Sunday Matinee #24 Reservoir Dogs
In a highly-talkative movie, one tiny pep talk sticks out.
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Quotes with Notes
Full Text: Genesis 21:8-21 (Revised Common Lectionary)
4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 25, 2023)
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Context: Earlier in Genesis, Sarah sends her husband Abraham to her servant Hagar to father a child, despite God’s promise she would have a child someday herself. That child is Ishmael. Now, Sarah has given birth to Abraham’s second son, Isaac. Sarah sends Hagar and Ishmael away, which troubles everyone involved but her. Out in the wilderness, at a loss of what to do next, Hagar is ready to give up when she hears a voice speak to her a promise of hope.
17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”
Reservoir Dogs | 1992 Live Entertainment, Dog Eat Dog Productions | IMDB
Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Context: After a jewel heist gone bad, the surviving members of a 6-man job try to figure out who the rat is. By now, we as an audience know who it is based on actions we see them take against one of their fellow survivors. Next, we get flashbacks of this rat as he trained to be an undercover cop. Here, he’s about to step fully into the mobster world and he takes one last look in the mirror to give himself a pep talk.
Freddy Newandyke: [reassuring himself in the mirror] They don't know. They don't know shit. You're not gonna get hurt. You're fucking Barretta. They believe every fucking word 'cause you're super cool.
I’m a big fan of the pep talk. Get one from a coach or therapist, or a parent or partner, or give yourself one. Or watch Ted Lasso. Whatever, just listen to a pep talk about the kind of person you are. Why? Because we don’t always remember. Sometimes we only remember our mistakes, our faults and deficits, or the narrative box other people places us in through their perspective. We need to learn from our mistakes, we can often work on our deficits, but ultimately we must remember who we are: beloved children of God.
This moment is Genesis is a challenging moment in the story of Abraham and Sarah’s family. We want to root for them, yet we may not like their choices here. Sarah sends away her servant Hagar and her son, Ishmael, to seemingly protect her own son, Isaac. This is despite her being the one to send Abraham to Hagar in the first place. At this, Abraham is upset, but doesn’t stop it. Again, another choice we may not like here.
When Hagar wanders in the wilderness, she is lost - in her heart, at least. Despondent, she’s ready to give up. God does not forget her or her son, however. Hagar receives a message of hope - a pep talk - that she and her son will survive. In fact, God will make a great nation from her son. We don’t see much of this nation building in the Bible, but those who read the Koran will find Ishmael a prominent presence in Islam. A reminder here, that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all believe God made a covenant with Abraham. And, one could read that covenant moment as a pep talk, as well.
Going undercover can’t be easy. Freddie has been doing his best in Reservoir Dogs, but if he isn’t careful he’ll be in over his head soon. As the movie progresses, we go from “Who’s the rat?!” to “Oh, he’s the rat!” to “How did he become the rat?” to “Are they going to find out he’s the rat?” Flashbacks to Freddie’s undercover training and interactions with the other guys on the job help explain how he got hired for the job and how he built relationships. They also show how he cooled his jets so he could do this work.
This brief pep talk, looking at himself in the mirror, is one of the only moments Freddie has alone in the movie. It’s a quiet scene, his words gravelly and uttered through clenched teeth. You get the sense he wants to believe it more than he actually believes it. Still, it’s the pep talk he has as he steps out the door and into the world of the mob.
In both of these pep talks, people are reminded of their full identity. Ishmael isn’t to be discarded; a great nation will come from him. Freddie isn’t dead meat; he’s cool and he can do this work and it will matter. A pep talk can remind us of our motivations, and spur us to take action. Not just action - but the right action.
When was a time you had to give yourself a pep talk? What did you remind yourself and how did it go? What about a time when someone else gave you a pep talk? Did they motivate you and how did that go? What about God? When you pray, or have a still moment, or however you connect with the holy, how has God manifested for you? Can you say you felt a sense of “pep talk” about who you are? May you remember: you are a beloved child of God. And if you need that pep talk again, no shame in reading it again and again.
A Word of Encouragement
Be kind to yourself and watch out for each other. May what you seek be found, and may what is found have an abundance of love at its center. And to today’s preachers, may the sermon you crafted and the prayers you lift reveal the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s peace and good movies to you!
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