If I say “beauty” what do you think of? Some will attach it to a person or a place. Some will think of art and others nature. Some will feel a feeling, more vague than physical or tactile. All will think or feel a thing that they want to experience again and every example will be good because beauty is good. It is a reflection of something, an echo. Beauty resonates and emanates with something of God else it isn’t beautiful.
Recently I saw La La Land and Manchester by the Sea in the same weekend; both were beautiful. (I’ll try not to reveal too much from the stories, but in case I stumble let this serve as a properly indicated spoiler alert.) The first was a movie built on hopes and dreams and aspirations and love. The second was built on hopelessness, shattered dreams, and love lost. La La Land was a bright movie where even the sad parts felt hopeful. Manchester by the Sea was dreary and dark where even the light moments felt heavy.
But both were beautiful for their artfulness and truthfulness. To be fair, though, nothing can be truly artful without also being truthful. As films, and I am no film critic or expert, they were masterfully done in their respective genres. They knew what they were and they did it well. The performances were tremendous across the board. The writing was brilliant. Both movies had magnificent scores that carried the viewer to precisely the right place at the right time to feel the right thing. But the real beauty was in the truth they displayed – the truth of hope and pain.
La La Land spoke to the dreamers and lovers and artists and those with aspirations. Manchester by the Sea spoke to those who have lost dreams and loves and all their aspirations. The former depicted chasing and building and climbing and the latter depicted coping and piecing life together, beginning by sweeping up the mess. The first lifted the viewer with possibilities and the second sat with him in a painful reality. The first promised and the second was not yet a place to offer much promise. In their own tones and circumstances both said, “You can make it.” And both were true.
Christians love the term “redemptive” so much that it might be closing on “gospel” (and all it’s various conjugations) as a term used so often for so many things it ceases to have real clear meaning. But I will use it anyhow because I don’t think we’ve yet arrived at that point.
Honesty is redemptive. Hope is redemptive. And both movies were honest and hopeful. They spoke to what is, what is required, and what could be. They depicted the pain of the process, and, in La La Land’s case, the incomplete-yet-still-satisfying fulfillment upon arrival at a destination. Manchester by the Sea showed little of destination and much of simply putting one foot in front of the other as we head out of devastation toward something better.
C.S. Lewis wrote about the feeling, the ache, that we have for something more and the sense that were are not made for this world and how that indicates were made for something better and somewhere else. These films tap into that, both the sense of emptiness and the hope for fulfillment. They elicit the sense of desire for something else or elsewhere, the need to be something else and go somewhere else. And in this way they are true, and truth is redemptive. And redemptive is beautiful
I wonder how to conclude this reflection on truth and beauty in film. The church boy in me thinks maybe I should offer a caveat of some kind about the content of the films, but no. You’re an adult and quite capable to react to that as your proclivities and sensitivities advise. Neither will I offer a blanket recommendation of these films because movies, like books and people, are as good as the circumstances in which we intersect with them. If we catch them – or they us – on the wrong day we get a bad impression.
So I conclude with this: I found beauty and truth in these films, beauty and truth as I have described as well as the simple beauty and truth of laughter and enjoyment and sadness and reflection. I found hope in multiple varieties, and I needed it. I found truth in the pain and pursuits of those on screen, and it encouraged me. I found a deep understanding of the world in which we live and echoes of the one we will one day inhabit.