To Forget

By Tim Winterstein


I don’t know if the current cultural moment is producing a thematic bounty of what it means to deal with pain and guilt or if it was always equally present. Either way, the idea of what to do with guilt we can’t erase—because we can’t go back and undo it—seems to run through a lot of the films and shows that I’ve written about here. Or maybe those are just the themes that are most fertile for theological reflection, especially when they’re being explored by those who most likely wouldn’t give the answers that Christians would give.

I haven’t gotten to season 2 (or 3) of Mr. Robot, but I wasn’t surprised to see that Sam Esmail was also behind Homecoming (streaming on Amazon Prime). It explores some of the same technocratic themes of surveillance, paranoia, and who has the will and means to control information. Homecoming (at least—again—as far as Mr. Robot‘s first season is concerned) tends to focus in on the more personal and individual fallout from mass-produced lies, rather than the wider societal damage.

Graphically, Homecoming is great. The opening and closing scenes to each (short) episode are unnerving, often because there’s no music, only the sounds of whatever’s going on during the credits. It’s got a nice twist highlighting the fact that however much we often want to blame other people for the situations in which we find ourselves, we’ve contributed much more than we think we have.

The idea that people are doing evil things “for the greater good” isn’t a new one. Neither is the idea that often people would rather have the choice of being worse off mentally, than have the choice about their good made for them. The recent documentary Three Identical Strangers explores that in depth through events that actually happened. Both that documentary and Homecoming make us question assumptions about what is good and what is good for us, in light of how much we know about what control we have over our own choices.

Would we always choose the truth over not knowing, especially if knowing brings greater pain and guilt? That’s the question that Heidi Bergman explores throughout Homecoming. First, is it better or worse for soldiers with horrible memories to have their minds scrubbed of those memories? And then, does the reason for such scrubbing matter? And if she knows the real reason and goal of the work in which she’s engaged—in spite of her truly good intentions—what responsibility does she have? Are her actions cowardly or heroic?

The last scene asks, what if we could go beyond the numbing qualities of drugs and alcohol? What if we could simply erase our bad feelings by erasing the memories that cause them? What would it mean if we were actually able to forget what we’ve done, rather than putting them off for a while until they come roaring back with a vengeance? There are a lot of stories of addiction as the response when we don’t want to deal with what we’ve done or what’s happened to us. But Homecoming asks what it would mean to go one step further.

Finally, if happiness is the ultimate goal of our lives (which many people assume unquestioningly), what if something outside of your control and knowledge seems to make you happier? Wouldn’t that be better? Homecoming suggests not.

There are other themes of bureaucracy and government overreach here, as well as what it actually means to “do good.” But the largest questions seem to be: how much do you want to know? And what will (can) you do with what you know? Those are questions that implicate everything from the most personal to the widest societal relationships. The answers have far-reaching consequences not only for how we act in our own vocations, but also for the roles we assign and assume for government and other institutions.

4 thoughts on “To Forget

  1. Have you ever wondered why so many Christians, having received the word of God and profess to follow their faith, still remain deeply immersed in the cultural jungle of mass entertainment, movies, and things of the world which make spiritual warfare even more formidable? Dealing with deep pain and guilt in a highly technological society, a place where movies continually elevate the level of angst, seems to result in no relief for the troubled human spirit. The Psalmist simplifies it, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.” (Ps 130:5). Interestingly enough, the secular scientific world today tries to grapple with spiritual warfare in its own way, however, their playing field is a remote wasteland and far from the Lord of glory. Like the prophets of old, Christians must learn to seek answers from God through prayer and reflecting on His word, and must be content with “sitting alone as a sparrow on the housetop,” and hear the “voices crying in the wilderness” for comfort. These words spoken by the prophets show how long humanity has asked the same questions as secular movies entertain. But the secular world cannot answer us, and the best place to go is to draw close to God, and contemplate the wisdom He alone can provide.


  2. I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re suggesting that I think we should seek answers in mass media, you’re simply incorrect. I happen to think it’s interesting when unbelievers or those working in a largely un- or even anti-Christian area stumble upon questions to which Christians claim to have an Answer. If you don’t find that interesting, you’re welcome not to.


    1. Tim, I am not suggesting you think we should seek answers from mass media. I was addressing the general notion that Christians as a demographic are often looking in the wrong places for answers to perplexing issues for which they wrongly feel their faith is unresponsive. Yet, if our faith cannot guide us, neither can mass media, philosophy, pop psychology or secular and unbelieving academics and writers. The word of God is a more reliable source and trustworthy. That was my point.


  3. Tim, please remember that comments I have made now and in the past are done in the spirit and intent of discussion and discourse, not to offend, belittle, or affront you or others personally. In the marketplace of ideas, there is room to express differences in point of view, while maintaining a measured composure of friendship and Christian fellowship. Sometimes the articulation of a written viewpoint may rub some of us the wrong way, but the intended thought was not meant to achieve this outcome. I hope I have not offended you personally. If so, please accept my apology. In any case, I wish you well, and that you have a blessed Christmas and prosperous New Year in 2019.

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