Why do people keep watching movies with the same storyline?

Christmas this year was particularly enjoyable. The usual round of gathered family events and Christmas services at our local church (First Presbyterian, Greenville), was enhanced by the discovery of a new ‘fantasy’ writer, Patrick Rothfuss and his brilliant ‘Kingkiller Chronicle’ and by far my favorite holiday pass time – Christmas movies.

Among the many movies this Christmastide the high points were the new Star Wars movie, ‘The Last Jedi’ (I’ve never missed a Star Wars movie since I first began to watch them 40 years ago), ‘Darkest Hour’, in which Gary Oldman becomes Sir Winston Churchill and ‘Lady Bird’ – a delightful millennial ‘coming of age’ story. It was gratifying to see that both Gary Oldman and Saoirse Ronan, who played the lead character in Lady Bird, were both honored with Best Actor awards at the recent 75th Golden Globes ceremony.

Each of these movies along with the stories told by Patrick Rothfuss follow the classic narrative arc of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. The hero in each of these tales embraces the quest of an apparently insurmountable challenge, fighting through the obstacles and difficulties to see the fulfillment of their quest and the opportunity to share the benefits of their victory with others. I’ve said before, but still, it’s amazing how often this narrative frame is repeated and re-presented in contemporary arts and entertainment. 

Why do we find the Hero’s Journey so compelling, so much so that we are prepared to watch, read or listen to the same basic storyline over and over? The answer is found I think in one of the other things I did over Christmas; I completed the recordings of my two-year chapter by chapter daily devotions through the New Testament. This undertaking, in which many hundreds of people worldwide have joined me, was of course completed with the reading of the final chapter of the Bible, Revelation chapter 22 which includes these words:

‘Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ (Revelation 22: 1 – 2)

The end of the story of God and his children in the Bible is that we, the people of God, get to reclaim what we had at the beginning, the river of life and the tree of life. This is the consummation of all human history and so every heroic quest, every story of success and achievement is predicated on the search for that which has been lost ,our life in The Garden of Eden.

In the Garden, we knew the undiluted joy of intimate communion with God, the unrivaled freedom of ruling on God’s behalf and the unrestricted access to the bounty of creation. The loss of these things has produced a yawning void, marking the hearts of each one of us. And it explains why we feel so compelled to immerse ourselves time and again in the stories of heroes who overcome life’s obstacles to find the thing for which they have been searching.

When we lost the Garden we lost the Affirmation of an intimate relationship with God, the Authority of functioning as his vice regents and the Abundance of the newborn creation. This is why we discover in the lives of every hero the truly great challenges are the ones found within, the challenge to find self worth and approval, like the character in Lady Bird; the challenge of righteous ambition and the quest to win through on behalf of the oppressed, like in The Last Jedi and the challenge to overcome human weakness, something that can so easily divert our journey, as was Churchill’s experience in the Darkest Hour.

I think it’s when we grasp this narrative, the story of searching for what has been lost, that we understand how to call people into a life of adventurous discipleship. Jesus, the quintessential hero, has come to reclaim that which was lost and invites us into the same story. A story in which we invite others to join us as we journey towards the renewing of all things.

‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’ (Revelation 22:17)

Mike BreenComment