Collateral Beauty: The Dust After Destruction

I first heard about this film when I was listening to Aida Azlin’s podcast episode with Aiman Azlan. Among the few episodes, I do recommend this episode. Though the other episodes talk mostly about personal experiences, I enjoyed this particularly when they mentioned the concept of collateral beauty. I watched the film on Netflix which made me cry. What’s new.

Collateral damage vs Collateral beauty

When I think about the word collateral, I often associate it with damage. Collateral damage is somewhat the unintended negative impact or result of something that happens. So, it came to a surprise to me when I heard the phrase “collateral beauty”. This phrase was brought up in relation to the 2016 film that starred Will Smith, Ed Norton, Kate Winslet and many more. The film is kind of a mixed review for me but I enjoyed this concept of collateral beauty. 

Not to delve too deep into the plot of the movie, the idea of collateral beauty was a tool Will Smith and Naomie Harris’ used as a way to get past the death of their young daughter. Collateral beauty is referred to (in this film) as the selfless acts of kindness that follow tragedies. To me, a more generalized meaning of collateral beauty is the “beauty” that is a product of a tragedy or destruction. It is essentially the good that follows the bad.

Often or not, when something bad happens, I’m very much guilty of either finding what caused the issue or just dwelling in the “badness” of it. I don’t know if it’s my nature as a non-optimist but it feels rational to me. But what collateral beauty teaches me is to see or look for the good that will follow. Another way to look at it is to be grateful even when everything might be going south. (This is definitely I find very challenging to do.)

“I had become love”

A big part of the film is the concept of love, time and death. These three concepts were introduced at the beginning of the film by Howard as a somewhat strategy for his advertising firm. It becomes some sort of a recurring theme throughout the entire film as a way for him to cope with his grief and unknowingly help his colleagues through their pain and struggles. 

One of my favorite scenes was when Ed Norton’s Whit tracked down Keira Knightley’s Claire in a bid to get her to continue posing as Love. In return, Claire gets Whit to confront his failing relationship with his daughter post-divorce and asks him to tell her what it was like the day his daughter was born. To which he admitted that he was terrified until he realized that he was so overwhelmed with love that he “had become love”. Yes, it might have sounded incredibly cheesy. But I thought that line was just so beautiful way to describe the feeling of being a parent. That love is so difficult to describe other than a tsunami of love that consumes all of you. 

Despite its mixed reviews (which I totally understand), I do believe the core message of this film. No, it’s not to hire three actors to accelerate your friend’s grief. But to learn how to grief and allow to use that pain to somehow help you grow or move forward. Though it’s an art I have yet to master, it’s something I do wish I was strong enough to do. To grief is not exclusive to death. You don’t just grief after a death. You grief after you lose something too. You grief when you lost a good friend or after a betrayal. You grief after a breakup. Everyone grieves and everyone grieves differently. I hope (unlike me) you get past the grief and start anew. 

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