Q&A with the Author
What are your most favorite and least favorite films? Favorite directors? Is Hollywood really hostile toward Christianity? What’s it like to die? Scott answers these and more.
Do you have a question for Scott? Ask him, and maybe your question will be posted here with Scott’s answer.
- Your website, Good News Film Reviews, states it has “Christian film reviews.” What is a Christian film review?
About the Book
- The book seems to be specifically written for Christians. Do you mean to only speak to them, or can non-Christians enjoy the book as well?
- The book covers a number of different character types, called archetypes – the hero, the villain, the femme fatale, etc. What are some others archetypes?
On “Christian Film”
On Our Culture
On Hollywood and Christianity
- You claim that when the Catholic Church is unfairly attacked in the media all Christians should react as if they were also attacked. Why is this?
- Why does the entertainment industry seem to have so little concern over insulting Christians but will walk on eggshells with other religious groups? For example, Comedy Central bleeped out references to Muhammad in the same episode they accused Jesus Christ of watching Internet porn. Why the double-standard?
- And looking at things from the other side, why do you think Christians are always on the defensive when it comes to the Arts? There always seems to be a protest or some group complaining.
On the Entertainment Industry
- You attack the Motion Picture Association of America and its Ratings System. You say they’re not helpful. According to the MPAA’s own statistics, more than 70% of people polled say the ratings do help. How can you say they’re not helpful?
- You complain about corporate control over the film industry saying that it has lead American cinema to become little more than a marketing arm of corporations. Other than corporate control, how else do you expect films to receive large distribution?
On Agendas in Films
- You discuss agendas in movies. Are they intentional or do filmmakers put their agendas in by accident?
- You claim all movies have a message in them, even the dumb ones like Austin Powers, Dumb & Dumber, and The Jerk. How can something made just for entertainment have a message?
- Many Christians think of The Matrix as having Christian undertones. In your book you criticize this. Why?
- You explain that movies are used to forward social agendas like secularism, homosexuality, and global warming. Isn’t “Christian film” the same thing? Another group pushing their agenda?
On Watching Movies
- You thoroughly explain stories in the book. Do you really expect the average audience member to think about all of that when they watch a movie?
- You warn against Christians being too restrictive in their choices of movies. People only watching Rated-G or PG movies, for example. What’s wrong with avoiding temptation?
- What of guilty pleasures? Is it okay for Christians to watch movies they know they probably shouldn’t like?
- In the book you claim rough language, nudity and violence are acceptable for Christians to watch. How is this biblical?
On Honoring Christ
- You call for Christians to be more active the film industry and the Arts in general. Are you saying Christian artists aren’t involved already?
On average I watch about 4-5 movies a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on my general workload. In turn, I write between 3-5 reviews a week.
My favorite directors are Krzysztof Kieslowski, Akira Kurosawa, and Stanley Kubrick. I think there are some interesting directors out there today, but they are often hindered by the studios or get too political for my tastes.
Actors? I don’t tend to “like” actors but rather like their performances. Actors often work at the whim of the project. There are plenty of great actors who just get saddled in bad movies. I will say that I believe Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor out there right now.
I’m a film geek, so I like film geek stuff. There are the usual picks, like CitizenKane, Casablanca, Godfather Part II, Lawrence of Arabia and whatnot. If I only had a handful of movies I could watch for the rest of my life, I would have to pick Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Rashomon (by Japanese director Kurosawa), and the Dekalog series by Krzysztof Kieslowski, a polish director.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is almost perfect. Yes, Indiana Jones travels across the world on the outside of a submarine – forget about that. It was the perfect coalescence of some of the most creative men working in the upper tier of the business at the time. Lawrence Kasdan’s script is a manual on how to write a screenplay. No space is wasted and all the scenes begin when they should begin and end when they should end. The dialog is taut and direct. The characterization is organic and compelling. The actors had plenty of room to work and ply their trade. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen both deserve more credit for their work. The two were a natural couple and meshed wonderfully. Ford’s iconic performance is a standard for Hollywood leading men in action films. All of this and it is one heck of a movie. It lost Best Picture to Chariots of Fire – it shouldn’t have.
