Monday, August 10, 2020

A Glimpse of Otherness

"It's only through art that you're able to glimpse otherness." - Guillermo del Toro

A few weeks ago I picked up a book by Guillermo del Toro called Cabinet of Curiosities, which is a collection of entries from his notebooks where he works out ideas for his films, as well as explanations for how or whether they were used or changed or filed away for later.

As a notebook keeper myself, I find it interesting to read others' notebooks to see how they use them. Before del Toro's book, I read David Sedaris' Theft By Finding, which I've written about before.

Del Toro seems to approach his notebooks like works of art that he'll hand down to his daughters. He keeps them with an eye toward who will look through them later. A quick search on Instagram will reveal he's far from the only one. I personally am more of the Austin Kleon philosophy that notebooks are experimental spaces--things where you work out ideas before refining them for presentation to a wider audience.

While it was certainly interesting to see early concepts of his movie ideas, the parts of the book I found most intriguing were when he shared his philosophy of moviemaking and art in general. 

At one point, he says:

One of the biggest lessons Leonardo [da Vinci] leaves for all creators is that man is the work of art. Obviously, the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece. The Vitruvian Man, The Last Supper--both masterpieces. We can all agree on that. But Leonardo--the man, the anatomist, the designer, the architect, the scientist--is the real masterpiece. He is his ultimate creation. So live well. Be curious and hungry and always in awe of the world.

As much as del Toro's movies are about ghosts and monsters, they tend to be about humanity much more. Pan's Labyrinth, for instance, is in one sense about a fantastic world into which the main character falls again and again. But it's more about the violence of humanity and the ways we hold ourselves up at the expense of others.

People aren't always open to seeing how art shows us otherness. Christians in particular shy away from it, preferring the saccharine safety of Thomas Kincaide to stuff that may truly challenge us. I once overheard two ladies in a bookstore complain about a play about C.S. Lewis because it included some elements that made them uncomfortable.

Art that is worthwhile will expose us to otherness, to angles of life we hadn't considered before. 

Christians in particular need to sit with otherness, because Jesus often sat with it. He sat--and frequently ate--with those considered "other:" those outside the boundaries of social and religious propriety. He stayed at tax collector Zaccheus' house. He sat with a Samaritan woman at a well. He embraced lepers. He broke Sabbath rules so that people could experience greater healing and wholeness. And all of these instances were expressions of God's grace made real in the world, to the chagrin and scandal of power brokers.

Christianity is often at its worst when used as a brand to prop up systems that cause people to be "other" to begin with.

(I write about that more in Wonder and Whiskey.)

When people of faith allow themselves a glimpse of otherness, we become instruments of God's love, peace, and justice. And in doing so, we can help people better realize what it means to be human.