When it comes to “the anguish of my soul” Melvin Udall may be close to the top of the list. In the 1997 film, As Good As It Gets. Melvin (played by Jack Nicholson) is a hermit-like novelist, so plagued by obsessive-compulsive behavior he cannot be around anyone for two minutes without offending everyone within earshot.
Melvin’s obsessive-compulsive habits are center-stage, as he repeatedly washes his hands, methodically locks and re-locks the door, and avoids contact with other human beings. He carries rubber gloves so he won’t have to touch the door handle on a taxi. His is a life bound by rigid routines and feared superstitions. He won’t step on a sidewalk crack. At one point, in total frustration he rhetorically pleads to the people waiting in his psychiatrist's office, What if this is as good as it gets?
Helen Hunt plays opposite Nicholson as Carol, the waitress. She works at the restaurant at which Nicholson eats. She is the only waitress who will serve him. An earthy sort, Hunt’s character possesses a sunny, accepting disposition, even though life is hard. She lives with her mother and her chronically-asthmatic son in a run-down NY apartment.
The events of the story pit Carol’s engagement with life's mundane and sometimes harsh reality, against Melvin’s detachment and self-absorption. Slowly, irretrievably Melvin falls in love with Carol. He finds a doctor, and pays for the treatment of Carol's son. He does a favor for a despised homosexual neighbor. He even forgets to lock and re-lock the door.
In the end, an amazed Carol requites Melvin’s love. She has fallen for what she calls “a nutcase”, when all she wanted was a normal boyfriend.
The final scene shows Carol and Melvin walking the sidewalk together just before daybreak. The lights come on at the corner bakery, and they enter to check out the warm rolls. As Nicholson opens the door for Hunt, the former self-absorbed, obsessive-compulsive nutcase notices he's been walking on the sidewalk cracks. His attention has been on someone rather than all his fears.
Melvin grins in wonder, breathes a small relaxed sigh, and follows Carol inside; his life has been changed.
With all apologies due to psychiatrists, modern medical achievements, and all the self-help gurus - there is nothing in this world that can match the transforming power of being gripped by genuine love.
While there is little in this movie that could be called “religious” per se, it is still my all-time favorite (even with its irreligious moments), because it presents a vivid picture of the transforming power of love.
Seen in a proper context – a faith commitment – this story is our story. The power of Jesus Christ to change lives is the real “good as it gets”. His healing is the joy of release from sin's grip, and the beginning of life, real life.
For You, Today…
If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, transformation is a reality. He has placed joy within your reach, and it is available. Only a return to the old self can prevent His joy from transforming the way you feel and act today.
Which would describe as good as it gets for you?