To be honest, of all the movies I’ve ever seen I have to say that Avatar is the worst – hands down, no competition.
In my original review of the film on my site GoodNewsFilmReviews.com, I got hammered when I claimed it was a worse movie than Troll II or even Kazaam–where Shaquille O’Neal plays a genie who comes out of a boom box. How can Avatar be worse than these? Simple. The people who worked on Kazaam–or any other bad movie you want to pick–when they made it, none of them ever claimed to be making a masterpiece. No one claimed their film was top-level stuff. Avatar did. It was made out to be this great masterwork, a film for the ages, but it was deplorably written and only moderately well acted. It’s a mess of a movie. Yes, it’s a visual treat, but so is a really fancy screensaver. Great special effects, beautiful scenery, but a plain ol’ bad movie. If this had been the fourth or fifth big 3D, photo-realistic CGI movie to be released, it would have been no big deal.
Also, the cultural messages in the film are disgusting. There is almost nothing about his film that makes it worth seeing, even for free.
I have to admit I want to see Iron Man II. I saw the first one and thought that for what it was, it was exceptional – again, for what it was.
I am also looking forward to see what Ridley Scott will do with Robin Hood. Scott has a mixed record so we’ll see about that one. The Expendables is coming out in August, that will be a big, goofy shoot-em-up. Other than that, no. This is the summer of nothing special. Most of the releases are sequels, remakes, or just plain silly.
I did die, my heart stopped and the whole ten yards. In the book I describe when I had a heart attack and keeled over at the bank. No, I didn’t see a shaft of light or anything like that. The bits I do remember are like a dream where I was talking to myself. There was a lot of blue light, and every once in a while someone’s face would come into view.
After being brought back and having the pacemaker put in, there was a long bout of depression, which I found out is common. There is also a change in viewpoint as well–which is one of the reasons I finished the book. I don’t think I could have finished it without dying first. Being a corpse for a while is a great motivator to get things off your to-do list. [For more on his experience, see Sample Chapter 1 of You Are What You See.]
I have to watch a great deal of material I would otherwise avoid. It’s a part of the job. I try to avoid the strong violence and sex stuff as much as I can. I will watch something like Saw if I think there’s a cultural issue that I need to investigate. I certainly don’t recommend it to anyone else and I try to keep myself in check if I do watch something sorted. Remember, you can’t unwatch anything.
There is an old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In the Arts it often ends up, “Those who can’t do, criticize.” I began writing online reviews on my personal blog in 2004—originally to amuse myself while I wrote screenplays. I was more successful at writing reviews than getting other writing gigs, so I went with what worked.
After my conversion to Christ, I began refocusing my work to a Christian perspective and began to realize that while Christian filmmakers were well-intentioned most were not able to create quality works. The genre was glutted with saccharine sentimentality put to film. Instead of an exciting collection of weighty, inspiring films, we have obtuse propaganda pieces. I wanted to change that. I also knew that the average movie critic is ambivalent or even openly hostile to the Christian worldview. I felt “our side” needed a stronger voice, one that was unafraid to be assertive, even sarcastic when called for.
Your website, Good News Film Reviews, states it has “Christian film reviews.” What is a Christian film review?
It’s an identifier. I’m a Christian. I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, therefore my reviews come from a Christian perspective. I don’t proselytize through my reviews, but I do acknowledge that my faith does inform my opinions. This is different from many other reviewers. If I think my faith is coloring my opinion, I’ll admit it upfront so my reader knows—not because I’m ashamed of my faith but because I think it’s best to let people know where I’m coming from. If they concur with my worldview, they’ll find solace in my point-of-view. If they disagree with my faith, at least I’m giving them full disclosure so they can make up their mind from an informed position.
This book is my Christian Cinema manifesto, my attempt to teach Christians and others to identify and support good cinema.
