After having (finally) seen the film Cinderella Man, I now know why it is such a lackluster draw at the box office. It is the antithesis of the typical sports movie, and it portrays a culture most of the movie-going world cannot imagine.
Most sports films anchor the plot to the glory of the individual (think Rocky) or to the glory of the team (think Hoosiers). Cinderella Man, however, pictures a boxer who fights for his wife and children. Indeed, the most powerful line of the film is when the protagonist is asked by a reporter why now he is winning in the ring when previously he could win for "neither love nor money." Russell Crowe's character replies that now he knows what he is fighting for: "milk." This comes on the heels of scenes in which the mother pours water into the milk jug to try to feed the family's small children against the ravages of Depression-era poverty.
This, along with a scene in which Crowe's character gives his helping of meat to his hungry daughter right before he is to go to a fight, struck me as deeply meaningful. They also indicate precisely why the film is so, well, odd to most moviegoers. It is patriarchal in the most biblical sense of the word.
In this film, there is no wise-cracking nine year-old boy with a heart of gold to correct the bumbling parents. There is no cherubic four year-old girl who alone knows that the real meaning of life is within. Instead, there is a dad who understands that it is up to him to provide for his wife and his children. And there is a wife and children who love him for it.
It seems to me that if our culture could understand something of the world behind "Cinderella Man," we might be able to grasp better the meaning of the gospel. After all, Jesus compares life in Christ to a father who would never give his son a stone when he asks for bread (Matt 7:9). This is especially significant since Jesus himself refused to turn stones into bread, opting instead to trust in the provision of a Father who promises to feed all his sons with the Bread that comes down from heaven (Matt 4:4). Only by taking on the Evil One and offering up his life under the curse of the law is the Righteous One able to usher us into the presence of a messianic banquet.
It seems to me that if one were to ask the crucified Jesus of Nazareth what he was fighting for, his answer might be: "bread."
That is servanthood. But it is also headship. It is patriarchy. We don't remember it, and that's a shame.