Rent? The PG-13 musical about the people who won’t pay their rent? Who break into the building when they’re locked out? Some of whom are drug-addicted (or formerly drug-addicted)? With all that language? A main character who works as an exotic dancer? And most of the rest of the characters have no obvious gainful employment? Many would also have difficulty with the characters who are gay, lesbian and transvestite. The most dysfunctional couple is the straight one (though the lesbian couple is a close second at times). The musical with lines like: “I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs,” or “There will always be women in rubber flirting with me!” National Review Online hated it (though I can’t find the link).
It’s definitely a PG-13 musical. I probably wouldn’t even have watched it with my 14 year old daughter a year ago. And there are scenes that make me awkward to watch with my older children (younger son had to play upstairs), along with things we had to explain.
But, the more I thought about the musical, the more I saw. And, as I mentioned in my previous post about Rent, when I get a new musical, I become totally absorbed in it. I’ve had the music going through my head for weeks now.
[Note: Usual spoiler alert. I’ll be writing about the plot so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want it given away, don’t read any further]
Rent is not an easy musical. Characters waste away and die of AIDS (which is almost a character in itself). Most of the major characters have AIDS. Mimi goes through withdrawal and, later, almost dies. Mark and Roger seem as if they’ll never achieve what they aim for in their art. Roger is bitter and closed up. His former lover committed suicide after they both were diagnosed with AIDS, and he’s just finished rehab himself. Collins loses Angel. Joanne, in many ways the most “normal” of the group, is in love with Maureen (a self-absorbed, performance artist diva). This situation is so difficult that Joanne and Mark sing a song, “The Tango Maureen” (to the right), about being in love with Maureen (“As she leaves you dangling, Your heart she is mangling”). And there’s always the rent they can’t pay, and the money they don’t have.
But, what money they do have, they share – like the first Christians in the Book of Acts. When someone gets money (okay, legally or illegally), they buy dinner for the others, pay rent, and help the others out. That’s part of their anger at Benny, the owner of the building. Not did he betray their group by demanding back rent when he had said, a year ago, that they could live there rent-free, but also because he (a former roommate and member of their group) wants to make money off of them. He has money now, and, rather than help the others, like they all do, he just considers them a source of income. He’s betrayed them – betrayed their community.
The characters in Rent live from day to day, both in that they have little money to rely on and in that most of them have AIDS so they know that their days are limited. A recurring song in the movie is “No Day But Today”:
There is no future. There is no past.
Thank God this Moment's not the last.
There's only us. There's only this.
Forget regret or life is yours to miss.
No other road. No other way.
No day but today.
There's only now. There's only here.
Give in to love or live in fear.
No other path. No other way.
No day like today.
“Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:28-29, 34) Because of their situation, they must live day to day, thinking not of tomorrow.
“Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4, 7) Roger is bitter and angry and doesn’t want to get into a relationship with anyone, especially someone who, like Mimi, is a drug addict. Mimi has fallen in love with him, however, and keeps trying to start, and keep, a relationship with him. When he sings that he’s got baggage, she replies, “I’ve got baggage too, I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.” He is not easy to love, but she keeps on trying.
In the song, "Rent," Roger sings, “Your own blood cells betray” which is the case for Mimi, Roger, Collins, and Angel who have AIDS. Collins and Angel go to an AIDS support group, which sings:
Will I lose my dignity
Will someone care
Will I wake tomorrow
From this nightmare
The second time they sing it, some of the characters gradually vanish from the scene.
“I was sick, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 36) In the second half of the movie, Angel is in the hospital dying of AIDS, and her friends come to help and comfort her. They lovingly paint her nails when she’s lying in the hospital hooked up to machines. They are trying, as much as they can, to help her keep her dignity.
Although she is a recent addition to their community, Angel, in many ways, helps to keep that community together, and the going gets rocky after she dies. Her introduction is reminiscent of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan helps the man beaten by robbers after others pass him by. At the beginning of the movie, Collins is beaten up and robbed. Angel comes upon him in an alley, bruised and sick, and cares for him and cleans him up. It would be easy for Angel to pass him by, especially since helping him meant going into the dark and possibly dangerous alley.
At the end, their community has fractured and then come back again. Maureen and Joanne have reunited, and Roger has moved back from Santa Fe, but they are unable to find Mimi. They put up notices and persistently search the city (like the woman in the parable who, having lost a coin, does not rest until she finds it) – in Mark’s words, “Being an us instead of a them…La Vie Boheme” When they do find her, near death, they pull together to take care of her.
At the beginning of the musical, in the song, "Rent," Roger and Mark sing:
What binds them together, and takes care of all of them throughout the musical, is their community. Their friendship. The way they work together, care and share. It’s what they had at the beginning, and what they have left at the end.
I googled “Rent” “Musical” and “Christian” just to see what I came up with. Most of the objections that some Christians had to Rent are included in the first paragraph, but there was one further objection that I found - that the good parts of Rent would seduce people into accepting alternate lifestyles. My lifestyle is pretty unchanging.
I find a different danger for myself – that, despite my recent experiences with churches, Rent may seduce me into believing in community again.