I love the Nick Nolte movie The Good Thief. Certainly, it is a “worldly” picture, and those who wish to seal themselves off from such things will not find the benefits in it that I do. So forewarned is forearmed.
He is an American who has lived all his life in France, a drug addict and a gambler. And a thief. He is middle aged and at the end of his options. Nothing left. At the start of the show, he bets all his remaining money on a horse, and loses it. He has no money left for more heroin. His friend apprises him of an opportunity to rob a casino in Monaco (he lives in the South of France, so Monte Carlo is close).
Let’s back up. The opening scene is in a bar, a very raunchy place. One thing leads to another, and he rescues a prostitute from slavery, by sheer bravery.
So what do we have here? Heroin addicts, prostitutes, raunchy bars, gamblers, and large-scale robbery. Oh, betrayal, too.
I can’t say it’s a tale of redemption, because the story does not go that far into the future of the character Nolte plays. He’s conversant with the Bible (as the title of the film indicates), but that’s no help.
When I watch that movie, I think of myself. I have spent my life lost, even after I was saved, in a sense. We have no idea what a mess we are in, for the most part. What I mean is, to truly learn what is wrong with us is terribly difficult. Things might seem fine, but the depth of our sinfulness is almost always invisible to us. I think it’s God’s mechanism to enable us to cope, actually. If we truly saw what we are, we could not cope with it.
In the movie, Nolte has a choice: if he’s going to attempt the last great job, his only hope for the future, he knows that he has to kick the heroin, so he does. On the spot. No whining, or wavering. He decides. What comes next is an ugly process, and the movie shows it.
Set aside that the story is about an evil plan. Isn’t that our own reality? How ugly do we realize our own true selves to be? I think the picture is very close.
We are all junkies, in other words. We are all at the race track, betting our last dollar on a horse that fails to win. We all have no prospects left. Then, we are offered an opportunity to put everything we have left on the line; all or nothing. Complete redemption, or utter collapse. Those of us who have chosen that, know. It is Matthew 5:3. Then comes the mourning.
I say that we are all in that place, and that’s true, but it is a miracle that brings us to the place where we can recognize it. And it is also a miracle that allows those of us who have done that in the past to keep on the Stairway to Heaven, developing in sanctification.
At the end of the movie, the theme develops that we must bet everything, with full confidence, and keep doing it, over and over. This takes place one night at gambling tables, but for US it is each and every day, as long as we live. Faith is the substance of that which we cannot see. The boldness of the character in the movie, his confident knowledge that each wager will be a winner, on that night, is akin to our own challenge. The movie may not know that–probably doesn’t. But oh, it does tell that story. Just like The Matrix, the movie makers might not know the truth they are telling, but the truth is there, for those who have eyes to see.
Once again, I caution the tender reader: this is not a gentle movie, and it is not about a man who is converted to Christ. The deep, redemptive truth in it is not obvious. But it is there. Just as the stairway interpretation of the Beatitudes is not obvious, but is in fact there. We are mired in sin, and it requires boldness to choose another way, and the path is even harder, once we are on it. Courage, boldness. Living in a world saturated in sin, and facing our declining options without collapsing. One hopes that Bob, Nolte’s character, turns to Christ, after the movie ends, but for us to see ourselves in it should not be too difficult.
Then again, it is a movie that can be enjoyed for stylish excellence, great acting and wonderful writing. If you like that kind of thing.