When I first saw Moulin Rouge! about ten years ago, one of my artsier friends brought me to the independent movie house and I had no idea what I was walking into. She had a reputation for crazy films so I was skeptical at first. As the movie started (if you’ve ever seen it), my initial skepticism seemed more than justified. The films seemed to be all over the place with crazy people shouting, rapid-fire camera cuts, and a music selection that could only be described as schizophrenic… I’m sorry, I mean “multiple-personalitied.” During its first twenty minutes , Moulin Rouge! was like an old airplane—with holes in its fabric wings—bouncing along the runway trying to take off.
And then—just when you thought the plane was going to run out of runway—it soars. It was the moment in which McGregor’s and Kidman’s characters decide that they are going to give this “love thing” a go… and so the song they sing includes a montage of the greatest hits of the past few decades: KISS’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”
There was one other song in that montage—even amidst the sonic cacophony that didn’t immediately seem to fit with the others… David Bowie’s “We Could Be Heroes.” But it was included because the two lead characters were indeed choosing to be heroes; they were heroes because they were choosing to be open to the adventures (and the dangers) of love.
I guess that I am thinking of heroes because for the past few weeks in church, we’ve been reading a lot about THE hero of all Jewish heroes: King David. And what I found so fascinating about those texts in is how much they highlighted David’s flaws as well as his virtues, his failures as well as his defeats. The Scripture gives equal weight to David’s victory over Goliath as it does his murder of Uriah. In modern times, we have a peculiar insistence that our heroes be perfect. Superman cannot tell a lie. The political candidate of our choice is never hypocritical or self-serving. And then we are shocked—shocked I tell you, shocked!—when revered athletes do not live up to our moral codes.
Yet the Jewish authors of the Old Testament held no such ideals for their heroes. Perhaps because they understood that just being open to the adventures of love was heroic enough… and to cover-up or deny the bumps, bruises, and failures that must come from entering into those adventures of love would cheapen the heroism involved. In Moulin Rouge!, the adventure of love centered around the two characters; in much of the Jewish Bible, the focus is on the love that David and God share. In both examples—if I may throw in my own pop-culture reference—love is a battlefield. But it is also the place where heroes are made… come what may.