Crashing Into Eternity: The Perfect Storm at Age 16
I remember the first time I thought about a movie from a Christian perspective. As much as I’d like to say that I was only ten-years-old, and a prodigy, scribbling insights on my notepad, I wasn’t. I was in high school. And as much as I’d like to say that I was at a midnight showing of Casablanca (or any movie on the 200 greatest film list), I wasn’t.
I was with my Dad watching The Perfect Storm. A pretty great man-movie.
(WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)
If you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay. It’s the Wolfgang Petersen film about a group of fishermen lost at sea during the 1991 Perfect Storm in their boat the Andrea Gail. It stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Despite the star casting and direction, the critics poo-pooed it (i.e. they didn’t like it) with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 47%. But, surprise, the critics didn’t matter to Dad and me that night.
The Perfect Storm profoundly affected us that evening, and perhaps more so me. Why? A couple of reasons.
First, the film terrified me.
Scroll up and take a look at the poster for the film (but then come right back). See that terrible wave? And see that tiny little boat? That’s what unnerved me. Like any good movie, I was in the cockpit with Clooney and right alongside Wahlberg and his salty language. Together we were lost in that storm, staring at that familiar foe: our mortality.
I’m often taken aback when I meet people who don’t read fiction or watch movies. In defense, they offer various reasons and I try to listen well. But I really struggle when people insinuate that fiction is only a means of escape. And there’s no time to escape into fantasy (aka the fake world) when there’s so much to be done here in the world (aka the real world).
I won’t waste time defending fiction because I have a sense you already agree with me. So, set down your stones. We’ll use words instead.
I understand the desire to make the best use of our time. As Peter reminds us, we’re but blades of grass: here one moment and gone the next (1 Peter 1:24). We should be wary of wasting our time, bloating our days with empty entertainment. Of course.
But I do think that sentiment (“fiction is only an escape”) is out of place. Fiction is an escape, yes; it transports me to worlds other than my own. But good books and movies, well, sometimes they don’t leave things the same at all. They can transform me while I’m in their world and transform the world for me when I return. I’ll explain more what I mean in a moment.
After the climax of the film, right after the final tsunami-like wave nearly smashed the Andrea Gale to pieces (with Clooney and Wahlberg and Dad and me inside it), the movie ended.
The theater was still dark (as far as I can remember) and Dad offered a simple comment on how it’d feel to face that final swell in the Andrea Gail. . . without knowing God.
This little comment was big for me.
I had just spent that last forty-five minutes holding my breath lost in the tumultuous sea, wondering if we’d see land again. For the last forty-five minutes, we were so close to experiencing something neither of us had experienced before. . . death.
Dad’s little comment was poignant. While I wasn’t a fisherman and was never going to face my mortality at sea, I was a young man faced with my mortality. . . every day. . . whether it occurred to me or not. Even 16-year-old Dane knew no one can guess the day a man will die.
So, I imagined what it’d be like to stare at that oncoming wave and have time pause around me, allowing just enough time to reflect on my 16 years as well as what it’d mean to crash into eternity.
And perhaps even more frightening than the final wave was the thought of death. . . without hope: a crashing into eternity, but without God.
Although my hope had been in God through Christ, and I trusted what Scripture said about death for the Christian, the idea still scared me. I’m glad.
Dad’s comment hinted at a framework for approaching movies with a Christian perspective.
I’m sure my parents had made stirring comments like this before. And I’m sure this wasn’t the first time I had thought Christianly about a movie. But this was the first time I remember doing so with such effect.
And it wasn’t even my idea. I like remembering that. I had a guide.
So, moms and dads, keep making comments, keep framing the stories around us with the Story of God as revealed in Scripture.
In God’s providence, it may cultivate the Christian imagination in your children, just as it did for me.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and Principal of the Secondary School at Providence Academy, a classical Christian school in Johnson City, TN.