Over winter vacation, I managed to avoid seeing "Alvin and the Chipmunks" but I did see just about every other kid movie that is currently out. In fact, I've seen probably 75% of all kids movies released over the past 4 or 5 years. I'm not whining about this either, although some of them have been truly terrible. I do occasionally look around the theater at these movies and wonder at the adults who seem to have willinging gone to a kids' movie without any kids with them. But who knows, I may be one of them in a few years, because even when these movies have weak plots and mediocre acting, they often address important personal and social issues in creative, accessible ways.
I've been impressed, in particular, by how many of these movies deal with questions around the use of force and the potential for creative problem solving. I was absolutely entralled with the Fantasic Four sequel out this past summer, Rise of the Silver Surfer, and talked about it to anyone who would listen to the great embarrassment of my kids (who still haven't forgiven me for asking the people near me in the theater if they wanted to talk about the theological questions raised by Batman Begins ). Over Christmas break I completely enjoyed "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" in large part because of the message it communicated about our failed strategy in Iraq.
Okay, I know this sounds like a stretch. But hear me out. Throughout this movie, Nicholas Cage is trying to solve a puzzle in order to prove to the world that his grandfather was not involved with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the course of following a series of really obscure clues which only he could trace, he realizes that he is being followed by a bad guy who wants the treasure at the end of his search. The bad guy has a gun, unlike Nicholas Cage, and whenever things get confusing or difficult, he resorts to violence or the treat of violence to solve the problem. But in this movie, violence only ever gets in the way of solving the problem. In fact, in ends up causing many more problems. Why? Because the problem is, in the end, a puzzle, and puzzles can't be solved with a gun. Threats don't help solve them, and fear gets in the way. A puzzle-solver has no use for violence.
I thought of this lesson again this morining as I was listening to another segment of NPR's series on the troop surge in Iraq, one year later. Today's story included interviews with U.S. army officers who are trying to untangle the political puzzle in Iraq. One officer was trying to open three hospitals, and he sounded almost on the verge of tears as he described his fruitless efforts to meet with an Iraqi health administrator. My heart went out to this man who knows better than most of us the limits of what can be solved with force and the threat of violence.
Clearly, what Iraq needs is a Nicolas Cage-style puzzle solver--someone who has the depth of knowledge of history and relationships and the personal delicacy and the doggedness it takes to solve a really complex puzzles. My guess is that person would be an Iraqi, but perhaps he or she would benefit from a partnership with an international team of puzzle solvers. Maybe there are kids now who will grow up to be those puzzle masters--but they will need a lot more nudges, a lot more coaching than one entertaining movie can provide.