The medium of film is considered to be one of the most helpful in terms of thought-provoking, entertaining, and challenging art. I explored and defended this claim in my last blog. But film is not immune from causing both the consumer and film-maker to lean towards certain unfortunate mistakes and problematic decisions. Here’s a few things to be wary of when we check out the latest blockbuster or award-winning film.
(Of course, film isn’t all bad. If you haven’t yet, check out Part 1: In Praise of Film)
Film can use sentimentalism to mislead.
Most film-makers have a clear picture of what most of us want from a movie. One thing they know without question is that we want a happy ending. And in many cases, they give it to us whether or not it makes any sense. Unfortunately, some of the most memorable film moments are actually just sentimental fabrications (a recent example being the unfortunate final scene of Juno). Even fiction can be truthful, but it ceases to be so when it assures us that everything will be okay simply because someone has finally come around, a couple is in love again, a sick mother is made well, etc. If we’re moved by emotional growth, physical healing, or social justice, and assured (explicitly or implicitly) that the characters will live “happily ever after” we have been hoodwinked and misled. This is not just an intellectual problem, but a spiritual one that denies human depravity and the results of the fall.
Film can discourage critical thinking
Film is often referred to a “ride,” evoking the common idea that one should approach a film passively, keeping all extremities outside of the vehicle, and being content to simply watch the sights fly by. Peter Travers gives the following advice to those who see the award-winning, There Will be Blood: “sit back and let it engulf you.” This is bad advice. The Christian is charged in 1 Peter 5:8 to “be sober-minded; be watchful.” This command applies in the theater just as it applies to the rest of life. Whenever we find ourselves watching a blockbuster action film or a romantic chick-flick, we must resist the desire to blindly follow the film wherever it leads and instead have a conversation with that film. We should let the film speak to us, but we should speak to the film as well.
Film offers no opportunities for discussion
“No Talking.” It’s the supreme rule of the theater. At no point during the film can we carry on a conversation with our neighbor about its’ primary assumptions (unless you’re one of those annoying couples who ends up behind my wife and I every other week; in that case, just rent a DVD and go home), and this poses a problem. Christianity is a religion that emphasizes community and relationships that encourage and challenge one another, but film has the opportunity to discourage this. We’ve all seen a film with a friend come out of it feeling strongly one way or another, only to realize that our friend feels otherwise. What follows is usually a lengthy conversation in which we attempt to explain our perspective. The problem is, it takes a long time to backtrack and reexamine each shot, plot twist, and monologue and as a result our conversations are strongly hindered.
Film can tempt us to sin without warning
These days, film is known for pushing the envelope, particularly in the areas of violence and nudity. These and other vices can become traps for those of us who don’t go into a film prepared and on guard. A Christian has plenty of resources at their disposal to help them decide if a film can cause them to be in danger of sin. He ought to seek to know his weak areas and avoid a film when he fears those weaknesses may be exploited.
Film often leaves us trapped in a giant waste of time.
Fifteen minutes into Epic Movie, I knew I had made a mistake. Yet, for some reason, I stayed and placed myself at the mercy of some of the worst screenwriters and directors in Hollywood. At one point, I saw a boom microphone in the shot. At several points I groaned at obvious jokes. Mostly I just thought of everything else I would rather be doing.
This is the risk inherent in seeing a film. Whenever we walk into the theater, we risk spending a significant amount of time wishing we hadn’t come in the first place. Fortunately, we have been given many resources to help us guard against this possibility. Look for possible stumbling blocks at the bottom of a film review at Christianity Today’s website, or the more specific and meticulous Kids In Mind. Also, if a film is scoring somewhere between 0 and 20 over at Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, it’s probably a better idea to do something else.