One of my very good friends in Houston, Henry Bragg, invited me to go see the movie “A Story Film” made by John Eldredge (author of Wild at Heart) and his crew. The movie attempts to help us look at our lives in terms of a story in order to help us gain self-understanding. This narrative self understanding is a very important to prevent ourselves from being being boxed-in by bottom-line-culture. What I mean by bottom-line-culture is that we live in a culture which tends to define us by some basic common denominators which often happens to be related to money or knowledge or power. A story-culture is the anti-thesis to the bottom-line-culture. Knowing people through their life stories gives us a deeper sense of ourselves and people around us than if were to use money, power or knowledge as the only criteria to know/judge people.
What is interesting about the movie is that John Eldredge and his crew of 6 guys attempt to go on an adventerous journey to “find the story that tells their personal stories.” For the Eldredge crew, given that most of them had not driven motorcycles in any form prior hand, to go on a 10 day trip riding off-road motorcycles is an adventure indeed. Seeing the 6 guys wrestle with excitement and nervousness about the trip gives the movie a touch of authenticity. Finding stories which tell our personal storyhelps us gain true self-understanding.
One may ask, how does living an adventurous story help in self-understanding? Bart Erhman, Eldredge’s friend, gives a clue to the answer. Once when Bart went flying he had to land on a short landing strip, he ended up crashing his flight because of his mis-calculation. His co-pilot later told him that when the flight crashed and was sliding like 500 yeards, Bart, frustrated that his mistake caused the crash, kept banging his fist on the dashboard and yelling at himself, “you miserable piece of s***.” When we are stressed, the facade which we project about us to the world outside falls off and what we truly think about ourselves gets exposed. The failure of landing the flight helped Bart know what he really thought about himself. Failure in our story is not to be hidden, it is a place rich for exploration of our identities to find how we really see ourselves as.
Failure in story helps in self-understanding. Self-understanding paves way for us to find completion or redemption. Eldredge says, “a good story is one that will account for the beauty and the loss (suffering) in life”. Being able to account for beauty and suffering gives ones life deep meaning. Eldredge’s friend, another psychologist, on the trip says, “beauty destroys our fears”. After all, is it the beauty of the maiden princess that fuels the prince to suffer crossing seven mountains and defeating seven monsters. The end of the story gives meaning to the story. Unredeemed stories leave us with a sense that someone is missing. Like in every time I see the movie “Titanic”, I feel something is missing because the movie did not end with redemption. Good art is something that stirs us to look for what is missing in our real life. It fuels our search for redemption.
In as much as the story ends with redemption then the story seems worth the suffering and loss. The root cause of modern anxiety is that we do not have any hope that our stories will end with true redemption. In a Godless world, notes Eldredge, the beginning of the world is seen as a random accident. Consequently, hope for redemption in such an accidental world is implausible. In as much as our lives do not have hope for redemption, our stories seem meaningless. If there are no stories worth living for, then we end up living for something else – money, power or knowledge. In as much as our identities are solely determined by success in the bottom-lines factors of money, power or knowledge we end up reducing our humanity to those shallow bottom-lines. In as much as we take a step back from our bottom-line obsessions with money, power and knowledge, we will see that there are richer stories to be lived with eternal hope (Rev 21:4) in which our stories will be redeemed. Knowing ourselves through our life-stories instead of forming our identities around the bottom-lines of money, power or knowledge helps us deeply know our failures, be more aware of our need for redemption and thus live more meaningful life-stories.
Ps: Though I really enjoyed some part of the movie, I at least have a three fold critique of the movie. Firstly, in spite of some good insights, the movie does not quite cohere together. The adventure in the movie does not have a moment of real failure. Unless there is real failure, there is no need for redemption. May be if they had gone on a month long trip instead of a 10 day trip then the crew would have faced real failure and it would have been interesting to see how they are redeemed from that. Without any real failure, much of the movie was just talk. This went against one of the fundamental principles of film making that a good film is to be more seen than heard. Secondly, a good movie as the director Ridley Scott says is about a conflict over some value. A part of the problem with film is that the movie does not have a conflict over a value. In my blog here, I have tried to compare the story way of life vs a bottom-line way of life in order it bring out the contrast that was missing in the movie. Thirdly, the editors should have cut out the last 20 minutes of the film which is a panel discussion intended to create interest in order to get the audience to follow more of the film on the website. What made the movie interesting was the casual style with impromptu dialog laden with disparate insights. The 20 minutes long panel discussion at the end was too formal and badly edited leaving a bad after taste.