A Word About Movies July 27, 2010Posted by orualundone in Art, Grace, Movies, Parable, Personal, Stories, Truth.
Tags: Fight Club, Inception, Madeleine L'Engle, The Dark Knight, Toy Story
I love movies. And I love most kinds of movies: action, drama, comedy, documentary, musicals, even the (very) occasional chick-flick. And I have never been one of those Christians who says, “I don’t watch R-rated movies, period” or “I don’t watch anything with nudity”. Sorry, I just don’t care that much. My standard for movies is much more flexible, but often more elusive.
Because my standard for a movie is what I got out of it. If I cannot find any redeeming spiritual theme in a movie whatsoever, I probably will never watch it again. No matter how clean or otherwise innocuous it is, because it does nothing for my heart. If the level of crap I have to deal with to get to the redeeming message is too high, if it causes me spiritual damage or to sin in my heart or actions then it is likewise not going to get repeat viewing.
The problem with this standard is that I cannot apply it to anyone else. I cannot tell you whether a movie is good for you to watch because I am not you. I don’t have the same sensitivities or experiences or struggles you have. I find the Dark Knight to be a powerful story of good overcoming evil. My mom finds it deeply disturbing and it hurts her heart. I can only say whether or not my experience of the movie helped me grow personally, or brought me closer to God, or reminded me of a great truth. I can also tell you how many curse words or heads exploding or instances of drug use there were, but I won’t. There are other websites for that, and that doesn’t really interest me.
What interests me are stories. Jesus taught in parables because humans relate to stories more deeply than to any other way of presenting information. And what are movies but really expensive parables? They speak to us about how we relate to the world, to each other, and to God. If they aren’t telling me anything that is helpful for to me, or if they are actively causing me emotional or spiritual harm, then they are worse than worthless to me. But when I can watch a movie and see something I’ve read in the Bible or something I know about the nature of God or of life illustrated on screen, it helps me to hold on to it to remember it and apply it in my life. Because stories are so infinitely captivating and memorable, they touch our hearts and stick in our minds in ways few other things do.
I want to be clear about two things, however. Firstly, when I say I saw God in a movie or that it had a spiritual theme, I am not saying that it is a Christian movie or that the writers or directors were Christians. I am not saying everything in that movie is good, or even that everything about it fits with the Gospel. The ultimate resolution of the movie may not even be relevant or positive. I am saying that I saw a glimpse of truth, a glimpse of Jesus’ story and our story, in that movie. Maybe I saw Christ in a character’s role or a shadow of the Fall in an interaction. But don’t bend over backwards to make the entire plot fit in to this, because it probably won’t – it’s just a moment, a reminder of the ultimate truths in our lives. Some movies have lots of these moments, or are practically sermons in themselves. Some just have one or two moment, maybe just a line or a conversation that makes me say, “Wow, I see God in that.” But I’m not trying to make it basis for an entire theology or claim that the whole thing is perfect and godly.
The second thing is that just because I loved a movie or was able to tease out a spiritual lesson from it, I am not telling you to go see that movie*. I am using it to illustrate something I learned, because that is one of the ways God tends to speak to me. I may tell you that I find Fight Club to be an incredibly redemptive story that reminds me of the wildness of God and the consequences of focusing on the wrong things, of clinging to safety, and of letting your heart go dead. This does not mean that I think you should show it to your 3rd grade Sunday School class. It does not mean I think that looking at Helena Bonham Carter’s breasts is a pastime we should all take up. It just means that the story taught me something and I want to share it with you. You have to decide for yourself whether that movie is something that is good for you or bad for your spiritual walk. That is why God gives us discernment.
I’m going to start writing about movies that I love, that speak to me in this way. Not every movie I see, but the ones that really get me thinking about God and faith and relationships. I will probably start with Inception, since that is what I saw most recently and it really spoke to me on several levels. Just remember, I am not claiming that I am perfect, or that my interpretation of the story is perfect, or that the movie is perfect. Only that I got something out of it that I want to remember and to share. I leave off with the words of one of the great parable-tellers of the 20th Century:
“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
*Caveat: On a rare occasion I will actually tell you to go see a movie. It will usually be a childrens’ movie, probably by Pixar. If I ever meet anyone for whom Toy Story or Finding Nemo has caused them to sin, I will stop doing this.