Austenland – Movie Discussion


These movie discussions are intended to help you connect your Christian faith to the modern world by:

1.  Helping you learn to see echoes of redemptive truth all around you.

2. Challenging you to help other Christians see that their relationship with Jesus cannot be confined to church but must invade our every activity…even our movie-watching.

3. Equipping you to speak Christ into culture by pointing out entry points for significant discussions with non-believers.  Many non-believers won’t accept an invitation to come to church, but they will talk about a movie they’ve seen recently…so we want to help you turn that conversation into an eternally significant discussion.

The current bleak yield of mainstream movies has been rescued by the delightful surprises in the indie/art-house market.  I know it received grim reviews, but if the audience in the theater with me was any indication… then Austenland is worth seeing.

Our theater was filled with laughter – more than I have heard in a theater in ages (granted, that may be because I opted not to see several of the raunchier comedies that came out this summer).  My friend and I left the theater feeling refreshed, light hearted, full of laughter and generally hopeful about life.

I don’t often editorialize, and everyone has different sensitivities and preferences, so I’m generally hesitant to “suggest” a movie – but I will say that if you’re looking for a movie to see with your girlfriends, and you aren’t into horror or slasher movies, and prefer not to sully yourself with raunchy humor and/or “adult” scenes…if you’re looking for something fun, refreshing, light-hearted and funny with a decent message or two to boot, then I’m going to venture a suggestion, because there isn’t much out there right now, and this one may not be in your local theater, so you may not even know it’s out there.  And while I’m making suggestions, let me also make a few suggestions about how you can turn Austenland into something more than just a fun outing.  Here are a few ideas to turn your after-movie chatter into something more meaningful:

General Synopsis: 

Jane is a die-hard fan of Jane Austen novels and saves up all her money for a trip to Austenland – a Jane Austen theme park where guests are treated to an experience straight out of an Austen novel.  Visitors are even guaranteed a chance to fall in love with one of the male actors playing roles similar to the male characters in the novels—all as part of the experience.

Snobbery Over Social Class and Finances

Every Jane Austen novel deals with the themes of class distinctions and social snobberies associated with class and finances.  In this case, Jane has only been able to afford the bottom tier package at Austenland, and so is snubbed by the owners of the park.  She is left out of many of the events and outings as they are only for the premier package guests.  Jane responds with kindness befitting any heroine of an Austen novel and would make Jane Austen herself proud with her grace.

Jesus, I dare say, had even more to say about this topic than Jane Austen did.  He was always turning the assumptions and expectations of class and societal structure and responsibilities upside down, saying things like, “the last shall be first” and telling stories like the good Good Samaritan.  James, Jesus’ half-brother, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said this, and it’s pretty clear:

 My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs ofthe kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?  James 2:1-7

Questions for Discussion:

  • Do you think things have changed, or do we still show favoritism like they did in the days of Jane Austen?  How are things the same or different?
  • Which side of the favoritism are you more often on, the giving or the receiving, the snubbed or the snubbor?
  • When you are the recipient of social snobbery (like Jane in Austenland), how do you respond?  Could your response be improved?
  • How would the world be different if everyone lived as Jesus taught?  How would your life be different if you really lived his teachings?

Aficionados vs. the Casual Fan

The movie begins with a discussion about what separates the casual Jane Austen fan from the true aficionado.  In a nutshell, the aficionado goes to extremes.  They don’t just read her novels, they study them.  They don’t just like the novels, they live them.  They don’t just watch the movies, they spend their time and money to go to Austenland where they can experience them in real life.  It’s a matter of commitment and investment.

The same is true in the Christian life.  What separates the true followers of Christ from the casual fans?   All may say they are Christians, all may say they follow Christ, but there’s a difference between the religious, the “casual Christian,” and the true follower of Christ—and it’s a matter of commitment and investment.

The fan of Christ may go to church on Sunday, may even tithe and read his/her Bible on occasion, but the true follower of Christ doesn’t give part of his time, and part of his money to Jesus, he knows that it’s ALL Jesus’ anyway and simply asks how he can steward well the resources God’s given him.  He gives it ALL to Jesus, knowing it’s all His anyway.  The true follower of Christ doesn’t see Christianity as something he does, but something he IS.  It’s not a Sunday thing; it’s a way of life.

The true follower of Christ drops everything to follow Jesus, as the disciples did.  Whereas the casual fan will sadly walk away when he hears Christ say that it’s going to cost him everything, when he hears Christ say, “give all you have to the poor and come follow me” (like the Rich Young Ruler did).  The casual fan follows Jesus when it’s convenient, the true follower of Christ follows when it’s costly, even when he has to pick up his cross and die to self to do so.

