After frozen pizza that was better than you’d think, spicy chicken fingers and potatoes, and salad that someone wondered over, asking if anchovy might be in the dressing, we finally wandered downstairs to watch a film only one person besides myself had seen. “This doesn’t have much dialogue, does it?” she said, and she was right. Girl with a Pearl Earring, the film by Peter Webber providing a rich backstory to one of the more famous paintings in the world by the same title, is a quiet movie, which is just fine with me. The lack of auditory input allows the eye to rest more fully on the endless series of gorgeous, painter-like shots. In 17th century Holland, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) finds inspiration and passion in the eyes of a young maid named Greit (Scarlett Johansson) who can see light, composition, and meaning the way he sees them, and recognizing that, the two form an unspoken connection that sizzles, though they never touch.
The discussion after was interesting, exploring the moral dilemmas of making art, and wondering whether the appearance of a great work of art justifies the sometimes destructive actions of the artist. In Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer’s wife is not a woman we particularly like. He seems stuck in a world of philistines who have no sensitivity to the beauty of the world (at least not the beauty Vermeer sees) or to him. All around him are schemers and whiners, begging for attention and affection while he stares at the maid in the corner, not so much with lust (although that can be debated) but with a pull toward beauty and connection. Vermeer, obviously lonely, filled with longing, passionately pursuing something he can barely name…such romantic description begs us to create a sort of cushion for him, as if the choices he makes in service to his art, in service of his very self (is being true to your “self” selfish or age old wisdom?) have a certain moral immunity because of his ability to create such powerful work.
The conversation then broadened, and we saw that these dilemmas face everyone, that we all have “great paintings” that we chase, those achievements that we think will finally give us satisfaction and meaning. And the temptation is always there to pursue such things regardless of what one person called the collateral damage. Finally, a newcomer to the group pointed out the world remembers the people who made deep sacrifices in order to single-mindedly pursue their passions. He was a scientist, and his point hit home with some strength. Maybe if a person makes a contribution that changes the world, then perhaps the cost to his family is worth it–at least that was the suggestion.
It brings us back to God’s perspective of time, achievement, the worth of the person, and the long-term (generational and eternal) consequences of the choices we make.
God does not see things as we do…