Kierkegaard at Babette’s Feast: The Return to the Finite

  • Author(s): Jean Schuler
  • When: 1997-10
  • Where: Journal of Religion and Film
  • Before heading for supper with the dwindling followers of the long deceased minister, the General wagers with his younger self, whose image sprawls before him on the bedroom chair: did I make the right choice years ago to leave this village and my hopeless love for the minister's daughter to pursue a brilliant career that took me to the highest circles within the royal court? Was it the right choice? Tonight in her presence, I'll know. The older self has grown weary of the trappings of power and the vanities of ambition. He is resigned to the fearful disclosure that indeed he had taken the wrong turn: how a life replete with victories could be swallowed by defeat. But supper never happens. Instead, the General and his elderly aunt sit down to such an exquisite banquet that he is overwhelmed. Impossible but true. In this desolate outpost of melancholy rustics, how he should taste such delicacies as are virtually unknown outside the most fashionable restaurant of Paris? The sheer dimensions of this incongruity defied all accounting. But who wins the wager? Which was the right path to follow? Standing for a toast in the midst of this unfathomable event, the General gives thanks to that great mercy which stretches further than all our efforts--whether commonplace or heroic. In the presence of God's amazing mercy we discover that nothing has been lost. I have been with you every day, he tells Martine in parting, and I will sit down to dine with you every night for as long as I live. I have learned that all things are possible. Is this winning or losing? How can he know until he realizes just what his life has been really about?

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