“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:4)
In the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn plays a dashing and courageous hero whose band of men hiding in the forest prevents the treacherous Prince John from taking control over England in the absence of good King Richard the Lionheart. Robin Hood steals from the rich Normans and gives to the poor and oppressed Saxons, wins the love of the beautiful Lady Marion, played by Olivia DeHavilland, and in the end kills the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne, played by Basil Rathbone, in a thrilling swordfight.
In the movie, King Richard returns from fighting in a Crusade, joins forces with Robin Hood, and together they win the day and banish Prince John and his supporters to France. The movie ends with a large wooden door closing behind Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland as they triumphantly leave the castle together arm in arm.
What is it about this type of story that captivates audiences from the day it first played on the movie screen down to our present day?
The answer is that people simply love an exciting action story that pits good against evil, has a courageous hero who lives on the edge of defeat and death throughout the movie, and that resolves itself into a happy ending.
Even Errol Flynn probably envied privately the fictional life of Robin Hood somewhat as he played it, with all of its daring escapes, courageous stands against injustice, unselfish sacrifice to help others in need, and most of all Robin Hood’s fearless character that wins the admiration and love of the beautiful Lady Marion.
As the common saying goes, “it could only happen in a movie.”
But there is something else about this movie that tells us something important about ourselves.
Few people, if any, want to know (other than idle curiosity) what happens in the lives of Robin Hood and the Lady Marion after the castle door closes behind them. Robin Hood vanquishes all of his evil foes, saves the day, wins the fair lady and that is the end of the movie and the end of our interest in the story.
No movie producer in his or her right mind would do a sequel to The Adventures of Robin Hood in the aftermath of this movie, unless some screenwriter could come up with an equally thrilling tale having Robin Hood and the Lady Marion again battling evil conspirators threatening England.
An adventure-less movie that had Robin Hood dealing with the everyday life problems of managing the Nottingham Castle estates, like repairing the north gate, or checking on the water level of the castle moat, or planting enough barley in the south fields, would have people quickly yawning and heading for the theater exits in ten or fifteen minutes.
In the 1935 movie A Tale of Two Cities, staring Ronald Colman, based on the classic book by Charles Dickens, again no one cares what takes place in the loving home of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette after their friend Sidney Carton sacrifices his life on the guillotine, during the French Revolution, to secure their future happiness.
Sydney Carton uses a daring scheme to switch places inside the prison with the unjustly condemned man Charles Darnay, the husband of the woman Carton loves, and thus redeems his ill-spent life with a sacrifice so noble that it approximates on a smaller scale the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of mankind.
Yet as the horse-drawn coach carrying the saved family speeds away from Paris and towards England and safety, and Sidney Carton looks peacefully upward toward heaven as he climbs the steps to the guillotine, the movie comes to an end and so does our interest. The drama of the story with all of its interwoven themes and characters is resolved.
After this we do not care that much about the everyday life of Lucie Manette and her family. As an audience we are not interested in the “they lived happily ever after” details of the story.
Coming up to a more recent time, the immensely popular movie Star Wars tells us the same thing.
At the end of the final movie in the six-movie series, the fallen but reformed Darth Vader is burned on a funeral pyre, balance in the cosmic “force” is restored, Luke Skywalker and the Jedi are victorious, and Hans Solo and Princess Leia are finally together. The epic and adventurous parts of the story come to an end. Presumably all of these people then pursue a normal life after this, without having to battle the “dark side of the force.”
What does this tell us about ourselves? If we could live our lives in the middle of a motion picture, what movie would it be and who would write the script? If we knew the story had a happy ending for us, would we really care how many adventures and narrow escapes we experienced to reach the conclusion?
Would we want a boring script, or would we want the script writer to come up with something that was meaningful, inspiring, and even had some measure of risk and adventure? Would we be excited about even a small speaking role in an all-time great movie, as long as our character was well written and we knew we were part of something special and extraordinary?
As Christians, these are questions we should be asking ourselves as we look at our own lives in relation to the lives of the people of faith in the Bible.
Errol Flynn was a great adventure actor, but he was not at the same time renowned as a screenwriter. The two men who wrote the screenplay for The Adventures of Robin Hood, Norman Raine and Seton Miller, were expert screenwriters but not famous actors.
Ronald Colman was a great leading actor, but was not a good enough writer to come up with a story as great as A Tale of Two Cities. The screenplay for this movie was written by W. P. Lipscomb and S. N. Behrman, based upon the book written by the famous author Charles Dickens.
In all great motion pictures, the actors rely upon scripts and stories that are written by other people.
I am not aware of any great movie where the main actor also wrote the screenplay. An exception in recent times is the movie Good Will Hunting, co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, in which both have leading roles. At any rate, without screenplays, great actors would have no movies in which to act.