Begin Again – Movie Discussion

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Begin Again is the sweet and refreshing story of two lonely people who connect over their love of music.[1]  He’s a down and out producer, she’s a singer-songwriter who just lost her boyfriend and with him her prospects in the industry.  Together, they not only create some beautiful and inventive music, but also help each other find hope and incentive to begin again, in their careers and in their personal lives.

When their paths first crossed, Dan had just lost his job and was at a bar, drowning his sorrows.  Greta was singing on stage but utterly failing to connect with the audience.  She felt like a complete failure, enhanced no doubt by the reality that her boyfriend and musical partner, Dave, who had recently signed a lucrative deal with a music label, cheated on her (resulting in a break up).  Greta may not have excelled as a performer, but Dan heard something in her song that captivated him.  There was something beautiful, innovative, true and authentic about it.  He wanted to produce her.

 Their resulting conversation, Dan telling her what she needed to do to captivate the audience, Greta’s commitment to the purity of the music over the power of performance…  it was an on-going theme through out the movie that captivated me, largely because it’s remarkably similar to an on-going struggle /debate in the church today.

When Dan offered to produce her and make her a star, Greta had to laugh.  She had seen the audience’s response, and they weren’t responding like she had star quality.  “I’m not a performer.  I just write songs from time to time.” She says.  Dan didn’t fully understand that she was actually okay with that, because everyone wants to become a star, right?  So he went on to give her advice, starting with her appearance.  She was beautiful, she should work with that, accentuate it.   But Greta isn’t flattered or impressed.

Greta:  What’s beauty got to do with it?
Dan:  You’re tricky, aren’t you?
Greta:  No, I just think music’s got to do with ears, not eyes.
Dan:  You gotta do whatever you can to get people in to your show so the music can do its work.

This is the heart of the question—what’s music all about?  She’s a purist.  She doesn’t care if anyone notices her, she only wants them to hear the music, really hear it.  She wants them to love it, to be transformed by it.  In truth, Dan is the same.  Their love of music is their common ground, but Dan is a pragmatist, too.  He knows that Greta’s music is worth listening to because she writes with depth, but he also knows that something has to draw people in to listen in the first place.  Some will be mature enough to listen for the music’s sake alone, but the majority will not.  The majority will need a “hook”—the majority will be enticed by what they see, a pretty girl, a seductive dress, an edgy statement…something.  Something will draw them in, and then the truth and power and depth of her music will keep them…but something has to draw them in first.

Dan had worked in the music business for a long time and part of his crash was a result of his disappointment with how many in the industry sold out.  He saw so many music lovers who, once famous, found that their love of fame eclipsed their love of music.  The message in their music, the quality of the lyrics and originality of production suffered as a result.  They no longer cared if their music was truly good so long as it was popular and well-received.  This was part of Dan’s bitterness and burnout, but it had also affected him.  He had been in the system so long he knew how to work it…thus his advice to Greta.

At the end of the movie, Greta has to decide what to do with her music future.  She and Dan produced a new, inventive, beautiful album and Dan’s former company wants to sign her.  She probably would have jumped at the chance months before, but she has a new perspective on fame and record labels, etc., that give her some pause.

Her newfound perspective comes largely in the way of her ex-boyfriend, Dave.  He shared with her his remix of one of the songs she wrote, and he completely changed the song.  The lyrics were the same, but the feel of it was completely different.  The music and style no longer contributed to the meaning of the song—it sounded like any other generic pop song.  He was happy with it because it would ensure the song’s popularity.  She wasn’t happy though, because it polluted the song’s meaning and robbed it of its power.  The song had changed, and so had Dave.  He used to love music like she did…loving music for its own self.  But now, Dave loved music not for its own self, but as a means to fame and power and money and success, which is why he could stand to see her song robbed of its power.

I won’t spoil the ending, but instead I want to go back to what I said at the beginning, that this discussion about music has something to do with the church.  The church is full of Greta’s, Dan’s and Dave’s, with people who got involved because they love the Lord and desire desperately to share Him with others.[2]  Some of those are purists who feel that the truth of the gospel is enough.  They aren’t big on cultural outreach, on trying to attract people into their doors with anything outside of Biblical teaching.