I’ve always loved movies. I’ve been reading about them and writing screenplays since I was a kid. When I became a Christian, I delved into what’s known as “Christian film.” I was left largely underwhelmed.
The fact that independent filmmakers were making low grade productions did not shock me as much as it did to learn that Christian audiences are so willing to accept those sub-par productions–especially considering that those productions were intend to glorify Christ.
As I learned more about the story of the Bible, I learned how well it meshed with what I already knew about story structure. I saw a way, a relatively simple way, for Christians to have a standard by which to judge movies and other forms of entertainment. With an identifiable standard, they can make demands of filmmakers and make the artists work towards their expectations. It’s the best situation for both audience and artist.
So, I wrote this book as a means of introducing Christians to the medium of film and to get them to adopt a more critical approach to film and the Arts. This is my call for Christians to retake the culture and turn us back to the Lord.
The book seems to be specifically written for Christians. Do you mean to only speak to them, or can non-Christians enjoy the book as well?
It is true that the book is specifically written for Christians–there’s a reason the subtitle is “Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens.” That said, there’s a lot of content that non-believers can use. And the book is not wall-to-wall Bible-banging.
- I get into the sociological aspects of watching movies, how they impact us on both individual and cultural levels.
- I lay out the structure of Story and films, including character archetypes.
- I discuss corporate influence on the film industry and how this has led us astray as a people.
These are topics that impact all readers despite their theological position.
The title is a play on the often misquoted line from the late-18th/early-19th century food critic Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you which you are.” I explain in the book that the content you consume in the media impacts your soul no differently than how what you eat impacts your physical health. Someone who watches nothing but slasher movies is going to become corrupt in the same way someone who only eats fast food burgers is going to become a bloated mess.
My book will show you that movies are an important part of our culture and therefore an important part of your life. In the book, I explain how films alter how we see our world, and I reveal how they are intentionally used for that purpose. I delve into how audiences can be manipulated by filmmakers to believe a variety of ideas, but I also give ways to overcome this influence. I guarantee, when you’re done reading my book you won’t watch movies the same way again. You’ll be a much better audience member.
The book covers a number of different character types, called archetypes – the hero, the villain, the femme fatale, etc. What are some others archetypes?
An archetype is a kind of character, like you said. For example, Princess Leia is a damsel—or damsel in distress, if you will. She fits a type—the virginal princess locked in the tower that the hero comes and rescues.
Other types include the mentor–an Obi-Wan Kenobi/Gandalf character–an old man or woman who trains the hero of the story. The mentor shows the hero how to survive the journey and how to defeat the villain.
On the bad guy’s side you have what I call the Secondary Antagonist. This is the heavy. The villain always has a big physical threat, a thug, he unleashes on the hero towards the end of the story. This is the Kraken in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie or Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode One.
I use the term in the book to describe the false world that marketing campaigns have painted for us. Go to your grocery store and pause for a moment, look at the messages you’re getting from the marketing all around you. If you buy this, you’ll be happy. If you eat this, you’ll look like this. Do this, and this will happen. It all merges together to form a false reality that we are forced to contend with every day. It’s more than just our own expectations being heightened by all of this marketing–our expectations of others are also impacted.
Beyond all of the commercials and whatnot there is also our media, film, television, books, video games. They all paint this unrealistic picture of the world that we ingest daily. It is a false paradise where we are always on the outside looking in. It is a collective mirage leading nowhere.
Absolutely. Any medium that relies on Story is impacted by what is laid out in the book. Movies, TV shows, commercials, books, even video games and the jokes we tell are all touched by the structure of Story.
It depends on the context. I use it broadly to identify what I think people traditionally consider to be the Christian film genre—films made by Christians about Christians for Christians.
I also use the term to discuss what I’m hoping will come from artists who read my book and my books to come. Christian film, not as something made specifically for Christians, but something made by a Christian author or artist—a film that expresses the faith without being overbearing or merely propaganda. Stories that let faith, our morality, stand as an example.
Not as a rule. I don’t have anything against Christians making movies for Christians. I do have a problem with Christians making lousy movies for Christians. We don’t honor God by making bad movies.
