This week, I am exploring theological themes in relation to screenwriting, considering them metaphorically because in my view, we see these themes in movies all the time. By understanding them, we can use these theological themes to enhance the meaning and depth of our stories.
For background on the general subject, you may read my introductory comments in Part 1 here.
Today in Part 4: Salvation.
Depending upon which sidewalk proselytizers you happen by, salvation can mean many things. Receiving enlightenment. Deliverance from Evil. Or accepting a religious figure as your personal savior.
No matter what the specific iteration, they all share one common idea: For an individual to achieve salvation, they have to get right with God.
Yet there are two seemingly contradictory dynamics at work with the concept of salvation.
The root of the word is the Latin salvare which literally means “to save.” So in this sense, it is not about being saved, but saving someone or something else.
Then there is this per the words of one of my favorite theologians Frederick Buechner who talks about salvation in his book “Wishful Thinking”:
“You give up your old self-seeking self for somebody you love and thereby become yourself at last… You do not love God so that, tit for tat, he will then save you. To love God is to be saved. To love anybody is a significant step along the way. You do not love God and live for him so you will go to Heaven. Whichever side of the grace you happen to be talking about, to love God and live for him is Heaven. It is a gift, not an achievement.”
Thus on the one hand, salvation is directed toward saving someone else. On the other hand, it is a gift, not an achievement.
Strip away the God-talk and what do we have in terms of screenwriting?
Regarding the first meaning of the word, there have been tons of movies in which one character takes on saving someone or something else [literally or symbolically] such as The Lord of the Rings, True Grit, Star Wars, Seven Samurai, The Matrix, Casablanca, Aliens, Léon: The Professional, WALL-E, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Princess Bride, The Exorcist, and Saving Private Ryan.
“That’s my mission.” To save someone or something. A specific goal. Externalized. Not you, but them. Take action. Save them.
But then there is another form of salvation. Personal salvation. Where the journey is about the hero’s psychological metamorphosis. Movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Inception, Casablanca, It’s A Wonderful Life, American History X, American Beauty, Rain Man, and A Beautiful Mind:
Discovering the core of who they are, their God Within, self-understanding so they are transformed from an old way of being into a new way.
We want to believe we would help others if given the chance.
We want to believe we can get our act together.
Both of these desires speak to salvation. We save. We are saved.
Use the theme salvation to imbue your stories with emotional power.
What do you think? Salvation as a lens through which to look at and analyze the stories we write. See you in comments to discuss.
For Part 1: Sin, go here.
For Part 2: Conversion, go here.
For Part 3: Predestination, go here.
Tomorrow: Another theological theme in screenwriting.