Inside Out: Beauty
The “inside out” way of getting better that talks about comes down to how we see the world: For us, way down inside, what is cool and fun and good? It’s the “way down inside” stuff that comes out in how we feel, what we say, what we do, and how we treat people. But we get confused about what’s truly cool and what’s not, so to get better, we need to straighten out the mess inside.
A deeper word for “cool” is “beautiful” — think of someone saying, “oh, that was beautiful” after a great play in sports. Down inside, we’re drawn to beautiful things, and real beauty is about much more than prettiness. Think of a pretty woman whose attitude makes it hard to look at her. But if she starts treating people right and being a decent person — in other words, if she starts showing human goodness and true character — she grows to have real Beauty. This kind of deep down goodness can even turn a person of average looks into a Beauty (turns out that it’s not really about looks).
A good film can help us straighten out the mess inside by helping us to see and love Beauty more clearly. But, the world of film has lots of ugliness and beauty mixed up together, and our mess inside can make us confused about which is which. So, it helps to understand more about how Beauty works:
- The most Beautiful things are also true and good. If I show you a video of an amazing soccer goal, you might think it’s a beautiful thing. But when I tell you that it was made with trick photography and it didn’t really happen, it’s suddenly not so beautiful. If I tell you a great story about a man saving a friend’s life, and then tell you that he did it only because the friend owed him a million dollars, suddenly the story’s no good, so it’s not so great, either. Nice things and pretty things become beautiful things when they are also true and good, and the most beautiful things are the ones with the most truth and the most goodness. uses “Beauty” (capital “B”) when talking about all three together: goodness, truth, and beauty.
- We get better when we see and love Beauty more clearly. We are drawn to whatever we think is Beautiful. If deep down we believe that hurtful sarcasm at another person’s expense is good because it’s funny, that’s what we’ll be drawn to, and we won’t care much that others are hurt by it. But if something helps us understand deep down the truth that hurtful sarcasm is nearly always ugly, we start to get better. Who we are is defined by what our hearts think is Beautiful. If we’re confused about what’s Beautiful, we won’t get better until we get past the confusion and clean up our mess inside by seeing Beauty more clearly.
- To see Beauty more clearly, we need outside input. As much as we might like to think we can figure life out all on our own, our feelings and our thoughts can send us off in the wrong direction, away from Beauty. It can send filmmakers off in the wrong direction, too. Just because we like something a lot or feel strongly about it doesn’t make it true and good. So, if we’re wise, we’ll look for outside input to check ourselves. Whether we look to friends, family, counselors, teachers, philosophers, spiritual texts, or something else, we need something reliable and solid beyond ourselves to help us see what real Beauty is. If we turn off our pride and listen, we can, over time, gain a sense of which of these outside sources are the most trustworthy. Then they might have an actual chance to change for the better how we think and feel.
- Real Beauty can make us better, and ugliness can make us better “in reverse.” The movies are curious form of outside input. Film is properly more concerned with experience than with simple instruction. In other words, a good film, rather than stating a clear and clean head-level “message” about real Beauty, will take us through a rich experience to give us a chance to catch what real Beauty feels like. Or, it may be an experience from which we see what real ugliness feels like. It’s up to us (with our outside input) to sort out which one the film is doing. When we do sort through it, seeing and experiencing real Beauty can draw us toward loving real Beauty, and we start to get better. By contrast, as we see and experience ugliness, and as we come to understand why it’s ugly, we are repulsed by it, and we get better by backing away from ugliness and toward loving Beauty.
- Beauty is often hidden inside ugliness. The film Saving Private Ryan is widely known for the intense violence in its opening 20 minutes. The D-Day landing in World War II was a horrific and ugly moment in history. But when we look below the surface, there is amazing Beauty hidden within: Thousands of men were willing to risk dismemberment and death, not to mention the trauma of living through it, for the hope that the people of many nations would be free of Hitler’s monumental evil. More pointedly, they did it for you and they did it for me. By putting us in the midst of the intense ugliness these men faced, Saving Private Ryan can more deeply impress on our hearts the immense Beauty of their gift to us, changing us for the better. This type of Beauty-hidden-within-ugliness happens all the time with film (typically on much smaller scales), which is why good films sometimes take us through ugly content.
- At its best, engaging with film is a two-way relationship. Certainly, when we watch a film, we want the film to give something to us. It may be simply a couple of hours living in the light-hearted Beauty of life, or it may be a sense that we’ve seen something deeper and more real about life. But, seeing it from the other direction, a good film will also ask something from us. If we put our prejudices and preconceptions aside, welcoming and entering into a good film’s challenge for us look closer, feel the truth more deeply, and be enriched by the Beauty around us, we can come away from the theater better in ways that we didn’t know we needed to be better. It’s a two-way, give-and-take relationship.
- Getting better is about becoming a person of Beauty. Why all this talk of film and Beauty? Because Beauty — defined as the grand sum of goodness, truth, and all that’s desirable and beautiful — is the point of who we need to be. The way of is to give film a part in us reaching to live a bigger life beyond ourselves. As good films help us to see the ugliness of self-centered ways, we learn what real love is and how to truly love others. As we learn deep down more about real goodness and truth, our desires change, the way we treat others changes, and we begin to become people of real Beauty.