If a movie has a slew of A-list actors attached, with a big budget and strong marketing but the moral premise is false, the movie will bomb, or come in less than expected. At the same time, having a true and consistently applied moral premise does not guarantee success, because there is the Natural Law of craft and marketing. But success cannot come without that central idea that binds the talent to the heart and makes it all work as one.
A properly applied moral premise elevates the otherwise diverse collection of talent and money to secure a story as a work of art that reminds us and encourages us to embrace all that is good, true, and beautiful in life.
I thought of all that again when today as I read an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn titled "Beauty Will Save the World" which is his reflection of Dostoyevsky's enigmatic phrase. The entire essay is here but here is the part that reflects what I've been trying to say about the moral premise's importance.
Dostoyevsky once let drop the enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.” What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift—but whom had it ever saved?
However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart. One can construct a political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system, so that in appearance it is smooth, well structured, and yet it is built upon a mistake, a lie; and the hidden element, the distortion, will not immediately become visible. And a speech, or a journalistic essay, or a program in rebuttal, or a different philosophical structure can be counterposed to the first—and it will seem just as well constructed and as smooth, and everything will seem to fit. And therefore one has faith in them—yet one has no faith.
It is vain to affirm that which the heart does not confirm.Exploring this a bit further I came upon this explanation of Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot at A Heedful Idiot blog by French priest Fidor, who quotes Pope Benedict XVI Address to Artists, about the importance of beauty, which I think describes profoundly why stories, as art, told truthfully, will save the world:
If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day.”That's what successful movies are to me, they give their audiences the joy of seeing what is good, true and beautiful about humanity and creation once again. We leave the theater of a great film story with a firmer grasp on the profound meaning of our existence and mystery of which we are apart. And that understanding draws us closer to fullness, happiness and the passion to engage life joyously everyday.
Meanwhile allow me to recommend my friend Gregory Wolfe's book Beauty Will Save the World on the intersection of this concept and the demise of the modern culture.