Monday, June 27, 2011

Realism -- O'Connor and Nacho Libre

by CWK

Flannery O'Connor is often cited as an example of "grotesque" writing, and she deserves the tag. However, she doesn’t employ the grotesque just for the "gross-out" factor, or the surprise factor. She viewed her writing as an exercise in Christian realism. 

O'Connor said: "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."


"I am tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic...The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism... when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror."

O'Connor is right. Realism is part of the Christian worldview, and there is nothing slickly sentimental about the Christian worldview. Christians feel the fall, and mustn't shy away from a relevant-real-deal portrayal of human sin and fallenness. When it comes to releveant-real-deal protrayals of sin and fallenness, O'Connor does this well. She is the master.

However, I hope no one thinks that realism means only showing human depravity in its dark, HD colors. Realism is not only depravity -- at least, the kind of realism that I think is healthy, and well, realistic. It's dark, but it's not totally dark; the sun does come up on occasion. 

I fear, though, that--  for many -- realism means depravity. Their idea of realism is the British crime dramas of the last 10 years -- there will be blood, and there's lots of bad guys, and no good guys. 

Realism is not less than the honest assessment of human depravity, but it is more. Much more. Realism involves an authentic portrayal of the human condition in general, or its many quirks. A film like Nacho Libre does this well. Yes, I am indeed citing Nacho Libre as a an exemplar of realism. Why? Cuz the characters are so down to earth: so awkwardly real. Here's a section from Todd Hertz's review of Nacho Libre in Christianity Today:

And perhaps the Hesses' greatest strength is their fascination with the mundane, awkward and bizarre realness of life. Strange-looking characters don't always know what to say and either stare with hilarious facial expressions or nervously stumble through sentences like, "Anyways, I thought you'd like to join me in my quarters this night … for some toast.”

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