There’s that old joke about the chicken and the pig discussing taking breakfast to the farmer.  The pig tells the chicken, “Well – it’s easy for you.  For you it’s just a donation.  For me it’s a total commitment.”  That’s the difference between fans and aficionados of Jesus.  The true followers of Christ know it’s a total commitment, one that requires their very lives.

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’   Matthew 7:21-23

Questions for Discussion:

  • What was your opinion of Jane?  Was she crazy?  Did her passion for Jane Austen make sense in the end, even if your were originally critical of it?
  • Who do you know that you believe is truly an aficionado, a true follower of Jesus?  (Understanding, of course, that we will never truly know the heart of man, and that man is human and makes mistakes.)  What makes them different?  How do you feel about them?
  • Would you consider yourself a fan of Jesus?  Why or why not?
  • Would you consider yourself a true follower of Jesus?  Why or why not?
  • What is keeping you from following Jesus?

Make Believe – Pros and Cons

Jane is in a place where the actors are paid to “fall in love” with the guests.  Everyone knows it’s all pretend, and it’s part of the fun of being there—getting to experience courtship Austen-style, since all of her books are centered around the characters falling in love and getting married.  The problem is knowing where the make-believe ends and reality begins, and vice versa.

Jane has a pretty good head on her shoulders, despite her obsession with Jane Austen books.  So she takes the romance all in stride.  The problem is, she gets it all wrong.  She thinks she knows who is in on the “gig” and who isn’t, but she’s mistaken.  One of the “help” shows her much kindness, and she often retreats to his side to get away from all the actors.  She falsely assumes that he is outside the pretense, since he is the stable-hand and not one of the fine gentlemen who are obviously paid to engage the female guests.   She takes his affections for the real deal and lets her guard down, allowing herself to believe he really cares about her.

Meanwhile, the Darcy-esque character, the man who, as she says, is “every girl’s fantasy” is falling in love with her.  She doesn’t believe it however, because she knows he is paid to play a part.

Jane begins to question if there is danger in the games they are all playing.  She watches other actor/guest pairs and wonders, “Are they acting?  I don’t know what’s real and what’s fantasy.  What happens when the fantasy is over?”  She fears that in pretending romance, she’ll forget it’s only pretend and her heart will be hurt when the charade is over.

Jane longs for something real.  Unfortunately, as she longs for something real, she turns to something that is false.  Largely because, the thing that is real seems too good to be true.  So much so that, at one point she tells Mr. Nobley, “It doesn’t even matter than you weren’t real.  YOU were perfect.  Thank you.”  How could something so perfect be real?  Fortunately, love wins in the end.  The Darcy-esque Mr. Nobley pursues her and convinces her of his love.

This idea of make-believe is fascinating and a little tricky.  Jane is right to be cautious about it—it can be dangerous.  It can be dangerous when you are pretending things that are not true.  It’s dangerous when you lie to yourself or to others.  There’s a danger that you’ll begin to lose sight of the truth.  There’s a danger that you’ll fall for the lie yourself, just as there’s a danger of how you’ll handle it when reality comes crashing back in.

There’s a flip side to this idea of make believe though—it’s not all bad.  Sometimes it’s very important to pretend.  I love what C.S. Lewis says on the matter:

[The Lord’s Prayer:]  Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups – playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.  (Ch. 29)  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude’, you will probably be disappointed (p. 131).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

So you see, there is a valuable, important kind of pretending, just as there is a dangerous kind of pretending.  The key is to know the difference.  One is helping us towards something greater, the other is meant to deceive.  We need not only be careful of which we practice, we also need to be able to discern between the two in others, lest we be like Jane – alternately deceived by deception and mistrustful of the truth.

Know this, that when it comes to God, He is never pretending with us.  His love is real.  The problem is that, for a million different reasons, we are all tempted to mistrust His love, and when we are, we turn to something that is false every time.  We turn to idols that promise to fulfill our needs and desires, but can only disappoint.   Nothing about God is false.  Nothing.  He never has need to pretend anything.  His love is perfect and it is real.  Trust Him.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Have you ever been in Jane’s shoes?  Where pretend and reality got all mixed up?  How did you sort through what was real?
  • How did you feel in the movie when you found out about the stable hand’s role?
  • Have you ever been really duped by someone? 
  • Have you ever thought about the difference between good pretending and bad pretending? 
  • Can you think of times you’ve pretended something in the good way – times when your pretense of something has led to the real thing?  Explain.
  • Where do you turn when you need something “real”?  Does that thing/person ever disappoint you, or turn our false (or maybe just inadequate)? 
  • Do you trust in God’s love?  Do you think God would ever pretend?

Click here for a list of quotes from Austenland.

By Stacey Tuttle