Watching "Man on Fire"
In the 2004 movie "Man on Fire" Denzel Washington plays ex-CIA operative and drunk, John Creasy, who retires as a bodyguard for 9-year old Lupita, the daughter of wealthy businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). Little by little the precocious "Pita" brings Creasy's jaded heart back to life with her innocence and genuine affection. Pita says "I love you Creasy. And you love me too, don't you?" Creasy replies, "Yes, I do. With all my heart, Pita . ." He gives her a little teddy bear which she instantly names "Creasy Bear".
Just as he is learning again to love and be loved, Pita is kidnapped by bloodthirsty gunman Daniel Rosas-Sanchez (alias "the Voice"), and Creasy, wounded in the melee, sets out to recover and avenge Pita. The soulless killing machine that he tried to bury is resurrected, bent on a single, final mission that will end in his death. An old friend, Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken), comes to visit him in the hospital to help him gather weapons for his final mission.
He comments to a corrupt local detective asking about Creasy:
"A man can be an artist . . . in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."
Creasy is so effective at his trade that the corrupt local authorities decide to simply stand back and follow the wake of destruction and bodies as he methodically erases the lower members of the kidnapping cartel one-by-one trying to locate Pita. Finally, learning that she was taken by a man they call "The Voice" (the faceless Daniel Sanchez), he summarily locates his home, takes his brother and wife hostage, and forces her to call her husband.
The wounded Creasy tears the cellphone from her hand holding Sanchez' brother at gunpoint. "I've got your brother here Daniel. He wants to talk to you." As the captive brother takes the phone in his right hand, Creasy's shotgun roars in the background, instantly buried by the screams of Sanchez' brother, who has now lost all fingers on his left hand. Realizing he has no options, the "voice" is forced to make concessions:
"All right", says the Voice, "I will give you a life for a life".
"Whose life . . who . . what are you talking about?" asks Creasy. "I want you"
"I will give you her life, for your life, in exchange . ."
Man on fire is a gritty ride on the eternal theme of self-sacrifice, but doesn’t come close to the reality from which it was borrowed, the Gospel, the quintessential "life for a life" theme. Flowery evangelical descriptions of Christ’s Passion, though accurate, are far removed from the gritty brutality on the ground.
We watch Jesus pray and linger in the garden of Gethsemane as the Roman soldiers approach, and like the pre-cog Agatha in “Minority Report” who sees what’s coming we want to scream “run!“ But he doesn’t run. He stays. Why doesn’t he quietly walk over the top of the Mount of Olives and escape? Think of how much good He could have continued to do!
The biblical accounts are not sanitized. We might wish they were. We don’t know how many years earlier Jesus understood the full implications of Isaiah 53, but we know that he did, for as he approached the cross he keeps telling his disciples that he’s going to die
And here again is a picture of The Gospel, the quintessential "life for a life" theme. Of course Creasy, unlike Jesus, is a murderer just as guilty as "The Voice", so the metaphor fails here. "Pita" is innocent, while we for whom Christ came are not, making the story and His sacrifice even more poignant. Romans 5:7 says that "It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person." Creasy fits the bill here by daring to lay down his life, after great toil, for innocent "Pita". But look at the next verse:
"But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
Only Jesus fits the bill here. "While we still sinners . . Christ died for us . ."
"A life for a life . ."