Kubo and the Two Strings – Movie Discussion
If you are looking for a fun movie with some depth, Kubo, surprisingly may be one of your better bets out there. It’s creative and adventurous, comical and touching and it has great parallels to the Christian life.
It’s not going to be easy to sum up this story; it’s kind of a big, sweeping epic tale for a kid’s movie, but for the sake of our discussion I’m going to try. The movie starts with Kubo and his mother escaping for their lives. Eventually we learn that Kubo has an enemy—his grandfather who is a spirit and hates humanity. Kubo’s mom rejected her father and his hatred when she fell in love with Kubo’s dad – thus inspiring her father’s rage. The grandfather wants Kubo to join him up in the spirit world where there is no death, pain or suffering, but to do so, Kubo must give him his eyes.
As Kubo is running from his grandfather, he encounters a strange beetle creature (that had once been a man). He learns that this is actually his father who isn’t dead, after all. So Kubo, along with his mother and father (in forms of a monkey and beetle because of magic—it’s hard to explain without watching, but it’s funny) end up in a giant showdown with his grandfather. In the end, the grandfather loses and becomes human with no memory of his past.
This is my favorite part – as the grandfather is wondering who he is, Kubo and the villagers have a choice: do they tell him who he has been, or do they speak to who he can be? They could have told him that he was this hateful spirit being who hurt people, but they didn’t. Instead, they created a beautiful story of who he had been. It wasn’t to lie to him, but rather to give him something worth living up to. They spoke prophetically over him, really. They told him how he was the kindest man in the village. How he helped people in need. How he loved his fellow man. And the grandfather broke out into a smile and said, “Turns out, I’m pretty selfless.” The course of his life was changed because the villagers chose to speak to the good and call it into being, rather than shaming him for his past. Beautiful.
There is such power when we speak life into people. James says that we have the power of life and death in our tongues. Sometimes we speak death under the guise of speaking truth. Just because it has been true, doesn’t mean it will always be true, nor does it mean we need to acknowledge it. Kubo is a perfect example of that. And just because it hasn’t been true yet, doesn’t mean it won’t be true. The Villagers spoke to the truth of what would be and called it into existence by their words. There is much we could learn from their example.
- Has anyone ever spoken a future life into you when they could have spoken of the past truth? How did that feel? Did it change you?
- What opportunities do you have to speak life into people around you? How hard is it to do that when what has been true has been ugly?
Of course, that final scene is incredibly powerful and, for me, the whole movie was worth it for that moment alone, but there are several other great lessons in the movie as well.
The villagers have a tradition where they go out and speak to the spirits of the dead. (Ok, I totally understand that many people will have a problem with this as it is definitely rooted in Eastern mysticism, etc. I’m not endorsing the religious practices in the movie, but instead finding ways that Christians can use the movie to talk about Christ and the Christian life with anyone who does see it, whether they choose to or not.) This is not the same as speaking to Christ through prayer, but it does parallel it. As Kubo struggles to talk to his father via prayer, it certainly resembles the struggles many of us face in talking to our Heavenly Father in prayer. Listen to this: “Hello Father. I hope you’re well. I mean, I know you’re dead, but, I hope you’re OK…. I hear you are a great warrior who died saving my eye. I mean, two would have been ideal, but thanks anyway…. Helloooo… Anytime…” Don’t you hear yourself in this? He’s awkward and doesn’t quite know what to say. He’s disappointed with how his life has turned out. He knows his father died for him, to save his life (much like Jesus did), and he’s grateful, but still he feels a little cheated. Why didn’t his father do more? And he wonders why his father doesn’t answer or show up in some tangible way. Ever felt like that in prayer? I have. To make matter worse, he’s there with other villagers who are also praying, and they are getting answers and they are sensing the presence of their loved ones. He wonders why he’s the only one not getting anything, so to speak.
It’s such an honest moment and a great opportunity to ask others if they’ve tried to pray and felt some of the same things as Kubo did. The movie does a great job of showing his frustration but also showing to the viewer that more is happening behind the scenes that Kubo doesn’t see. His prayers are being answered, he just doesn’t know it.
- Do you identify with Kubo’s frustrations with prayer? Why or why not?
- Do you think it’s possible that God is answer you and is working on your behalf, even though you don’t feel or see it?
When Kubo meets his father, he doesn’t recognize him for who he is. Just as he hadn’t recognized that his mother was monkey. Just as people didn’t recognize that Jesus was the Messaiah. Just as the disciples didn’t recognize that the man on the road to Emmaus was Jesus in resurrected form. So often this is the way of things in the spiritual realm, in God’s Kingdom. Sometimes we miss Him because we are looking for something different. Sometimes we miss His blessings because they come in forms we don’t recognize. The disciples missed the provision of God for food for the masses when it came in the form of a small boy and a lunchable. The Israelites missed the Lord’s deliverance when it came in the form of the Red Sea. I could go on and on. The good news is, God wants to surprise us but He doesn’t want us to miss it. He wants to teach us and sharpen our awareness of who He is and how He shows up, and if we don’t recognize things, we’ll miss Him. So, when don’t see, He opens our eyes. He feeds the 5,000; He parts the sea. He teaches us who He is and how our ideas are wrong. He reveals Himself so that we are like the men on the road to Emmaus. “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24: 31-32). God is ever surprising us, coming to us differently than we might expect, but never fear, He is also ever opening our eyes so that we will know Him. Eventually, we will learn to recognize that burning in our hearts that happens when He shows up, even when He’s different than expected.
