Brad Pitt on ‘Pain, Grief and Loss’: Making Peace with Our Past

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, September 5, 2019
Brad Pitt on ‘Pain, Grief and Loss’: Making Peace with Our Past

Brad Pitt on ‘Pain, Grief and Loss’: Making Peace with Our Past


Brad Pitt is back in the news, and for more than his next movie.

Ad Astra premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will be theatrically released in the US on September 20. Pitt plays an astronaut who goes into space in search of his lost father, whose experiment threatens the survival of humans on Earth. 

Kyle Buchanan saw the film and interviewed Pitt for the New York Times. Buchanan reports that the film is “more concerned with the protagonist’s inner life than the magnificent starscape outside his spacecraft.” Pitt tells Buchanan that the loneliness and introspectiveness of the character appealed to him in part because, as he says, “We all carry pain, grief and loss. We spend most of our time hiding it, but it’s there, it’s in you.” 

Pitt then discusses his commitment to sobriety that followed the end of his marriage to Angelina Jolie. He spent a year and a half in Alcoholics Anonymous and found catharsis in the trust he experienced within his group. 

One fact he has learned about himself is that he doesn’t want to make as many movies in the future. His interests now include sculpting and landscaping. “When you feel like you’ve finally got your arms around something, then it’s time to go get your arms around something else,” he says.

When movie stars stop making movies 

If you ask teenagers to identify Sean Connery or Gene Hackman, many will have a vague idea at best. I wonder if the same will be true of Brad Pitt one day. When movie stars stop making movies, the world moves on. 

We see a similar phenomenon every day in the news. For instance, I could find little coverage this morning of the shooting in West Texas last Saturday. The Alabama teenager who confessed to shooting his family earlier this week is not in today’s headlines. Nor is the Labor Day shooting outside the Minnesota State Fair

The death of Ryan Diviney did make the news earlier this week. Ryan was horrifically beaten nearly a decade ago and existed in a vegetative state until he passed away Saturday at the age of twenty-nine. The media covered the attack in 2009, but interest waned over the years that followed. 

Except for Ryan’s family, of course. His father quit his job ten years ago to devote himself to Ryan’s daily care. His mother kept working, in part to maintain the family’s health insurance. His sister, inspired by her brother’s plight, became a special-education teacher. 

We’re seeing the same with Hurricane Dorian. After devastating the Bahamas, it is moving north alongside South Carolina this morning as a Category 3 storm. North and South Carolina are bracing for the storm; the city of Charleston is already experiencing flooding today. All eyes are on where the storm is going, fewer on where it’s been. 

But for those who lost loved ones to the hurricane, life will never be the same. For the thousands whose homes and communities were destroyed, rebuilding will take years. Dorian will be a present-tense reality for them long after it fades from the news for the rest of us. 

Why we obsess over the present and avoid the past 

Solipsism” is the philosophical idea that “existence is everything that I experience.” For the solipsist, there is no assurance of any reality outside what he or she is experiencing at the moment. 

The news business is solipsistic by definition. The job of reporters is to report what’s happening today. Yesterday’s news is relevant to them only if it affects today’s news. 

This has always been the nature of their profession. But their profession is more ubiquitous than ever today, with 24/7 news cycles and constant news feeds on our mobile devices. 

As a result, our worldview has become as present-tense focused as the news coverage that consumes our culture. Accordingly, we move on too quickly from the celebrations and challenges of the past, leaving those who have won great victories or suffered great losses to themselves. 

In addition, we shift our focus from tragedy so quickly because such suffering feels overwhelming to us if we don’t. We don’t want to imagine life in the Bahamas after Dorian or the pain of raising a son in a vegetative state.

The past is as present to God as the present 

Our Lord takes a completely different approach to the past. He feels the suffering of the entire world as if it were his own. The one who wept with weeping sisters (John 11:35) and grieved over the unrepentant city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) feels your pain and mine (cf. Hebrews 4:15). 

We demonstrate the heart of Christ when we stand in solidarity with those whose past grieves them today.

In fact, since God is unbound by time, the past is as present to him as the present. He knows today the suffering you have tried to forget. He sees the yesterday that molds us today and will influence us tomorrow. 

That’s why his word invites you to “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT, italics added). 

And it’s why we, as the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), are called to remember the past pain that afflicts those we serve. We demonstrate the forgiveness of Christ when we forgive those who have sinned against us. And we demonstrate the heart of Christ when we stand in solidarity with those whose past grieves them today. 

“No matter which way the wind blows” 

Charles Spurgeon was walking in the countryside when he came upon a weathervane inscribed with the words, “GOD IS LOVE.” He asked the farmer, “Do you mean to say that God’s love is as fickle as the wind?” 

The farmer smiled and replied, “Not at all. I mean to say that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love.” 

Who will experience the unchanging reality of his love in your compassion today?

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Publication Date: September 5, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Staff