Others are more practical and see that there are a lot of people who won’t come into the church without a little urging, a little hook of some sort or another, but once inside will find that the gospel of Christ keeps them there.

Of course, you have those who started out purists or even pragmatists, but in either case had a passion and idealism about reaching people with the gospel, but who got discouraged and burned out along the way.  Probably they saw too many sell out.  Like Dan, they saw so many fellow believers, pastors, Christian leaders who got distracted by fame and power and fell in some way or another….and they themselves have fallen from grace from the burden and the sadness of it.  There is hope for them, just as there was for Dan.  Some new idealist will come along and not sell out, not fall, and remind them that there is still hope and they should continue the good fight and keep on searching for the new talent to encourage and mentor.

And of course there are the Dave’s.  They are the ones that started out with a love for the Lord and his church, but found that they loved the fame, position and power they were able to achieve within the church more.  Their love for God became secondary, a means to achieving the popularity they really loved.   They still like God; they still care about the church; but more as a means to their own ends rather than for its own sake.  The Dave’s are interesting because their example is enough to discourage and dishearten the Dan’s in the church…the ones who mentored them, believed in them, trained them ad went before them.  But their example is also enough to give motivate the Greta’s—the cautionary tale which warns them, keeps them from falling into temptation.  I believe there is still hope for all the Dave’s too, because they started with a love for Christ, and that may be obscured by fame for a while, but those embers may be rekindled into a fire with the right circumstances and influences.

I’ve digressed a little though—the discussion that captivates me most is, how should the church approach reaching the lost?   Not that we should ever apologize for or change the message of the gospel, but should we “do whatever you can to get them in [the door] so the [gospel] can do its work?”  Or is that selling out in some way?  Is that polluting the gospel or denying it its power, or the Holy Spirit HIS power to draw people in?  If we do as Dave did, keep the words but change the musical arrangement (so to speak), if we keep the message but change the style and the methods to reach a modern unchurched audience, will we do as Dave did and dilute or obscure the power of the message?  And, if we do a good job of attracting the masses, can we become popular in the world without falling in love with the fame more than the gospel we started with?

Those are some tough questions.  I don’t expect to answer them conclusively, nor do I expect that everyone will come to the same resolution, but I do think that it’s important to be aware of them and think through them prayerfully and carefully.  I once listened to a group of pastors who got together to discuss several tough questions in the church and this was at the heart of one of their discussions.  They had a fantastic, lively, even heated discussion (but always honoring—how rare is that?!) about their different views and methods.  In the end, they largely agreed to disagree, but they also grew to a greater understanding and appreciation for each other’s different approaches because they saw how much their love for the Lord drove everything they did, even though they did it differently.  It’s a fantastic discussion—you can listen to it here and a related discussion about culture in the church, here.   It will surely challenge the way you approach this topic and help you understand the way others approach it.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How was Greta’s approach to music and stardom different from most people in the business?
  • Do you think Dan was right to encourage her to dress herself up a bit more to draw people in to hear the music?
  • If the movie was about reaching people with the gospel, rather than with music, whose approach would you agree with more, Greta’s, Dan’s or Dave’s?
  • Where would you put the modern church as a whole on the spectrum?  Do they tend to be purists, or pragmatists?  Do they let the purity of the gospel message reach others, or do they feel a need to “get them in the door” first?
  • Do you think there is a balance between those two extremes?
  • Do you think you can go too far on either end of that scale?
  • Have you seen churches/Christians who you think went too far trying to engage the unchurched on their terms, with their culture, etc.?

*Reposted from Shepherd Project Ministries*

To see quotes from Begin Again, click here.

[1] I know it’s rated R…but honestly it was cleaner than so many of the lesser rated films I’ve seen lately.  It’s rated R for the language, the same foul words you hear in PG-13 movies, just simply in greater quantity.  If language offends you then this isn’t for you.  I don’t like the language, don’t get me wrong, but I am far more sensitive to the crude jokes, crass talk, sexual references, nudity and sex and some of the sinful themes that are common to movies today.  In that light, I found this to be a very refreshing and surprisingly “clean” film.

[2] Of course, there are those, too, who never loved the Lord at all but simply saw an opportunity to use the Lord’s name as a platform, a way to fame and power.

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