After midnight, we sat in the car still running in the driveway for more than an hour, talking about the movie we had just seen. My youngest son Noah, a high school junior, aspires to a future in neuroscience. Loves the brain. He is enthralled with movies as an art form, and has broad knowledge of many things Hollywood.
Months later, there were several movies in the cinemas I would have preferred, but his choice was 1917. Talking about it many days later I was uncomfortable, feeling like he desperately wanted me to love it as much as he. I did like 1917 a lot. But his expertise in cinema made it deeper to him because its unique power lies in its having been shot as one continuous span over two days.
Now I’m thinking about why that was so powerful. I frequently marvel at how great movie-makers compress a backstory so effectively to a few minutes of screen time, then unfold the present. The background sets the stage for the current conflict and resolution. Why does that resonate with audiences universally?
Isn’t it a reflection of our own psyches and lives? Consciously or not, we live in the moment and anticipate the future based on our compressed experience of the past. A short, compressed reel runs through our near-conscious minds as we perceive reality. Like a trailer that we move into consciousness momentarily. We are largely unconscious of the full backstory of our own life and how it has shaped us, and can’t realistically expect to ever hold that entire, intricate drama in our consciousness. Even for a moment.
Movie set-ups review highlights of the past to set the stage for the current drama. That universal appeal must be a reflection of universal habit. We sort of describe or define individuals as compressions of their past achievements–and traumas. That part of a person which simultaneously lives in the past, present, and anticipates what lies ahead… I think it’s the same dimension of a person which abides concurrently in the conscious and unconscious minds. The psyche. The soul.
The soul isn’t bound by time or conscious-vs-subconscious. It inhabits all of those dimensions at once. So it is the whole story–not a concisely compressed backstory. It–the soul–is a “person” in its fullest sense, not a person’s persona or mask or role at a moment, in a given situation.
Noah’s soul is unusually visible to my eyes. I’m not going to try to explain that, as some mystery of fatherhood or anything else. It is a mystery defying explanation for me. He is a full, autonomous individual, simultaneously an extension of me and his mother and two brothers and God, and a unique, unbounded creation–essential in the universe by simple virtue of being a person.
A full person can’t be compressed into a two hour movie, of course. But great cinema is art, which always points to a larger mystery in the way that only art can. While it’s wonderful to behold a detail of a great painting, that is just one moment. Each beholding is a new moment. Unfolding. Exposition. Living. Constant generation. Creation.
I often say about Noah that he marches to the beat of his own drum. I often encourage him to stick to his guns. It is surely a parent’s bias, but no one except Noah and his two brothers seem to be as comfortable in their own skins:
When Noah seems to adhere to the norms of a 16-year-old young man, it is coincidence, not conformity.
To me, he points to the archetype of the Full Person. To behold his soul is to glimpse the boundless past, reality, and potential that is wrapped up in being a free child of God. He summons my heart to rewind the movie of my life back to that childhood. Over and over. Unfolding. Creating. Living.
Neil D. 2020-03-20