A blog by Josh Humbert
Wasn’t it Keats who said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”? Yeah, maybe he was on to something with that one. But have you noticed how confused we can get on this beauty issue in our culture today?
What is beautiful to us now? Is it when Kate Upton is wearing those ridiculous outfits as she tells you some scripted lines about “kingdoms” and “empires” and “battles” when all you’re trying to do is win a couple games of Trivia Crack? Or maybe it’s the Dove ads that show “regular” women in barely any clothes?
Perhaps the handsome leading man flexing the ripped abs on the Men’s Magazine at the checkout line? Is it the #NoFilter pic of some exotic place that your friend just posted on Instagram? Is beauty really truth? Or do we prefer the photoshopped, cropped, and edited?
Where can we find clarity around this beauty issue? How ‘bout a Western, partner? How about the film “3:10 To Yuma” with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe? It’s a simple story of a small-time rancher, Dan Evans, who’s struggling in his marriage, fatherhood, and business. It’s a real tough go of things, until one day Dan is faced with a risky opportunity.
Dan agrees to take the infamous outlaw, Ben Wade, to the 3:10 train in Yuma, which will bring him to his day in court for his many violent crimes. The great tension of the film is that on the entire journey from Dan’s town to that fateful train, Ben’s outlaw friends are doing anything they can to set him free. And Ben himself is a master manipulator who is trying to wreak havoc on Dan’s crew from the inside with his mental games.
Meanwhile, Dan’s “posse” is no S.W.A.T. team…it’s a small band of ill-equipped and underprepared guys. To get Ben Wade to that 3:10 train will require EVERYTHING Dan has. Yet, in such a western film of tough men and hard choices, beauty is maybe the biggest theme of all.
Throughout the film, we see Ben sketch out three different “beautiful” things. I see in his sketches a real progression which will lead to the great ultimatum of Ben’s life at the end (spoiler’s ahead).
First, he sketches a bird he observes on a nearby branch. This is early in the film and it shows Ben’s appreciation for the natural beauty in the world around him.
Second, he sketches a bar maid he seduces. He goes from the natural beauty of the bird to the physical beauty of her form.
Finally, near the film’s climax (and actually MAYBE it’s climax), Ben sketches out a picture of Dan. You see, by the end, it’s only Dan left. His team has been killed or run off scared of the outlaws who track them down. And yet, Dan will not relent. He has every reason to stop trying and walk away. His boss even offers him money to do just that…to walk away. The danger is close and it’s real.
Ben’s friends are in town and they are ruthless. But Dan is firm and even in the face of outrageous odds, he will be the one man strong enough to bring Ben Wade to justice. Ben watches Dan pledge his word to his boss and his final exchange with his son. Interestingly, the camera itself pans to Ben multiple times as Dan is saying his final goodbyes. This moment isn’t just about Dan and his job or Dan and his son…it’s about Ben observing the truth, as Keats would say.
I think Ben sketches Dan because it is the final form of beauty. It’s the beauty of real character. Not any natural or external beauty…Dan has strength of soul. Integrity. Guts. Heart. It is by encountering this beautiful display of character that the hardened, violent criminal is starting to melt.
The seeds of total change have been sown, planted, and watered by Ben taking in what real strength and integrity looks like. And it will all bear fruit in the moments to come.
There is something about taking in beauty that can heal parts of you instantly. Maybe not whole, complete healing…but when you experience real beauty, it can profoundly help you in that moment. Beauty is defined as “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction of the mind.” Yes, that’s it. When I encounter beauty, it brings that deep satisfaction in that moment. When you stand on the shore of an ocean, the beauty can heal. Hear the waves continually hitting the shore. Feel the sand in between your toes. See the sun slowly sink off in the distance as it paints the skies with ten thousand colors. Beauty like that? It can heal. Maybe not everything and maybe not for all time. But beauty can bring that deep satisfaction.
