A family member once told me that Brigadoon (1954), a classic musical starring Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, was light-hearted and had little depth. When I finally watched the film, what I witnessed was light-hearted on the surface but deeply disturbing underneath.
Brigadoon, a small village in the Scottish highlands, is stuck in the past. The year is 1754. To the rest of the world, including Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) from New York City, it is 1954. How did this event, which the villagers call a “miracle,” take place? Pastor Forsythe was disturbed that witches might enter Brigadoon and poison people’s minds with lies. So he asked God to make the village disappear from the world and its maps, to come alive from sunrise to sunset only once every hundred years. On Wednesday, the year is 1754; on Thursday, 1854; and on Friday, 1954. If anyone leaves, he or she will make Brigadoon disappear forever. Forsythe made this “miracle” possible through self-sacrifice; he left the village forever, living and dying like a normal man. Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones) reveals Brigadoon’s history to Tommy and Jeff an hour into the film. In the meantime, the screen is filled with villagers in stereotyped Scottish dress and rousing song-and-dance numbers. Their outer joy disguises a terrible truth, one that reflects painfully on the church and its critics today.
Some elements of Brigadoon resemble the classic fairytale “Sleeping Beauty.” Why would anyone want to live in a fairytale village, so they can sleep for one hundred years and live their normal lives in a single day? Some outsiders ask the same question of the church. Why would anyone want to be part of a community that resists change and ignores the trials and tribulations of outsiders, people who live daily in the noise and confusion of the real world?
Pastor Forsythe was wrong to ask God to make Brigadoon disappear, so that the villagers would be resistant to change. Change is not evil. It is also inherently human. God alone does not change (Malachi 3:6). We are not God, so we must change. Otherwise, we make ourselves God and that is idolatry. All that matters is whether change on our part is for better or worse. Through change we can strengthen a relationship or weaken it, and gain victory over an enemy or suffer defeat. If we want to draw close to God, then the change of conversion or the “new birth” is vital.
Christians should not resist spiritual and social changes either. They should witness to the lost and help the poor and oppressed. It took a whale and a vine to make Jonah see that God was showing grace to Nineveh (Jonah 1-4), and a vision of unclean animals to make Peter see that God was showing grace to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Both men needed a strong wake-up call to understand how, and why, God was moving in his people.
God is still moving, but most people in the church do not see him. A German Christian who lived through World War II said that the church in America today is just like the church in Germany then. Christians sing worship songs but are oblivious to the outside world. Then, it was a literal train filled with Jews destined for concentration camps; now, it is a proverbial one filled with unborn babies destined for abortion clinics. Christians should not appear to outsiders like Highlanders in 18th-century dress. They should not act like Mr. Lundie either, who is so far removed from reality that he hears distant voices of angst while sleeping on a cloud.
However, the changes that some people want to see in the church are impossible. There is an omnipotent God and his name is Jesus Christ. Moral absolutes, heaven, and hell are all real. What we do in this life also matters in the next. Atheists, moral relativists, and the spiritually indifferent who insist on tolerance will never accept these timeless truths. If they compare the church to Brigadoon because of its biblical resistance to some changes, then they have been misled by Satan and their sinfulness. Their resistance to God and conversion is evil.
These truths are characterized by Van Johnson, a homosexual who resisted spiritual change. His character Jeff is an atheist who believes only in what he can experience with his physical senses and refuses to trust what he does not understand. Jeff’s physical presence on the village outskirts and emotional presence outside the plot reinforce this skepticism. When he finally learns the true history of Brigadoon, Jeff intrudes into the plot by accidentally killing Harry Beaton, who had threatened to leave the village because of his jealousy over a rival’s marriage to Jean Campbell. However, this intrusion is not enough to rouse Jeff from his physical drunkenness and spiritual stupor. He ridicules Tommy for wanting to stay and marry Jean’s sister Fiona (Cyd Charisse). Jeff never learns to love or make sacrifices. The film ends with him as asleep as Brigadoon, only his is a spiritual slumber.
Tommy and Fiona’s relationship is light-hearted, but it points to greater truths. Tommy is so in love with Fiona that Brigadoon’s songs become more real to him than the chaos of a New York City restaurant. When he finally returns to Scotland, Tommy discovers that the village has reappeared after just four months. Mr. Lundie tells him that he was awakened by the man’s love for Fiona. So Tommy decides to stay in Brigadoon and marry her. He learns that only by giving up everything can he gain what truly matters. Let us pray that more people learn and obey this truth today.