Hector lives

There are so many things to like about Steven Spielberg, but among those I cherish his one-liner about The Terminal.  A reporter asked him whether the part of Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) was “a Christ story.”  I didn’t hear the tone of the response, of course, but I imagine it as a little on the snappish side.  “Why would I write a Christ story?,” he said.  “I’m a Jew.”

Why indeed?  I’m guessing that was not the first time he had been asked that question.

On the other hand, I caused my children to despair (mock despair, I hope) by finding “Christ stories” all over the place in books and movies where they were sure it was no part of the author’s intention.  There is always the chance that they were right, of course, but I would like to plead my case and then I would like to offer an example from the TV series, Longmire.

Jerome Bruner says in a well-known article about perception, [1] that if you are out looking for apples anything that catches your eye as a “could possibly be an apple” will be brought to your attention, where it will be more rigorously examined.  Is it really an apple or no?. [2]  I would deny that I am “out looking for Christ stories,” but I admit that there is a collection of properties that bring Christ’s story to mind.  And then I examine the story more rigorously to see if it really does strike me that way.  This one does.

So that’s really my defense.  If, for whatever reason, an author presents a character who, through no fault of his own, is forced into a situation where he or she must pay a fearful price in order that someone else might receive a great benefit or avoid a great punishment, then it is not my fault that the little red “Christ story alert” light goes on in my brain.  I see what I see.  What the author put there for me to see is their business, not mine.

Hector

The Hector I am talking about [3] is a vigilante on the TV show, Longmire.  Hector (played by Jeffrey De Serrano) [4] is Cheyenne, he is an ex-boxer, and he does bad things to people who do bad things to his people.  In this Christ story, I am telling, no one actually plays the part of Christ.  It isn’t Hector.  Hector was a thug and he was killed by another thug.  On the other hand, part of his thuggery was killing bad guys and knocking their teeth out.  He is not a Christ figure.  The hat belongs to Sheriff Longmire.

On the other hand, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips, in the best role I have ever seen him in) knows a good deal about Hector’s career.  He knows it from a distance and he is required to “not know” a good deal of what he does know, but after Hector is killed, Henry is faced with the breadth of Hector’s activities.  And every new action that Hector is discovered to have taken is a generous, taking care of the women and the children kind of action.

That is where we come to the first significant post-Hector fact.  Henry puts a sign on a big sheet and hangs it on the rock wall where people have placed requests for Hector’s help.  As you see, the sign says, “Hector Lives.”  It does not say “Hector is alive!”  Why doesn’t it say that?  How can “Hector Lives” possibly be different from “Hector is alive!”

I don’t really know the answer, I’m afraid, but I am confident that for some reason, “is alive” is more specifically physical than “lives.”  The phrase “is alive” directs my attention and memory to welfare of Hector’s physical body.  Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does, and the writers knew it would.  “Hector lives!” by contrast, makes the claim that some part of Hector’s life continues.  In this case, it is his mission.

Henry is simply unwilling to say that Hector’s mission has ended.  Hector has ended, however, so if the mission is not to end as well, there will have to be a new “Hector” and it is Henry.

The first time we see this new arrangement, we see Henry visiting a physically abused mother and her young son.  Henry is wearing a costume, but he presents himself as someone who knows what the problem is and who is prepared to help.  He knows what the problem is because the boy has left a plea at “Hector’s wall.”  The contents of the note are confirmed by the cuts and bruises on the woman’s face.  The costumed Henry says, “Meet me in the part at noon.”

But noon comes.  The woman and her son arrive.  No costumed person is there waiting for them.  Only Henry Standing Bear.  They are confused and begin to retreat.  Henry asks them to wait.  Then he says the words that caught my attention and that quieted the woman’s fears.  He says, “Hector sent me.”

Did he?

I don’t see an easy answer to that, but I now see how much better “Hector Lives” is than
“Hector is Alive.” “Hector Lives” can mean that the things Hector  cared for will continue to be cared for.  That is, in fact, what it does mean here.  Henry was moved by discovering the many acts of generosity and care Hector performed—along with the simply thuggery.  Henry isn’t a thug, but he is generous and caring, so he “becomes” the personification of (that part of) Hector’s mission.

A Christ Story

It was something about the phrasing of Henry’s reassurance that caught me.  A little poking around located what it was.  It was this: “Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus…”

I had to look up the rest of it.  That line was delivered by a disciple of Jesus named Ananias.  Ananias lived in Damascus.  He was a member of a new and rapidly growing sect called “The Way,” followers of Jesus Christ—the Jesus who had been so ignominiously crucified in Jerusalem.  Saul was a Super-Pharisee with a pocket full of warrants and he was out arresting followers of “the Way” and when God called Ananias to go and heal Saul, Ananias reminded God of that.  

‘Lord, I have heard from many people about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14He has come here with a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ 

Seems reasonable to me.  But God said, “Go anyway.”  So Ananias did.

Had there been a “Jesus Lives!” sign anywhere on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus, it would have made a really good graphic close for this essay.  But there wasn’t one.  And I don’t really need it.  This is a Christ story, after all.

At least it is for me.

[1] Jerome S. Bruner, “On Perceptual Readiness,” Psychological Review, Vol 64, No. 2, 1957

[2]  The same thing is true of things you a fearful of.  Is that a branch in the path or a snake?

[3]  Not, of course, the Hector that Achilles killed, although there are some similarities.

[3]  De Serrano is probably Native American too, but no one seems to want to say if he has a particular tribal affiliation.  Besides being a Native American, he is also very likely an Indian, since he grew up in Cleveland.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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