Most people see Christian film as childish, low quality propaganda pieces. For the most part, they are. I am much more interested in Christian filmmakers making high-quality films that contain Truth than I am in Christians making Christian films.
As a rule they really don’t give me much to like. I know I sound negative, but I’m a film critic. What do you want? A majority of Christian films are not very good. It’s an ugly fact but a fact just the same. Now, in their defense, a majority of independent films are lousy regardless of their theological outlook, and Christian films as a group are getting better – not just technologically but also in their execution.
I respect the urge to make Christian films. I respect the hard work; making a movie is a brutal process and it eats up resources and time. I would love to say that Christians lead the field and are producing works that will support our society. That is one of the reasons I wrote this book, to hopefully prompt artists to begin making the needed changes so that Christians become the leaders they should be.
It depends, again, on how you define “Christian film.” Of the traditional flock of films that are part of the Christian film genre, there are very few I can recommend. I’d rather look at the larger expanse of the Art and find films that inform about biblical beliefs and standards and that propel audience members toward God and moral living. In my opinion, films like Schindler’s List or Crazy Heart are more “Christian” that many Christian films.
If you mean Christian films that show Christians in action, living the faith? Beyond the Gates of Splendor, The Hiding Place, The Heart of Texas, or even Magnolia. Many people would question Magnolia, but Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is one of my favorite fictional portrayals of a Christian living his faith.
If, however, you mean a film that specifically cites Christ as our Savior and urges a conversion? There are few that are worth seeing because they tend to be very heavy handed. Let me say, though, that I exempt a film like The Jesus Movie which is a specific mission tool used in a coordinated presentation within a support program–and has significantly brought change to thousands of lives around the world.
Generally, because Christian films are low quality.
First, they are independent films. This means limited budgets, limited resources, limited distribution. They tend to not pull a lot of attention and to not be very profitable. There are exceptions, but as a rule you don’t get your money back. With that business model, most Christian film projects are done as labors of love–which can be good. I prefer someone makes a movie to tell a story or express themselves rather than just to turn a buck. The problem with labors of love, though, is that they usually have very limited audiences and restricted resources.
Another difference between Christian films and even other independent films is that Christian audiences are too accommodating. In Christian films, it’s too often more important that there be a religious conversion during the final act rather than have realistic characters and dialogue. The Christian film genre has not had to impress an audience like is required of other indie films. In this way there are similarities between Christian films and the schlock viewed by horror movie audiences.
It is bad. Think about what we’re dealing with. We have porn on-demand on TV, computers, even on our darn phones. Pornographic imagery and references are causally displayed in commercials during prime time. Our music and film industries have become stagnant–they’re relying on rehashing nonsense from the last thirty years. I honestly think if we’re not at the bottom of the barrel we are very close. You can’t debase culture more and still have a culture to speak of.
We’re stuck in this horrible loop right now where we recycle the same cultural nonsense of the late sixties. We’ve barely moved forward at all since that time. Where are our great artists? Real artists, not just people who like to express themselves. Where are the artists who have something worth saying and say it very well?
We can change where we are. Listen, the culture is stagnant. All it takes to get things moving is for some people to start making waves. If we can create some waves, we can get this cultural stream flowing again.
It goes back to the turn of the last century, with particular attention to the 1930s. As far as the real mess, we’ve been decimated by the idiocy that defines the 1960s. The longer we continue on the path laid by the Baby Boomers, the weaker and dumber we’ll become. The best thing today’s generation of kids—the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers—can do is to follow Baby Boomer advice and completely disregard the morality of their grandparents.
Take responsibility for yourself and your family. Take your life seriously. Take your time seriously—stop giving it away to people who only want to waste it.
For one week—just seven days—turn off the TV, no talk radio, no newspapers. Cut yourself off. One week.
