Inside Out: Love
There’s truth in the old cliché that “love makes the world go ’round.” Beyond food, water, and warmth, it’s the most basic thing we all need. We often frame our lives around cool cars, being sexy, running with the in-crowd, and all manner of pleasure-seeking, yet our truest pleasure and life are found in the love we give to others — which tends to come back around (think Beatles, Abbey Road: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”).
While film is no replacement for love and human relationship, what we see in a good film can help us learn to love better. Sometimes, we see that we’re not as lovable as we thought. We see the reality of our love — or the lack of it — for the people around us. Love is who we need to be, and our moviegoing can help us to learn what real love is. And when we watch with other people, film provides a context for love and relationship as together we wrestle to find real Beauty and to let it invade our hearts. Here’s how sees the connection between film and love:
- As decent people, we love getting better. I’ve yet to meet anyone who (credibly) says both “I’m a decent person” and “I don’t need to love people or take care of the world.” But loving people and taking care of the world are hard things to do, and love starts by wanting to get better at doing them. We want to learn — we love to learn — what it takes to truly love others, and not just when it’s easy. Any mediocre person loves when it’s easy, but truly decent people want more than that, including when they step into a theater. Rather than being passive consumers wanting only for a movie to give us our money’s worth of pleasure, in the theater we actively want Beauty to invade, enrich, and transform our hearts.
- Film can be part of loving those around us. Learning is better when we’re getting better together. Film can foster Beautiful conversation, exploration, love, and relationship with others — including others that are not so much like us. But if we retreat into the insular world of our own narrow interests and ideology, seeing only the films that serve our own pleasure, we cut ourselves off from a broader world of relationships where we might learn something from others — and they might learn something from us. Love isn’t about agreeing with everyone, it’s about respecting and listening and being open to growing together.
- Love extends to filmmakers, too. Good filmmakers are doing more than just trying to make a buck. We may not agree with what they are doing or how they do it, but good films are part of a dialog. Even though most of us will never meet the filmmakers, it is an act of love for us to say to them, in essence, “Yes, I’ll hear you out. I’ll watch and engage with your film.” Of course, love doesn’t obligate us to see any given film, but if we do, love says we’ll treat it as a respectful dialog with the filmmakers. This means that, even for films we find lacking, we’ll aim to understand what the filmmakers were trying to get at, and our words about the film will look for good, even as we respectfully say what the film might have done better.
- Love focuses on the heart of a film, not its surface content. Filmmakers, coming from their own unique perspective as they speak through their films, might say things in ways that we don’t immediately connect with, perhaps even in ways that seem offensive. Rather than rejecting a film out-of-hand, it’s charitable for us to suspend judgment, looking first for goodness in what the film is doing. Besides, since Beauty can be hidden inside ugliness, ugly content may actually be contributing positively to the film’s heart. Surface-level ugliness does not make a film ugly, but it does if the ugly content is there for the pleasure of reveling in ugly stuff. Only after we’ve looked for the heart below the surface can we hope to tell what ugly content is doing in the film.
- Together, our movie going stays on an upward path. We can try to see clearly on our own, but our own self-deception is the hardest thing in the world to see. That’s where living together in community with others comes in. With film, as we watch together and talk together and laugh and cry together, we benefit from others’ perspectives. We think something is funny, someone else helps us see how it is hurtful. They think something’s shallow, we point out a deeper connection. In community, we learn to engage more deeply and richly with film and, together, we draw stronger and more Beautiful life from each film.
- For children, the core issue is training not safety (or babysitting). Let’s be very clear: It ain’t love to set children down in front of a hastily chosen “babysitter” film. Our children deserve more than that. And it’s not all about violent or sexual content, either: There are plenty of ugly ways that people (and cartoon animals) treat each other that do not involve sex or violence. Like a young tree bent (or broken) by high winds, our young children will be bent by their (at first innocent) imitation of such ugliness. Eventually though, our children will be on their own in the wild world, making their own film choices. So, the idea is to gradually train them to engage well with film. Start with low-conflict films that build heart, then walk with them in stages as they grow to handle tougher films. Training them well is safer — and more loving — than isolation and over-protection.
- Loving film can be part of living a bigger life. Some people live in a very small world, centered on themselves. What they do, how they treat others, and what they care about all come from a place of “what’s in it for me?” and “if it feels good, do it, it doesn’t matter if it’s right.” There’s a bigger life than that. There’s a life where truly caring about others (as well as yourself) connects you to the wide world of humanity. Where taking care of the planet is not just something you should do, but rather a way of love. Where, when you’re on top, you reach out to those on the bottom; and when you’re on the bottom, you’re glad for the success of others. Where, knowing that everyone’s in a different place, you can love and respect — and truly care for — people who are radically different that you (that is what true tolerance is about). Film can be a part of us moving into this bigger life as we watch for and catch real Beauty and true love.