Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Distinguished Gentleman

I am an Eddie Murphy fan. Pound for pound, he may be the best "actor" in Hollywood. In any given movie, he can make you believe he's a cheesy lounge singer, or Jewish, or Asian, or a geek, or a professor, or the professor's mother, or father, or grandmother, or a robot...I'm not speaking to the scripts he accepts, but insofar as playing a role, he's covered plenty of ground from cop to crook.

Most people who remember his 80s material will long for those more earthy roles against the kiddie movie fluff he's been doing of late (although, as Disney can tell you, there's money in kiddie fluff). However, it isn't to say all his earlier films are nothing but "filth, flarn, flarn, filth" - an all too easily forgotten gem is The Distinguished Gentleman.

Murphy's character, Thomas Jefferson Johnson, is a con artist who discovers that the biggest con game is in Washington, so off he goes to win a seat in Congress and join in the cash grab. From his position "on the inside" he comes to find that real people are getting hurt while the elected representatives get rich from their games. So he decides to do something about it.

This is another interpretation of the "join 'em to beat 'em" theme. It's the basis upon which the concept of undercover police work is carried out - for a time, good guys not only "become like" bad guys, even in the participation of transactions that are resolutions to acts of crime.

Granted, it's not as classic a treatment as other films. Firstly, Johnson started out a complicit and even enthusiastic participant in the money-grubbing. Secondly, the nature of Johnson's identifying with "the dark side" is more behavioural than biological (commenting on this is bringing up an idea that is far outside the scope of this comedy, whereas other Hollywood treatments such as Blade or The Matrix are heavier sci-fi). However, the leverage by which he was able to make a difference was a direct result of his ingratiation into the very culture he would eventually expose.

Like the "redemption theme", this "join to beat" theme has a Biblical precedent in Jesus, of whom it was said "was made flesh and dwelt among us," John1:14, and who "was made to be sin for us," 2 Corinthians 5:21.

The other part of that text, however, should alleviate any temptation to misconstrue this post as supportive of participating in sinful acts purporting to do so "in the name of Jesus." The other part says that Jesus "knew no sin," which mirrors another statement by Paul that touches on the question: "shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid," Romans 6:1-2.

While he performed no act of sin, nor made any decision to sin, yet he was incarnated into a condition, a state of sin, as part of the plan of salvation for mankind, Galatians 4:4.

There were situations during his earthly ministry when "church folks" misconstrued his interaction "with sinners" and looked down on him. But his association was not born of an intrinsic desire to enjoy the apparent complicity - rather, it was to establish the ground level view by which he could be a more fair judge, which is in part why the plan of salvation would ultimately result in "committing all judgment to the Son", John 5:22, who was "acquainted with our grief", Isaiah 53:3, having "in all points [been] tempted like we are, yet without sin," Hebrews 4:15. We have a judge who "understands" what it is to live on this earth, who was "touched with the feeling of our infirmities", Hebrews 4:15. We have "an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," 1 John2:1.

I consider Jesus to be the Distinguished Gentleman.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm.. this was one Eddie Murphy movie I have yet to see. Perhaps I should post after I get the chance to see it in full...


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