In this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, let’s talk about a recurring theme scattered among several dramas over the past years, that of dreams dying and being reborn:
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Diane Lane plays a woman with her dreams of success all in hand, until an unexpected divorce broadsides her. On a whim, she buys a run-down villa in Tuscany and has an entirely new dream of having the villa be the focus of her new life—with friends, cooking, children, a wedding. Everything seems to go wrong from the start—or does it? She has no friends to cook for, until she starts cooking for her Polish renovators and ends up becoming a great cook and an even better friend. She has no baby, but she gives of herself so her friend is able to have her baby in her villa. She loses her man to marry, but she helps two young lovers and sees their joy consummate in a wedding at her villa. At the finale, she looks back and realizes that she indeed gets all her dreams—but in a very different way than she first envisioned. After a friend points this out, she replies, “You’re right – I got everything I asked for.”
In Mr. Holland’s Opus, we find a man in his twenties taking a job as a high school band instructor to put food on his table. Over the next thirty-some years, he grows to care for his students and embrace this vocation, even though he still yearns to fulfill his dream of writing a great work of music. Although way over-dramatic at the end, a grateful former student sums up the movie’s message: “I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. ”
In The Family Man, Nicholas Cage plays a stereotypical self-absorbed executive with absolutely no value for human relationships—until an “angel” strips away all his material success and plops him down as a tire salesman in Jersey. Although the ending of the movie stinks, we watch his progression as he realizes that the gift of relational intimacy is worth more than all the money and power of his dreams. When he is tempted to start valuing money and fame again, his wife tells him, “maybe I was being naive, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us, all grey and wrinkly, and me working in the garden and you re-painting the deck. But things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this, I will take these kids from a life they love and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared together and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you, and that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us. ”
What can we learn from these movies? First, that dreams die in a fallen and imperfect world and that we cannot go on and grow and live until we let go of them. We see this in the Bible as well, from Joseph’s dreams dying when he is sold into slavery to David’s dreams of being King die when he has to flee from King Saul. Second, that dreams that are self-focused and value things over people need to die. I am reminded of Christ’s story of the rich man who built bigger barns, only to find out that something far bigger than his barns were at stake. Third, we need to learn that the dreams ought to be focused on community, on relationships, on what we can give to those we are closest to. God created us to live in community, with others and with Him. Fourth, we should remind ourselves that we serve a loving Father who delights to give us good gifts, but that we should have the humility and wisdom to let Him do the choosing, let Him bless us beyond all that we can imagine, in His time and in His way.