Collateral Beauty starts with Howard talking about how life’s purpose is all about connection. “We are here to connect. Life is about people.” The movie is the story of how he lost his connection … and found it again.
When his daughter died he not only lost his connection to her, but in his pain he severed his connections with everyone. His three business partners (and friends) are concerned, not only about Howard, but about their business and come up with a plan. Sadly, the plan is really to force him out of the business, but it ends up being a healing process through which he reconnects with people.
Howard had written letters to the universe—specifically to time, love and death. His partners found actors who agreed to play the embodiment of those three elements and have discussions with Howard. And this is where the movie was really genius. What would you communicate to someone who had just lost his child if YOU were death personified? Love personified? Time personified?
In those voices we hear the voice of God, too. God is love. He is beyond time and gives us time as a gift. He has perspective and victory over death.
The actors don’t just stop with Howard, however. They each sort of pair up with a business partner and help them through their struggles. Brigitte, as Death, talks to Simon who is avoiding the fact that he has cancer again and helps him face his own eminent death well. Amy, as Love, helps Whit to quit seeking the romantic love he’s chasing and instead risk loving his daughter who seems not to want his love. Raffi, as Time, helps Claire have the courage to stop procrastinating and move forward in her life. (Side note—I love how Raffi gets angry with Howard for wasting time. He is “Time” and he takes it personally that Howard would waste the gift of himself… I wonder if God feels the same way?! Convicting.)
Howard says that, “At the end of the day, every decision we make is because we long for love, wish we had more time, and we fear death.” I would say the Christian has an added motivation (hopefully a primary one) of pleasing God and glorifying His name, but there is truth in what Howard says. In fact, our desire to please God has to do with our longing for God’s love, to Howard’s point. As for time—we have eternity, so for the believer, the sting of death is lifted. We only fear death for those who don’t know Christ. For ourselves, it is a blessed reunion with our Savior and with our loved ones who have gone before us.
One of the most beautiful moments in the film, for me, was when Howard was telling Love (Amy) that it betrayed him when his daughter died. Isn’t this how we are at least tempted to feel towards God when someone we love dies? Hear Love’s response, because it’s very much the response of God. “Sorry. I’m so sorry.” (Note, it’s not that Love is apologizing for allowing it to happen, so much as identifying with the terrific pain…Empathizing. I’m sorry you had to suffer that.) Howard was trying to live without Love, because it had betrayed him, so Love responds: “I’m the very fabric of life. If you can accept that, then I don’t know, maybe you get to live again.” When he accused Love of betraying him, she replies, “No, I’m in all of it. … I was there in her laugh but I’m also here in your pain. I’m the reason for everything. I’m the why. Don’t try to live without me, Howard. Please don’t.” Love, God who is Love, is here IN our pain. He is in ALL of it. He never leaves us nor forsakes us.
Are you hurting? Are you lonely? Do you feel betrayed by Love? Love has not forsaken you. Love, too, knows what it is to hurt, to suffer, to lose a child, to sacrifice, to be betrayed, to be unwanted by those it loves. There is no pain we suffer that Love (God) has not suffered. He is with us in all of it, comforting us because He understands. He is there, helping us heal so that we can risk letting Love back into our lives, because as our Creator, He knows that we cannot live without Love and connection.
Questions for Discussion:
- Howard said that everything we do is “because we long for love, wish we had more time, and we fear death.” Do you agree with this or not? What would you say motivates you the most? Is the Christian any different from the non-Christian in this regard?
- If someone asked you to be Time, Death and / or Love to a person who was grieving or who had suffered a tragedy, how would YOU respond?
- Do you think Time, Death and Love responded as the Lord would have?
- How do you think Time, Death and / or Love would talk to YOU about how YOU are living?