Collateral Beauty and An Unprepared World January 13, 2017

Collateral Beauty. New Line Cinemas. All rights reserved.

*Spoiler warning. Minor plot twists revealed.

December 16th was wet and cold in Portland. My parents and I trudged out into the dark streets to see the newest movie from New Line Cinema, Collateral Beauty.


For weeks before the movie premier I would cry when I watched the trailer. What touched me the most was the title. I’ve been on a journey trying to understand beauty (though that is a journey to discuss another day), and I thought the idea of Collateral Beauty was genius, if I understood what the film was about.

When I watched the movie I was surprised by some of the twists and I did indeed cry through many of the scenes. In a nutshell, the movie is about a genius business man who owns a company of some advertising kind, whose six-year old daughter has died. While the trailer makes you think that in a truly Dickinson-esk twist the universe starts talking with him about the loss through three characters: love, time and death, in truth, it is stranger than that. In fact, in an uncomfortable plot-twist, his coworkers have hired actors to play these characters in order to convince our grieving father that he is going mad so he will make a tough decision for his business.

Don’t let that turn you off to this movie, because it is hiding something deeper than it appears. What we come to learn is that the universe is indeed reaching out to the father who lost his daughter, but it is also interested in more than the one man.

The universe is also reaching out to the various lives that his life touches.

That, in essence, is collateral beauty.

The movie brushes at a theme that is so invested in the human story that you almost wouldn’t catch it unless a movie like this comes to show it to you: We are connected.

Through the intricacies of each human life with its myriad choices and pathways, rises fractal-like the same story. Love. Loss. Joy. Sorrow. Death. It is the same pattern but, each a beautiful life that sends out ripples into other lives.

This movie made you feel. It made you feel hard.

Perhaps that’s why so many people hated it.

I sat amazed that night reading the negative reviews of a movie that touched me so deeply. I couldn’t understand why so many reviewers shot arrows at the “feely-touchy” movie that looked deeply at grief and the longing to understand the world. What occurred to me is that we are in a world that is so unprepared.

We are unprepared for our own story.

All the literature and the mythology and the religions have told us for time-untold that our lives will be filled with fleeting, temporary joys and lasting sorrows, but if we just hold on and look for the collateral beauty, we would find it. So why do we keep missing it? Why do we fight and whimper at the unfairness of a world that makes us feel things that we don’t want to feel, when in reality, feeling is what we do best? We are hard-wired for connection to others that makes sense of the struggle in our own lives.

So why do we hate it when movies or books or songs beg us to feel connected?

I don’t know.

All I can say is, when in doubt, look for the Collateral Beauty, and prepare yourself to find it.

Bethany Stroup

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