- Has God ever surprised you by being different than you imagined? How so? How did He open your eyes?
- Have you ever had something in your life that didn’t look like a blessing but that turned out to be one in the end?
Kubo had an enemy and in order to survive, Kubo had to get a particular set of magical armor: a helmet invulnerable, a breastplate impenetrable, a sword unbreakable. This is very similar our own lives. We have an enemy and in order to survive his attacks, we are told that we need to put on the armor of God.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:13-17).
- Have you given much thought to your need for the armor of God in your life? How can you put it on?
Kubo was told to keep close to him a bracelet made from his mother’s hair. “This bracelet, her hair, is a memory and memories are powerful things.” I’m not sure we think a lot about the power of memories in our culture, but in Old Testament times, God make a big point of telling the Israelites to keep things that represented memories, specifically the memories of what God had done for His people. When the Israelites crossed the Red sea, they were told to take stones from the bottom of the sea and build an altar with them on the other side. It was so that any time people were walking by and saw those stones they would remember what God had done. For people who didn’t know (younger generations, perhaps), it would be a prompt for them to ask someone, and for the older generations to repeat the story. It wouldn’t only help them remember the past, it would also give them hope for the future, for what God could do for them again whenever they faced an impossible situation. Memories are powerful, especially when we choose to remember stories of hope and God’s love for us. (A small word of caution, though, we need to be careful what things we choose to remember. There are some things we need to choose to forget.)
- Did you know that God tells us to create things (like Kubo’s bracelet) to help us keep memories of His love and power and goodness in the forefront of our minds? Have you ever done this?
- What things are good to remember? What things are you better off choosing to forget?
Kubo’s grandfather told him that, “As long as you cling to that silly, useless eye, you cannot come up to live with me. Up there with me there’s none of that [sickness and death].” Kubo’s eye was a symbol of his soul, and his ability to see the souls of others. His grandfather’s statement to him, like all things the enemy says, was a mixture of truth and lies. It was twisted. There is a place without sickness and death—and that was the temptation for Kubo who’d known great suffering because of sickness and death. And in some ways, it was true that if Kubo gave up his eye he would find that place. The lie was that his eye was not useless. The lie was that he would be better off without sickness and death. The truth was that it was better to live a life of humanity seeing and experiencing suffering than to give up his soul to avoid it. Our enemy tempts us in much the same way. He knows our weakness and the things we’ve suffered and promises us an escape. That escape comes at a price though, one that isn’t worth it. If we are willing to wait on God’s timing, we will find that place without suffering. We can go to Heaven, and we can do so with our souls. In the meanwhile, our eyes are a gift. They allow us to see the pain and suffering in the world, yes, but they also allow us to see life and good and joy. Kubo told his grandfather: “I know why you want my eye. Because without it, I can’t look into another’s eye and see their soul… It’s the most powerful kind of magic there is. It makes us stronger than you’ll ever be.”
- Have you ever felt or recognized the enemy lying to you? How did you know it was a lie? What was he tempting you with?
- How tempting is it for you to want to escape experiencing and/or seeing the pain and suffering in your life and in the world? How do you think it might be a good thing that you are able to experience and feel it?
Kubo fights his battle in a totally different way than his parents would have. He fights as a child. He follows magic and whimsy and imagination. He follows a little paper man in the image of his father into the wilderness (a little like the Israelites followed their Heavenly Father in the form of a cloud into the wilderness). In Isaiah 55, we are told that God’s ways are not our ways, they are higher than our ways. There is something to be said about having a good battle plan and not being foolish—Proverbs has a lot to say about that. But then, God also tells us to be like children. He also (sometimes) tells us to forgo our conventional, practical wisdom and instead of fighting Jericho, march around it, and instead of going into battle with all your army, cut it down to a mere 300 men. Kubo is a great example of a child-like warrior who fights with faith rather than conventional strategy.
- Have you ever felt like God was urging you to do something out of the ordinary? How can you live with the faith of a child?
- How is Kubo an example of someone who lives and fights his battles with child-like faith?
Just one more side-note. Kubo isn’t just a fun adventure movie. It starts with some tough grittiness about life. Kubo is caring for his almost catatonic mother. It’s beautiful the way he serves and loves her, but it’s also very hard and very real. She risked her life to save his, and gave up much of her own life in the process. He also gives up much of his life to serve what’s left of hers. There are moments when she’s there and she’s a mother to him, but for the most part, he’s there caring for his vacant, shell of a mom. The movie does this well. There’s no pity-party or regret, just honesty and love pouring itself out in service as true love always does. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
- Have you ever had to care for a loved one who couldn’t care for his/herself? How did you feel about the way he had to take care of his mother? Do you think we see this kind of story very often in our culture? Why or why not?