Today, Jeffrey Wells considers three things that will guarantee your movie will be unpopular.

And, although it really depresses me to say it, this is probably true.

If your movie is about despair, impotence, or unrequited love, your movie will probably not be a hit.

Wells is concerned about what this observation means for the award-possibilities for Little Children, which is about all three of those things.

Me, I’m interested in this observation for a different reason entirely:

I believe that the box office proves that we like movies that tell us what we want to hear, and show us what we want to see. We tend to dislike movies that tell us what we need to hear and show us what we need to see.

We like to see people being brave. We like to see saviors. But the moment that the savior’s quest shows us that, no, we’re not equipped to save the world on our own… and heck, we’re not even equipped to save ourselves on our own, well… no thanks. That’s just too depressing.

After all, if we can’t get everything right on our own, then what does that mean? It just might mean that we must put our hope in something higher. It might mean that we don’t have the right to be selfish. It might mean that the American way — which is “Have it your way!” — might be fundamentally flawed. It just might mean that I need to put aside my impulses and appetites and adhere to the demands of a Higher Power, a benevolent God. It might mean I need to humble myself, repent, ask for forgiveness, and submit to the call of (here comes the most unpopular word among grownups, and especially American grownups)… obedience.

In his book Heretics, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.”

You see, this is why so many films I admire and recommend never become popular and never win awards. Audiences don’t like to be told that they are flawed and needy. They want to be told that they have the strength to overcome all odds all by themselves.

We want to be told we don’t need God.

We want to be told that we are gods.

This is, in part, why I love The New World. The characters know that, left to themselves, they will ruin themselves and the world around them. They reach out. They open up. They humble themselves. And in selfless service, they find strength. In faith, they find hope.

This is, in part, why I love Millions. Without faith, Alex would have been just as selfish as anyone else. But because he admires the saints, who set aside personal desires in order to serve a higher cause, he finds the true meaning of JOY. Most movie heroes find happiness by achieving what they want. Alex finds something deeper, because he makes what God wants into what he wants.

This is why I love Chariots of Fire… because it’s about priorities, and the joy that can come from putting God’s priorities before our own.

This is why I love Amadeus, because it’s not about us and what we want to accomplish. It’s about what God can accomplish through such broken, messed-up people.

This is why I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and why I admire (to some extent) Little Miss Sunshine. They show us the madness and emptiness that comes from being self-centered and nasty and greedy. They show us the depravity of lust. They give us a glimmer of hope by showing what happens when people take baby steps in the direction of love, service, and selflessness.

This is why I love Three Colors: Blue. It’s about the futility and emptiness of running away to try and live independently. It’s about the folly of “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s about the meaning and wisdom of investing ourselves in service. Julie must learn to quit running from the hard parts of life. She must shoulder the burden of grief and continue on with the hard work… the passion of doing what must be done.

This is why I love Code Unknown, Stevie, Gosford Park, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Au Hasard Balthazar.

The movies do, sometimes show us the truth. We don’t like it. We don’t make those movies into successes or hand them awards. But they do, sometimes, give us glimmers of truth… through a screen darkly.

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