Tension is, by its nature, uncomfortable. Pull two ends of a string and you create tension both in the string as it stretches and in your hands as the string pulls away from you. When we grow into adulthood, our bones lengthen, pulling muscles and causing growing pains; uncomfortable but necessary. However, if tension were merely uncomfortable, why do we also seek it out? We resign ourselves to the unavoidable tensions of growing up but we also take pleasure in the tensions of our favorite television shows and movies.
Tension on film is similar to the example with the string - it’s about pulling and stretching. Filmmakers pull your emotions until you can feel it in your chest or the pit of your stomach. It’s different from suspense which is how much you care about what happens next in a story. Tension is how much you care about what happens to the characters in a story. Filmmakers know how to make you care and then they use your emotions to keep you engaged. Sure, it’s manipulation, but a kind we enjoy. Why?
Humans are a social species. We didn’t evolve to live in isolation. Some people, myself included, are introverts who enjoy and need their alone time but we still require social interaction. With people, come problems. “Where there are no oxen, the stable is clean.”
Tension is a force that wants resolution. When you hold both ends of a string and pull at one end, it pulls your other hand along with equal force. A film’s tension will usually peak at the climax then release, freeing you from its pull. Socially, we can experience tension when we care about people. This kind of tension is resolved through interaction and communication. We evolved to care about one another. Tension is an indicator that something is wrong and the only way to resolve it is to be a part of each other’s lives.
Therein lies the beauty of tension. It exists to unite. It’s a stretching that pulls us together. It’s uncomfortable by design so that it’s difficult to ignore. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Resolving it does so much more. Films, like all good stories, provide catharsis, a release of pent-up emotions. Relieving the tension between yourself and a loved-one is a truly healing experience.
Examine your relationships. Odds are, you already know at least one person with whom there’s tension. It’s not always possible to remove that tension. Sometimes it isn’t wise or safe to attempt a resolution on your own. But tension wants resolution. Decide what relational tension in your life is worth resolving, then do it. Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Most songs build to a climax. That is, they increase tension to a crescendo then release it. I think the following two songs do it beautifully. Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from his cantata Carmina Burana, and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.
If you decide to take up the challenge proposed in “Time”, then perhaps a meal will serve your needs. Meeting someone over food can be disarming. We all eat. Maybe eating that person’s favorite food will disarm them further and reduce the tension. Humans have long connected over food, from our days roasting meat over fire. It’s where story has its beginnings, where we learned the importance of tension and resolution in storytelling. It was the first movie theater where we watched the fire cast shadows into cave walls. Sharing a meal with someone is intimate and powerful.
Thank you for tension, Jesus. Thank you for drawing our attention to the areas of our lives that need it. Thank you for the strength to admit where there’s tension and the strength to address it. Thank you also for the discernment to decide which tensions to try and resolve. Thank you that you are the God of resolutions and that you provided the ultimate resolution to the tension between life and death.