Ready Player One

I guess the modern phenomenon of “binge watching” shows and movies has more of an effect on my media consumption habits than I would like to admit. Often, my movie going experience has more in common with stuffing myself at a buffet than savoring every bite of a gourmet meal.

This past weekend, I left my house with my twelve-year old son thinking I was going to the Golden Corral. What I received was a creative five-course meal prepared by one of the best “chefs” of our generation.

The previews for “Ready Player One” didn’t inspire me to pull out my phone and order tickets from Fandango. After all, who needs another dystopian story, highlighting the dark places our current dependence on technology might take us. Little did I know, what I would actually get is a glimpse inside the soul of one of the greatest creative geniuses of our time.

Steven Spielberg is a master at taking an audience along on an emotional journey. Think about the way “Jaws” highlights our fear of the unknown or how “ET”, defined a generation by tapping into a longing for connectedness.

My theory is “Ready Player One” flips the script. Rather than Steven Spielberg getting you to experience YOUR emotions, he gives the audience permission to participate in HIS journey through aging and transitions (I realize this could be shaped by my own current journey…see my last blog post). As we are allowed access to his inner world, we come to the realization that even the most gifted people must turn their creation over for others to steward.

In the movie, the creator of a virtual reality universe dies. Everything he has built during his entire life will be turned over to someone else. In order to decide who gets the authority to rule his creation, he plants an “Easter Egg” in the game. Whoever finds it will be awarded the ½ trillion dollars that his company is worth and the right to do with the universe as they see fit.

We follow the battle between a giant corporation (that wants to rule his creation as a means to make money) and a renegade bunch of individuals (who grow to realize they need each other).

In the middle of a ton of great 80’s music, as well as references to many of his own movies, we gain an understanding of what it must be like to be a creative genius like Steven Spielberg.

I experienced three revelations through this story.

My first observation is there is an inherent loneliness in transitions. No matter the field, leaders often experience isolation and rejection. This reality can feel even more heightened as you let go and move into a different season.

The second principle is transitions bring us face to face with regret. None of us skate through life doing everything perfectly. A sign of maturity is freely admitting what we wished we had done differently.

Finally, taking the time to hand off leadership well can bring peace. By realizing our significance isn’t found in a role, we have the opportunity to return to the simplest version of ourselves. We can rest in the fact that we are loved because of who we are, not because of what we do.

I wonder if Steven Spielberg would agree with my assessment of his journey. I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

Gaston and the Beast

A couple of nights ago, our family finally got around to seeing the latest rendition of the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast”.

As expected, it was a visually compelling movie. I thought they actually did justice to two of the most memorable scenes from the first film.

“Be Our Guest” used cutting edge computer animation to capture the sense of excitement and wonder displayed in the original film.

The iconic scene of Belle dancing with the Beast was also done extremely well. In the cartoon version of the movie, that scene was so inspiring that one of my friend’s little girls turned to him and whispered wistfully, “Daddy. Someday I dance with a doggie?” I imagine similar sentences were uttered again in theaters across the country.

A lot has been written about this film from a ton of angles. I guess that’s what proves it is a good work of art. There are so many themes to discuss that it could be it’s own college level class.

Our family Cinema 101 discussion started as we were exiting the theater. Turning to my daughter I said, “Don’t ever marry a guy like Gaston!” (I think that one should be fairly obvious but it needed to be said). I went on to say, “Don’t marry a Beast either”. A guy who needs you to fix him isn’t worthy of your energy.

“After all”, I said, “What’s the difference between Gaston and the Beast? Isn’t it just the fact that Belle took the time to help one and not the other?”

By this time we were in our car and a big debate ensued. My son injected “No! It was that the Beast was open to change but Gaston wasn’t!” Wisely, my wife affirmed his observation.

Perhaps because we hadn’t been in an argument in two hours, I decided to challenge my son’s assertion. “But how do we know? Belle never gave Gaston a chance.”

I might as well have lit a match to a bunch of bottle rockets by the way the ideas were flying around the car.

In the end, one of the easiest ways to see how open Gaston and the Beast were to change was when trials came.

When Gaston discovers he can’t have Belle, he manipulates in whatever way he can to get his way. He sweet talks, he lies, oh yeah and he attempts murder! The whole time he deflects criticism away from himself.

Meanwhile, when the Beast is faced with the same situation, he chooses to let Belle go. This means a cruel fate for him and all the singing furniture in his house. This selflessness is the soil where true love grows.

My hope is that my kids will experience this kind of love in their lives. They won’t be caught in dysfunctional relationships centered in selfishness. I pray they will be people who are open to change and healing and they will find other people committed to the same.

Most likely, the biggest help I can be to them in that area is to model those things in my life and marriage to my “Beauty”. I want our relationship to point to a “Tale as old as time” that is beyond ourselves.