I started this series with Comedies, at least in part because I’d discovered at any early age that getting laughs at the cost of time-outs under the teacher’s desk was worth it (yes, some of my grade school teachers actually did that).
But even earlier, I’d discovered the power of drama. Movies inspired me during my make-believe times (i.e. most of the time), to courageously sacrifice myself to save a pretty girl, and then die in her arms. Or to contort my face and body in the bathroom mirror into that of a tragically misunderstood outcast (The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a favorite), often becoming so choked-up I couldn’t go on.
The power of imagination doesn’t lie in originality (kid’s steal wholesale from movies, books, and television), but in the ability to believe in the things you imagine. Oh, how I believed. And still do. The stories playing in my head are every bit as real as the ones playing in the world around me. Which makes me one of two things, I suppose: Crazy. Or a writer. Is there a difference?
Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn once grumbled, “If ya wanna send a message, use Western Union,” nevertheless, it’s the message movies that leave the profoundest impression on me. From the heart-on-his-sleeve classics of Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington); to the cautionary tales of Billy Wilder (Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard) and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane); to intimate stories of rediscovered hope like David and Lisa, A Beautiful Mind, and Manchester by the Sea; to living-for-something-bigger-than-yourself stories like Casablanca, On the Waterfront, Braveheart, and The Verdict.
It’s the latter, especially–redemption stories–that have most deeply influenced my work as a storyteller. And I can’t think of any film that has touched that God-implanted inclination more deeply than the film Schindler’s List (currently celebrating its 25th anniversary). As Ben Kingsley’s character says near the end of the film, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” I still can’t watch the final scene (below), or hear John Williams’ heartbreaking theme, without shedding tears. It’s not simple sentiment (for that see the Hallmark Channel). It’s the essence of life.
And that’s why I chose a redemption drama, Over-the-Rhine, to be my first feature film as a writer-director. Oh, I still make comedies (my current feature is an all-out spoof), but even they have echoes of redemption in them. Redeemed romances make me smile (When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail). Redeemed families make me wipe my eyes (Toy Story, Parenthood).
But redeemed lives touch my soul.