This article comes from Tyler Dalton, a former enlisted Security Force member of the Air Force, turned officer, turned Space Force officer, who gives an interesting view of the Marvel Universe's use of the montage in it's latest release. How can you construct a personal montage, and how does it play into your reflection?
Recently Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings dropped on Disney Plus. The film is the latest installment of Marvel’s franchise and introduces the character of Shang-Chi, the newest Avenger who is a trained assassin and elite martial artist. Throughout the film, Shang-Chi displays amazing mastery of himself, his body, and various martial arts forms which he uses to save the world from certain doom.
The part of the film that struck me is not the climactic final battle, but a montage which starts 24 minutes into the film and spans, in 90 seconds, Shang-Chi’s training from the ages of 7 to 14 where he built his skills. We see cut scenes summarizing 7 years of pain, violence, and strife packed into 90 seconds of viewing. What’s not shown in those 90 seconds could fill an entire series of films. Years of training, learning, developing, and (most importantly) failing day in and day out that led to Shang-Chi’s hard-won skills and ultimate triumph.
The montage is a device used widely in films to condense long, often transformative periods of time for the sake of moving the story along. We, the viewer, see the outset of a crucible for the character and we see a few key points along the way, then hop forward to their end goal. What is neither shown nor glamorized is the small steps, little victories, and big failures along the way, which I’m calling “montage moments”.
Whereas we may not all be destined to save the world from ancient doom, we do all have our own unique story and goals. Recognizing this, I challenge you to build your own mental montage on how you got to where you are now. Which scenes would stand out as the pivotal points in your development? Then think about the moments big and small that were the unremarkable, yet critical, building blocks of your climb to here and now.
As a professional, my montage is walking into a recruiter’s office, graduating BMT, enrolling in college, receiving my degree, applying to Officer Training School (OTS), graduating, and arriving in my first assignment as an officer. But none of that recognizes the dozens of times I opened my laptop after a long shift and made a forum post, or enrolled in yet another class, the little bit of extra effort in my duties to make sure I earned a spot at OTS, and certainly none of the doors that closed before that one finally opened. These montage moments in between the cut scenes were not glamorous, nor often memorable, but indispensable nonetheless.
Finally, I challenge us all to envision what the montage moments are between the now and our long-term goals. What are the key steps in the process and, most important, what are the mundane or even awful things needed to get there?
I believe that success is not built in the beginning nor the climax of your achievements, it’s built in the montage moments in between the cut scenes; the spaces between the paragraphs in your story. Success happens when you’re stuck in the muddy middle and the end-point seems like a distant, abstract wisp. Triumph is built through, not despite, all the myriad lackluster tasks, small victories, and minor setbacks working to build to that point. I have no plans to don a gi any time soon, but for me Shang-Chi was a timely reminder to stay the course, always look for the through-line between my immediate actions and long-term goals, and recognize that it’s okay when I’m in a montage moment.