How often has this happened to you: You’re watching a movie, and all of a sudden you get this feeling like you know what’s going to happen next. And then, you’re right. “Ha! Called it!” And if it happens often enough, you start to feel like you have some sort of movie-plot-guessing superpower. Hate to break it to you, but you don’t have a superpower… you’ve just seen a lot of movies. The not-so-secret secret is that all successful blockbuster movies follow the same pattern.
For example, in “Rudy”, Dan Ruettiger leaves home to follow his dream of playing for the Fighting Irish. He spends some time trying to figure out how to get into Notre Dame, and once he does he has to persevere just to get on the football team’s practice squad. He’s ready to quit because he wasn’t going to get to play in the last game of his senior year. He changes his mind and goes to his last practice, prepared to be a human tackling dummy one last time for no apparent personal gain. His selflessness inspires his teammates to change the mind of coach to let him play, but as the last game draws to a close it looks like he’s never going to participate in a single play on the field. Will he get to live his dream of playing on the field for the Fighting Irish, or will his dream go unfulfilled?
Written works, however, don’t follow a formula. Shakespeare’s most noted works like “Romeo & Juliet”, “Hamlet”, and “Julius Caesar” were all tragedies, as were “Of Mice and Men” and “Death of a Salesman”. Though you’ll find them performed on the stage, tragedies normally don’t make it to the big screen. If they do, they never find the financial success of something like “Star Wars.” Hollywood has long realized that tragedies don’t tend to make blockbuster movies, because, well, they’re tragic. Even “Titanic” had a happy ending.
That’s why movies tend to stick to the tried-and true “victory” formula. From science fiction to comedies, from “Finding Nemo” to “Apollo 13”, popular movies, even ones adapted from real-life stories, all follow the same pattern: the hero of the movie starts out as an orphan, then the storyline takes them through being a wanderer, a warrior, and a martyr. The entire arc of the screenplay brings us to the final climactic moment, with every scene bringing us closer to answering the final question of “will the hero succeed?” Many books have been written about this pattern, called “the moral premise,” and it’s virtually impossible to find a successful movie that doesn’t follow it.
This formula is successful because it is art imitating life. It is art copying the dramatic arc of the greatest victory story of all time, the life of Jesus Christ. He was born an orphan from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Once filled with the Spirit at His baptism in the Jordan, He wandered the desert for forty days. During his ministry, He was a warrior who battled scribes, pharisees, and wrong ways of thinking, and who fought the influence of Satan on Jew and Gentile alike. On Calvary, He of course martyred himself for all of us, for all of our sins, and for all of our salvation. Of course, we all know the answer to, “Will the hero succeed?”
Everyone’s life is full of unexpected turns of events. We all have lives with both laughter and sorrow, joy and frustration, good times and bad ones. Everything that happens in our lives forms the arc of our story, leading to the most important thing we ever do: die. How we live our lives is preparation for the most climactic moment of our saga, and the final question of, “Will our hero get to Heaven, or not?”
Everyone’s life story is a drama, but the ending of your story is up to you. Will your story be a tragedy? Or a victory?