8.01.2009

The Method and the Means

I cry at the movies. It’s not often, mind you, but once in a while a story hits me hard and I tear up. My wife and I saw ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ at the cheap theaters and we were both bawling. (Keep in mind that she cries during every movie we watch, but I don’t. I only cry when it really hits me, or when I’m sick. The last time I was really sick, I cried during ‘Pimp-My-Ride.’ I swear it was the drugs).

The story of Benjamin Button hit me so hard, because the primary topic of the movie is how this backwards-aging man deals with his mortality. I’m not backwards aging, but it’s a struggle that I can’t help but resonate with it. His backwards-aging is simply a new set of lenses, with which we see the same mortality issue with a new perspective.

Now, if Benjamin Button aged right, it wouldn’t have been worth blogging about. He didn’t do anything extraordinary. He was rather boring, truth be told. He was rather normal. This movie is a great example of how important the way a story is told can be.

Benjamin’s Story would lose its impact if you tried to tell it on Broadway. It’s too delicate a story to be sang and danced. You would cheapen it too much to be of any interest. It’s not about being flashy or glamorous so you couldn’t tell it in a TV series. You might be able to tell it in a musical context, if it was treated right. But you lose the impact of what’s actually happening when you can’t see him age. It would turn into ‘Quinn the Eskimo’ or ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.

Another great example of a great story combined with great story telling is the TV show ‘Firefly.’ While every episode is great there’s one that always stands out in my mind. The episode is titled ‘The Message’ and it starts with the crew receiving a dead body in the mail. It’s a man named Tracey that the captain served with during the war. The first thing they do is find a mini tape recorder with a message for the crew. It turns out that Tracey’s not really dead and the rest of the episode is spent finding out what’s really going on. He’s made some bad choices that put all of our heroes at risk. Tracey does die towards the end. The last scene is of the crew delivering his body to his parents. The same pre-recorded message plays and his “last” comments have a completely different meaning this time, because of the way we get to know him. He started just a corpse, but in 45 minutes he’s become someone worth caring about. That’s what’s really fantastic about it.

I wish we took as much care with how we told the Gospel story every Sunday. Why can’t Sunday worship have as much or more impact on me than Brad Pitt with a beard? I know The Story isn’t as glamorous or as flashy or as well funded, but it is so much more important.

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