Do you have a favorite movie or TV show that means so much to you, that you’re almost embarrassed to talk about it with other people? Do you fear that they just won’t get your enthusiasm?

You’re not alone. In fact, you’d be surprised how much you’re not alone.

Recently, I was listening to a talk by author Donald Miller, who says:

…Human brains are driven to story. They want story like food or water…

We crave story, story is good. In fact, we base our cultures and belief systems on story.

But story can also be a destructive force that can not only cause you to waste two hours on a corny movie. It can go as far as influence powerful people to oppress and destroy entire people groups. It’s that powerful.

If so, what is it that makes a story good or bad?

Two things: beauty and truth.

In our culture, we tend to settle for only one of these things. And settling for one leaves a deep longing for the other…

How Spider-Man Changed My Life

When I was 12, living in suburban America, I discovered the comic book store right down the street from our synagogue. It was then that I was introduced to a whole new world, a world of heroes and stories. A world of myth. 

I moved to Israel a year later, and much of my interest in comic books waned, especially because there were no comic book stores here. But today’s epic Marvel cinematic universe (Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers, etc.) has reignited my love for comic books. Not so much for the comics themselves, but for the power of myth that they had.

I too want to create stories that move people like those comic books moved me. And I want to create them with beauty and truth.

Beauty With Truth

Last weekend, I saw the movie True Grit (2010) for the fourth time. I keep coming back to it, because it has beauty and truth. It captivates me.

The movie begins with the following words on the screen:

The wicked flee when no one pursues… – Proverbs 28:1 NKJV

We’re not used to seeing biblical truth in our movies, but there it was. 

The movie ends with Iris Dement singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. It’s beautiful. It’s also true.

And I love the cast, particularly the smaller performances. The provoking defense attorney in the earlier part of the film and the gruesome Lucky Ned Pepper. Not exactly characters that were beautiful outwardly, but beautiful performances.

True Grit is an example of beauty and truth.

Beauty Without Truth

For the longest time, if anyone asked me what my favorite song was today, I could tell you right away. “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr. It was a late-80s anthem, with a cynical tone and melodic force that meant the world to me – until it didn’t.

Yes, to me, it’s beautiful. But it’s not true. At a key point in the song, J. Mascis whines out the words:

Sometimes I don’t thrill you, sometimes I think I’ll kill you, just don’t let me [expletive] up will you, ‘cause when I need a friend it’s still you.

Over time, like the princess and the pea, that line just bothered me. Why did it bother me? Because I no longer wanted to live in a world where love was defined in that way. Where we hurt ourselves and each other, and then we expect everything to be cool. I’ve spent enough days like that – I’m done with it.

Freak Scene is an example of beauty without truth.

How I Choose What Movies to Watch

I love TV, I love movies, I love books, I love music – but I consume very little of these things. I am in a constant pursuit of beautiful entertainment. I scour movie critic reviews, I check out the new music releases, I keep attentive to recommendations from people whose opinion I value.

But I don’t use those recommendations to tell me something’s OK. There’s one more step in the process.

Once I find something I deem worthy, I review it for truth violations – or what I call trust violations. I don’t want to see a story that promotes something that violates my values. My values are too dear to me, and I’ve given up so much in pursuit of them, I don’t want a casual evening at the movies to break my heart. 

And it’s not just about sex, violence, and profanity. It’s about intentionally deciding what stories do we want for ourselves. We want to learn about a better way in life, we want to see beyond what’s familiar to us. We want to emerge from the movie theater with more than what we came in with – not less.

I think the following quote sums it up best:

In dreams begin responsibility. – William Butler Yeats

If it’s the stories I receive, or the stories I tell, I have a responsibility. A responsibility to pursue beauty, and to share truth.

Do you have a great example of beauty and truth? I’d love to hear it – let me know in the comments below!