“Sex. Murder. Puppets.”
That is the tagline of a new movie from producer Brian Henson. Brian is the son of Jim Henson, the acclaimed creator of both The Muppets and Sesame Street. The general plot of the movie centers around a string of violent puppet murders and the puppet/human tandem that sets out to investigate them. The primary marketing strategy for the film is the boast of extreme vulgarity, explicit sexual content, gratuitous violence – and Muppets.
I have not seen the movie, “The Happytime Murders,” and do not plan to. The aim of this article is not to provide a review of the movie or even a condemnation (though likely warranted). Frankly, both are a waste of time. While there are many aspects of this movie I find disturbing, eventually it will be forgotten in the digital ones and zeros of Netflix’s virtual basement until it is deleted to make room for more “Full House” spinoffs.
What bothers me about the movie is not just its content. There are a lot of movies that try to push the envelope of depravity.
What stirs my soul is that its very existence holds up a mirror to my own heart and shows me a truth I do not like to see.
The book of Romans is considered by many to be Paul’s gospel magnum opus. The letter is perhaps the most detailed and sweeping narrative of the Gospel in all of the Bible. After a brief personal introduction to the letter, Paul nails his thesis to the page with striking force as he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…for in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (vv. 16-17).
The verses immediately following (vv. 18-31) display the fundamental problem of humankind. What is that problem? The word Paul repeatedly uses in this short discourse is “exchanged.” Mankind exchanged the glory of God for images of created beings (v.23). We exchanged the truth about God for a lie (v. 25). We exchanged right sexual relations for perversions (v. 26).
What must be noted is not simply that in our sinful nature we revel in sinful things, but that we revel in good things in sinful ways.
God gave us a good creation. God gave us many gifts to be enjoyed for His glory and our good. But we exchange those good things for their perversions. It wasn’t the fruit that was sinful in the garden, it was the use of the fruit to transgress the holy command of God.
Sin is not just using bad things; it is using good things badly.
You may be asking what all of this has to do with a dirty puppet movie. Valid question.
I was watching football with my son (he’s six) recently when a commercial for “The Happytime Murders” appeared on the screen. At first sight of the puppet, I told my son this was a “no go,” and he turned his face away as I changed the channel.
What followed was a very confused look on my son’s face and a difficult conversation. As a six-year-old, my son has come to associate Muppet-puppets with learning, friendship, innocence and fun. For decades they have been tools for equipping children with the most foundational social and educational tools. They are good things.
But in “The Happytime Murders,” an exchange has taken place.
As I talked with my son, what came over me was not anger at Brian Henson or Hollywood, but a realization that we have never gotten over the sin of Eden.
Things that are a delight to the eyes and desirable to make one wise are not always bad – in fact they are often good; but not when they are used the wrong way – not when they are exchanged.
As I was explaining this idea to my son, I wondered how many good things there are in my own life that I have used in the wrong ways.
Do I use my time fruitfully or recklessly?
Do I treat my family with a posture of servant-leadership or do I use them to serve me?
Do I use my finances as a godly steward or for selfish gain?
The list is relatively endless. For every one of God’s blessings, there is an opportunity to use or abuse the blessing in a way that turns a good thing into a ghastly thing.
While I am highly disappointed in Brian Henson and virtually anyone who had a hand in “The Happytime Murders,” I realize I am not so different from them. I tend to use good things to push the envelope, justify sin or even elevate pride. I use good things in bad ways.
Henson has used the currency of the Muppets’ goodwill and reputation (built on the back of his well-intentioned father) to make an exchange for cheap laughs and a few short-lived thrills. Am I much different in the times I sinfully use what my Father has given me?
Movies like “The Happytime Murders” may shock and appall us (as they should), but let us remember what they are – symbols of a sinful world that we all live in.
May they point us to an even greater longing for the day when Jesus makes all things innocent and new.