This is one of my favorite quotes, and it has proven to be useful on the first day of my Screenwriting and Introduction to Film courses. No matter the audience - a group of 18-year-olds from China, India, and Saudi Arabia; a group of budding American film majors who will soon graduate and begin their careers; or, a group of students assembled in a small classroom on a Wednesday night because they simply want to learn more about media - this message has always been meaningful.
To be clear, the quote is simply suggesting that regardless of a film’s genre, MPAA rating, or budget, it ultimately addresses one of life’s most difficult questions: Who am I? What matters to me? Why do I get up in the morning?
Walter’s thinking is that by watching great films (and possibly even bad ones) we observe characters dealing with identity and uncertainty - whether in relationships, new careers, or uncontrollable circumstances - and determining who they are as a result of these situations. Some characters rise to the proverbial occasion and prove to be heroes, despite their flaws and hesitancies, while others determine that they ARE their circumstances, and that they cannot overcome them. Their pain becomes their identity. Whether we like what a character determines about himself or herself, one thing is certain: We decide whether or not we see ourselves in the characters of our favorite stories. In this way, film and other forms of storytelling can be quite inspirational.
That’s it for film class today; I’d like to shift gears to explain why I spent so much time talking about a quote from a screenwriting book in the first place.
The reason every film is ultimately about identity - who we are - is that human beings spend much of their lives (sometimes all of them) wrestling with this question. Am I Dad? Mom? Child? Am I the teenager from New York who dreamed of playing professional baseball? Am I an accountant? Am I a Republican? Democrat? Libertarian? Political agnostic? Political insider? Political outsider? Country music fan? Rap music fan? YouTuber? Drug addict? Pastor? Friend? Teacher? Doctor? Salesman? Coffee connoisseur? Athlete? Fashionista? Winner? Loser? Nothing? Celebrity? Liar? Coder? Traveler? Homemaker? Encourager? Prisoner? Student?
Indeed, our confidence (whether great or small) likely comes from the labels we choose to describe ourselves. Some of us are proud of our work, our heritage, our relational capacities, while others are not.
The truth, however, is that we are none of the labels we ascribe to ourselves.
We are children of God.
Although the Bible includes myriad references to our identity not coming from this earth, the following two verses help me the most in answering the “who am I?” question:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ...And what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:1-2; NIV)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27; NIV)
Thus, no matter the earthly titles we are given, our identity is in Christ. We are called to be children of God. And in that way we are all meaningful, no matter our profession, ability, personality, vices, etc. We are something far greater.
We should find our identity in Christ first and foremost because it is what we are called to do. It is where we find our best selves, as a person cannot aspire to live a better life than a life like the son of God’s. This Christ-oriented identity ultimately is better than any name we can create for ourselves on Earth. Timothy Keller explains the problem with world-driven identity below:
“The self-made identity, based on our own performance and achievement in ways that older identities were not, makes our self-worth far more fragile in the face of failure and difficulty.” (Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical)
It is apparent, then, that the only fulfilling life...the only life that does not force us to succeed at all costs...the only life of peace, is our life in Christ.
You are not your job. You are not your role in your family. You are not your successes. You are not your failures. You are a child of God. And that, above all else, is worthy of being the underlying message of any award-winning film.