I miss Robin Williams. Although The Final Cut is one of his lesser known films, it has stimulated far more reflection in my own life than I ever thought that it would. One of the questions that keeps nagging me as I reflect on the film is, “What does it mean to be a faithful witness?”
Several weeks ago, I went to an oral surgeon’s office to get some dental work done. As I waited in the lobby, I overheard one of the receptionists interacting with a man who was wanting the receptionist to schedule an emergency visit ASAP. As I continued to listen to the conversation, it became apparent that the man was being impatient, pushy, and rude to the receptionist. He wanted an appointment now, and yet none of the doctors had any room in their schedules now. Although the receptionist was incredibly patient as she sought to explain their scheduling constraints, the man simply cut the woman off and hung up. I was so impressed by the receptionist’s patience with her cranky caller, that I went up to the counter and told her that I was seriously amazed that she was able to retain her patience. She responded with warm and genuine gratitude – and was so thankful, that her response startled me. Why did she appreciate what I said? As I reflected on this further, I suspect that she was grateful because someone had functioned as a faithful witness to the difficulty and dignity of her own work. The more that I meditated on this, the more deeply I realized how frequently our lives are touched by the desire to experience the dignity of a faithful witness. Isn’t the unmet desire for a faithful witness one of the realities that make shift wars in the workplace so explosive? Indeed, one of the reasons that shift wars can get so hot is that people who haven’t even seen the pressures surrounding your own labor have nevertheless taken the liberty to criticize an event(s) that they have never meaningfully witnessed. The desire for faithful witness doesn’t begin and end at work either, it enters into our lives at home. When your wife cooks you a pleasant meal after work, she doesn’t simply want you to feed your face, she wants you to be a faithful witness to her labor of love. The desire for faithful witness is even sensed by children. When they color up a nice picture and say, “Dad, look what I drew!”, they don’t want you to know that they can draw, they want you to be a faithful witness. So many areas of our lives seem to be touched by the question of faithful witness. I wish that I more faithfully witnessed the labors of others.
Editorial Review & Summary:
Before I get going too fast, however, let me pass on a brief summary of the Final Cut from Amazon: “Omar Naim’s The Final Cut is startlingly different than a conventional science fiction film. It’s a compelling fable that offers a vision of a world where memory implants record all moments of a person’s life. Post mortem, these memories are removed and edited by a “Cutter” into a reel depicting the life of the departed for a commemorative ceremony, called a Rememory. Robin Williams’ powerful portrayal of Alan Hackman, a troubled “cutter,” propels this character driven story that forces us to question the power of our memories and the sanctity of our privacy.”
In my own estimation, there’s an unspoken question running through the film that probes deeper than even the sanctity of our own privacy: “What does it mean to be a faithful witness?”
Questions for Reflection:
- Why would anyone be attracted to the prospect of having their entire life recorded & witnessed by others?
- If some of the significant drawbacks could be resolved, what would some of the potential benefits be? Were there any personal benefits to Robin Williams or others? Drawbacks?
- Do you ever find satisfaction in the thought that others will witness your life? If someone were to faithfully witness your life, what would their witness look like?
- Although the Zoe implant was occasionally advertised in the film is an unqualified good, how many different problems / dilemmas surfaced as the use of the chip spread?
- Why are people tempted to “cut” their own histories in the process of being known by others? Is Robin Williams the only cutter? Are you a cutter as well?
- The film briefly highlights the relationship between cutting and forgiveness. What is forgiveness? Is it merely the capacity to ensure that no one will ever witness our crimes, or something else? Can forgiveness be an experience that is richer than simply having someone else forget what you did? Why or why not?
- In the film, it was briefly mentioned that Zoe implant actually drove people to suicidal madness. This madness seemed to exist, because a life that was lived under the constant watch of others seemed to compel some who had the Zoe implant to live in an inescapably artificial / contrived life. The Bible teaches that God is actually a witness to all of our thoughts, words, and deeds (Job 34:21; Psalm 139; Matt. 10:26; 12:31; Rev. 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15, etc…). Would the biblical teaching that God witnesses everything that humans ever do be inherently oppressive and force us to live maddeningly artificial lives? If so, why? If not, why not?
- If you had attended a rememory (I.e. memorial service), what duties would you have to those who had died, to those who still live, and to those whom the deceased had deeply sinned against?
- What duties do cutters have to their clients and to the audiences who witness their films?
- What does it mean to be a faithful witness?
- What is the relationship between witness-bearing and rendering spoken or unspoken verdicts?
- Is having a safe or faithful witness a prerequisite to being more fully known by others? What does it mean to be a faithful witness to the failures of others?
- Did you notice that the director of the film consistently refused to gives the witnesses of this film (you) an exhaustive view of some of the most central crimes in this film? Notice that the film also showed a degree of restraint in the way that it depicted erotic encounters. In doing so, is the director saying anything about the limits of your own rights as a witness?
- Part of the difficulty of knowing that someone else has witnessed our failures is the prospect that our life or contribution to the vitality a future community will be damaged, destroyed, undermined, or lost. Is it possible to have one’s past deeply known and yet still have a future that is characterized by a real hope that you will be genuinely welcomed into a community?
- Can the church be a place where people can witness one another’s “rememories” and still experience genuine rest? What resources can the church draw on as it seeks to be a community of faithful witnesses?
- Can being a faithful witness occasionally entail a willingness to engage in confrontation? Under what circumstances would this be the case? What would it mean to do this well?
- In Revelation 1:5, Jesus Christ is described as “the faithful witness,” “the firstborn of the dead,” and “the ruler of the kings on earth.” How do these descriptions relate to the deepest challenges raised in the film?
- In 2 Sam. 11-12, David seems to be functioning like his own cutter. Why does he want his history cut? In these chapters, does God or Nathan comply with David’s desire to cut scenes out of his own life?
- Was David more fully human / alive before or after the “cut material” had been revealed? Even in light of the devastation that had followed? How did David’s sons respond to witnessing their father’s sin? What is the significance of Jesus being described as the Son of David in light of the events in 2 Sam. 11-12 and following?
- Do you know that Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is directly and intimately related (via geography and history) to the events of 2 Sam. 11-12? In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus is only a short distance from where Israel had once sought to anoint a crucially important king (1 Kings 12). Why is this significant?
- Do we have any duty whatsoever to faithfully witness the acts of God? If so, why? If not, why not?