During the summer of one of my college years I got a phone call from the father of a friend of mine. He needed me to take on an emergency house-sitting assignment. I agreed to do so, and then asked for the story behind the request.Parents John and Marg had for the first time left their 18 year old daughter home alone as they went on vacation. It was Fair season in Sonoma County, and Janet (the daughter) went with a friend. At the Fair, the girls found what most teenage girls are looking for: cute guys. Janet invited her “new friends” to her house to play pool. A good time was had by all, and the guys invited Janet and her friend to meet them the next night at the Fair.
The next night, Janet couldn’t find the guys at the Fair. She returned home to find that her home had been robbed. She called her parents in a panic, then went to stay at a friend’s home. That’s when I was called to house-sit. Janet’s foolish choice to trust these strangers could have led to something very much worse.
In the film "Taken", a daughter’s choice to trust a cute guy does lead to much worse. On a trip to Paris with a friend, she is abducted by sex slave traders. The sex trade is a real problem, but I would think the cable news networks would be giving the Paris airports a little more air time if they were as dangerous as they are portrayed in this movie. But realism is not this film’s strong suit. It is a fantasy about a father who will do anything to save his daughter.
And it is a fantasy many Americans have been anxious to share. This low budget French production screened in Europea year ago and just hit American screens in January. With a fairly low wattage cast (no offense to Liam Neeson who played Oskar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jinn and is very credible in his role) the film is looking to make $150 million and has had a remarkable staying power in theaters.
I think much of its popularity is due to its playing out two fantasies (really two sides of the fantasy coin.) One side of the fantasy is for the parent. Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former government agent whose job kept him far from home, damaging his relationship with his daughter and ruining his marriage. His daughter thinks he is overprotective and worries too much. (When his daughter tells him he should worry less, he responds that is like telling water it should be less wet.) His daughter ignores his advice and goes to Europe with a friend. When she’s abducted, it’s up to her father to rescue her.
And if he can rescue her, she’ll see that her father was right, and she will finally appreciate him. Columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote a very funny review of this film in which he called it “Patriarchal Porn” -- not at all in the sexual sense, but rather that the film appeals to a parent’s basic protective instincts. As a father, he wrote that the film fulfills the parental fantasy of seeing a child realize that indeed, father does know best.
The other side of the fantasy is from the perspective of the child. (I did have a little difficulty seeing Maggie Grace as a “17 year old child” in the film, since I watched the actress play an older character in the first season of "Lost" a few years ago.)
Still, the fantasy of a Rescuing Father is a powerful one: the idea that no matter how dire the situation, there is someone who will stop at nothing to rescue you. And Neeson in the film will certainly stop at nothing. He breaks international law, risks his own life and quite ruthlessly takes others’ lives. At times, he makes "24"’s Jack Bauer seem rather effeminate. He will stop at nothing to save his daughter.
Don’t we wish someone cared for us like that?
At this time of Easter, we remember we do have someone like that. We’ve made stupid choices. We choose to sin, and sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus entered the world, and He would stop at nothing to save us. But instead of taking the lives of others, He gave up His own life (John 15:13, I Timothy 2:6).
Watching the film, unless you are a much more worthy person than I am, you can’t help wanting to cheer when you see corrupt kidnappers and sexual predators meet their nasty ends. In the real world, God sees even the worst of sinners as rebellious children that He loves and desires to save.
When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, He proved Himself the Ultimate Action Hero.
("Taken" is rated PG-13 for language and a whole lot of violence. It could easily have been rated R for the violence.)