Maybe that’s why David talks about the beauty of God in so many of his Psalms. He is constantly talking about “seeking His face” and “beholding” Him. What’s that all about? What’s David after? He’s after the Supreme Beauty. David knows that to really take in the beauty of God will heal all of him, forever.
True beauty leads to true healing and true joy. That’s why he seeks it so furiously. And maybe that’s what Ben gets a glimpse of in the determination of Dan.
At the end, Dan fights his way past the outlaws all the way to the train station. He gets Ben Wade to the 3:10! But in the final gun fight, Ben’s closest friend guns Dan down and he dies. Ben is now saved at the buzzer, freed right before he was to be brought to justice…until….. …Until Ben himself guns down his own crew and his right hand man and then puts himself on the 3:10 to Yuma.
The stunning conclusion slams full force. The progression of beauty had led Ben to change what his whole life had been about. Something about Dan’s character reached Ben’s soul. It changed him. Healed him. That deep satisfaction…THIS is what living is about.
Ben’s last act of violence is toward his violent past. He literally blows away who he used to be and what he used to be about. Incredibly, he sits down in the cage he knows he deserves and he heads off the court that will surely convict him.
And yet, he seems strangely ok with it. The beauty was truth.
So what is beauty? Can we clarify it? Can you make that all important “beauty” call?
I’ll tell you what beauty is… It’s my wife and how she handled one of the worst days of her life. The oncologist comes in, we take our seats and she brings up the MRI results on the monitor for us to see. There are dark patches of things. Can’t be good. Her oncologist starts using words like “definitely cancer,” “Stage 3,” “chemotherapy,” “too large for radiation,” and other things I can’t recall because the air had gone out of the room. That’s a tough day.
It would have been so very natural to come out of that doctor’s office and fall apart right then and there. It would have been completely acceptable to go to anger or confusion or doubting or a million other places.
But Jessica did something beautiful. She looked me in the eye and told me she was going to go get her haircut and donate it to Locks of Love. You see, Locks of Love is a non-profit that takes hair donations and uses them to help children who suffer from long-term medical hair loss. She took the opportunity to be a blessing for others.
When she faced tough loss, she looked for a way to make it a sure win for someone else. That’s beautiful. That’s character. That’s what counts in this life. That’s a person worth a million sketches. Unfortunately, I can’t draw like Ben…all I have are these feeble words. But read these words and know they are true: what she did in that moment, on that dark day…that’s beautiful.
She was a reflection of that Supreme Beauty. Hers was an echo of the great and majestic beauty of Christ’s finished work. From her loss, others gained.
How did Jesus handle the darkest day of all time? What was the Son of God doing by bleeding and dying at the hands of His own creation? What was He after? He was accomplishing beauty.
We are all rebellious outlaws who deserve justice. We SHOULD be on the 3:10 headed straight to the judgment throne of a holy God.
And yet, Jesus will not relent. He has every reason to drop that Cross and walk away. The crowd taunted Him to call down legions of angels and He could’ve done just that. The danger is real and it’s close. But Christ is firm and even when it looks the darkest, He will be the one Man strong enough to bring us….to grace. Yes. Yes and amen.
He brings us to grace instead of the justice we deserve! When He faced the the ultimate loss…the loss of the face of God, the loss of access to the Father, the loss of His own life…He was making the way of salvation for us. That’s beautiful. No, that is supremely beautiful.
That’s the type of beauty that can take a worthless, no-good, rebellious outlaw and turn him into a worshipper. The beauty of the Cross is what can lead a man to fully turn from a life of darkness so that he can walk in the truth and light. From His loss, ANYONE can gain.
That’s Beauty. That’s the Truth. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
As always, thanks for reading. Your comments and insights are always welcome. If you liked this then share it, tweet it, pin it, or post it.
If you liked this piece of Faith and Film, you may enjoy these others.
Big Hero 6 here
Batman Begins here
Romantic Comedies here
Catch Me If You Can here
Pingback: One Year Later: A Safe Place In God | Walking towards the Light from the cross of a King