Kubo, Two Strings, & Three Cords
Updated: Jan 22
A movie about a kid with a magical guitar and martial arts had me sold long before I ever saw a full trailer for the film, but I truly wasn’t ready for what I saw. I could give zero poops what any box office take or critical account could say. The truth is that Kubo quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. The musical elements, the fantasy, and the phenomenal elements on family had me at the edge of my seat in tears, and I was moved like I hadn't been in years. I'm pretty sure my kids enjoyed it too...but I loved it. While I could sit here typing about my love of this film for pages on end, I'm going to go ahead and cut to the meat of this chapter before I fanboy too hard on this keyboard.
Two Strings, Three Cords
With the title of the movie being what it is, I kept waiting for Kubo to eventually break a string so that the title would be appropriate, but a few minutes into the movie I picked up on the direction it was heading, which preemptively had my feels being extra feely. The reality of the title though (and fair warning, unrelenting spoilers ahead), is that the two strings weren't simply referring to his instrument, but about the love of his mother and father. That he, along with the strand of his mother's hair and his father's bowstring, were the perfect representation of his family's love. That even though they were no longer physically with him, their love protected him and empowered him through his toughest battle and the battles to come. [Side note: Kubo was very similar to Harry Potter in this light. Moving on.] This all strongly brings to life the biblical concepts found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Kubo was never alone. There were plenty of times he may have felt like he was, but he wasn’t. Even with his father gone and his mother in a near catatonic state, their love for him was still incredibly strong. One of the reasons I think this movie connected with me so greatly is because of how strongly it paralleled my family life. My mom wasn’t a monkey or anything, but hear me out. My mom was a factory worker trying to raise me on her own. She was gone when I woke up, gone when I got home from school, and then when she finally did get home, she was so exhausted that she fell right asleep. I wasn’t really mad with her or anything, but it hurt my heart how often she was close but still so far away. My dad was also gone like 90% of my life. He was stationed away in the military and only lived with us for 2 years before my parents got divorced. A little over five years after their divorce, my dad fell victim to a devastating bacterial infection that eventually left him in a coma. In many ways my dad was someone we often spoke of, but he was always a distant story. Watching Kubo be alone with his frazzled mother with only the stories of the man his father was made me feel like I was in the middle of this story.
The love of Kubo's mother and father prevented him from ever being alone, even in the midst of isolation. Had Kubo had to face The Moon King and his evil aunts on his own, he would have surely perished. Much like Ecclesiastes shows us, if we try to face this world alone, we have a much greater likelihood of failure. Kubo may have been alone during the daylight hours, but his mother went out of her way to teach him everything he needed to know in each moment she had free. She made sure that not only did he have his father's enchanted robe, but she also had the monkey statue that would arise to take her place should she fall. Sometimes the people that make up our cords aren't the ones who are always right beside us; sometimes the people that make up our cords are the ones who prepare us to stand on our own. These are the people who help us to know who we are, what we are capable of, and not only the direction we need to go, but the path we need to avoid.
His mother was beside him, even in her affliction. She died to protect him twice. She would have done so a million times as well. Even in her death, we see her memory still stands with him, even once she is gone. His dad is no different. His father was guiding him even in origami form before we meet his beetle bio-dad. Where in many ways his mother was there for protection, his father was there for his life, even in their augmented forms. They showed up for him, stood beside him, ate with him, loved him, and sacrificed for him. These are people that death, curses, suffering, and pain couldn't stop. They were his two strings. In our lives, we may not have parents who love us that deeply or go to that effort to walk alongside us, but scripture doesn't leave this up to our parents. Ecclesiastes 4 makes it very clear that the important thing is that we don't try and do this life alone. It shows us that not only do we need to find people to commit to walk alongside us, but we need to actively commit to walk alongside others as well. There are a lot of solo strings out there.
