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Blog // Thoughts
January 22, 2005

Angels in America

Without doubt it has been interesting to watch Angels In America. It is a compelling and breathtakingly acted piece of work that is as much theology and political commentary as it is human drama. The characters are for the most part well drawn, if a little stereotypical in moments and the tone is good given […]

Without doubt it has been interesting to watch Angels In America. It is a compelling and breathtakingly acted piece of work that is as much theology and political commentary as it is human drama. The characters are for the most part well drawn, if a little stereotypical in moments and the tone is good given the density of the dialogue (though the last 90 seconds is regrettabily preachy). Moreover, I was drawn to its essentially urban outlook on the messiness of life.

The drama unfolds in response to the AIDS crisis, though it soon becomes clear that the real villian is God, or as portrayed in the film, a God who has chosen to abandon his creation. In fact Angels in America is a powerful piece of Protest Theology. I first became aware of this line of thought several years ago after reading David Blumenthal’s Facing the Abusing God, which struggles to understand the nature of God in light of the Holocaust. Blumenthal doesn’t claim that evil emans there is no God, but that by failing to stop evil, we are forced to question the goodness of God, a theme which Angels explores in depth.

However, it also becomes clear that there is a second villan, Ronald Reagan. In fact it is Ronald Reagan and the nationalistic, religiously-fuelled conservative that he promoted 9there is even a rather nice corrective to the evloving rhetoric that Reagan single-handedly ended the cold war). Throughout a number of scenes and discourses we get the message that this brand of conservativism is not just anti-gay, it is not just opposed to rights and freedoms, but also that by its essence it holds people back from embracing the dynamic and tragic nature of life, that it stops people from being able to change and grow, from flourishing.

In the end it hard not to conclude that these two things ellide and conjoin in the conclusion of the drama. That both the absent God and the harsh conservatisism that claims to act in God’s place are one and the same. In mourning this we mourn the absence of the “invisible hand,” an idea which is mocked by governments that claim to promote freedom but act to create state control, that claim to replace an absent God (lack of realisation of God) with God-like state. This is where Angels really starts to bite, when it claims that this kind of conservatism is wrong in essence because it denies our humanity and rests upon a worldview that cannot be matched with our experience.

But as much as I found this theo-political analysis compelling, the drama itself left me cold. Angels is a beautiful and engaging work, but only on an aesthetic and intellectual level. On a more emotional level I felt unmoved and the way the human tragedy of AIDS was used a soapbox for a whole range of debates just felt cheap. I guess that is because today AIDS has become about so much more than the context of Angels, much more than homosexuality, or New York, or even America. I suspect that in 10 years time Angels wiil still look beautiful, but will feel very dated.

So if Angels has something to say, it is that AIDS still leaves us with questions about God and politics and so should therefore demand that we pay careful attention to those claim to marry the two here on earth.

[tags] Angels In America, AIDS [/tags]

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