Sunday Matinee #34 National Lampoon's Vacation
Plus: Last chance to take a poll before we discuss the results!
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Quotes With Notes
Full Text: Matthew 16:21-28 (Revised Common Lectionary)
14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 3, 2023)
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Context: Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and one of the disciples, Simon Peter, refuses to listen. Jesus pushes the issue, however, saying that even if news is hard to hear, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen.
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
National Lampoon’s Vacation | 1983 Warner Brothers | IMDB
Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron
Written by John Hughes | Directed by Harold Ramis
Context: The Griswold family has driven 2,460 miles cross country to spend a few days at America’s favorite family fun park. But everything. That could go wrong. Keeps. Going. Wrong. At their worst moment, the entire family just wants to go home. They make a mistake, though. They ask their husband and father, Clark (Chevy Chase) what he thinks. After trying to keep it together for days, he flips.
Clark Griswold: I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fuckin' fun park and you want to bail out! Well I'll tell you something, this is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun! I'm gonna have fun, and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much fuckin' fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your assholes! Hahaha. I gotta be crazy, I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!
Rusty Griswold: [grabs Clark's shoulder] Dad, you want an aspirin or somethin'?
Clark Griswald: ...DON'T TOOOUUCH!!!
When I started R-Rated Movie Club, I knew I would pick a lot of scripture and movie pairings where the characters in the movie emulate exemplary behavior as depicted by the figures in the Bible. I did think, though, there would likely also be times when the characters in the movie would behave in the exact opposite way the figures in the Bible do. And as the reader took in the scripture quote and the movie quote on that contrasting pairing, would readers pick up that this was intentionally in contrast, or would they be like, “Um, what?!”
Let me clear the air: this is one of those contrasting pairings!
There’s a big difference in leadership between what Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew and what Clark W. Griswold barks at his family in Vacation. Both say things that are tough to hear, but if both are supposed to be pep talks, only one of them is in the spirit of a true pep rally.
While traveling with his disciples, Jesus foretold his death. Like, a lot. It was sort of his jam. He’d tell them this was coming, that his ministry was leading to this inevitable path. For their part, they… were confused. Or said no. Like, a lot. It was sort of their jam. Right before today’s quote, Jesus foretells his death and Simon Peter says no way. To that, Jesus says don’t tempt me! Don’t even get the human concept of selfishly not doing what I have to do into my head even a little bit! I’ve got a mission and I have to fulfill it!
Jesus challenges the disciples to understand what following him means. You’ll have to give up some of the things that afford you the status quo. You’ll have to let go of some creature comforts. You’ll have to stop being on an even keel. Because this work is hard. You’ll have to deny some of that to take on this work. You’ll have to say no to some paths to follow this path. You’ll have to divest of that profit over there to invest in eternal life over here. Jesus never promises us it will be easy. He always promises us he will be with us.
Then there’s Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase). His family has been through it all on this road trip from hell. Car trouble, people trouble, dead aunt tied to the roof of the car trouble. I mean, I think we’ve all been there. Finally, when they’re so close to their destination, Wally World, the family is so upset they just want to go home. Whether they really do or not is hard to say. They may just need a pep talk to rally them.
They don’t get that. Instead, Clark goes on a ranting, F-bomb-laden tirade that would make the surliest of sailors blush. (Remember this month’s Audience Reaction Poll when I asked if we should have the TV-edited versions of movies available? The rant here is not the rant I grew up with watching on our recorded-off-the-VCR copy of the movie!) This isn’t leadership; this is losing control.
Clark eventually walks the path of reconciliation with his family. I won’t say that he really earns it because things get resolved while conveniently left unaddressed (something my kids would call “plot armor”). But I will say Clark has to deny himself if he’s going to gain back the trust of his family. That isn’t just about getting them the final miles down the road to Wally World. That’s about repairing their relationships.
The next time you’re on a pilgrimage to see a moose, go easy on yourself. And your family. And remember what Jesus said: deny yourself and take up a better path. There’s more out there with love than rants.
A Word of Encouragement
Thanks, everyone, and I hope you have a wonderful day. May you find holy wisdom anywhere you look, whether in the scriptures or even at the movies. And to today’s preachers, may worship bring you closer to the holy as you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the name of God. God’s peace and good movies to you!
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