So answer this honestly: "Who are your two strings? Are you someone else's string? ...or beetle...or monkey? Don't do life alone.
The Wrong Armor
One of the plot points of the story of Kubo & The Two Strings is that in order to be safe from his wicked extended family, he must find a set of legendary armor. The same armor is, in fact, what his father was also pursuing. Specifically, he is after The Sword Unbreakable, The Breastplate Impenetrable, and The Helmet Invulnerable. He sets out on his quest because that's the last idea his mother has in order to keep Kubo safe. The problem comes in when, even after gathering all the armor, Kubo still gets handled by The Moon King. After all that work, the death of his parents, and all the journey it took to get there, the armor provided him protection for a moment, but was still unable to save Kubo from his familial fate. In the end he ditched the armor to rely on the magic found in the two strings and the love and memory of his family. Still, seems like a crazy amount of work to find that armor and then it end up being pointless.
This is seriously familiar to what David went through in preparation for fighting Goliath. David, like Kubo, is told that he isn't strong enough to face his challenges. Kubo is told to hide from the night sky and to get the armor so he can hide. David receives a similar notion when he attempts to stand up to Goliath.
"David said to Saul, 'Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.' Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:32-33)
David, like Kubo, didn't settle in the end; he convinced Saul and Israel that he was the one to fight the battle. So Saul, like Kubo's mom, tells David to put on special armor. I doubt Saul's gear was unbreakable, invulnerable, or impenetrable, but it was still the king's armor and probably the best available. Sadly, David ends up with a similar outcome on the armor's usefulness.
"Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:38-40)
David was forced to cast off the armor and rely on what was natural to him as a shepherd. In order to defeat The Moon King, Kubo also had to cast off the highly sought after armor and rely on what was inside him as well.
As believers in Christ, we need to learn from this. We need to learn not to put on the armor the world sets before us or tells us we need, like social status, Instagram followers, Facebook likes, clothing styles, or a million other things the world teaches us we need to put on ourselves in order to survive. Just like Kubo and David, we end up wasting our time and resources trying to find and fit into armor that is not meant for us, unnecessary, and will never truly fit. Like David and Kubo, in the end, we will see that we already have what we need.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
One last thought on Kubo. After all the Moon King (aka Grandpa) had cost Kubo, fighting him wasn’t the answer. This guy was responsible for the death of his mom both times, the disappearance, mutation, and subsequent death of his father, and not to mention the destruction of his village. Oh, and let's not forget about the little matter of losing an eye.
Grandpa was a jerk. We could all understand why Kubo wanted him dead, but in the end, that wasn’t the right route. The only thing that stopped the cycle of destruction was for Kubo to share the love and memories of his family and those he and the village had lost. He abandoned the perspective of punishing his evil grandpa and began the process of reconciliation, which is ultimately what Christ calls us to do. Check out these instructions we are given in Romans 12:17- 21.
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Not only are we to not to repay evil with evil, but that last verse kicks me in the gut. We are to "overcome evil with good”! Grandpa was an evil jerk, no doubt, but he was still Kubo's family. Killing Grandpa would solve nothing, but now Kubo could still have a family. It wasn't an easy process getting his Grandpa to this place, but it's a much better result than just killing him and being completely alone. Not that I'm expecting you to need to kill your Grandpa or anything like that, but we seriously need to take this to heart. We need to stop seeing people in this world as an enemy to be destroyed, and start seeing them as family to be redeemed. No matter how harshly they treat you or others, the love of God can transform them. We live in a very polarized world where people often see others as enemies, whether they are actually enemies or not. It's up to us to have a refreshed mind and perspective to enact this. Just like Grandpa once he was made mortal, it's up to us to speak life into people and their futures and not constantly bring up their previous failures.
"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:16-20)
There is so much for us to do, and if we live out the calling that God has placed on us, our adventure could be as epic as Kubo's. So find your two strings, get the right armor, get your perspective straight, and if you must blink, do it now.