If death sat on the bench next to us at the dog park and struck up a conversation, what would we ask?
If love sat across from us at a meal, would we give in?
If time stopped us in our tracks at the office, what would we say?
In the insightful spiritual film Collateral Beauty, advertising agency executive Howard Inlet (played by Will Smith) is confronted by just these opportunities. They are opportunities he has invited by writing a series of letters to the universe, letters he was driven to write while stuck in grief after experiencing a personal tragedy. As he both retreats from and confronts his fate and his place in the world, he addresses the forces that shape our experiences and even our very existence. In the very beginning of the film, Howard himself introduces us to their importance, pre-tragedy, in a speech he delivers to his team: “We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love. We wish we had more time. And we fear death.” In this passage, he reflects on the relationships we have with those pervasive forces; relationships that are sometimes positive, at other times adversarial, and always intimate.
Throughout our lives, we spend time bargaining, cajoling, searching and seeking, trading favors, begging, and even turning our back on all of them: love, time, and death. If we were to meet any one of them at the dog park, we might rail against them or walk away. Yet what love, time, and death really teach us, if we dare to stop to listen, is to appreciate everything we have in this moment. If we dare to face any one of these forces, if we dare to consider them carefully, we might just see that they are more than a longing, a wish, or a fear. The true reflection of this, as well as the story of the film’s title, is presented in a conversation between Howard and support group facilitator and grieving parent Madeline (played by Naomie Harris). When speaking about life after death and life during grief, Madeline says, “Collateral beauty is the profound connection to everything.”
Perhaps this is the truest lesson amidst everything going on in life and our sometimes myopic relationships with love, time, and death. We are all connected and if we speak more often about the unspeakable, if we continue to love knowing that our heart will be broken, if we are willing to face the death of those whom we love as well as our own death, then maybe time will stop – and maybe we will experience the beauty that is at the heart of our connection to everything.
Collateral Beauty opens in theaters on December 16. For more information and to view the trailers, visit: collateralbeauty-movie.com.