I watch movies differently than I used to.
I’m not as picky about content now, though if I have children someday, I’m sure I’ll carefully and prayerfully monitor what they watch. But lately for myself, while I still pay attention to language and sex and violence red flags, I care more about the overall story and message portrayed…and what’s behind it.
My sister, studying theater at a Christian university, has discussed in her classes the idea of watching movies as a window to our culture, to the human hearts of people around us. And more and more, I’m realizing this is true.
It’s fascinating to see what stories, what questions, are gripping the hearts of those around us today. For in so many ways, the stories that resonate with audiences on our big screens reflect the hopes and struggles of our society as a whole. Even of ourselves.
Think of big hits of recent years of the last year or two—of Les Misérables, 12 Years a Slave, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, and Unbroken. Yes, there have been a lot of junky movies alongside them. But do you hear as much hype about those?
I think we are most drawn to the movies, the stories, that tug on our souls in ways we may not even understand, but that speak to our deepest longings and the space within us that aches to be filled with God. To His own image inside us, whether we recognize it or not.
As little Henry says in the TV series Once Upon a Time, when Dr. Hopper (formerly Jiminy Cricket) asks him why he thinks the fairy tale story he believes about everyone is so important:
“Because this can’t be all there is.”
And I think deep in each human heart, if not pounded and dulled to nothingness, is that awareness, that seeking for another world, another dimension. Because it is there…He is there.
We went to see the movie Into the Woods with a group of theater friends last week, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. A conglomerate fairy tale that twists darker yet deeper than you’d expect, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about this movie I found so compelling. There is the struggle between good and evil, but it’s not as clear-cut as in many stories—in fact, the musical plays with what exactly makes good and evil and how we know the difference.
I think the characters just reminded me so much of us. The Baker and his wife, Cinderella, Jack, Little Red, and the others—despite their fairy tale origins, in this story they seem to represent so much what it is to be human. They have grand hopes and wishes, and they think if they come true everything will turn right—and then, they find it doesn’t. They are flawed and selfish and sinful, quick to blame others when things go wrong. And yet, when great danger threatens their land, the few who are left find the strength to band together, to set aside their own griefs and grievances, to take up responsibility and courage, to love and risk for one another—and so to become a family.
And while the story doesn’t deal with much explicit spiritual stuff—aside from fairly unexplained magic—certain lines carry a biblical weight:
“Someone is on your side…someone else is not
While we’re seeing our side…maybe we forgot
No one is alone…”
~”No One is Alone,” Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim
Stories matter, because they reflect the souls of the people who write them…and also because they can communicate truth in a way that reaches our hearts, even if it takes a while for our minds to process or comprehend.
But that’s all right, isn’t it? For while we certainly need our minds renewed, it seems God focuses most on our need for a change of heart. Maybe that’s one reason why Jesus liked to tell stories.
And that is what happens in the most powerful and enduring stories in the world: hearts are changed. Like the Baker in Into the Woods, and Jean ValJean, and the Beast, and Bilbo Baggins, and Edmund Pevensie.
And when we enter into these stories, our hearts can be changed too.
What do you think–do stories matter in our world today? Why? Please comment and share!