manhood in a bowl of spaghetti

November 20, 2008

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Marlene and I have actually had a few opportunities over the last few months to get nights away on our own. On one occasion, my folks came to town and lent us their hotel room while they stayed in our apartment with the kids. We were watching tv in that room when we saw a few scenes from this movie with a great cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones as a head chef in a restaurant on Bleecker Street. Abigail Breslin as her niece who comes to live with her when her mom suddenly dies. Aaron Eckhart as the devotee of Italian cooking who invades her kitchen as a sous chef. We had to turn it off, but we said to ourselves: Netflix queue.

So a couple of weeks ago we caught up with it. It’s a love story called No Reservations. I think what I liked most about it was Eckhart’s character.

Aaron Eckhart plays a man who is really good at what he does but has retained all the spontaneity and even goofiness of a boy. He doesn’t fade into the scenery and he projects confidence bordering on arrogance, but at the same time has an abiding humility. It’s not all about him. Things tend to revolve around him because of his charm and charisma, but without his losing his peripheral vision.

There’s a scene where the chef, lacking any good child care options, brings her niece with her to the restaurant for the evening. The little girl sits on a counter, looking somewhat forlorn, as Zeta-Jones complains to a friend that the girl won’t eat anything she cooks for her. Eckhart overhears. He looks thoughtful. After a moment or two he eases over in the niece’s direction.

Humming carelessly, he finds a bunch of basil and a bowl and then sits up on the same counter. He does not look at the girl at all. He sniffs at the basil, half-closes his eyes and makes a small groan of pleasure. When he’s sure she’s staring at the basil, he pretends to notice her for the first time, and holds the bundle out to her face to sniff. She doesn’t react particularly, but before long, he has her picking the leaves off of the stems alongside him, and putting them in the bowl.

The next thing you see is a skillet full of spaghetti and tomato sauce which Eckhart is emptying into a big bowl. He makes a big show of taking a break and sits himself back up on the counter with the spaghetti and a fork. Somehow he takes up more space now. He seems to be nearly on top of the kid. He pulls a small handful of basil leaves out of the bowl and sprinkles it on top of the steaming pasta. He twirls a forkful, moves it to his mouth, tilts his head back as he slurps the rogue strands into his mouth. He nods his head, lets out an indecent sigh. Makes absolutely no move, verbally or physically, to offer any to his neighbor.

After just a few bites, he gets called back to work. He makes this move where he twists around as if looking for a place to put down the bowl – of course there’s no room on the counter – and says, “Hold this,” and leaves the bowl of pasta in the girl’s lap. She stares at it, poker-faced. He returns to work, surreptitiously watching the girl. It takes her a minute, but soon enough she maneuvers the fork around and takes hold of it.

Well. It’s a scene that arouses hunger for me in more than one sense. The spaghetti is of course mouthwatering. What’s even more attractive to me is this picture of a man who knows how to help people without trampling on their dignity.

Too often I read the stories of Jesus without reflecting on the fact that for all his wisdom and moral rectitude and healing power, he welcomed the weak and helpless and they were happy to dine with him and spend time with him. Somehow he lifted people up, handling them quite roughly sometimes, without hurting their dignity by one inch. This should be utterly shocking, when we think about ninety percent of the interactions we witness and suffer ourselves. What could Jesus possibly have been like? It won’t work to say, well, he wasn’t like anyone we’ve ever known or ever could know. The Bible talks about a way in which we reflect his glory, even now; somehow the character of Jesus Christ can become manifest in our own lives. I want to know what that looks like! I get little glimpses from movies. Aaron Eckhart making the spaghetti for Abigail Breslin is a little glimpse for me.

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