can we learn from it?

â?¢ There was much shock, concern and even revulsion about the turtle, the â??reptile,â? among the people, that was even expressed in the nightmare of the sister. Consider this in light of Peterâ??s vision about the sheet coming down from heaven with â??uncleanâ? animals in Acts 10. The turtle soup was enjoyed first by the outsider, the worldly General, then by the church. Is the â??goodnessâ? of Godâ??s grace in His provision for Gentiles an adequate explanation for the focus of the movie on this aspect of the feast?

â?¢ The entrée at Babetteâ??s Feast is Cailles en Sarcophage, or quail in a sarcophagus. A sarcophagus is a stone coffin. How does this relate to the imagery of communion and grace?

â?¢ Discord, dissension and backbiting had arisen in the church. How and why was this resolved by the Babetteâ??s feast?

â?¢ Fictional allegories are by nature imperfect but there are a number of ways in which Babette is a type of Christ. Remembering the imperfect nature of allegory, consider some of the following aspects:

  • Babette came to the austere coast from a much richer environment; one in which she held a more exalted place.

  • She gave everything to the preparation of the feast, saving nothing back for herself. Are there any other aspects of the movie in which this connection exists?

â?¢ The dinner symbolizes both Holy Communion and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Consider ways in which this is the case. Does the little group of twelve stand in for the church universal in this imagery?

â?¢ At the end of the movie, Babette says that she prepared the feast for herself, not for the church, and that she is a â??great artist.â? In what way would this match the allegorical type of Christ spoken of above?

â?¢ Both Philippa and Babette are told that they will practice their wonderful arts of singing and cooking in Heaven in various parts of the movie. What does this indicate to us about Heaven and how does this relate to the ideas of the little Church and the overall theme of Godâ??s overwhelming grace?

1. On or around Feb 18, 2008 at 8:20 a.m. Tim Lien said...

Jimmy, These comments will be a bit dis-jointed-- but here some quick observations (also, understand I have had the opportunity to read the short story)

1) You can't question a pious person-- because the externals point to definite good works. The sisters were inexhaustible in "good works." They helped the elderly, they were reserved, and were diligent. But when compared to the lavishness of the Gospel, moral piety comes across as worn, tired, and even stingy.

2) In the book, the sisters ask Babette, "Why did you do this for us?" Babette has a powerful reply: "For you! Ha. I didn't do it for you, I did it for myself." I think believers have been lulled into thinking that God's gracious act was really based on their existence. Even good, solid Reformed Xtians wouldn't attach God's grace to their actions, but might subtly think that Christ's work was, indeed, based on the intrinsic worth of the creation. But surpassing all reasons: the glory and pleasure of God himself.

3)No one can be sustained on ale-bread-soup moralism. It doesn't enegize someone to truly forgive. Yeah, we can be externally civil to someone for years, but to truly be overwhelmed with gracious love for someone can only be fueled by tasting the Gospel.

Great movie find: I've been saying "Why it's Blinis Demidoff! all morning.

2. On or around Feb 19, 2008 at 2:24 p.m. Dana said...

My comment may sound rather simplistic--but what struck me most throughout the feast scene was how all the characters began to actually look younger, lighter, and happier. The more the scene progressed the more pronounced this became to me. Their joy was palpable but also very evident on their faces. Even if one doesn't "talk about the taste of the food", you can't deny the effect!

This was a great movie!

3. On or around Feb 19, 2008 at 4:16 p.m. Jimmy Hopper said...

Far from simplistic, Dana, it's profound, as is the effect of the Gospel on each of us.

4. On or around Feb 20, 2008 at 9:48 p.m. Jeff Miller said...

First of all, this was a great movie on many levels. Thanks to Jimmy & Tim for bringing it forward.

Now, some random thoughts...

Anytime a leader achieves cult status, whether by their own effort or bestowal by followers, problems are bound to ensue upon their demise/departure. (cf. Jim Jones, Elvis, Ronald Reagan, Bear Bryant, etc.)

Monasticism/asceticism simply don't work. The ultimate results are almost always: 1) not simply irrelevance, but an inability to communicate to those outside the cloister. 2) the ascetic individual, having only himself as a standard, always faces the pitfall of spiritual superiority/arrogance.

We often forget that grace is not just for salvation, but for all of life. So, sometimes it seems to take an outsider (like the general) or one who has just come to terms with grace to jolt us back into 'grace reality'.

People really are sheep. If these poor few were really enlightened by true truth, why would they follow the outsider? Their confidence and faith were misplaced.

Overwhelming grace from an uncontrollable, wild Creator. What a theme!

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