There comes a time in the lifetime of almost all my friendships, where my buddy will turn to me and ask “Don’t you ever just watch a film to watch the film, to be entertained? Why does there always have to be a meaning.” I usually smile and give a smart-alec answer that often results in me getting a friendly slap/thump. And yes, they have a point. To an extent.
I know that people think it must be exhausting to see something significant in every film I see, but let me tell you now, it really isn’t.
For me it’s also a case of, because I love stories and seek them out, especially stories of excellence, God tends to speak to me most in that sphere. Because He doesn’t wait for you to come to Him – He comes to you.
But it also isn’t every film I see, or book I read, or TV show I watch that has a deep and significant story that helps me make sense of the world, or address a specific question in my life, or makes me think about the complexities of life the universe and everything. And that’s because some of our modern storytellers aren’t true storytellers at all – they’re snake oil salesmen. They choose spectacle and style over the beauty of a simple story. Like a magician they distract us with “shocking” plot twists, “action” and Airplane crashes (Yes Emmerdale I’m looking at YOU) thinking that the point of “story” is entertainment.
And we have let it happen because we have become consumers instead of participants, because it’s easier, because we don’t have to think, because we don’t have to make ourselves vulnerable, because Choice is held up as the Great god of the age – this is a malady endemic throughout all areas of society; church, school, areas where we were never intended to be consumers. Many of us are aiming to reverse this trend in regards to churches, but I fear in the world of Film and television it is too late. The true nature of story is lost to the god of capitalism (the acquisition of capital at the expense of lives, the environment, society and our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health). We will continue to be fooled into thinking the bigger the effects, the better the film; the more extraordinary the actions of the characters (no matter how out of character they are) the more folks will tune in to whatever soap needs more viewers. It’s no longer about the listeners, the watchers or the sharers. It’s become the perview of the advertisers and money-makers. And that makes me really sad. Because it’s turned our campfire of community story sharing into a circus spectacle – not that there is anything wrong with circus but that’s a completely different blog – someone want to take that on? Sometimes, when all I want is to relax, not think, cuddle up with my loved ones or just “veg” after a taxing day at work, I admit I will put myself in front of a bland, soulless, meaningless conglomeration of plot progression and be mildly entertained. And I marvel at the skill of the performers (a good actor in a bad story is still a good actor and their skill and pursuit of excellence is still evident), which in its own way gives glory to God.
But I find a tinge of dissatisfaction and a hunger for something more. I find it sad that so many people out there are tricked into thinking this is all there is to story, are letting themselves be tricked into this way of thinking, are actually satisfied with this. Yes, it’s sad. It’s symptomatic of the general malady in man’s soul – to be satisfied with something less than what we need, to be satisfied with “just enough”, to be satisfied with something that feeds nothing but another man’s pocket.
But in my heart I want to pursue stories (films, TV shows and any other medium for stories I can lay my hands on) and storytellers of excellence. I don’t particularly like wasting my time on a film or tv show that’s not really about something. I’m not saying good stories can’t have spectacle, great effects or plot twists – imagine the story of Troy without the twist of the Giant Horse – but I am saying it should be about more than this. And I go back to my original Manifesto that story is an essential part of our lives. I am most disappointed when I see a film that has so much potential to speak to my soul, to lift my heart, to make sense of my community – especially if it part of a Franchise that started well (The Matrix Reloaded springs immediately to mind) – and turns out to be all spectacle. With The Matrix Reloaded in particular, it felt to me in the construction of the film that the makers had started with “what great effects can we wow people with?”, moved on to “Oh how do we build a story around these effects?”, then thought, “Oh we’d better populate this story with ‘interesting’ characters.” Well that’s how it felt to me – it was a pretty empty experience (apart from the bit that made me feel like I was violating a woman- horrid, horrid, HORRID *shudders*) and could have been something pretty amazing when you look at the original Matrix film.
How should a story be built? How should this story have been built? Basically, it’s the reverse of how it seemed; with an important first step that was very much missing in the Matrix Reloaded – the storyteller asking himself “What do I want to say?”, moving to, “what are the characteristics of the people in my world? And what do they think and feel about what I want to say?”, then “What do these people do with each other and to each other as they move through this world, within the limits of their character traits and in working out their beliefs and feelings in relation to what I want to say” and finally – “Can I put a monster fight in here?!” Okay so I exaggerated with that last one, but you catch my drift. I hope.
I’ve rambled incoherently in stream of consciousness quite enough – What are your thoughts?