Catch Me if You Can

A Story without Christ?

After watching Star Wars Episode I, my wife expressed her surprise at such a blunt reference to the virgin birth (Anakin also being conceived 'immaculately'). My response was to ask her to name any film at all without a reference to Christ. Her first try was easy: Avatar. (Tip: don't choose a Sci-fi film.) Her second suggestion threw me: Catch Me if You Can. I happened to have the book and decided to finally read it instead of watching the film again. Here's what I thought.

Obviously there are some differences in the story, though I didn't feel that I had been misled by the film version of Frank Abagnale's story. It seemed clear to me that the major differences between book and film were simply the result of having to condense the story from novel-length to film-length.

Pomiscuity

However, the first significant difference I noticed was the vastly greater amount of promiscuity in the book. I was shocked. For example, he writes about getting his first car, "that Ford fractured every moral fibre in my body. It introduced me to girls. I didn't come to my senses for six years. They were wonderful years." (p15) He goes on to begin describing the extent of his promiscuity, but the bigger shame is his lack of remorse.

Just as in the film so also in the book, Frank Abagnale presents himself as not being the criminal type but rather someone who more or less accidentally stumbled into crime and makes many excuses for his actions, such as his young age, his parents' divorce, and the delusion that he only targeted large corporations, those protected by insurances, and never 'innocent' people. Unfortunately, he just seems to be blind to the number of individuals he affected. He writes, seemingly unashamedly, that his own father was the first person he conned, "My father was the mark for the first score I ever made. Dad possessed the one trait necessary in the perfect pigeon, blind trust, and I plucked him for $3,400. I was only fifteen at the time." (p12) In another place we read that simply by placing some dodgy deposit slips in one bank he made over $40,000 in a couple of days (p112). Where did all that money come from? From innocent individuals. Did they all get their money back? Who knows? Did any individuals lose their jobs because of the ease with which he used them to swindle their companies? He doesn't say.

In another example of his refusal to acknowledge his moral culpability we read on page 17, "But there's also a type of person whose competitive instincts override reason. They are challenged by a given situation in much the same manner a climber is challenged by a tall peak: because it's there. Right or wrong are not factors, nor are consequences." It may well have been the challenge that created the temptation but the moral decision remains.

Punishment

Eventually Mr. Abagnale was caught by police in France and served 6 months in jail there. This is the difference that really caught my attention in the book. How bad the jail was is not really shown in the film (a brief glimpse of unpleasant conditions) but is described in some detail in the book. By the time he ended up there, however, I couldn't help but feel that he deserved it. Although Frank Abagnale doesn't seem to realise the seriousness of crime, the Bible teaches us that God takes it very seriously and uses similar language to describe hell as that used in 'Catch Me if You Can' to describe the French prison cell. I did feel that Mr. Abagnale has had a taste of what that will be like. I've never read such a wretched description of what a living existence can be like:

I was in total darkness. A damp, chilling, breath-stifling, frightening darkness. I stood up to grope around for the light switch and cracked my head against the steel ceiling.
There was no light switch. There was no light in the cell. There was, in fact, nothing in the cell but a bucket... The cell was not a cell, actually, it was a hole, a raised dungeon perhaps five feet wide, five feet high and five feet deep, with a ceiling and door of steel and a floor and walls of stone. The ceiling and door were chill to the touch. The walls wept chilly tears constantly. (p169)
I was suddenly scared, actually fearful... I still have nightmares from my stay (p170)
Mine was not a term in prison, it was an ordeal designed to destroy the mind and body... The bucket was my latrine. I was not given any toilet paper, nor was the bucket removed after use. I soon adapted to the stench, but after a few days the bucket overflowed and I had to move around and sleep in my own faecal matter. (p171)
Lice and other insects small enough to gain admittance to the fetid cell nested in my body hair and feasted on my flesh. I developed sores from my scratching and these became infected from contact with the always-present filth... Unintelligible shouts and curses, screams of pain and anguish, and muffled groans and cries washed softly along the corridor outside almost constantly, sometimes ceasing abruptly only to start again within minutes. (p172)

Jesus said:

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:11-12)

In Mark 9:48 Jesus quotes Isaiah to describe what it will be like for people in hell:

the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. (Isaiah 66:24)

Remorse

Unfortunately, Frank Abagnale shows a lack of remorse for his crimes. I hope I misunderstood and I hope for his sake that he realises his condition and repents before it's too late. He writes, "I did time in a French poky, served a stint in a Swedish slammer and cleansed myself of all my American sins in the Petersburg, Virginia, federal jug." (p11) I'm sorry to say that is not how you get your sins purged.

So, where is there a link or reference to Christ? The link isn't direct and blunt as it is in Avatar or Star Wars but the story of Jesus creating humankind and then dying to save us, as well as the future judgement on unrepentant people and salvation for those who do repent, is the true story of the Universe and it weaves itself into every story. An absence of a reference to Christ in a person's life is a scary thing but this story serves as a warning of the consequences of just that - of ignoring his claim on our lives and instead pursuing our own desires to our own destruction.