RW in the Movies

by | May 6, 2013

This Thursday I’m launching a new companion blog that will use short clips from popular movies to teach relational wisdom. As a prelude to the first post, I’d like to describe the classic formula for great stories and explain how we can learn life-changing relational skills from two-minute movie clips.

Gone with the WindWhether we’re watching Gone with the Wind, Les MisérablesThe Hunger Games, or Downton Abbey, the attractive force that glues us to a movie screen is the relational dynamics between the major characters as they contend with each other and the challenges that surround them.

In great movies, these dynamics always lead to some form of redemption (personal improvement, restoration, or reconciliation). This process revolves around a hero who is driven by a desire for something he sees and a need for something that he may not discern until the end of the story.

The hero is blocked by both an inner flaw and some form of external adversary (often representing an opposing worldview). This opposition intensifies to the point that the hero nearly fails in his quest.

But then near the climax he finally realizes that what he desired was not what he really needed. This self-revelation is the main point the story-teller is trying to convey to us, the ultimate theme or moral of the story. This revelation is either the result of the final confrontation or the means by which the hero finally gains a victory, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Think of your favorite movies (or books), and you will see these key story elements. Why are they so universal? I believe it is because they echo the greatest story in the world, our own redemption by God.

We all pursue desires that we think will make us successful and happy. But our adversary, Satan, and the inner flaw of our sin block us from finding fulfillment. As long as we seek our own ends and depend on our own efforts, we continue to fail. But when we finally see the emptiness of our desires and the futility of our efforts, and realize that what we need is the grace and forgiveness that God offers to us through the gospel, we finally achieve victory over our adversary and our sin, and experience redemption and reconciliation with God.

These key elements of God’s redemption story are woven into the tapestry of creation and echo through everyday life. Therefore, even when Hollywood writers and actors profess no faith in God, they cannot help but use these elements to present their own stories. In the process they are compelled to draw on and portray all of the relational dynamics that are part of the great redemption story.

Fear, pride, jealousy, greed, judgment, vengeance—the bitter fruit of a fallen world—set the stage and build the tension in every story. Hope, love, compassion, sacrifice, forgiveness, and reconciliation—the evidences of God’s image and grace in us—enable our heroes to emerge from their challenges victoriously.

Great actors are especially adept at conveying a story and portraying the dynamics of human relationships, both good and bad. As we watch them, we see ourselves in Technicolor. If we pay careful attention, we can see our relational weaknesses and failures, and also learn how to relate to one another more thoughtfully and effectively.

So check your inbox Thursday morning. You’ll find a short video clip from a major motion picture … and some simple but powerful lessons on how to improve your relational skills.

– Ken Sande

Reflection questions:

  • Name two or three of your favorite movies and briefly summarize them using the story elements described above (hero, desired goal, adversary, inner flaw, near failure, self-revelation, moral of the story)
  • Which of these elements do you see in the biblical narratives describing the life of Abraham? David? Esther? Peter?
  • Using the same elements, describe your own personal testimony of salvation.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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