TRUMBO: Wisdom and Love | FCC 109

Dalton Trumbo was once Hollywood’s premier screenwriter until he was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Because of his cunning, he found a way to get around that and still work, but because of his pride, his cunning got in the way of loving his family and friends. On this episode of the Finding Christ in Cinema podcast, we talk about what steps his family and friends had to take to get him back on the right path and we can relate them to using wisdom, love, and grace when engaging in discipleship.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction and Previous Episode Recap
  • 00:03:43 – Movie Discussion
  • 00:32:18 – Christian Themes in TRUMBO
  • 01:08:18 – Listener Challenge and Feedback
  • 01:15:42 – Reel News: R.I.P. Gene Wilder
  • 01:22:46 – Well-mannered Frivolity
  • 01:25:53 – Lightning Round 
  • 01:27:57 – Upcoming 

Gain the World, Trumbo, and Lose Your Soul

Dalton Trumbo was the best in the world at what he did, and what he did was write some of most beautiful scripts for Hollywood in the 1940s. After World War II, however, when America turned her attention to a new enemy called Communism, Trumbo and several others were blacklisted for their political alignment with that party. To be “blacklisted” was to be stripped of any rights to work and sent to jail. Both of these things happened to Dalton Trumbo, and this film does not sugarcoat any of that.

But then Trumbo gets an idea that can give him the power to circumnavigate the Hollywood blacklist, still be a productive screenwriter and still earn money for his family: write scripts under false names and write them for B-grade movie producers. Instead of writing for the big studios like MGM, he sets out to write for the King Brothers, producers of such fine Hollywood classics like Gun Crazy and Klondike Fury (I know, right?). And so, for a time, equilibrium seems to be restored.

This image from TRUMBO shows the Trumbo family sitting at the dinner table.

But the story progresses as Trumbo’s business ethics start alienating his friends and family; his pride and greed start pushing them away. He berates his oldest daughter Niki for interrupting his creative flow for a slice of birthday cake, and he makes his son give up a date for courier service.

His best friend and fellow writer Arlen Hird reaches out to Trumbo with the truth, but Trumbo gets mad and tells Arlen to leave the room. On his way out, though, Arlen tells him not to pretend like him getting his career back is some “great crusade” for mankind. With that, Arlen leaves for the last time.

Tensions continue to rise with the family. Cleo, his wife, eventually lets Trumbo know just how far away he has pushed the family. Trumbo finally gets the point and immediately goes to Niki to apologize. From there, he sets out to make amends with those with whom he has butted heads, including Arlen. Unfortunately, he is greeted with the news of Arlen’s death.

With that regret in his stride, Trumbo gathers what dignity he has left, and he writes something that Arlen encouraged him to write a while back – something good. From this point on, because of the love, grace, and kindness shown by his family and friends, Trumbo gets back on the right path.

This image from TRUMBO shows Louis CK as Arlen Hird.

We as Christians have plenty to learn from Trumbo. First of all, we see the image of a gifted man who lets his talents get in the way of loving his family and friends. Sure, a part of this downfall is greed, but this kind of greed stems from the deeper vice of pride.

Once Trumbo figured out he could still work his hustle while on the blacklist, he wanted to prove himself as the moral arbiter by sacrificing his integrity, his family, and his friends all on the pretense that what he was doing was a good thing. Then they, therefore, should do what he was doing if they wanted to or not (and if that’s not a clear picture of why we shouldn’t legislate morality in our own government, I don’t know what is).

But we also see the steps that his friends and family took to get him back. It’s like how Tim Keller once tweeted: “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.” Cleo, Niki, and Arlen all knew that Trumbo had the best of intentions, but none of them were so cowardly self-indulgent so as to let him keep tearing their lives apart. Once they started taking a stand for the truth they knew, it was a lot easier for Trumbo to see how he was messing up.

There’s something here for our own relationships: whenever when we see a brother and/or a sister in Christ acting out like Trumbo, it may only take us defining reality with the truth for them to see what they’re missing. After all, we don’t want anyone to be so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good, right?

Key Texts

Mark 8:36-37 NASB

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Proverbs 27:6 CJB

Wounds from a friend are received as well-meant, but an enemy’s kisses are insincere.

Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a good way to use stories to soften peoples' hearts. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever.
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