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Holiday Movies: A Spiritual Perspective

By Rev. Carol

cinemaThroughout our history, human beings have learned and been inspired through the sharing of stories – from 40,000-year-old cave paintings to Shakespeare to film. One of the most effective mediums for storytelling today is the cinema. I love movies. To me, a good movie is one that either brings me closer to the depth of human experience or conveys a spiritual message that personally moves me. When you look for it, almost all movies convey a spiritual message. During this holiday season I saw a few movies with my family. Here are some of my reflections on their meaning and message to us:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This Star Wars franchise movie is a prequel to the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. It tells how the Rebellion obtains the plans to the Death Star, the ultimate weapon that would allow the Empire to destroy any reistance. While there are some appearances of old faithfuls like Darth Vader, Bail Organa and Princess Leia, the story focuses on a new character – a young woman named Jyn Erso, whose father is the creator of the Death Star itself.

Unlike all the other Star Wars movies, this movie has no Jedi knights. That is because the story is set in a time when the Jedi knights had been destroyed by the Empire and the populace had all but lost hope. The Rebellion leadership had even decided to accede to the Empire when they learned of the Death Star’s existence.

But of course, our heroine is not discouraged and takes a tiny band of warriors with her to do the impossible: steal the Death Star plans for the Resistance.  Among her band is a blind warrior monk, Chirrut Îmwe, who displays a profound understanding of The Force. His near-constant mantra is “I am one with The Force. The Force is with me.” And it is his strong faith and deep inner knowing of The Force that propels him to do the extraordinary without the aid of physical sight. “I fear nothing,” he says. “All is as the Force wills it.” That is as clear a spiritual message as it gets!

Rogue One is a great adventure movie that reminds us that we should never lose hope. Despite appearances in our world, the forces of Love and Freedom always prevail and we must trust that The Force is always with us. The character Chirrut Îmwe teaches us that with Faith and Trust we can see with our inner eyes and release our dependence on the outer world of senses. We are one with the One and when we deeply know that, there is nothing to fear. We can move through a figurative battlefield with bullets flying past us and carry out the task that is ours to do.

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Jackie

This is an exceedingly impressive piece of acting by Natalie Portman. The entire movie spans just one week in the life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy – from the day her husband, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated to the day she sat down with a reporter for an interview, which set the stage for their White House legacy. It is definitely not a pick-me-up movie and if you see it, you will likely leave the theater emotionally wrought. But what I learned from Jackie, beyond the history and character of the person, is the power we hold to create our own story.

The movie depicts Jackie Kennedy, in the midst of her deep and shockingly sudden grief, dealing with the unbearable loss of her husband, while making every decision regarding his very public funeral and burial. She is savvy enough to know that in the burgeoning age of television, every action would be broadcast around the world into our hearts, and impressed as memories in our minds for generations to come. Using her discernment and sheer will, she refuses to allow any voices outside of her own, no matter their position or authority, to hold sway or dissuade her from doing what she believed was right. The strength and fortitude she displays juxtaposed with her utmost vulnerability is astonishing to witness.

When she shares her story with the reporter at her home a week later, she is in complete control, insisting that nothing would be published without her consent. The outcome of this week in the life of Jackie Kennedy is a brilliantly crafted narrative about her husband and his importance in history, and the permanently impressed glimmer in the hearts of Americans of a real life Camelot, now gone, but forever remembered.

Jackie is so eloquently executed that it brings the introspective viewer to pause and consider his/her own life. Am I willing to follow my own voice and not be dissuaded by what others expect or prefer for me to do? What do I want my legacy to be after I have left this plane? How do I want to be remembered by the living? We can be in action today to influence our own narrative.

It is interesting to note that the narrative that landed in the hearts of Americans about the Kennedy era had much less to do with what JFK actually did, and more to do about how people felt. That is one of the most peculiar things about humanity. And it’s a very important thing to remember.

