Be Kind Rewind is a quirky sort of movie that has something to say about change, nostalgia, and community. What I have to say here is really less about the movie itself and more about the modern mindset reflected in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes.
The setup is that some people in the town of Passaic, New Jersey, have decided to make a homemade movie about the life of jazz great, Fats Waller. Although Waller was actually from Harlem, Mr. Fletcher, the owner of Be Kind Rewind video store, has told everyone for years that he was born in the building his store occupies. He recently has owned up to this falsehood, but now the people are trying to convince him they should make the movie based on his version of Waller’s life. The following exchange occurs:
We’re gonna do a movie about Fats Wallers’ life. Your hero. My hero. And we don’t need permission to make movies on our own. This is for us to watch. It’ll be ours.
The movie could be called Fats Was Born In Passaic.
Everybody knows I was lying. You gonna humiliate me again?
No, no, Mr. Fletcher. No, he’s trying to prove that you were right.
Our past belongs to us. We can change it if we want.
In the context of the movie, preserving Mr. Fletcher’s story of Fats Waller is preserving the community of disparate people who patronize the video store. They know it’s not the real story of Waller, but it is the story of their community, so it is “real” to them. You can call this artistic license, myth, post-modernism, or wishful thinking—and you’d be right on all counts.
Just don’t call it history.
We live in a time when for some, not only has the line between fantasy and history been blurred—they have swapped seats. What used to be history is considered fantasy and what used to be fantasy is considered history. The Holocaust, man landing on the moon, and other highly publicized, well-documented contemporary events are no longer regarded as historical realities by some. It’s as if Our past belongs to us. We can change it if we want, has become the rule. If they wish to play fast and loose with the truth it’s their business—but it’s not history.
The Christian faith is rooted in history. The life of Christ didn’t occur in a vacuum, it happened in a real place at a real time. And the New Testament writers who recorded His life present it in such a historical context. And why wouldn’t they? To them, history is His story.
Luke, who wrote more of the New Testament that anyone, tells us that he:
“carefully investigated everything from the beginning . . . most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (1:3-4).
Note the descriptors: carefully, everything, from the beginning. He wants Theophilus to see there is nothing sloppy or slipshod about his research. No stone had been left unturned. This is a far cry from “We can change it if we want.” What Luke wrote is what happened and the interpretation of what that means. What he didn’t write was something that was “real” to him but didn’t actually happen. His narrative is anchored in the events and people of his time (1:5, 2:1-2, 3:1-2).
And the reason for this rigorous approach? So Theophilus (and anyone else who reads his account), might have certainty about the things concerning Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with saying that something is true in the emotional or experiential sense. But we all recognize the difference between feeling like you locked the door to your house and having actually locked it. The first may provide temporary emotional security, but only the latter will provide security for your house because it corresponds with reality. Christianity is true not because we wish it to be (though we do), it is true because it corresponds with reality and Luke assures us we can be certain of that.
We don’t simply wish the tomb was empty on Sunday morning—it was!