Advice for Watching Movies

Ok, the "gay cowboy movie" came out, and many are positioning to use the movie as a tool in the culture war. Since I am a conscientious objector to the culture war, I don't use pop-culture art as weapons, but opportunities to understand the world from another's perspective and to discuss the truth about God and the blessings of his Gospel as they connect to the story told. I thought I would give some advice to our people, and to those who read this blog, to help them watch films in a way that will allow us to be fair to the films and faithful to God.

1. Don't be reactionary. It is very easy for us to react to a movie on a superficial level, often without having even seen or understood it. The "reaction faction" of our vocal Christian leaders often attempts to boil art down to its moral content/message. If it doesn't measure up, the art is bad. If it does, the art is good. A reactionary spirit is quick to speak and slow to listen, and therefore more easily misses the point of a film and doesn't have the time or ability to speak redemptively concerning it (more on that in a sec'). The world has little interest in listening to this response, not because it is a dissenting voice, but because it often is incapeable of a understanding the movie.

2. Be Thoughtful. Try to understand what the writer/director is actually saying. Is he or she trying to say something? Or are they simply raising questions? What are the universal themes that come out in the film? Is there a moral message? Is that message wrong or right? Thoughtful analysis does not presume to know the heart of the creator, or judge his motives. Let the creators tell us what their motive was in making the film. Avoid conspiracy theories about the Hollywood Illuminati trying to subvert the family values of traditional America. And work at engaging the story, not just the "issue." If Million Dollar Baby deals with assisted suicide, or if Brokeback Mountain is a story that centers around a homosexual relationship, let's be careful to engage the story itself and deal with the issue in that context. The film may have something to say on the issue, or it may not. Sometimes a writer will use a particular context/issue to drive a story with a separate message. Bottom line, try to understand the creator's perspective.

3. Be redemptive. To do this we must move beyond the simpler task of evaluating whether or not a film's message is right or wrong. It requires us to first understand the film as a whole; only then can we speak to it. Redemptive engagement moves us to see what the Gospel says to the crisis, suffering or message in the story. Is the Gospel mirrored in the story in some way, or is it inherantly antithetical to it? What does the theology we love so much have to say to the various parts of the story - to the relationships, the values, the burdens, the fears? If brokeness, suffering or sin is a major part of the story, what does Jesus say to it? Is there hope? Change? An answer to the questions raised by the film?

Look, some movies are head candy that say nothing. Some say the wrong thing, and some give us amazing glimpses of truth, beauty, love, even the imago dei in fallen man. I am not saying all movies are good, or that any movie is okay to watch. What I am saying is that we, as Christians, can do better when engaging the the arts. We can be fair to the films and faithful to God, and in doing so we can engage our culture and community where they are with the Gospel we celebrate.