Reviewed by: Artie Megibben
A century ago, the Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton observed that “Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism.” With the Church’s numerous boycotts, protests and prohibitions, this may not be altogether apparent today. But as evangelist Billy Sunday expressed it, if your faith in Christ produces no joy, “then there’s a leak in your Christanity somewhere.” The recent film “Dancing at Lughnasa” explores the topics of joy, morality and religion.
Director Pat O'Connor’s adaptation of Brian Friel’s play takes place in the idyllic countryside of 1930’s Ireland. The film unfolds the story of five unmarried sisters and the return of their elder brother from the mission field. The older brother, now in the winter of his life, returns a bit befuddled—if not demented—from his long tenure in the wiles of Africa. From his many amusing, off-the-wall remarks it is questionable as to who has converted whom. Upon discovering that his youngest sister has brought shame to this good Catholic family by giving birth to a son out of wedlock, he responds enthusiastically, “A love child! There are many such love childern [in Africa]… and they receive much love!” He then punctuates his outburst with “I want you each to have a love child!”
The moral center of the family is played by academy-award nominee for best actress, Meryl Streep. As the eldest sister, she has single-handedly held her family together, sending support to her brother for the spread of the gospel, keeping her nephew’s father at bay, and making sure, in short, that no one has too much fun.
Brilliantly acted, this movie and its charming cast deals with adult themes and would not be appropriate for younger children. However, for Christian adults the film holds both first-rate entertainment and a gentle rebuke. Can Christianity be something more than a moral-straitjacket that prevents believers from experiencing the pleasures of the heathen? Must true religion rob the devout of true happiness and reduce us to ethical umpires who pass glum rulings on our culture’s trangressions? Or, as the film suggests, is there something to life that the pagans experience with regularity, but we good Christians are totally missing?
Christian doctrine, as Chesterton observes, may be walls. “But they are the walls of a playground.” Too often, we have reduced our faith into a list of a few “do's” and a lot of “don’ts” and failed to pursue the life of joy through an authentic relationship with the Creator of life. True religion should result in true joy. It caused David to dance, Miriam to sing and Ezra to shout, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” “Dancing at Lughnasa” should challenge us Christians to take a long, hard look at our Chistianity. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a leak that needs our attention.