Baylor professor examines award-winning films for similar themes
At the 85th Oscar Academy Awards last week, there were a number of movies nominated for Best Picture. Some of these movies however, had much more in common than a nomination for Best Picture.
Dr. Greg Garrett, professor of English, pointed out that the nominees, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and Life of Pi, all have a common message: perseverance in the everyday life.
“In each of the films, as in our lives, characters are presented with tasks to be performed, often over the long haul, but they have to be performed moment by moment,” Garrett said.
These nominees have similar themes of getting up in the morning and doing the work. Garrett uses the films Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty as prime examples for this message.
“One doesn’t jump, for example, from the hell of prison, at the beginning of Les Miserables, to Heaven at the end,” he said. “Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has to make the journey in small, faithful steps. Same with Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty. As she pursues her goal of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, she has to get up every morning and do the work.”
Olathe, Kan., senior Kendall Kaut saw most of the movies, but there was one movie that he felt portrayed the theme especially well.
“Les Miserables,” he said. “Anne Hathaway’s decision to keep going in a life full of struggle as she faced continuous violence and sexual assault until she knew her daughter would be cared for. That was an excellent example of perseverance.”
Argo ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Garrett said he had predicted it to win because it was well made and thoughtful. Although Garrett predicted Argo to win Best Picture, he said there was another movie which appealed to him the most and carried out the theme of perseverance the best.
“Silver Linings Playbook was the most powerful and entertaining of all the films for me,” he said. “I resonated with the message of perseverance through mental illness and depression that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence embodied because of my own history of depression. I think the film could be a powerful example of hope to those in pain.”
Garrett said that Life of Pi and Les Miserables focus more on the spiritual and religious aspect of perseverance while some of the other films don’t necessarily do the same.
“In movies like Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty, the spirituality element isn’t explicit, although that doesn’t mean we can’t draw spiritual wisdom from it. As my friend and Baylor colleague Ralph Wood says, the job of a story is not to sermonize; it is to tell a story.”
Garrett teaches his students in his English courses how characters work their way through stories just like those among the Oscar nominees.
“In my writing classes we talk about ‘character arc’, how a character goes from point A to point Z during the course of a story,” he said. “That happens in bits and chunks. People don’t move from A to Z, but from A to B and B to C. Most great stories are told bit by bit.”
Garrett said people around Baylor can apply the message of perseverance to their daily lives. He said with Baylor being a Christian school, students and faculty should focus on the religion aspect of it.
“I’d draw their attention to the elements in the Christian tradition about living faithfully in Christian community and works day by day,” he said. “When I’m being conscious of the message, it’s because I’m reminding myself about how tradition teaches us how to live. Christianity is not a once-a-week attendance, but a 24/7 journey.”
Garrett has written other articles on the Oscar‘s including one that was published online in the religion section of the Huffington Post. Aside from his work on the Oscar’s, Garrett has written three critically-acclaimed novels and his work on culture, religion, and politics is known internationally.
He is currently working on a book for Oxford University Press on how depictions of the afterlife in literature and culture have shaped out belief and daily life.