If you know me, you know I love movies. I find them to be a valuable component of our culture, a profitable addition to a life of faith and a worthy art form. Someone recently asked me why I thought movies were a good thing to see. Here is part of my answer.
As a form of entertainment, movies can be wonderful. And for the record, entertainment is a good thing. It is a gift from God not to be lived for, but to be refreshed by so that we can return to the things we live for. Some prefer to play a game, others to read a book, and others to watch football on the TV or in the stadium. Of course some forms of "entertainment" are inherently wrong, and some movies are not worth watching for a variety of reasons. But as a form of entertainment, film works well for at least a couple of reasons.
1. Movies can provide a healthy cultural connection. Movies are the stories people tell in our culture today. They are sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, some teach lessons, some urge caution, some carry the wrong message, and some bear witness to The Truth we love as Christians. They often raise issues of morality, government, truth, and experience. Movies may reflect different perspectives on history or current philosophical thought. Movies are the stories that often connect the lives of the public in ways that allow for shared experience and dialogue.
God has planted us, as his people, in the midst of a people and their stories, and many of those stories are ours as well. You can call it shared human experience. The beautiful thing is that The Story we know as the church is one that sheds light on all the little stories we tell. So films are one of those "permeable walls" that allows the truth of the Gospel to flow between the city of God and the city of man very easily. But movies do not have to have a utilitarian purpose (like evangelism) in order to be worthy of our time. As an art form they can be appreciated in and of themselves.
2. Art is a gift from God. Movies are an art form, a dominant one in our culture, and art is worth our time. Art matters because it too is God's creation, not man's. While debate continues as to the definition of art, including whether or not it can be defined, I see art as a work intentionally made to be received by another as art. It is made to be appreciated, experienced, enjoyed. Of course not all films are worthy of our attention. Some have a good story but so butcher the medium the art is a waste of time. Other films are produced, directed, shot and acted superbly, but with a story that falls short of taking the viewer anywhere. And of course we must have biblical standards that govern our interaction with art and culture (pornography may be an art form, but it is a bad one that both breaks the commands of God and uses its medium for the wrong end). As an art form, movies may be good or bad, and we have to take into consideration both form and content - it's "artistry and subject matter." In State of the Arts Gene Veith explains,
While it is possible to consider the form and the content of a piece of art separately, full understanding comes only when they are joined again. Many people see only the content and neglect the form - in doing so they miss the aesthetic dimension of the work of art. Others, including many in the art world, see only the form and neglect the content - they see the work as only colors and shapes on canvas as if all art were abstract art. This perspective does see the beauty and artfulness of the work, but is oblivious to its meaning, to what the colors and the shapes signify. In the best works of art and in the best responses to art, the form and the content fuse. State of the Arts, pg. 43
Movies, as an art form, can be good for the mind and the soul. Go to the movies. Choose wisely, share in the stories our culture tells, appreciate the art man can create since he himself is made in the image of God, and see how their story connects to The Story of God. Do not watch passively, but actively. Think your way through the movie, lest you miss the point. Not just the point of a director, but God's purpose in giving us art itself.
Suggested Reading: Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Two essays) Gene Veith Jr., State of the Arts
In recent years new books have hit the shelves on this subject, but I have not read them. Feel free to recommend any books you hae found helpful on this topic.