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Moana

Moana is a delightful movie – the first of its kind by Disney in that the female protagonist has no love interest, and she doesn’t need to be saved by anyone. We have evolved! This movie is all about moving beyond our comfort zones into the vast sea that knows no limits.

In the story, the people of Moana’s village, by all appearances, are living a tranquil and easy life. But they are in fact trapped by the very safety that they cling to. Does that sound familiar? Moving beyond the safety of what we know can be the hardest thing to do, even if we have an intense inner urging to do so.

Moana feels a profound personal calling to venture beyond the safety of her world into the unknown sea, even though “no one knows how far it goes.” Her calling is much more than a Little Mermaid type of curiosity. It entails traveling far across the ocean by herself to carry out a seemingly impossible task that will restore a natural balance that had been altered years ago. She takes the journey despite having no plan and no mastered skills. It is her hero’s journey.

Moana teaches us to listen to the still, small voice inside, to act upon the clarity of “being called to action” in spite of everyone else’s warnings and admonitions, and to stand firm in who we are. “I am Moana!” she firmly declares over and over again before undertaking any challenge that requires her to move through her fear. The theme of knowing who you truly are, and not confusing yourself with another (ego) identity, arises many times during the film.

Moana compels us to look at the islands in our lives – those places where we may be dwelling in the safety (but limited experience) of the known instead of listening to the voice within that is calling us to sail beyond what we know. The voyage beyond demands that we fully remember who we are, and that we walk in Faith, trusting that the answers to ‘how will this actually work?’ will be given and that we are always supplied.

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La La Land

I can’t write much of anything about this without huge SPOILER alerts, because the film’s poignant message takes place in the last ten minutes of the film. So if you haven’t seen this film and you plan to, stop reading now.

In this story, two struggling, unsuccessful people with big dreams find each other and become friends, then lovers. Mia, played by Emma Stone, wants to be a Hollywood actress and is tiring of the constant rejection and downright rudeness of the audition process. She begins to question her talent, her dream, and at the core, herself. Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, wants to be an authentic, classic jazz pianist and own his own club. He struggles with the allure of selling out for money or staying true to what seems to be a dying art. Their love story is expressed via old-style Hollywood song and dance and it is captivating and endearing. So much so that the ending – in which they both achieve their wildest dreams, but not together – left me shocked and unsettled at first. Why did the writers do that? I wanted the happy ending where they both achieved everything they ever wanted and also had each other.

As it turns out, this process is perfect for the viewer to experience because we don’t always get the ending (or results) that we want, do we? And the suffering we feel about it can blind us so much that we aren’t able to see the goodness in how things actually do turn out. Truthfully, just as in real life, there is no reason that those two characters needed to end up together except to satisfy the audience’s need for them to do so.

After sitting with my dissatisfied feelings for a day or so, I came to the realization that the ending was, in fact, absolutely perfect. It was the point of the story. When I looked again, even though there was a touch of wistfulness about what could have been, both characters accomplish the life they had dreamed about. And they were able to do that only because of the loving and relentless support and visioning they did for each other when they were together.

From a spiritual perspective, we are in each other’s lives during our lifetimes for a myriad of purposes and often for specific intervals of time until the purpose is accomplished. Our relationships can be a bit of a song and dance, with the people who show up gifting us with what we may need at a particular time, and then dancing off our life stage. There is no compelling reason for all the players to stay on our stage together until the very end. And ultimately, they don’t.

So we must release people. And outcomes. And what we think the right ending is, all while fully embracing the gift of every person and his/her contribution to our personal fulfillment and spiritual unfoldment.

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And that’s what I learned from my holiday movies.

I am grateful for the spiritual lessons in each of these vastly different stories told through cinema. Their messages are universal to humanity as we live our lives and walk our spiritual paths. God speaks to us in many ways. For me, I often hear the voice of God – guiding my path and inspiring me to grow - through movies. 

Silent Unity

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