a post by A.J. Swoboda, PhD
I ashamedly confess to ruining a number of films for my friends over the years. A few instances come to mind. On one occasion, I accidentally unveiled to my congregation the ending of M. Night Shamalyan’s The Sixth Sense just following its release. Folks were ticked. I’ll refrain from repeating my sin here. Someone did the same to me at another point: explaining to me what happens in the Titanic just a day before going to the theatre myself. I went and saw it, but it was ruined.
What’s actually taking place when someone “ruins” a movie? What is being “ruined”? What do we mean by that?
For a movie to be “ruined” is not always the same as the outcome being unveiled in advance. I suspect that when Titanic was ruined for me, something much deeper was being stolen from me than the outcome of the movie. I’m a diligent amateur historian. I’m diligent enough to know the outcome of the whole historical Titanic story: the thing sank. Thus, when I ventured into a theatre and paid fifteen bucks to view a movie with an outcome I was already privy to, what was it I looking for? I knew what would happen in the end.
Hollywood isn’t successful because the world is searching for a good story. Good stories abound in book form around us all the time. In my opinion, the best stories humans have come up with are always the cheapest—found in stacks in the used book section at Goodwill—Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Bible. If people were after good stories, Goodwill would explode with success. Hollywood is successful because we, the audience, endlessly lust for an experience of a good story. We pay top dollar for it. When given the choice between paying $5 for a used, battered copy in book form and paying $100 for the director’s cut version, we’ll always opt for the latter version of Lord of the Rings. The most exceptional achievements in movie making are the one’s that provide the most compelling experience of a story. I didn’t go see Titanic because I was ignorant of the outcome.
Here’s my theory: a movie is “ruined” when someone unveils a film’s outcome without allowing space for that person to experience the film’s outcome on their own terms. A ruined film is outcome minus experience. And once ruined, a film can’t be un-ruined.
We ruin the gospel all the time. We describe the good story by not helping people experience the good story. Preaching the gospel isn’t simply telling people about the gospel. Preaching the gospel must, in some radical sense, entail helping others experience the gospel newly today.
By appealing to this dynamic call of a preacher’s vocation, Alan Lewis, just before his untimely death, wrote that we aren’t invited to simply tell the good news but share it as news. Preachers, as co-explorer, don’t simply present the facts of Scripture but the experience of the Scriptures. And the gospel. His insightful and balanced point must be re-heard today:
“It is consequently the test of good storytellers, writers, and actors whether they are able to preserve, for the sake of the audience, the full drama, suspense, or mystery, and hence the original meaning, or their material, even though they themselves know what is coming and have passed far beyond the unrepeatable experience of first-time hearing.”