A spiritual director Matthew McConaughey is not

You might be one of the millions of people around the country who have been captivated by Matthew McConaughey’s breath-taking performance in True Detective, the Twin Peaks-ey mystery show that as far as HBO’s lineup goes, ranks up there with Deadwood and The Wire (and others tell me The Sopranos). It is epic and intense (though Sunday’s penultimate episode left something to be desired).

I was happy for McConaughey when he won his first Oscar last week while True Detective was airing. Apparently his performance (on my watch list) in Dallas Buyers Club was equally amazing.

His acceptance speech was intriguing. I particularly liked when he hugged Leonardo DiCaprio, a man who is mysteriously without an Oscar; yet almost always profound in his movies. I hope the former heartthrob knows that awards don’t mark true success.

Clearly prepared for his speech, McConaughey actually offered a few things that were better measures of success—ultimately McConaughey’s speech surrounded three things that he needs: someone to look up to, someone to look forward to, someone to chase. His advice could be well-taken, but it didn’t quite sit right with me. (McConaughey might be better off sticking to Rust Cohle’s neo-nihilism on True Detective)

I appreciate when anyone thanks God, of course. Even if it is disingenuous, I think they are trying. I prefer an explicit reference to Jesus, naturally, but the vague God is good too. I can go with God as someone to look up to, as well. But when he started quoting Charie Laughton saying, “When you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.”

You? That’s the friend? I like when people say I have a friend in Jesus; I hope God isn’t just trying to get me to love myself better. Although a positive self-image is important, I think that God might challenge most of the people in that auditorium to really love themselves, as opposed to their fame, fortune, or even the awards they’ve collected that night. Most of them might mistake self-love with self-justification so they don’t have to confront their self-centeredness and the cost of their public life. (Meanwhile Alec Baldwin’s apparent homophobia causes him to recluse, but not really.)

When he honors his family as people to look forward to, my heart broke a little. I can relate to that love that he shared about his mother and his late father. Our parents almost always form us, for better or for worse. I read into McConaughey telling us that his dad would be drinking Miller Lite in heaven with the gumbo and the lemon meringue pie and I wonder about what his attachment to his father was. It’s not fair to extrapolate too much, but I felt some pain there, too.

But, like I said, I can respect his honor to family and God, however disjointed it may feel. The trouble comes when he describes who he chases, who his hero is. I have numerous heroes—King, Tubman, Bonhoeffer; Paul, Peter, John, James; Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Nathan; Teresa, Day, Parks. And foremost of all, Jesus Christ, who is not only my hero but my Lord and Savior.

McConaughey’s choice? Himself in ten years. And my boy did graduate from the world of romcoms, and enter a more serious genre, but even serious Matthew McConaughey isn’t much of a hero. I honor his acting prowess, but please, sir, let’s do something more.

The whole speech, and the whole of the Oscars, seems like one big self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory pat on the back. You did it, you got dressed up in excessive designer wear, disguised the pursuit of money (which Best Actress Cate Blanchett did little to hide in her speech) with some humble pursuit of art, and got 43.7 million people to watch it, thinking they were part of it because Ellen was so down-to-earth with her most-retweeted-selfie (which was just product placement) and her pizza order (see celebrities eat pizza too!).

Pseudo-harmony meets pseudo-religion meets pseudo-relatability. When I watch the world’s elite enjoy their lives of excess in front of the biggest audience in fourteen years, I relate to the people who would really love to connect with God, their families, and even love themselves, but have so many limitations. Watching McConaughey wax spiritual might make us feel more connected to him and to God, but I wonder if it’s all just an opiate.

I love movies and I love awards show, but the trouble with idolizing our celebrities and letting them offer us spiritual advice troubles me. I think McConaughey ultimately idolizes himself and tricks us into thinking it’s self-discipline, family, and God. I wonder what would happen if we really did give glory to God.

I wonder if we’d even have award shows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *