Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From Highlander to Age of Adaline - Who Wants to Live Forever?

"My name is Connor Macleod of the clan
Macleod - and I have no need of life insurance."
In 1986, when the film Highlander came out, about the immortal Connor MacLeod [Christopher Lambert] and his mentor Juan Sánchez Villalobos Ramírez [Sean Connery] rock band Queen did the music for the soundtrack starring the incredible vocals of Freddy Mercury.

Unlike their previous work on Flash Gordon, it had a sweet melancholy along with the pounding rock themes. It was the first time, in a major film, that showed being immortal had a terrific price: it cost you your heart.

In this story, the problem becomes far more than personal survival & fighting against evil - the "Immortals" outlive everyone they care about. Coupled with the sad fact they also can not sire children, it guarantees a permanently lonely existence. Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever [When Love Must Die?]" was especially poignant:

Oh, one more caveat: they have to behead other immortals they encounter to get "The Quickening" that empowered them. They had a motto: "In the end, there can be only One." Yeah. That means you had to kill friends you had for centuries, sooner or later, should you choose to ignore that part of their code.

So Being Immortal = No Relationships. You get filthy rich, you can go anywhere in the world, but talk about a "cutthroat business" - sooner or later, it is kill or be killed.

"Do you think this dress
makes me look old?"
"No, dear. The date does."
Age of Adaline
The recent film Age of Adaline, starring the steadfastly sweet Blake Lively, had a slightly different take on immortality: after having a daughter, a freak accident causes her to stop aging. Set in the 20th century, we see how long it takes before others catch on and before the U.S. government wants to abduct her for "questioning" [i.e. experimentation].

She bravely escapes the snares, but has to be oh-so-careful lest anyone guess that she is far closer to 90 than to 30. One redeeming point: her daughter loves her and meets her every year on New Years Day to play catch-up. They explain to all inquirers that the older daughter is Adaline's mother, and she is the daughter. So Adaline preserves a singular relationship but has to lie and keep moving every so often thanks to her "blessing" which many would kill for.

Funny thing is, in both of these films, the years of unaging physical power or beauty are written to have the same resolution: they cease being immortals, begin to age and recoup the ability to have children.

That's their victory: becoming normal again.

I don't know if I count that as a total victory. Normal, yes certainly. But as Woody Allen once responded to the suggestion he would achieve immortality through his work:
“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”
We want to live, don't we? But even moreso, we hate to begin aging past our youth. And then to begin dying.

"I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof," wrote Sir Thomas Brown in Religio Medici. I think we make films like Highlander and Age of Adeline to remind us that there are worse things than exiting this life gracefully.

It is being the last one alive with no one to love or to be loved by.

As I teach monthly at a retirement community, I speak to those who have outlived many of their friends. There is one friend they cannot outlive though.

This person is an immortal who promises that there is life - physical and real life -  to be had in the centuries to come.

He said this about his gift of life in John 10:27:
27 "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."
I love that. I love it, love it, love it.

You see, Jesus is speaking of our immortal souls being redeemed by his payment. He is speaking also of the new universe and how death will not be the power it is here. He is speaking very boldly and frankly that He Has The Power to Make Us Immortals.

The immortality he offers differs from our two films, however. Did you notice he used plural forms? "My sheep hear my voice... they follow me"? He says 'they' and that implies you will not be an immortal in a relational vacuum, able to live forever but never able to get close to anyone.

You see, as Freddy Mercury so wonderfully sang "Who wants to live forever/When love must die?" he is singing of here and now, where being immortal is unnatural.

Jesus is talking about heaven and having an eternity before you where death is unnatural. In fact, it no longer exists for anyone.

So when you think about eternity or possibly living forever, consider the environment. Living on Earth forever would be too painful to describe if you are the only immortal. Living in a new heavens and earth in a new body that never ages would be a boon. It would be awesome because all those people would be lovers of God and Christ who's trusted him.

Jesus grants eternal life to his sheep.

Tell him you want to be his sheep. Say "Baaaahhhh!"

Because in the end, there can be only One...shepherd.


[Cue "Immortals" from Big Hero 6]

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