Tragedy & Comedy, Intertwined: Thoughts on _Bernie_

I don’t know if you have seen the film Bernie yet, directed by renowned Austin film maker Richard Linklater. (I’m grateful to two Christ Church parishioners in particular for urging me to see the movie, despite the fact that Bouquet and I had not seen a movie in a theater by ourselves for four years!). If you have not seen it, I urge you to do so.

When you see this movie, which tells the story of an infamous 1996 crime in Carthage, Texas, you will see a work of art which, though at times uncomfortably dark and dry (be warned!), is a masterful exhibit of “comedy and tragedy, all intertwined.”

These words – “art and tragedy, all intertwined” – are, according to a May 2012 Texas Monthly article about the film by journalist / screen writer Skip Hollandsworth, the words uttered by Linklater right after witnessing the trial and conviction of Bernie Tiede in San Agustine, Texas in 1998. The story of Bernie’s life and times in Carthage is just that: comedy and tragedy, all intertwined, as the film and its dozens of real-life East Texas locals wittily and subtly portrays.

As Christians who gather regularly to confess our faith in the words of the Creed, we, too, have our own story of comedy and tragedy, of tragedy and comedy. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ was delighted to serve others. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ was drawn particularly to the down and out, the destitute, the marginalized. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ knew what it was like to be tried, found guilty, and punished under the law.

Unlike Bernie, however, the man Jesus Christ was no people pleaser. He knew the difference between niceness, which is not a fruit of the spirit, and kindness, which is (Galatians 5). Unlike Bernie Jesus walked around his city as a free man who was not in bondage to the conventions and mores which others assume to be “normal” and “natural.” Unlike Bernie, Jesus was innocently convicted of a trumped up charge, levied against him by a kangaroo court. Unlike Bernie Jesus could not be held in the chains of bondage, but instead rose victorious over death and imprisonment.

I never expected to be living in Tyler watching a film by Linklater (who directed some of my favorite films, some of which take place in Austin) about East Texas. What is most profound about the film is that he allows us to laugh at our East Texas selves without falling into cynicism or despair. There is something about life in Carthage (and Tyler) which is sad and superficial, and at the same time precious and profound.

In this way the film and life are like the story of Scripture. For here nothing is sugar-coated, Nothing is glamourized. Instead human life and culture are taken for what they are.

And what are they? They are tragic and comic. They are good, fallen, and redeemed. They are bound up not with the life of Bernie, but with the life – and the death – of Jesus Christ.

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Just watched this because of your recommendation (I think you said something like all Texans should watch Bernie). Loved the break down of the regions of Texas, except for what they said about the Panhandle (is this a common attitude in the rest of TX?) and the gossipy locals, especially the man who kept going on about how hickish people in San Augustine county are. Wish I knew which “locals” were actors and which for real — I couldn’t tell the difference!

Lib,

I’m really glad you watched it!

Yes, the “hickish” thing is totally real: if you live in Van, you think that folks in Grand Saline (somewhat smaller farther away from the Big City of Tyler than Van) are totally “back waters,” etc.

Re Panhandle: yes, this is accurate, also. I’m surprised you did not know about this. Even when I lived in Amarillo it was clear (and I talked about this to Mom & Dad) that even Lubbock folks (!) considered Amarillo sort of semi-Texas, a bit too close to Oklahoma. (For example one could not buy Blue Bell ice cream in Amarillo.)

I do vaguely hearing dad say smth about that once, but I thought it must be minority opinion because I think of the panhandle as the real Texas. We’re the home of cattle ranches, Comanche Indians, and the Palo Duro canyon!

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