Playing God

Driving to school the other day my son, who is five and a half and who had been looking (seemingly) aimlessly out the back window, suddenly turned to me and blurted: "Daddy, some people think God is in everything. But they're wrong. I think God IS everything." Trying not to sound too alarmed, I asked him if anyone—his babysitter, a teacher, another kindergartner—had been talking to him about any of this. "No," he said, sweetly and simply, "I just know it."

And so it is with my son. For reasons I still have yet to understand, he has a firm and deeply held belief not just in the existence of God but in His benevolence. (And I say "His," by the way, as opposed to "Her," because when I asked him why he's so certain God is a man, he replied, calmly, rolling his eyes: "Daddy, what kind of name is God for a girl?")

I, on the other hand, could probably best be described as an "investigating agnostic," which is slightly more optimistic than what I was for a long time, which was a kind of ardent disbeliever—which I guess makes me a sort of "lapsed atheist." Or something like that. Certainly I don't profess to have a deeply held faith in any kind of Divine Being. (Yet for some reason I still capitalize His name. Like the first thing God does upon your death is run spell check).

The central character in Levity, Manual Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton), killed a boy when he himself was still a teenager. He expects to spend his life in prison, and indeed feels he deserves to.


But when he is let out suddenly after twenty-three years, the ground shifts underneath him, and he finds it hard to find his footing. He wanders like a ghost, haunting the city in which he committed the crime. He states straight out that he doesn't believe in God. Yet all his actions are those of one who expects some kind of Divine punishment for what he did. And that is where I wanted this movie to live: in that wobbly space between the secular and the spiritual. As the character of Miles (Morgan Freeman), a sort of enigmatic preacher-type, asks him: "You don't know what you're talking about, do you? Why be afraid of a God you don't believe in?" I wanted the boundaries within the film to be at least as unclear as they seem to me in my real life. Because as much as I know that I don't really believe in anything (except the capability for mankind to behave despicably and reprehensibly toward itself, and then, amazingly, do just the opposite), I know that I would like to believe in something. Sweetly and simply, as my son does.

This morning he told me, "I think God is the sky." I told him that some people think God made people in His image. He said it was impossible, "because then God would have arms, and you can't possibly reach around the world with only arms."

Once he asked me why I write stories. I told him I like to play God. I like to create people and make them do things. I like the exquisite interaction between control and lack of control that inventing these little universes provides. Truth be told, it's the closest I'll ever be able to come to reaching around the world with these tiny arms.

©2003 Landmark Theatres