Friday, June 15, 2012

Think Pink

Whenever the Pink Panther diamond is missing, we all know who to call... Inspector Jacques Clouseau! (or is that CHIEF Inspector?)

Sellers as Clouseau in 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' (1978)
Sellers as Clouseau in 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' (1978)
Many have imitated, but none can replace the great Peter Sellers, who - with writer/director Blake Edwards - created and perfected the character in a series of loosely connected films in the 1960s and '70s. The movies were so popular that the cartoon Pink Panther character who appeared in the first film's opening credits inspired a series of animated short films of his own! The animated version of the inspector from the second film's credits likewise got his own series of short films. In the live-action realm, Alan Arkin, Rich Little, Roger Moore, Ted Wass (as another detective), Roberto Benigni (as Clouseau's son), and most recently Steve Martin have all tried their best to take Sellers' place, but most agree that no one holds a candle to the original.

My personal favorites are 1964's A Shot in the Dark and 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther, but I also must admit I thoroughly enjoyed Steve Martin's reinvention in 2006's The Pink Panther. I know many "Panther-purists" may be unhappy with me for saying that, so let me try to explain myself.

I'm not saying the new Clouseau is funnier than the original, but I do appreciate that Steve Martin truly made the character his own. He created his own funny accent and his own look/style for the character instead of doing a straightforward impersonation of Peter Sellers, and I think this was a wise move. But the key for me is that even though Sellers and Edwards were not involved, and even though there is not as much physical humor here as in the originals, I felt like the 2006 movie really captured the heart of the earlier films.
Martin as Clouseau in 'The Pink Panther' (2006)
Martin as Clouseau in 'The Pink Panther' (2006)

Throughout the Sellers' era, one of the main comedic elements of the series was the relationship between Inspector Clouseau and his superior, Commissioner Dreyfus. Dreyfus knew what we the audience knew - that Clouseau was a bumbling idiot, for lack of a better term - but Dreyfus couldn't stand Clouseau because despite his constant foul-ups, everyone else revered him as a great inspector. Dreyfus was driven out of his mind because nobody else could see what he saw.

The '06 film does an excellent job of exploiting that relationship. Although Dreyfus does not resort to trying to murder Clouseau, as he often did in the Sellers' films, we learn that the very reason Clouseau was promoted to Inspector was because the commissioner perceived him to be an idiot. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau to get nowhere with his public investigation while Dreyfus solved the murder behind the scenes.

Something else the movie gets right is that while everyone else may be against him, Clouseau never loses faith in his fellow man. As with the older films, he always assumes that Commissioner Dreyfus likes him, even when Dreyfus is not kind to him. And in the '06 film, he is not reluctant to call Ponton to work with him again even after he finds out that Ponton knew from the beginning Dreyfus had set him up for the fall.

But they changed one thing about Steve Martin's Clouseau that I think was a change for the better: while there is still an abundance of comic mishaps and Clouseau still seems to make one wrong turn after another, he is not as stupid as he appears. He notices things no other character notices, knows things no other character knows, and solves the case that no one else - including Commissioner Dreyfus - could have correctly solved!

All of this reminds me of a proverb from the New Testament:

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."
- 1 Corinthians 8:1b 

Too often, we are like Dreyfus. We assume we know all that's important. We judge others based on what we see or feel without really getting to know them. We think we're always right and we get too full of ourselves. We get so puffed up full of hot air that we begin to look down on others, but our big heads can't handle it when we're proven wrong! (I'm not judging; I'm just using Dreyfus' stereotype as an example!)

But the better thing - believe it or not - is to be more like Clouseau! I'm not telling you to imitate his accent or to go out and buy a trench coat, or to do clumsy things. But when people do something you think is wrong, don't automatically assume the worst. Don't jump to conclusions or seek revenge. (We don't need another Hatfield-McCoy feud!) Instead, imitate Clouseau by giving people the benefit of a doubt. Better yet, imitate Jesus, who spent his time on earth with sinners of every sort, including those who would eventually betray him. Imitate Jesus, who gives all of us a second chance...and a third chance...and a fourth chance... Imitate Jesus, who taught his disciples to be different by showing love for one another (John 13:35).

What the Pink Panther movies show us is the same thing we learn from more serious films like Radio and The Blind Side: instead of focusing so much on what we know and puffing ourselves up, we'd do a whole lot better if we would just focus on love and build one another up. So the next time you think you know better than somebody else and you're tempted to look down on them, I encourage you to remember these examples and Think Pink. That person might be capable of greater things than you ever imagined!

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Please comment on this post. Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Is there something I left out or should have covered? Was something confusing? I want to know what you think!