Rango: a Lenten Reflection by Steve

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Many Christians heard those words recently as a black smudge in the shape of a cross was placed on their foreheads.  As I observed Ash Wednesday this year and pondered again those words about dust from the fall story in Genesis 3, my thoughts went to the town of Dirt.  If you’ve seen the movie Rango, you know that Dirt is the town where most of the story takes place.  Rango offers plenty of food for thought as we journey through the Lenten season.  If you haven’t seen it, I will warn you that this reflection will contain some minor spoilers.

Rango is the story of a chameleon’s journey of personal discovery, just as Lent is meant to be a time of personal examination.  However, as the movie reveals, if that examination remains self-centered, it will end in failure.  God spoke the words about being dust as Adam and Eve were being evicted from Eden.  They had just eaten the forbidden fruit in order to gain the wisdom of God, in an attempt to be something that they were not.  The danger of  attempting to pass one’s self off as something greater than you truly are is played out in Rango.  As the movie begins, Rango has his Eden,  a terrarium where all his needs are provided for, but then he finds himself cast out into the wilderness where he will have to learn how to survive and, in the process, discover who he is.

When Rango (who is still unnamed at that point) arrives in the town of Dirt, he realizes that since no one knows him he can present himself in any way that he desires.  Rather than blending in, which would seem to be a natural move for a chameleon, he decides to cast himself as a tough as nails gunslinger.  It is at this time that he gives himself the name Rango, undoubtedly thinking that it sounds like the name of someone you shouldn’t mess with.

As he presents this bold and false front, one of the critters in the saloon asks him if he is the one who killed the bandit brothers.  He sees this as an opportunity to solidify his new persona and therefore claims that he is indeed the one who killed them.  However, he is not content to stick with that simple lie.  He adds to it by claiming that he killed them with one bullet.  My guess is that he was assuming that there were two bandit brothers.  Rango was surprised, along with the rest of us, to find out that there were seven of them.  Now Rango must spin a tale to cover up his original lies.  That’s how it is with lying, isn’t it?

During this season of Lent it might be good for us to ponder the dangers of getting caught in a web of lies, but Rango doesn’t need to worry about that, at least not yet.  The townsfolk buy into his story, as outrageous as it is.  Their need to have something to believe in as they face the struggles of life, including the shortage of water, is as great as Rango’s need to have them believe him.  His position of honor is quickly confirmed when he manages to kill the hawk that harasses the community, using just one bullet.  The death of the hawk is clearly the result of dumb luck, not Rango’s skill or bravery, but the critters of Dirt only see what they want to see.

Rango is given the title of sheriff and he proudly wears that badge, the symbol of justice in the West.  However, he (and we) are soon reminded of the instability of any security based in human institutions when the tombstone of the former sheriff is shown.  It reveals that he managed to hold the office from Thursday to Saturday!  As the dark forces that threaten the community mount, the townsfolk begin to lose faith in Rango, but he reassures them that as long as the Sheriff sign hangs in front of his office there is hope.  At that moment shots ring out and the sign is blown to pieces.  The gunman turns out to be Jake the Rattlesnake, who then proceeds to blow Rango’s cover.  When his lies are exposed, Rango leaves Dirt in disgrace.

As my co-blogger, Bill, points out in his reflection on this movie, what happens next could be seen as death and resurrection.  Although Rango does not literally die, he does cross over to the other side.  His encounter with the Spirit of the West is the turning point of the movie.  When Rango laments that he was unable to live up to the role of hero, the Spirit says, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.”  Taking those words to heart, Rango is able to return to Dirt and to be a hero, no longer as an act of selfish grandiosity, but as a servant to those he has come to love.

Our Lenten journey needs to take the same turn that Rango’s takes.  Self-reflection is an important part of the season, but the truth is that we find ourselves by losing ourselves.  The Spirit’s words, “It’s not about you, it’s about them,” remind me of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Rango’s sheriff badge proved to be an empty symbol, but we return to the sign of the cross, recently marked on our foreheads with ashes.  As long as we have that sign, we have hope.  Rango named himself, but we remember how God has named us his children in the waters of baptism.  As the townfolk of Dirt celebrate the return of the water that brings life to their community, we celebrate those waters of baptism and the resurrection life that they promise to us.


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