Last night I watched The Grey with some good friends. I’ll use that viewing experience to show you how you can use movies to live an epic life.

Warning: I’m not going to spell out clear spoilers, but there are some references that will definitely shape how you see this movie and where it ends up.

All great movies are shot in 3D. Not James Cameron 3D, but in Epic 3D: With a compelling story, authentic characters, and epic themes.

D1: A compelling story

At first blush, you could summarize the entire movie with eight words: Cold men cuss incessantly, are eaten by wolves.

The end.

But the real story follows a group of surly men thrust into a crucible where they must each find their humanity before they face their own doom.

D2: Authentic characters

As in every movie, some of the characters are cardboard cutouts who serve the purpose of showing us why we should worry about the rest of the group. The longer a character stays alive, the more we get to know them. We discover what they live for, what drives them, what they’re made of.

Each man brings a unique view of life and death to the table. The real characters grow and change, and become archetypes we can relate to. In particular, we follow the painful journey of Liam Neeson’s character.  He travels the road from apathetic despair in the face of loss to desperate resistance in the face of death.

In the end we realize: it’s what happens inside the characters that matters most.

D3: Epic themes

I must say, the cussing feels like endless machine-gun fire—so relentless that it’s hard to get past it. But the movie isn’t about cold men cursing, or even about wolves eating them.

The cold is pervasive, oppressive, conspiratorial. And the wolves are always out there, either lurking or attacking, so it’s hard to forget about them too. This is great storytelling, because the cold and the wolves symbolize the inevitability of death.

The Grey basically says, We can’t choose whether we die, or even how or when we die. What we get to choose is how we respond to the life we’ve been given. Our view of death dramatically shapes our view of life.

Neeson’s character wrestles intensely with God, first calling out to him and then cursing him for not reaching down to intervene with help or a rescue. His conclusion is, “Screw this. I’ll do it myself.” This is painful to watch, especially because we realize God’s answer came long before the prayer was even uttered—in the way he’d been prepared for the valley he was facing.

You, the movie

I’m not sure if this has occurred to you before, but your life is shot in 3D too: Story, characters, and themes.

Story. What tagline would you write for your life? Boring woman wanders aimlessly, wishes for more. Man searches for meaning, wastes time on trivia. What if your daily grind isn’t the real story? What if there’s more going on than you see right now? Movie geeks are good at seeing the real story in film; how about using our mad skills on our own lives?

Free hint: The Bible is the ultimate handbook for seeing your life through an epic lens.

Characters. In real life, there are no cardboard characters—although far too many people live as though they might be one. Cardboard characters don’t change. They live, they die. Real characters grow and change, and the real story is about their transformation.

Movie Geeks know this about their movies; the trick is to apply that knowledge to their lives. On a personal level, the meaning of your life is more about what happens inside you than what happens around you. Living only for the external turns you into a cardboard character, while living to change and grow makes you worth knowing.

Free hint: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He’s all about changing us on the inside in such a way that things change on the outside.

Themes. If all this is true, Movie Geeks know the real story of the week isn’t cold or wolves or kids with the flu or their boss being anal at work. The real story is thematic. What issue is this conflict raising in my heart? What’s the challenge to my character? What am I learning? How will I grow?

Free hint: Christianity ascribes thematic clarity to every situation we face in life, no matter how difficult or confusing. It makes no promise of comfort or ease, but claims what happens to us isn’t as important as how we respond to those challenges.

What do you think? Have you watched a movie recently that helped you live in 3D? Do tell!

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