We are all familiar with the phrase, “Lights, camera, action!” But what about this one? “Lights, camera, action— AH-HA!” That’s what Rev Cindy Wright’s book Reel Transformation: Your Life Now Playing is all about. Its focus is to show us how doing something we love—watching movies—can be more than just fun and entertaining; it can also support our spiritual journey of self-reflection and growth.
The seeds of this book began in the author’s childhood, watching The Wizard of Oz and identifying with the character of Dorothy. She imagines what Dorothy’s life was like before going to live with her aunt and uncle. Then when the movie shifts from black and white to color, Wright engages more deeply with her own imagination as a way to express her longing for a home over the rainbow. As Wright says, “Later I realized that this theme of longing to be somewhere else, going off on a journey and returning home appears over and over again in film.” Thus was born a seeker for meaning behind the images, characters and experiences we see on film.
She has been a devoted cinema fan ever since. Rev Wright served more than 20 years as a Unity minister, and her passion even showed up in many of her Sunday lessons. She often shared movie clips as examples of the spiritual points in her sermons. Now she brings her wisdom to the written word.
Movies are stories we not only listen to, but get to see in motion, which means immersing ourselves even more fully into the characters, plot line and scenery. “Stories make sense of our lives. … They explain who we are and where we come from. … Human beings have an innate need to find meaning, and our stories and mythologies help with that. They place us inside the scope of the larger picture and reveal an underlying pattern to what often appears to be the chaos of our existence. Our stories and myths remind us that we are not alone, that others have walked this path before us and gone through the same challenges and survived.”
The first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the archetypal transformational story, which is outlined in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. He believes that all stories, myths and fairy tales share 12 common structural elements. Wright has consolidated these to five, which becomes the framework from which she invites us to explore the meanings within the stories of our movies. She devotes two whole chapters detailing movies as parables—another word for stories—and as spiritual journeys, and how they relate to our lives.
Wright frequently points to biblical stories, including Jesus’ parables, as examples for stories that can enlighten and transform us. For me, there is a bit too much Christian focus to the material presented in the first half, which could easily be a turn off for the non-Christian, or someone wounded by the Christianity of their own experience—although it does make sense to use this lens, since the author is a minister and it is her territory. Perhaps future books can have an expanded, multi-faith or even secular perspective to reach a broader audience.
For readers who have spent a good deal of time working on expanding their own self-awareness and spiritual growth, these two chapters on parables may seem a bit elementary, but for others less seasoned, it is a good introduction. Wright then provides an outline for the reader to use when watching movies with intention based on Campbell’s work. This is a simple, yet effective tool for embarking on seeing movies in new ways through this new lens.
The second half of the book is focused on eight specific movies. Wright offers her interpretations and insights based on her five stages inherent in every story. She does a wonderful job of introspection and asking the reader questions to reflect on in order to find their own insights. Some of the movies chosen are obvious choices, like Finding Nemo and Groundhog Day. These movies are more overt in their spiritual messages than others Wright has chosen to deconstruct for us. I confess that I had never heard of two of the movies—perhaps it’s an age thing. Or maybe a movie-buff thing, which I admittedly am not.
Overall it’s a good little book, which I appreciate. Not too long, not too short, and with only eight movies reviewed, Rev Wright has set the groundwork for future books since Hollywood has given her a never-ending supply of material. I enjoyed the book and appreciated getting to the meat of the topic quickly and easily, while also providing practical tools for applying the theory presented in the first half of the book.
“Look for those AH-HA moments. … And the next time you go to the movies, look and see if you can find the stages up there on the screen. They aren’t in every film, but you can find them anytime there is a character that changes or grows. If we continue to stay open to growth, life will present us with plenty of opportunities for transformation.” Remember, lights, camera, action—AH-HA