At first I thought Ruby Sparks was just a sweet little romantic comedy. Then I realized it solves the problem of evil and refutes Calvinism within two hours and I thought, “That’s interesting.” Then I realized the protagonist’s name is Calvin and I though, “That’s really interesting.” I refuse to believe this is a coincidence. I’m convinced that co-star Zoe Kazan’s screenplay runs deeper than the epidermis. On the surface, Ruby Sparks is a cute fantastical comedy. But like all good art it points beyond itself and explores some truly fascinating philosophical issues.
Zoe Kazan plays the titular character, Ruby Sparks, who exists in the mind of one-hit-wonder and boy literary genius Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano). She is the star of his (hopefully) sophomore novel. One day, in a twist of magical realism, he finds Ruby living in his house. A figment of the imagination no more, Ruby is a living, breathing, flesh and blood human being. Furthermore, to Calvin’s astonishment, he discovers that whatever he writes about Ruby on the page come true in reality. Calvin’s brother (Chris Messina), being the mercenary and worldly type, suggests he “enhance” his creation for his own purposes – if you catch my drift. Calvin wants none of this, and vows never to write about Ruby again. I don’t think it’s any spoiler, since we all know the cliché, that he breaks this promise.
Ruby is a girl for the modern era: every hipster’s dream. She’s a pixie with red hair and she dresses like a candy shop. I can imagine them all, in the store picking out new scarves or dancing to “Pumped Up Kicks” and dreaming of the day when they’ll have their very own Ruby Sparks. She is not perfect though. She can be moody and sometimes just downright weird. Calvin doesn’t mind. They get along swimmingly for what seems like several months (time doesn’t really flow consistently in this movie). He even takes her all the way up to Big Sur to meet his granola mother (Annette Bening) and her pot-head lover Mort (Antonio Banderas). I don’t have to tell you that it all comes crashing down.
In an intense and even a bit frightening scene, Calvin reveals to Ruby the nature of her reality. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well. I think the point of Ruby Sparks is not so much love, but the nature of true caritas. Though he loves Ruby very much, Calvin realizes that because she has no free will, and is under his control, she doesn’t really love him equally. And so in giving her free will, Calvin creates the possibility that she will reject him of her own accord. Since Calvin is not omnibenevolent, this fact drives him mad with the fear that Ruby won’t love him. And when she doesn’t, he seizes his control once again to devastating effects.
Again, I cannot ignore the obvious theological principle here. God created man perfect. An intelligent being without free will cannot be perfect because it cannot freely choose to love God. So God bestowed upon men free will, yet in so doing he created the possibility that men would do evil and not good. Ruby Sparks sums this up rather nicely and succinctly and in layman’s terms. I have no way of knowing if this was Zoe Kazan’s intention, but it does seem a little coincidental that the main character’s name is Calvin (John Calvin of course being the 16th-century heretic who denied humans have free will). Like John Calvin, Calvin Weir-Fields is a tad of a megalomaniac. He is selfish and whiny at times and spends most of his days moping around wishing he could write. Thankfully, our creator is all-perfect and all-good. Poor Ruby is cursed with a flawed and possessive creator.
The movie is not totally great. It borders on the ridiculous once or twice and that contrived DRAMATIC MUSIC keeps shoving its mug in at every chance. Other than this, I think Ruby Sparks makes the point very well. We are not, as Jonathan Edwards said so eloquently, sinners in the hands of an angry God. The choice is ours. Will we love, or will we not. It’s that simple.