How Should Christians Approach Film?
The power and potential of film in today’s world is enormous. It is probably fair to say that film fascinates more people than books right now. The image compels and draws us in much quicker than the printed word does. This has led to many wonderful sights that we can behold with awe, but it has also drowned humanity in many horrible perversions. In this post, I want to offer some suggestions about how Christians can watch film, much along the same vein as my recommendations about good reads in my previous post. What follows below is admittedly very basic, but it can be used as good stepping stones to explore the many difficult issues that film arises.
The film medium has suffered from being mainly seen as “entertainment” that seeks to titillate and satiate the senses - and much of it certainly is. I am particularly concerned that our general attitude towards film is so casual - that we can buy so easily into the same big blockbuster movies that rehash repetitive plot lines and stun us with frenetic action and huge explosions, or gross us out with crude comedic and bawdy humor. However, I feel that there is a way to watch film that does not buy into this mindset. Just like with good books, there can be good movies that can make us laugh, cry, contemplate, and watch in amazement - all without making us “lose our minds,” so to speak.
I would suggest that we open ourselves to a large variety of movies - old and new, dramatic and comedic, thoughtful and satirical, English and foreign. The best movies, like the best books, are these that can speak directly to us about the human condition, about who we are as human beings created in the image of God, who now struggle in a sinful world. Who can fail to be moved, for example, by Charlie Chaplin’s timeless humor that also encourages us to continue persevering in life? Or Martin Scorcese’s ruthless expose of the fragility and banality of our culture in films such as Raging Bull or Taxi Driver? I was surprised when I began to research film and see all the hundreds of amazing movies that dealt with myriads of issues and topics, but were unknown to the general public. Foreign movies, in particular, open up so many different worlds and possibilities. One good website to begin looking at lists of what are considered to be the best movies (and directors) is www.theyshootpictures.com.
I also encourage wisdom in choosing what films to watch. The image has a much more visceral power than books do. Many films deal with difficult issues, and Christians have extensively debated the morality of both seeing certain actions depicted on screen and the propriety of acting these scenes out. That being said, it is amazing how, if properly filmed, even difficult themes can be presented in very profound ways. But each person will have different levels of toleration and needs to choose his/her movies accordingly. Film is not something we can strictly bind the conscience over, but neither should it be something that we force upon people to make them stumble, by encouraging them to watch themes with us that they may not be able to stomach. There is a wide spectrum between The Wizard of Oz and A Clockwork Orange; both films are profound classics, but not everyone can handle the latter (even though I need to say that A Clockwork Orange is too often wrongly advertised in an exploitative manner).
Finally, as Christians, we need to strive to be thoughtful as we evaluate our reasons for watching films, and to consider the visual power of the image which can so easily pervade our minds. All too often we can use movies and their characters (or TV shows) to replace our personal relationships with others. By doing so, we fail to realize that films offer only selective portrayals of human life and are not meant to thoroughly encapsulate every facet of our everyday existence. Instead of allowing this to happen, we can use the opportunities when we watch film to learn more about ourselves as human beings, in order that we may be better equipped to deal with our fellow neighbors and friends in an understanding manner. I would suggest, for example, that we be very careful about how much we expose our children to film early on in the most formative times in their lives - moderation and wisdom is a good rule. Even the very act of watching film, if done too extensively, can seriously distort the young child’s perspective of life.
In the end, there is still much work and reflection that Christians have to do on the nature of the image and its place in our lives, and I am pleased to see several of my friends engaging with this issue. Film is an amazing invention and a powerful tool to create cultural works, and for us Christians it is an honorable mission to learn how to view and use it wisely.
More in Theology You Should Know
July 23, 2014Perfection or Surrender: A Discussion on the Covenant of Grace Part 1
July 16, 2014Obey, Submit, Esteem
July 1, 2014Recognize the Real