Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ratatouille and St. Irenaeus

Some years ago, a friend commented that too many people settled into a utilitarian existence, caring neither for beauty or art in their lives. She lamented that few people bothered about their surroundings, ate out of newspaper wrappings and/or styrofoam boxes, and cared little about brightening up their living spaces. Why the absence of beauty? Why can’t we hang a picture on the wall, have flowers in a vase, eat our food out of proper plates, she asked?

Blame it on Maslow’s theory of needs. This might explain the hovels that students live in. Or the homes that young working adults occupy. Utterly artless and painfully functional to a fault. No drapes on windows, no food in the kitchen, non-matching utensils in the drawer, no real furniture to speak of, and no books on the shelf. No pursuits to nourish the soul. Is that any idea of living?

Such a dismal life would be disagreeable to Remy, and he’s a rat. Now, Remy is the star of Pixar’s latest animated hit, Ratatouille, and I loved it. Ratatouille tells the story of an ordinary country rat with an amazing nose and an incredible talent to match: Remy cooks. Inspired by the great French chef extraordinaire Gusteau, Remy yearns for the gourmet life – this, despite the most obvious of handicaps. He's a dirty rodent, for crying out loud!

I don’t have to tell you how this magical yarn turns out. It has a happy ending similar to all those animated box-office hits we’ve grown to love - of finding a whole new world somewhere around the bend, or in following your heart. Although it did not have the profundity of, say Toy Story 1 & 2, Ratatouille entrances in a more visceral manner, which is not a bad thing in itself. I thought it was a brilliant movie, dazzling in its depiction of Paris. And so bizarre a plot too.

There’s something else in Remy’s story that is surely a metaphor for the difference between joie de vivre and mere existence. Unlike real life rats and other animals, we have the means and the creativity to add beauty and order to our lives. I suppose one can argue that indulgences like these are beyond the ordinary student or young working adult who live on poverty-level allowances and wages anyway. Perhaps. Yet it’s not extravagance that I’m promoting; it’s choosing to live ordinary lives in an extraordinary and creative way.

St. Irenaeus got it right when he wrote that God’s glory is displayed in “Man fully alive.” God’s life and his goodness are surely a gift of grace to us. It's what gives humanity the will to rise above our circumstances and adversity. All we have to do is to choose to participate in it.

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