Understanding Your Life Through Today’s Movies

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Understanding Your Life Through Today’s Movies

(This piece first appeared as a Religion News Service column in August 2007.)

This email popped into my in box recently.

“Saw a movie I really, really enjoyed the other night. It’s an independent called “Once” that was shot in just 17 days so it’s a little tough to find a theater. But it was worth the drive to Chicago for me and the Mrs.”

It is not unusual for friends to recommend movies they love, but what is interesting is to ask why that particular movie connected so deeply.

Mitch volunteered his reason.

“I was so happy with the ending that I wept a bit. How refreshing to see two people (who were obviously perfect for each other) set aside their own desires and CHOOSE to do the right thing — finding a way to love the ones who they had already made commitments to.”

If I asked you what movie has connected most deeply with your own journey and asked you to explain why, what movie would you choose?

In a class I teach at Seattle Pacific University this precise question reveals just how profoundly the answer discloses the tender spots of an individual human soul.

After explaining that I think the movies we love are often connecting to something in our own journey, I simply ask each student to prepare a creative 6-9 minute first person presentation about the “movie that has touched you most personally and why.”

I order pizza, bring in soft drinks and wait to see what will happen.

The first time we did this assignment the first presentation was a shocker.

Jenny announced she had chosen the movie “Girl Interrupted.” I knew her to be a bright, funny senior, bound for seminary after graduation. With the help of some film students she had prepared an 8-minute movie to tell her story, informing us that she would need 15 seconds at the end to explain her film.

The footage began with Jenny standing at an ocean shore watching a sunset. She then walked into a cabin, opened a prescription bottle and spilled all the pills onto her desk. She swallowed fistfuls of pills as she wrote the words “I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself” on page after page of her journal. In “Girl Interrupted” a depressed young woman hangs herself. In Jenny’s film her face is superimposed into the movie’s hanging scene.

The room was eerily quiet as Jennie stood up and simply said, “You just witnessed my life between the ages of 13 and 18.” She then sat down.

Jennie’s fellow students were no longer eating pizza. Uncharacteristically speechless I improvised, “after each presentation we will have a moment of silence to reflect on the presentation we’ve just seen.

That first, memorable, holy evening, an entire class of young men and women chose to invite us into their pain, and more importantly, to be a witness to and part of their healing.

Kaitlan expressed her sadness when imagining her wedding day, comparing her absentee alcoholic father with Steve Martin’s role as dad in “Father of The Bride.” Kirk, who originally had chosen a funny scene from “Love Actually,” saw the way the evening was unfolding and chose a different, more revelatory scene, saying, “I had no idea you guys were going to be so honest.” He then used Emma Thompson’s character to explain his fiancé’s problem with trust due to the infidelity in her parent’s marriage, which had been confessed on the very night four years earlier he arrived for his first date with his wife-to-be.

Film can be a way for us to connect to our story and become acquainted with the interior life of others. It is a common language that opens the door to disclosure on our path from our painful reality towards the fulfillment of our hopes.

I like the way Frederick Buechner puts it, “in a world where there are no longer books we have almost all of us read, the movies we have almost all of us seen are perhaps the richest cultural bond we have¢â‚¬¦The best of them remind us of human truths that would not seem as true without them. They help to remind us that we are all of us humans together.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    ‚©CRS Communications 2007

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