Media remains to be such a predominant influence in our culture. As young people, we have no choice but to be immersed in this media influence, especially when it comes to MOVIES! It seems to me that finding the balance between upholding moral Christian standards and engaging in modern cinema is becoming more and more difficult. The only real options are to cut off this part of culture (almost) entirely, or (lets face it, the more probable option) is to engage in cinema. I am not saying there are no dangers to this, there are plenty. Nor am I commanding people to watch movies. I am simply saying that it is part of our culture and movies may not always be a negative thing to indulge in.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about the movie The Da Vinci Code. I asked her if she thought that this movie, and movies like it, are dangerous. She replied, “I don’t really find the movie dangerous other than the pseudo-facts it presents.” Pseudo-facts of Christianity exist everywhere in media, and movies are no different. Pseudo-facts are ideas presented in movies that are perceived as true when in reality they are false. In fact, the word pseudo literally means “false.” Seems to be an ironic phrase to use (“false-facts”). Take The Da Vinci code for example. In this movie the characters are on the quest to find the “Holy Grail” only to find out that the it was the lineage of Jesus, claiming that Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene. Of course as Christians we know that this is not true, but by presenting a story with this “Holy Grail” being found by clues left through out history, one may perceive it as true. The danger comes when the perception of the viewer assumes these pseudo-facts as truth.
The Da Vinci code is not the only movie that has this effect. A more recent movie was just released in theaters about God wiping out humans by sending angels to destroy them because he had “lost faith in humanity.” This does not seem to make much sense for God to condone this action since he sent Christ to be the hope for humanity. I’m talking about the new movie Legion staring Denis Quaid. Of course this movie is meant to entertain with stylized action. To quote my roommate, “It was like Noah and the flood, but cooler.” But the misconception still remains. Denis Quaid even said in an interview about the movie that, “It’s more Old Testament than New Testament with God’s wrath and all that” (foxnews.com). Even this quote about the movie gives the misconception that God’s judgement/ justice is different from the Old testament and New Testament (as if God had somehow changed or that there is a different God from the Old and New Testament). Another recent movie in the past couple of years would be There Will Be Blood in which the Church is seen as a capitalistic exploitation to gain money, not a new misconception (unfortunately) of the Church of God. But we as Christians know that this is not what the Church is about! Even the new movie, The Book of Eli, is getting a ton of attention for it themes of Christianity, but has the main character, a man of faith, slicing off his opponents heads. Not only that, but this character, Eli, is thought to be under the guidance of God yet engages in the work of God through violence. It raises the pseudo-fact that it is ok to do the work of God through violence and murder. Those are just a couple of examples of pseudo-facts seen on the screen.
So how, as Christians, do we handle the pseudo-facts presented in movies? I prefer to take a more passive approach to this issue. We have to understand that movies are pieces of literature and that these movies, unless they are a documentary or an absolutely honest movie “based on a true story,” are works of fiction. THEY ARE NOT TRUE! It is the viewer who makes the assumption that the so-called “facts” are truth. There will always be misconceptions about Christianity. There has been ever since the beginning of the Church. Our job as the viewer is to understand that this fiction is not truth and that our truth comes from the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.
Are Christians then to judge movies as merely entertainment, a “waste of time?” As a connoisseur of movies, I would beg to differ. Although some movies present pseudo-facts, this is not the case with every movie. Some don’t even tell you the exact statements or facts and leave much of the film up for interpretation. These movies raise questions and get us to ask questions about our beliefs. Cinema can even deal philosophical questions about faith in Christ.
Let’s bring it back to the previously mentioned movie The Book of Eli. (Now I apologize for this, but I will include a few spoilers of the movie.) The setting of is a post apocalyptic world in which war has destroyed civilization over 30 year ago. Eli is a man heading west and carrying a book in which he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect it. The villain, Carnegie, finds out about Eli’s possession of this book and wants the book for his own manipulative power. Thus, the excitement begins.
Now if you haven’t guessed it, the book Eli is carrying is the Bible (all the Bibles were destroyed during the war in a massive book burning). So Eli carries the one known written Word of God. Through out the movie you see how the word of God affects the characters, especially those who are under the age of 30 and have never heard of the Bible, and how Eli’s guidance by faith helps him accomplish the task God has set out for him. This movie raises questions about the power of the Bible, the extension of God’s Word, the place of prevenient grace and the need for faith to carry God’s will. Although the pseudo-fact of violence (as mentioned earlier) remains, it allows the viewer to think and interpret these aspects subtly presented in the film.
Now in no way am I condoning any teenager to watch this movie. It gets its well deserved rated R for strong violence and language. So I am not suggesting that you young people go out to the theaters and watch The Book of Eli. Movie restrictions on the teenager are based on the decision between the parents and the teenager. I only use it for its recent relevancy on the point I am trying to make. There are plenty of movies that allow viewers to think about faith and Christianity that receive a PG-13 rating and under. Some might include: Prince Caspian, Signs, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, We’re Back (Yeah I mention my childhood movie in this!) and dare I say it… Saved!
My hope in writing this is that we Christians can view movies that help us build our philosophy in God. Not all movies bring this about, but they do exist out there. It is also important to understand that movies are meant to entertain and not be a sermon. They only present ideas and don’t preach or proclaim the direct Word of God. But I do propose that we can watch certain movies that raise questions to help us build discussion of faith amongst each other, and maybe understand God a little more through the imaginative fictional literature that is cinema.