The tagline of this blog is stories about living a bigger story. My theology is centered on the idea that, at it’s core, life is about the story of God unfolding all around and even inside each of us. As such, stories, both big and small, mean a great deal to me. I see most of life, from the ordinary and mundane to the extraordinary and spectacular, as a series of stories weaving in and out of the larger, macro story of a God who still very much loves the world and will not leave things as they are. So needless to say, I am a fan of stories. I don’t think there is a story-telling medium in existence today that is more effective or dynamic than the movies. I learn so much from the stories that movies tell us. 2011 was no exception. Here are a few movies, in no particular order, that taught me something significant this year.
Another Earth: An indie film made on a barebones budget of less than $200k, the story is driven by questions about redemption and how deep it can actually run. This film taught me that real redemption sits high atop a mountain peak and we must bring our regrets there to barter. It taught me that we cannot carry both regrets and redemption at the same time. None of us have shoulders broad enough to bear that sort of weight. Another Earth makes the statement that everyone must choose one or the other.
Drive: This might be my favorite movie of the year. Ryan Gosling barely says a word and yet his character drives the entire narrative (no pun intended). The story is straightforward and void of the sorts of twists and turns common to today’s action dramas. This film taught me that human character is usually not as simple as good vs. bad. We all have a little good and a little bad within us and there is a choice to be made between the two in every moment of life. And sometimes, there is good in the bad and vice versa. If that doesn’t make sense, go watch the movie and pay close attention to the scene in the elevator.
Bridesmaids: I like Kristen Wiig. A lot. She’s the main reason I still watch Saturday Night Live. This film taught me that friendships do not just happen. Friendships require work, trust, compromise, and understanding. We often think of our relationships with those closest to us as the pillars against which we can lean at all times but sometimes, even the sturdiest pillars give way and we find ourselves at a loss because the ones closest to us seem to let us down. But in the end, it is the unwavering commitment of deep friendship that pushes past our disappointments and gives us hope for tomorrow. Also, I think Jon Hamm has a career in comedic films once Mad Men is over.
The Descendants: Having loved both Sideways and About Schmidt, my expectations were high for this film and Alexander Payne did not disappoint. The Descendants actually exceeded my expectations, as I would consider it head and shoulders above both of the previously mentioned films. This film taught me that the most painful burdens of life are only bearable when we share it with the ones who love us too much to allow us to bear them alone. And in sharing our burdens, we find that the love holding us together is the same love that carries us forward, beyond the pain and into new territories where we begin to feel alive again. I walked out of the theater and felt more in love with my family. That’s the power of this film.
The Tree of Life: I’ve always felt about Terence Malick films the way I feel about abstract art: I don’t get it but I feel like I should if I don’t want to be considered an idiot. But here’s the thing about The Tree of Life: I don’t think it’s meant for the audience to “get it.” The film is about life, its infinite nature, and the ways in which our quite finite, human stories seem so large and are yet so miniscule in the big picture of things. I think. Or maybe the movie’s just about Brad Pitt being angry? I don’t know. The point is, this is a film large enough to teach us all about whatever it is we need to learn at any given point. For me, I learned that the tension between how important my life feels and reality of its smallness against the backdrop of the universe is a tension shared by the whole of humanity. And in embracing this reality, we may find that the tension is no tension at all but is instead a healthy paradox that somehow coexists and even fulfills the other. My story is clearly finite and miniscule and insignificant, and yet, without it, the whole of the universe would not be quite what it is. In this way, my story is as big as the story of the stars.