Thought for the Day - Rhidian Brook
In the light of the week’s events, we can be fairly sure that somewhere people are plotting a movie version of Osama bin Laden’s death. Indeed, the Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, was – even before it actually happened - developing a project called Kill bin Laden. And while real events may necessitate a quick re-write of her script there will surely still be a market for this story. Not just because of its dramatic potential but because many of us have a deep desire to get beneath the surface of events as presented in the news.
The fact is facts don’t tell the whole story. Take two of the key images of this last week: the photograph of President Obama and his national security team watching the mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and the video footage of bin Laden watching news reports about himself. Both are revealing - the former showing an appropriate gravity the latter a surprising frailty - but both raise more questions: is the President’s expression that of a man afraid of a failed mission or of someone not wanting to witness an execution? Did he look away when the deed was done? And what are we to make of the former World’s most wanted man hunched under a grey blanket, using a remote control to watch footage of himself on Al Jezeera. Was this vanity? Was he trying to get a sense of where people thought he was? Was his life as dismal as it looked or was that in itself a subtle manipulation? What was he really thinking?
Gore Vidal, who penned a number of Hollywood scripts including Ben Hur, once wrote a novel called Live from Golgotha, in which a television reporter travels back in time to broadcast the crucifixion. It playfully explores the assumption that tv reporting is the best way to authenticate an event and capture the truth of what really happened. Even with camera’s right there and rolling, we still can’t be sure. As today, even when we have the pictures – and recent ones at that – the full picture is hard to grasp.
Perhaps it’s because events leave so much to the imagination that people seek an imaginative response in order to best understand them. In fact, I’m not sure we can get beneath the surface of things without using our imaginations. Which is why I believe we have always needed storytellers, filmmakers, writers and poets to help depict the ambiguities and complexities of reality and bring to light the hidden things that can reveal a bigger picture.
An imaginative response is a spiritual exercise – a creative effort to see and understand what is at the heart of something. It’s why the Psalmist once wrote of his enemy that ‘his words were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart,’ or the great prophet Daniel said of God that ‘He reveals deep and hidden things, and knows what lies in darkness.’ The heart is where all the important battles occur – but it sometimes requires the imagination to report back from its frontline.