Today we had the privilege of receiving a message from movie producer Ralph Winter (Star Trek films, Planet of the Apes, X-Men, Fantastic Four). Working in the film industry, he knows first-hand the impact that storytelling can have.
Storytelling is something that sets us apart from all of God's other creations. So what makes a great story? Every great movie is a journey, usually from slavery to freedom. We usually know how the story ends, but the process is what is compelling.
Using Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) as an example, Ralph gave seven key elements that movie heroes have in common. They can also apply to us as we journey through life.
1. Need, or lack of moral character, usually of which the hero is unaware
Luke is a whiny, bored, unhappy, teenager who needs to grow up.
Luke longs to master technology as a fighter pilot and fight for the rebellion.
Darth Vader (always in black) is an obstacle to Luke (always in white) and his ideals.
Luke and his mentor devise a plan to further his skills and support the cause of the rebellion.
Luke undergoes a series of battles as he journeys toward his goals. He wants them obsessively and will do anything to achieve them. There are physical battles, but also battles of values.
Luke comes away with a new trust in a higher power (the force), a power greater than the technology he sought to master. He realizes new information not known before.
Armed with the new self-revelation, the hero, Luke goes on to another adventure.
Self-revelation is the key to the story, and to ours. It is the moment in the movie when the audience can truly connect with the hero, and It is the way we, as humans, can connect with others in our own lives.
To tie in another analogy, Ralph read a quote from the book Falling Upward: "There are two tasks in life. The first task is to build a strong container or identity, and the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold."
Ralph shared a story from his own experiences to illustrate this point. He was working on the movie Hackers in London and was in New York to spend a little time with his kids when he got an urgent message from his wife in LA that her father had committed suicide. After discussion, they decided he would continue on to London as planned. While there, he was approached by the head of United Artists to take over a Bond movie (Goldeneye). It was a dream opportunity for Ralph and a key to advancing his career, but it would also keep him traveling for nine more months. After a difficult discussion with his wife, Ralph said no to the production role and committed to staying and working in LA until his children finished high school. Although this path seemed like a death blow to his career and did sever the relationship with the head of United Artists, Ralph trusted that God had led him to the decision. It eventually opened up future opportunities that he would not have had otherwise, such as producing X-Men. And more importantly, he restored his marriage and his relationship with his children.
Thomas Murton wrote, "We may spend our whole lives climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall."
Will we, like characters in a movie, learn from that lesson?
Think of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. Is this story really about the wasteful and reckless son? Or is it about the extravagant love of the father, who is willing to waste his resources on a child whom he loves? Or is it about the older brother, who has done everything right but is still empty?
The Bible is full of authentic stories of flawed characters like you and me, who are all on a journey with God, who is always willing to fill our containers to overflowing. That's why their stories continue to be relevant to us today.
Again, it's not about the container, but the contents! The Bible is full of authentic stories of flawed characters like you and me, who are all on a journey with God, who is always willing to fill our containers to overflowing. That's why their stories continue to be relevant to us today.
The best stories and the best movies show us how to live out a self-revelation. As lovers of God and followers of Christ, our stories are far more valuable than our ideologies. Self-revelations will drive us forward, give us new power, and help us make connections. We already know the outcome of the story and our ultimate destination, but God is with us on the journey, redeeming and restoring us and shaping us into His image.