Note: The following discusses the ending of The Blues Brothers and contains spoilers, although, let’s face it, you really should’ve seen it by now.
An interesting, unexpected conversation after introducing my daughter, age twelve, to The Blues Brothers.
She was amused by the idea of Joliet Jake and Elwood being indestructible, protected from gunfire, explosions, and Illinois Nazis1 by the will of God himself, all on account of their valiant efforts to follow their mission and save the local orphanage. But why, then, she asked, if God was protecting them, did he not also keep them out of prison?
Let’s take a moment here to note I’m not a theologian – hell, I’m not even religious – but I do love a good quandary. And so I approach my daughter’s question not from an angle that can in any way be considered Catholic, or Christian, or Judeo-Christian, or any kind of capital-T Theist, or any kind of lower case-t theist (whatever that might be), but simply from the perspective of a guy who’s fascinated by the idea that a musical comedy based on Saturday Night Live characters just might, as my daughter wondered, imply that God is kind of a jerk.
After all, she argued, God got everything he needed, and the orphanage was saved. Meanwhile, the reaction to state, city, and county police was excessive; ignoring the notion that the overkill is part of the joke, did Jake and Elwood really deserve having hundreds of guns pointed at them at their time of arrest? Couldn’t God, mission having been accomplished, thrown them a bone and aided in their escape?
I argue no. Remember, the Penguin tells the boys to find redemption, and time and again as the story progresses, the boys refuse. The intents and the results of their actions are admirable, but throughout the film, they lie, cheat, steal, and break the law again and again and again, always without remorse. Even if we take the law out of it and excuse them for their countless moving violations, they still break commandment upon commandment, often for no reason other than because it’s their nature. Watch as Elwood steals a stack of windshield wipers while they wait for gas. It’s a great character moment, revealing an absolute absence of atonement, even after seeing the light sent from Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ himself.
It turns out being on a mission from God isn’t an excuse to remain, as the Penguin describes them, thieves with filthy mouths and bad attitudes. So I’d say God is playing fair, helping them along in their quest to save the children, keeping the Bluesmobile intact juuuuust long enough, keeping the cops at bay juuuuust long enough, keeping everyone safe juuuuust long enough. Once the receipt’s been stamped at the assessor’s office, their mission is over, and it’s time for them to be reminded of all the bad things they did on the way to doing a good thing.
But don’t worry too much. From the looks of the final scene, it appears God may be keeping an eye on the Blues Brothers after all, making sure their stay in the big house is, if not unavoidable, then certainly pleasant. They’ve earned it.