My wife and I recently watched a film entitled "Arranged". The story is organized around two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, who teach in an inner city school. They inhabit very different worlds, and yet they share a common experience: each is navigating the experience of an arranged marriage.
I liked this film, for a number of reasons. The characters were somehow able to critique their traditions, while also honoring them. Throughout they are engaged in religious practices, and yet they are seeking to render them meaningful in their own decision-making. As the story unfolds, the boundaries begin to blur: the women reveal themselves to each other, and in the end each helps the other in negotiating the complexities of family life. Along the way there are carefully placed stereotypes, but these are not central to the narrative. There is also humor, which serves the larger story as well.
It is unusual for a mainstream film to treat religious tradition in a way that allows a character to evolve, and at the same time remain within the tradition (another very different film that achieved the same result was "The Apostle", starring Robert Duvall---at the film's beginning and end he remains a Pentecosal preacher). It is also a rare experience for participants in particular religious traditions to develop meaningful relationships with members of other faiths; to be sure this happens, but it is the great exception. This is rooted in fear, and in the time required to fulfill our own ritual experiences, and the institutions that make claims upon our energies.
"Arranged" succeeds in that it communicates a couple of simple truths, without overstating the matter or taking on too many agendas. Our lives are in many ways arranged, whether we are Methodist or Baptist, Episcopalian or Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim, And yet within these traditions, I am convinced, the mercy of God is deep and wide, and there is room for our creativity and humanity. Precisely for this reason we are blessed when friendships take us out of our routines, and into different worlds. "Arranged" helped me to inhabit a different world, for a time, and for this I am grateful.