As we watched a complicated battle scene in the new Mulan movie a few nights ago, my youngest son said, “It would be hard to be an actor.”
Assuming he was referring to the acrobatics required to do things like flip around on the back of horses while shooting arrows at a pursuing enemy, I replied, “It would. They must’ve practiced this scene a bunch of times.”
He paused a minute then said, “Yeah…and also why would you sign up for a movie if you’re just going to get killed?”
“Who got killed?” I asked.
“Well, that guy and that guy.” He pointed at the screen. “And that guy with the arrow in his chest. They’re all dead now. I wouldn’t want to be an actor.”
“They aren’t really dead!” I told him. “They’re just pretending.”
“Are you sure? They look dead.”
“I’m absolutely sure. No one was killed making this movie.” I thought for a minute, then added, “And it’s the same in other movies, too. They are always just pretending to die, and then they put fake blood on them.”
“Ohhhh…” At least outwardly satisfied by my answer, he finished watching the movie, hopefully with a new perspective about the craft of moviemaking and the exciting career of stunt professionals.
Reflecting on his film-related epiphany, I wondered if he’d been thinking this all along, that actors in the movies had been actually dying, like the man in the Darth Vader mask had really perished in Luke Skywalker’s arms. I also understood why he chafed at my frequent comments about how he should be an actor because he’s so funny and expressive and, let’s face it, very dramatic. While I thought I was paying him a compliment, he may have assumed I wanted him to kick the bucket on the silver screen.
Perspective is such an essential tool in understanding the motivations of another human being. The well-known phrase goes something like this, “To understand another person, you must walk a mile in his shoes.” I like Atticus Finch’s counsel to his daughter Scout even better in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus’ advice is more of a submission to empathy than just tying on a pair of shoes and going for a walk. It’s a desire to absorb every nuance of their viewpoint and outlook. How do they see the world and how does the world see them? But it’s possible to take this to the next step. Because even after trying our best to be empathetic, we may have to admit that the other person’s opinion just doesn’t make sense, and then what? Just agree to disagree? I’m sometimes challenged to figure out how to live on the same planet with some people so ideologically different than me, let alone the same country or even the same street. The only way to move forward is with a heaping helping of grace. In spite of how I feel about them and what evidence I have about the truth, that undeserved and magical gift is as much for me as it is for them.
I’m glad my son and I had our conversation about movies, because it gave me just one more glimpse into the mind of one of my favorite people. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that he has been thinking that all of these actors have been dying voluntarily, and, even worse, that we’re all okay with it. But now that it’s out there, I can put it right. We can discuss it and the truth is revealed. Then I can show him what’s real.