I had the joy recently of re-watching Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? This movie follows the journey of three convicts, Ulysses, Pete, and Delmar, as they escape from prison in search of treasure. The first person they meet as they flee is a blind man who prophecies that they will find their treasure, though not the one they seek. He also tells them that they will see many wonders, not the least of which will be a cow atop a cotton mill. While their journey seems to keep circling the prison that they escaped from, it will transform all but one of the escapees.
The three convicts are not very bright. This is revealed as they try to catch a moving train. The three are chained together and Ulysses Everett McGill, played by George Clooney, scrambles aboard while the other two, played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, continue to run along side. Instead of helping the other two aboard, Ulysses begins to practice his ever-present gift of gab with the people already in the freight car. One of his companions trips and pulls him out of the train by his leg chain. Ouch, that hurt. The three have escaped because Ulysses has a huge stash from a robbery hidden on a farm that is about to be flooded for a new hydroelectric dam. A sheriff who doubles for the deal making devil himself is hounding them.
This film is a spiritual journey at its heart. The filmmakers tell us just after the credits that the film is based on Homer’s Odyssey. The Ulysses of the epic poem insults the gods and is forced to journey in circles, trying to reach home before his wife remarries. This new Ulysses journeys in circles as he tries to evade God, trying to get home before his wife remarries. There are other parallels such as a one-eyed Cyclops, a blind prophet, and sirens. But it is easy to make too much of the Homer references and miss the point that this is the journey of a person who is going out of his way to deny the reality of God in the face of obvious miracles and answered prayer.
The central characters are well sculpted and captivating. Turturro and Nelson give amazing slack-jawed performances. These two are poorly educated and simple in their tastes. Nelson’s character, Delmar, shares that when he gets his large share of the money, enough to retire on, he wants to open a restaurant and wait on people. Though simple, they are deeply affected by passions, religious and otherwise. When his two companions are baptized, washing away their guilt and transgressions (and in their mind the robberies they’ve committed), Ulysses ridicules them. Later, when they’ve been caught and are about to be hung, Ulysses breaks out in a fervent prayer for forgiveness and deliverance. When the deliverance comes, he immediately returns to his skepticism. And yet, there are things he just can’t explain. Not unlike (I think) most people.
In the end of the movie, the prophecies from the first scene of the movie come to pass. The characters’ have made their journey, found God (although they may not yet fully understand what they have found), and found rest. All that is except Ulysses himself. He explains away the God that has rescued him from death. His journey has not brought rest, and we end the movie with him being sent back out on his quest. We can only hope he fairs better the second time.
Many become followers of Jesus because they learned that God has shaped a peculiar vacuum inside of them – a vacuum shaped liked God. Nothing satisfies that vacuum except God Himself. You can put money, fame, possessions, wealth, power, achievement, sex, and anything you want into the vacuum, but it doesn’t fit. Only God fills it, fits it, and satisfies it. Read John 4:13-14 and 1 John 5:11-12. The water Jesus gives offers the possibility for redemption, hope, the promise for something good to happen, and a life well lived. Jesus extends you an invitation. Walk wisely.
Love is a verb,