Everything in the movie, Cold Mountain, is about contrast. The major storyline unfolds through the juxtaposition of Inman’s war experience and his odyssey back to the mountains of North Carolina with Ada Monroe’s war time years on Cold Mountain. Within this framework there is:
- the contrasting of past and present,
- the horrors of war on the battlefield and those off the battlefield,
- blowing up the land in order to kill versus breaking up the land to grow and sustain life,
- the two “men of God” (Ada’s father and Reverend Veasey),
- a rotting bull in a fresh stream,
- simple love and a complex war,
- Ada and Ruby,
- Inman’s morality/spirituality and Reverend Veasey’s religion,
- the Home Guard who represent law & order but bring lawlessness and chaos,
- Inman, the deserter, who does what the law aims for and the enforcers of law (the Home Guard) who use law for their own wicked purposes.
I think my favorite scene in the movie has to be when Ruby’s ne’er do well father (Stobrod), shows up after years of being gone (Ruby thinks he is dead). As it turns out, he too has deserted from the army but he claims to be a changed man (Music’s changed me. I’m full of music, darling). Yet when they initially find him, his hand is caught in a trap in they had placed in the corncrib because someone had been stealing their corn. They take him into the kitchen where Ada bandages his hand while Ruby makes him something to eat. Ruby fights the (what else?) contrasting feelings she has for the man. She utterly loathes him for the way he has mistreated her over the years but nonetheless he is her father and that carries with it a connection she can’t deny.
She gives him the food but refuses to allow him the dignity of eating in the house (They hang people round here for taking in deserters . . . even if they gave out prizes – you’d still eat outside). Then she tells him of a place where she will leave more food for him. He is to come get it before daylight on Sunday. With that she sends him on his way telling him she wants nothing of him or his music. But just the same, there he is outside her window at the break of dawn Sunday after he has retrieved his food. He knows he’s not worthy of her love but still he sings, Ruby with eyes that sparkle. He thanks her for the food and then he is gone. He just came to sing and say thanks.
Sometimes (for some, maybe most or all of the time), we feel toward God the way Stobrod did toward Ruby. We admit to and are shamed by our past failures. Our faithfulness hasn’t met our own standard, much less God’s. We’ve been defeated, broken, and disappointed. Yet for all of that, we haven’t give up our pursuit of God because we can’t give up. What Peter said for the twelve he said for us, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). There is no where else to go. So we return to Him whom we have so miserably failed. We’re not proud of our failure but we’re even less inclined to chuck the whole thing. So we show up to sing our song. We show up to say thanks.
And when Stobrod comes to sing his song, it wakes Ruby up. She gets out of bed and goes to the window. After she sees who it is, she opens the window in order to hear better. She listens and a tiniest trace of a smile appears—barely perceptible, because that’s Ruby’s nature and she doesn’t want her father to think her years of pain and hurt could be erased by one silly song he sings for her. When he finishes she yells at him to Get on back where you came from. But for all her bluster and protest, she’s pleased by his coming.
This little piece is for strugglers only. It has nothing to say to those who live anyway they want to and then wish to “charm” God into forgiveness. (Ruby initially thinks this of her father and tells him she would rather have straightforward mistreatment than a hypocritical song). To those sensitive strugglers who have not only bruised the heart of God, but their own hearts as well remember that your struggle is a sign of life. Only things that are dead know no struggle. The fact that you struggle is a sign of His life within you. It is the life you sing about. It is the life you give thanks for. It is the life that brings pleasure to Him.