Netflix has finally done it. They’ve messed with some treasured part of my childhood. Anne with an E has flashed upon the scene as a 2017 reworking of LM Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables. The 1985 adaptation starring Megan Fellows was one of our Friday night staples next to homemade pizza and popcorn. My parents so much liked the title character that Anne (with an E) was to be my middle name should I have been a girl. My brother too, but alas, the name was destined to be left unused.
When the writer of Breaking Bad is employed to rewrite a treasured family classic you know that the end product won’t be the happy, whimsical, and precocious Anne that’s been the standard for the last 30 years. Anne has always had a tragic backstory, but part of the charm was the assertion that our past treatments don’t automatically dictate who we are. Such an interpretation wasn’t likely to last in 2017.
Claire Fallon at The Huffington Post makes an acute observation as she laments the “limitations of today’s TV”:
It’s welcome to see an adaptation that not only acknowledges the undeniable melancholy of Anne’s story, but looks directly at it. What’s uncomfortable is how much the series seems, at times, to revel in it. Her tribulations as an orphan, a girl who has been shuttled between menial live-in roles and an asylum all her life, and a young woman who is painfully aware of the distance between classical beauty norms and her own flawed appearance, constitute insufficient suffering for the protagonist of a serious TV series today. (emphasis mine)
In other words, in order for Anne to be taken seriously in our day and age she must suffer greater cruelties than before.
This is disturbing.
Anne with an E isn’t an outlier in this fashion. James Mangold’s most recent interpretation of Wolverine from X-Men promised a grittier, harsher treatment of the character. What he produced was a group of alcohol and barbiturates-besotted characters who polluted the air with their words and the ground with blood. Critics lauded the film with modern buzzwords like gritty and raw, praising its “honest” look at life and the “humanity” of its characters.
“Authenticity” is the new morality in America. And yet, we don’t really know what we’re searching for with that term. Anne’s positive outlook is now only viewed as credible because of the darkness of her suffering. Wolverine is lauded for his humanity because of the demons that haunt him.
JK Rowling penned A Casual Vacancy as a “novel for adults” after the completion of the Harry Potter series. Stuart Wall – one of the main teenage protagonists – spends the entire novel on a quest for “authenticity”. Stuart defines authenticity as being true to yourself without any filter whatsoever. To be authentic is to live out both the brightest and darkest impulses of your heart. Stuart’s antithesis is his father: weighted down with fears, unable to move past his crippling anxieties, yet enduring in kindness and a sense of duty. Unsurprisingly, Stuart’s quest for authenticity careens into deeper and deeper destruction and depravity. After his world falls apart, Andrew’s mother valiantly confronts his idea of “authenticity” as nothing more than a mirage: I don’t expect you to understand his kind of courage. In the midst of his nihilistic plunge in the name of “authenticity”, Stuart looked past the greatest example of authenticity he could have found – his broken, but tenaciously fighting father.
Authenticity isn’t giving full vent to the basest impulses of our hearts. Whereas Anne with an E and Logan and countless other products of our cultural desires are obsessed with presenting the darkest interpretations of that which once was light, we Christians are not. Our God stepped into the darkness in order to overcome that darkness with light. Authenticity is not found in climbing further and further down into the abyss. It’s in climbing out and reclaiming what we once had in Eden.
So here’s to being authentic: seeking to love our spouses, seeking to raise children right, seeking to overcome our fears in evangelism. Seeking to kill sin and grow in godliness. It’s such good news that seeking authenticity doesn’t call us back to the grime, but rather up and out into a river that washes all things clean.
*This post requires a couple of caveats. First, this doesn’t constitute an endorsement of Logan. I have seen it, and I regret having seen it. Second, I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse A Casual Vacancy. It is a book rich with insight, but it is quite brutal getting there. It will offend some consciences, to be sure.