In the opening scenes of the movie Chocolat, Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche, moves into a new town and rents a dingy, dirty storefront. As the villagers watch from behind half-drawn shades, she cleans it up, paints it, places intriguing objects on shelves and in the window, and puts a new sign out front announcing it as a chocolaterie. The colors of the new store stand in stark contrast to the dark, unimaginative drabness of the rest of the town, and the Mayan objects that decorate the store contrast with the traditionally familiar lives of the townspeople. When Vianne finally opens for business she is the talk of the village, and her shop quickly becomes a shelter as she welcomes and extends grace to the lonely and the marginalized.
The tension these scenes produce is at the heart of the theme of Chocolat. We are meant to see the film as a metaphor for the struggle between a cold, unimaginative Christianity (represented by the villagers), and a warm, welcoming, creative neopaganism (represented by Vianne). Or, as one of my friends commented, tongue in cheek, “Vianne is the only real Christian in the movie.”
The question I wish to raise here for reflection and discussion is this: If we as Christians moved into town, would we and our faith be attractive to the neopagan villagers? Wouldn’t it be wise to take a step back for a few moments and look at our life, our traditions, our living rooms, and the personal items we have on our desk at work, and reflect on what they communicate to a watching world that is increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic?
Which suggests a number of questions discerning believers might wish to address.
Editor’s note: for more on Chocolat, see the review and discussion questions in Critique #4-2001.
Questions1. What qualities (warm, welcoming, creative, mysterious, etc.) would you desire your home, living room, life, to communicate? Why?
2. Sit in your living room (or dorm room, or whatever) and try to see it with the eyes of a non-Christian who would doubt that Christianity is either creative or relevant. What might they conclude about you? About your faith? Is there anything there that might prompt to wonder, or to ask questions? What feeling(s) are evoked by the room? Is it the sort of place where strangers tend to immediately feel at home, talk, and want to stay? Why or why not? What plans might you want to make? Do the same for your bathroom—which is the other room in your house that strangers tend to visit regularly. And your guest bedroom. Do you have good friends, Christian or not, who would be willing to give you honest feedback about this?
3. What objects do you choose to signal your faith by having them visible (in your home, on your desk, or whatever)? What artwork is exhibited? What do these communicate? Do they signal creativity, mystery, wonder, hope, and a joy in life? Why or why not? Is it possible that Christian artists (perhaps from other cultures or times) might help us in this effort? How?
4. Many of us were raised to pray or say grace before eating a meal. Many of us were also taught that hesitating to do this in public—say, at a restaurant or in a college cafeteria—was an indication that we were ashamed of our faith. How did this tradition arise? To what extent is it biblical? Are there any godly, biblical reasons for perhaps skipping the practice, at least at times? Under what conditions might it be wise to skip it?
5. I have a friend who gives thanks for his meal in public, but believes that a new approach is needed in a postmodern culture. Since his non-Christian friends have misunderstood his bowing his head and praying silently, he does it differently. When the food arrives, he quietly takes his plate, raises it up a foot or so off the table, and eyes raised, says quietly, “In a starving world, I am grateful for these your gifts which I do not deserve, for Christ’s sake, now and forever, Amen.” How do you respond to his practice? Why?
6. Have you ever been in a home (apartment, dorm room) that struck you as warm, welcoming, creative, and mysterious (etc.)? What made it so? What might you learn from this?