Friday, January 30, 2015

Choosing Redemption

Photo by Christ Tolworthy
Tonight we went to The Count of Monte Cristo. Spencer had managed to get tickets for $4.00, and I was very excited. When I pulled on a maxi skirt and a woolen scarf, I felt ready to watch a tragic musical. I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in High School. I didn't see the film adaptation until five years later and was shocked to find such drastically different endings. With each in mind, I still hadn't decided which version I found more moving. Was is more important to show the ruinous results of revenge, or man's miraculous capacity for redemption? I didn't know.

The De Jong was dark and the pit began to emanate orchestral music. As the actors danced around the stage and sang song after song, I grew nervous. The show was beautiful, the singing was stunning, the graphics projected behind were innovative, and the effect was great. But, as Edmond Dantes sank lower and lower, I just knew they couldn't let him stay there. It didn't matter that he had decided to hate, that he had decided to remain unmoved by his once-true-love's pleas, that he was everything his original perpetrators were, the story would force him to be redeemed. I promise I'm not morbid, unforgiving, or even a lover of sad endings, I just couldn't see how a man who had determined his choices and destiny would suddenly have a change of heart in the course of a song. (Oh wait . . . it's a musical and heart-changing songs are a blissful convention.)

Sitting in my chair, I slowly began to hunch over and mutter under my breath as the life-changing moment came. He would suddenly have an epiphany, conveniently after he'd gotten all his revenge, and still repent in time to get the girl. Spencer, watching me become more and more frustrated and my frame more and more contorted with disgust, just chuckled under his breath. But it wasn't funny! They were straight up doing it wrong!

After leaving the theater I stood off towards a side wall, waiting for Spencer to finish giving guidance to a fellow stage managing employee. I was really frustrated. The performance had been beautiful, the bows all tied. But it just didn't sit right. Why would we, as an audience, demand that a story be adapted to allow a main character sudden redemption? Why did we think it was okay to change the story just so he could have both his revenge and the love of his life? I was disturbed with myself. Did I really have such a problem letting a man repent?

I'm sad to say I still don't know the answer. I can guarantee from a literary perspective that Alexandre Dumas did not intend to have his self-ruined character suddenly redeemed by viewers or readers who couldn't take a realistic ending. What is the purpose of such characters as Anna Karenina, Edmond Dantes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dorian Gray, or even the Ancient Mariner from the poem, if their stories are nipped and tucked to be pleasant and devoid of consequences? When we remove consequences from our stories, we rob our stories of their power to display consequential reality. The problem is not that Edmond Dantes was redeemed; the problem is that The Count of Monte Cristo chose not to be redeemed. Themes such as the consequences of agency and the transformative effect of our choices morph into the cycle of vice, quick repentance, and a removal of responsibility.

All men may be redeemed; not all men will choose redemption. So what are we really looking for: a happy ending that highlights redemption, or fictional support that we may choose sin and still be redeemed?


  1. This really makes me want to go see Count of Monte Cristo! I love how books and movies and things can make us think so much about life and things outside of our "normal" sphere of influence. Great insight!

  2. I can relate to watching a performance/movie and getting worked up over it. My family and roommates always laugh at me, ha ha. I Love the way you were able to insert a meaningful conversation about a deep issue into your journal entry. I enjoyed the little you included about Spencer--I would love to have seen more of that.

  3. I went and saw this musical last week and I loved it! Though I do agree that the difference between the ending in the book and the ending in the play is significant. I think part of the reason why the play ends differently is because we, as human beings, want happy endings and often forget that actions have consequences. Good insights.