Why Shadowlands Taught Me Being Broken is Beautiful

ShadowlandsIn my personal opinion, everyone needs to watch Shadowlands. Directed by the Richard Attenborough, the biographical plot depicts CS Lewis' comfortable life as an esteemed Oxford professor, simple bachelor, and quiet soul. Fierce in his battles with students, Lewis lives a sheltered life — away from the pain of losing his own mother to cancer at the age of nine.

Enter: Joy Greshem (Davidson), a fiesty American writer running away from a bad marriage, searching for a place to raise her young son. While as fierce as Lewis in every respect, her fierceness battles life on life's terms. No classroom walls to shield her from abuse, loss, grief or cancer.

On the other hand, there are no grand towers of academia to shield her from the love of her son and for her son, from crafting her poetry, from re-building her new life away from exploitation and towards second chances. 

Lewis (aka: "Jack") knows life through books.

Joy knows life through experience.

Anyone who's seen the movie will know the battle between Jack and Joy over the measure of experience in someone's life, it's relevance and importance. If you've seen the movie, you'll be smiling just a little bit right now.

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Joy Gresham, played by Debra Winger

On the surface, one might think the juxtaposition between Jack's sheltered English country life and Joy's outspoken, abrasive presence is the driving force behind the story. One of the best scenes in the entire film is when Joy walks into the hotel where she is to first meet Jack. Jack has brought along his brother to steel his nerves against meeting a fan of his writing. Of course Joy hasn't a clue what Jack looks like. Instead of acting like a mannerly English lady (who would indeed be discreet in finding Jack in the tea room), she asks the waiter once if she knows "CS Lewis? The writer?". When the waiter brushes her off, she raises her voice and calls out:

"Anyone here called 'Lewis'?"

Fine way to begin a romantic relationship! The viewer doesn't simply feel the awkward moment, but rather is rocked by it just as both Jack and Joy are. If you're a fan of the film, you'll be smiling again right now. Anthony Hopkins portrays the quintessential CS Lewis, and Debra Winger creates a brutally honest Joy Gresham who rips apart Hopkins' stodgy, sheltered character. 

This juxtaposition of personality is present, but it isn't the core of the film.

 What I believe the core of the film to be is: we are beautiful creations of God when we embrace life, pain and all. Or, as Joy would say, "that's the deal". We can't have a safety net around us so much so that we block out even the incredible gifts of life all in the name of protection from pain.

Remember, this is the esteemed, great and glorious, well-respected, imaginative, powerful CS Lewis we are talking about here. He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, for heaven's sake! And still Joy goes toe-to-toe with him and doesn't simply tell him that he's missing out on life; she shows him. She demands a love from Jack that he is desperate to give, but is terrified to learn how. Instead of demeaning him for it, she persists in showing him. Eventually Jack takes a frightened step forward for he realizes that if he doesn't, Joy will die and he will be left to live with only the knowlege of his love… nothing more.

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Joseph Mazzello as Douglas Gresham and Anthony Hopkins as CS Lewis

But the love story doesn't stop here. Oh no.

Real love is far more than a kiss and a sunset.

I don't cry when Jack marries Joy in the hospital, after her rounds of chemotherapy; I don't cry when Joy is brought home to die; I don't cry when Jack sits by her through the night; I don't even cry when Joy silently passes away from cancer. 

I cry when Jack finally cries himself.



Finally, the great and illustrious CS Lewis allows life to begin within himself.

After Joy's funeral, Jack finds her son (Douglas) in the attic, sitting in front of an old wardrobe. Hoping it was truly the fabled passage to Narnia only to discover it was just a dusty old wardrobe with nothing extraordinary about it, Douglas is bereft and alone. He never truly latched onto Jack, despite being happy that his mother found love.

Jack sits down beside Douglas in the attic. Both are careworn, grieving, and wishing for the return of Joy. 

Douglas: Do you believe in heaven?

Jack: Yes. I do.

Douglas: I don't believe in heaven.

Jack: That's all right.

Douglas: I'd sure like to see her again.

Jack (weeping) "So would I!"

 Life begins for both of them.

I'm not trying to create any doctrine or theology of pain or suffering. No one wants to lose a loved one and, truth be told, loved ones don't want to be lost. But Joy's bravery of accepting the good with the bad breathed new life into both Douglas' and Jack's lives. 

It's not that God loved Jack more after Joy died, or any less when he lived behind closed doors. God's love doesn't work that way — on merit. It's more that Jack realizes God's love changes a person far more, draws us in more deeply, protects us under living wings, comforts us so soundly when we actually say "Yes". We crack, we break, and instead of ugly tar spilling through, there's beauty. There's light. To our amazement, we have been transformed from the inside out.

And loved all along with an everlasting love.

I can be a lot like Jack sometimes.

I can toss out bombshells to others from the safe and high places, teaching life lessons without actually having to live them. It's not the 'easy' way, for sure, but it's not the open way either. When I encounter someone who opposes my position or challenges me, all I need do is have an airtight argument — an argument so well crafted and researched that all I need do is wait for the other party to use up all of their angles until they see that I had the correct answer all along.

Sigh… how morally superior. How safe. How secure.

Remember: Jack was never "pain-free". He lost a good deal before he learned to live his quiet little life, letting the world create an image of CS Lewis rather than engaging it himself. Perhaps that's why I relate to Jack so much: it's not a fear of being hurt that I hide behind walls of words and poems and imagination.

It's because I've been so badly hurt already.

I know pain.

And I don't care to know it again so intimately. 

But if I don't allow others to enter into my life, I will wither away. My life will dry up.

Yes, there will always be risk of death, loss, abuse, neglect, and disappointment. Many of these I will fail miserably at in responding to. But I can't live so far away from them, or else I will live far away from intimacy, love, depth, and life. 

Sometimes I have to hide behind my walls. We all do. But they aren't meant to be places of dwelling. They are stopovers only (at best). 

Everyone needs to watch Shadowlands

That's just one person's opinion.




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