Note: After reading his review of “The Story of Us” the author invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
NatGeo is back teaming up with Morgan Freeman to examine humanity in all of its glory (and ugliness) in The Story of Us. The third episode, “The Power of Love,” airs on the Nat Geo channel on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 9/8 Central. I had the chance to screen “The Power of Love,” and I have some thoughts on it (especially as it relates to C. S. Lewis’s book about the same subject called “The Four Loves”), but before I get to my review here is a synopsis of the entire six-part series that will continue to air on NatGeo each week into November.
From the award-winning team behind The Story of God with Morgan Freeman comes the new six-part series, The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman. At a time when events seem to be driving cultures apart and splintering our own, Morgan Freeman goes on a global journey to understand how human culture has taken so many remarkable forms. At the root of his quest is a drive to uncover the fundamental forces that keep our societies together, while revealing the common humanity that lies inside each one of us. Vast in his scope of inquiry yet with an intimate approach to each subject, Freeman meets people from all over the globe to explore the strength of belief, the thirst for power, how love shapes us, the role conflict plays in our lives, the spirit of rebellion and the concept of freedom.
(Observations) Entertainment Value and Film Craft
NatGeo’s documentaries, particularly the ones that include the collaboration of Morgan Freeman and his production team, are always superb in their craft. They take the stories of “ordinary” people (no such thing) and make them as compelling and involving as any film in the theater. It’s the little things that do this: the creative shots, camera angles, editing, historical footage, and the tender-hearted active listening of Morgan Freeman as he meets with individuals from all over the world and hears their stories.
My favorite stories from “The Power of Love” were the first one about the adopted son and his adoptive parents, and the great conflict they had when he was younger, when he utterly rejected them and left home. When a tragedy (car accident) happened to his adoptive sisters, however, it was the beginning of the path of reconciliation that would soon bring the family back together and cause him to finally tell his adoptive parents, “I love you.” (It’s a moving story of conquering love that reminds me of the documentary Furious Love by Christian filmmaker Darren Wilson.)
In “The Power of Love,” the barber who gives homeless people free haircuts moved me especially for some reason. (And it also reminded me of “Furious Love” because of the way it shows a stranger roaming the streets trying to help the homeless and the downtrodden.) The barber walks around the streets of London doing this to help the homeless feel human and cared for. Morgan Freeman’s conversation with the homeless man Stuart, and the way Josh (the barber) helped the man, brought tears to my eyes. It was a little moment, just three men talking on the street while one of them was getting a haircut, but it was so powerful. (Another free-association: it reminded me of the Convoy of Hope–very similar emotions whenever I hear stories from that.)
Thus “The Power of Love.” A good title for it.
(Interpretation) Worldviews, Deeper Layers of Meaning, Edifying Themes
One of my favorite moments is when Freeman mentions “Loving thy neighbor,” one of Jesus’ commands, during the barber, homeless man interview.
But from a very general point of view I do have one criticism: I wish NatGeo would’ve borrowed some material or ideas from C. S. Lewis’s masterpiece on the nature of love called The Four Loves. It’s one of Lewis’s lesser known books but one of his best works. He looks at the four Greek words for love (Storge, Philia, Eros, Agape)–nuanced distinctions that American mainstream culture rarely explores–and makes a case that in some ways is different than what humanists might conclude: human love is not all we need. It can take us very far–unbelievably far, as this episode by NatGeo shows–it can transform lives and change the course of nations.
It can even melt away the hatred and racial animosity between a black man and a Neo-Nazi, as demonstrated when a Christian black man recently went to a white supremacist rally and offered hugs to them and asked why they hated him. His insistence finally softened the heart of one of the Neo-Nazis, who received the hug and admitted he didn’t know why he hated him.
But human love also needs transcendent agape love to stay itself and not eventually fade or twist. It needs a love that exists as an exterior, objective reality high above all subjective moral codes given to us by an Uncaused Personality who exists above all caused personalities. Mere human love, as wonderful as it can be, is not powerful or transcendent enough to fill the heart’s need for the One who authored love.
But even if you didn’t want to get into faith claims, Lewis has some astonishing insights into the nature of human love and how each of the four loves function at their best and at their worst.”The Four Loves” would’ve been a fascinating structural guide for NatGeo’s “The Power of Love” episode.
To give NatGeo some credit, it almost seems like they’re trying to hit most of the four loves, which made me think of the Lewis book in the first place. For example:
- The first interview is with an adoptive family and their adopted son. (Relates to the Greek word Storge, which means “Affection” or “familial love” or “love of the familiar,” which Lewis covers in Chapter 1 of “The Four Loves.”)
- The second interview with the tribe. (Storge – Affection)
- The third interview with the couple who had an arranged marriage. (Eros – Romantic love)
- The fourth interview with the soldier. (Agape – Unconditional or Sacrificial Love, or maybe Philia – Friendship, though the Greek word means something very different than how we think of friendship in the modern world)
- The fifth interview with the barber and homeless man. (Agape – Unconditional or Sacrificial Love)
But that’s just me.
It doesn’t negate how well-crafted and moving NatGeo’s “The Power of Love” is and how Morgan Freeman just dives wholeheartedly into the stories of others.
It’s impossible not to dive in after him and join in.
“The Power of Love” airs on the Nat Geo channel on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 9/8 Central.