4 Yogic Principles in Will Smith's New Movie Collateral Beauty

It could be this year's must-see movie for yogis. In Collateral Beauty, Will Smith turns to Buddhism and yogic principles to cope with unthinkable tragedy.
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It could be this year's must-see movie for yogis. In Collateral Beauty, Will Smith turns to Buddhism and yogic principles to cope with unthinkable tragedy.
Collateral Beauty Will Smith & Keira Knightley

Will Smith and Keira Knightley in a scene from Collateral Beauty.

It could be this year's must-see movie for yogis.

In Collateral Beauty, which hits theaters today, Will Smith plays Howard, a successful New York advertising executive who retreats from life after suffering from an unthinkable tragedy. To cope, he writes letters to Love, Time, and Death, hoping that "someone" can explain his heartbreaking loss and how he's supposed to continue living.

"There was a timing in my life with the pursuit of [these] ideas," Smith, who lost his father to cancer while he was making Collateral Beauty, said during a press conference to promote the film earlier this month. "I love that this was a guy who had the world on a string. Everything was perfect, he had it, he had life figured out, and then suffered a loss, and had to make his way back to even believing there was a possibility to have joy again."

The ambitious, star-studded film, which also features Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, and Jacob Latimore, with Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren, aims to demonstrate the "collateral beauty" that exists on the other side of even the the most unimaginable loss. It also casts Smith in the role of philosopher, as he turns to ancient Buddhist texts and other yogic principles and practices to make sense of death and tragedy.

"My experience during the time of working on the film was my father was diagnosed with cancer, and he was given six weeks during the process of working on the film, so it was a truly beautiful time for he and I, as I was in Howard’s mind studying and reading all of the different religious bases for being able to find an answer for how we recover from this kind of loss," Smith said. "I was sharing that with my father through the experience, everything from The Tibetan Book of the Dead to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (the psychiatrist famous for her DABDA theory of the five stages of grief), everything you possibly do to deal with the inevitable pain of death, I was able to do it as Howard."

Fans of It's a Wonderful Life and other holiday movies will appreciate the magic of Collateral Beauty, which is set is New York City during the Christmas season. But yogis in particular will identify with Howard and the other characters as they attempt to answer life's biggest questions, and find the collateral beauty, love, and even humor that comes with loss and heartbreak.

See alsoQ&A: How Do I Deal With Intense Emotions In Yoga?

4 Reasons Collateral Beauty Is a Must-See Movie for Yogis

1. Howard learns to get out of his head to experience something more profound.

Like we do in yoga and meditation, Howard realizes that he has to get out of his "mind" to truly experience life. "Howard thinks about life a lot of the ways that I think about life, and how he had to move from his mind, move from thinking that he could solve all of the issues of life with his mind, into accepting that there's a certain amount of bleeding that you have to be able to do to be able to purge and cleanse yourself to be able to experience joy," Smith said at the press conference. "That the pain and joy and growth are all inexorably bound."

See alsoInner Engineering: Sadhguru Explores the Nature of Joy

2. He turns to Buddhist teachings, like impermanence and letting things go.

In the film, Howard creates elaborate mazes out of dominos to cope with his grief, then knocks them over, turns around, and walks away without even watching them fall—a practice inspired by the Buddhist mandalas. "In my mind I had decided that Howard had moved to Buddhism (to cope with his grief). There’s a thing the Buddhist monks do, the mandalas, where they for 12 or 14 hours a day they do these beautiful sand mandalas, they work all day, slave all day, stand up and look at it for 60 seconds and wipe it away. These beautiful pieces of art, and they just destroy it for the practice of impermanence. That's sort of the idea of what I was working on with the dominos, that Howard works and creates these beautiful domino mazes, tips them, and turns, and doesn’t even watch it fall as the practice of impermanence and letting things go."

3. He realizes that suffering is necessary for growth.

In the film, Howard learns that rather than solving problems with his mind, he has to feel in order to heal. "Howard was trying to solve his problems with his mind," Smith said. "He thought he could think his way through this problem, and what he realized is he had to bleed, he had to suffer, he had to mourn, he had to let it go, and when he finally had the opportunity to just release and let it all go, the collateral beauty was the joy that he was seeking in the first place."

4. He learns that joy is on the other side of pain.

Not only do the characters in Collateral Beauty learn to find the joy and beauty in their own pain, they also learn how to connect with the pain and suffering of others. "There's a wonderful Kahlil Gibran quote that I love," Smith said at the press conference. "He said our pain is the knife that hollows us out so that we may hold more joy, and I thought that that was a really interesting idea, that you suffer that pain and you are torn open for the purpose of being able to hold more life and joy and positivity, and I think that is the collateral beauty of the type of suffering that Howard experiences."

See alsoHealing Heartbreak: A Yoga Practice to Get Through Grief