I have an acquaintance who won’t watch R-rated movies. Her decision isn’t the result of some strict moral code or personal ethics. She’s not particularly concerned with the violence and sexual content that often accompanies “mature” movies. Nor is she a purist about crude language or profanity. No, the reason she doesn’t watch R-rated movies is simply because she finds them too heavy. For her, movies are about escaping the pressures of life, about finding solace on the screen.
And I get it.
When my husband and I curl up to watch TV after the kids are in bed, he’ll ask that question: “What do you want to watch?” What should be relatively easy to answer quickly turns into an assessment of my inner life and my present ability to cope with the world around me. How did my day go? Am I facing deadlines tomorrow that are weighing on me? What exactly do I want from the next hour or so? And more often than not, I say, “Life’s too dramatic right now. I need to watch something light. Nothing heavy.”
I couldn’t help but think of this as I watched Singin’ in the Rain for the first time. In this 1952 classic, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds star as Hollywood actors making the transition from silent pictures to “talkies.” Full of hijinks and flawless dance numbers, Singin’ in the Rain is itself an apologetic for how sound enhances our viewing experience. It is two hours of unadulterated happiness, a celebration of friendship, creativity, and glamour—which is striking when you think of the title song. The glorious feelings are obviously present—but where’s the rain? The greatest difficulties in Singin’ in the Rain are tiffs between lovers (quickly resolved), a diva intent on marginalizing a younger performer, and the challenge of keeping step with technological progress.
No doubt part of the optimism of Singin’ in the Rain is the result of history. Set in the late 1920s, the film captures the fun and joie-de-vivre that we associate with the Roaring Twenties. There’s no hint of what awaits us in the next two decades in the form of the Great Depression or the Second World War. No, this was a time of optimism and advancement. Perhaps even more striking is that Singin’ in the Rain was made in 1952—the years immediately following two decades of suffering. In this sense, the absence of any true conflict might simply be because we collectively needed to watch “something light.” We needed to recover the lightheartedness and joy we’d lost, and if, for only two hours, believe that happiness was possible.
Which brings us to the question: Can you sing in the rain if it’s not actually raining? Is happiness only possible in a gentle downpour when you can splash and skip in the puddles? What happens when the clouds gather and break in angry torrents?
As human beings, we live in the tension of great joy and great suffering. We must not deny either. And yet, our hearts are limited and can sustain only so much emotion. So I think there’s a kind of benefit in the reprieve that a movie like Singin’ in the Rain offers viewers. And yet, escaping through lighthearted stories isn’t a sustainable way to deal with the brokenness around us. In two hours, the movie ends; and while the characters may ride off into the sunset (or kiss in front of it as in they do in Singin’ in the Rain), we don’t have that option. We must learn to live in the tension.
For me, the Christian faith provides a way to do just that, acknowledging the full reality of evil while offering hope that evil is not ultimate. Goodness will overcome. Life will emerge victorious from death. So that even as we grieve—and we must grieve—we do not grieve as those who have no hope. The rain cannot stop us from singing.