Monday, February 28, 2011

The Power of a Story

My family watched the remake of The Karate Kid this weekend, starring Jaden Smith.  I won't debate whether or not it was better than the original.  My daughter, who has never seen the original, thought this one was great.  She's watched it twice now.

This movie is a good story with universal themes - perserverance, respect, friendship, and finding family where blood ties do not exist.  I don't think I'm spoiling the movie by discussing the end.  Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is knocked down in the final round of the kung fu tournament with a horrible blow to his leg.  This is his black moment, where all seems lost.  If Dre does not get up, his opponent wins.  Watching the young man's struggle to stand, his determination to win, brought tears to my eyes, and that of my husband.  After the movie was over, my daughter asked me why we cried.

How do you explain the power of a story to a seven year old?  Isn't that something that has to be experienced, and not explained?  But her large brown eyes waited for an answer, so I did what any self-respecting parent would do when cornered with a question without an easy answer - I turned the question around and asked her how she felt watching Dre try to stand again and fight.  Her answer?  She wanted him to win. 

As a writer, I have a great respect for stories, in all forms.  I read a book a couple of years ago titled Story, by Robert McKee.  It is a book about screenwriting, and in it McKee does the best job I've read explaining why stories touch us so.  He explains:

"In life, moments that blaze with a fusion of idea and emotion are so rare, when they happen, you think you are having a religious experience.  But whereas life separates meaning from emotion, art unites them... The source of all art is the human psyche's primal, prelinguistic need for the resolution of stress and discord through beauty and harmony, for the use of creativity to revive a life deadened by routine, for a link to reality through our instinctive, sensory feel for the truth...  A story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life:  meaningful emotional experience.  In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time.  In art, they are meaningful now, at the instant they happen."  
I got tears in my eyes because Dre's struggle to stand reflects struggles I've faced in real life - to get up when knocked down, to keep going when it seems hopeless, to want something bad enough to risk emotional and physical pain for it, and the satisfaction of achieving something you've worked so hard for.

While my daugher may absorb the movie's message to get up when life knocks you down, it isn't until she experiences this struggle for herself that she'll understand my tears - and possibly experience her own - while watching or reading a story.