Week two, think about what else you’re doing. Give yourself two hours a day of any media. That’s it, two hours a day. Keep to it. You’ll find out by the end of the week that most of what you were taking in was trash and unnecessary for you to enjoy life. You’ll also find you have more time. You’ll fill that wasted time with other activities—which is what used to be called “having a life.” If everyone did this, our culture would drastically change overnight.
Christian and non-Christian artists should be able to exist in the same way as Christian and non-Christian construction workers. That’s about as simple as I can put it.
Christians need to have the space and freedom to express themselves as openly and freely as non-believers. Conversely, we Christians need to allow that there are an awful lot of people who do not agree with us. These people may be lost in our eyes but they are still permitted to express themselves.
I would like to see more Christians in the public square just being Christian, leading by example. I’d also like to see morality and common decency make a comeback. This is something I think will naturally occur with a movement toward more and stronger Christian artists.
You claim that when the Catholic Church is unfairly attacked in the media all Christians should react as if they were also attacked. Why is this?
Many in the film industry who attack Catholics have no deep regard for the intricacies of denomination. In many cases the Catholic Church is attacked simply because it’s, first off, present in so many areas of the world, and also because it has a deep history in Western Civilization. And then, too, there’s the fact that it has men and women dressed in uniforms—they’re easy to spot. If you’re attacking the faith, it’s easier to just pummel on a priest because all you have to do is show the collar and your point is made. How do you do that with a Baptist minister? Show a guy with bad hair and an ugly sweater? It’s not nearly as easy. Unless specific sins are mentioned, i.e. the homosexual priest–child rape cases, the point is usually to smear all Christians, Catholic or otherwise.
Hollywood, meaning the entire film industry, is not hostile to Christianity. There are active, faithful Christians in all ranks of the industry.
Are there very loud voices that feel comfortable trashing Christians and Christ? Absolutely. But the film industry is a large place and there are lots of viewpoints. Of the religions, it’s Christianity which takes the most hits, whether in film or on TV. I don’t think this can be denied. When you have Jesus consistently mocked on South Park and Family Guy and what’s become a tradition of anti-Christian films, there certainly appears to be a part of the industry which feels compelled to attack us.
Why do they do it? It depends on which attack you want to focus on. To be very frank, there is a lot of immorality across the entertainment industry, and it’s more open and more easily accepted than in most other parts of the nation. The immoral are consistent about one thing: they hate being reminded that there is morality. I think this has a good deal to do with the attacks. There are also competing theological groups—pagans, Scientologists, humanists, Jews, and a wide range of Christian denominations—all battling for the same space and resources. That could play into it, as well.
Why does the entertainment industry seem to have so little concern over insulting Christians but will walk on eggshells with other religious groups? For example, Comedy Central bleeped out references to Muhammad in the same episode they accused Jesus Christ of watching Internet porn. Why the double-standard?
Christians lack bombs. I joke, but it’s true. There is genuine fear—and after the murder of Theo Van Gogh, a legitimate fear—of violence from the Muslim community.
Beyond that, I think the casual attacks can come from familiarity. Most filmmakers who work in the industry in the U. S. are Westerners—from the U.S., Canada, Mexico. They were raised in somewhat-Christian societies. They know the faith, at least in general terms. Other faiths—Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—these are more foreign theologies, literally, for many of these artists as well as for their audiences. That being the case, they have a distance that lends itself to some courtesy—much in the same way I’m far more likely to insult my own brother than I am your brother.
The other issue I think Christians need to be adult enough to admit is that, in a good many instances, we really have it coming. Speaking as an adult convert to Christianity, I have to tell you, some Christians are just plain goofy. I love my brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t mean you don’t leave me shaking my head sometimes.
And looking at things from the other side, why do you think Christians are always on the defensive when it comes to the Arts? There always seems to be a protest or some group complaining.
We’ve become too reliant on protesting and whining instead of proposing alternatives. Often our protests only serve as free marketing for film distributors. Someone who is willing to make a production that is so insulting to the faith that it brings people out to protest, is the same kind of person who will wear our indignation as a badge of honor.
I think that Christians protest and whatnot because they don’t know what else to do. They scream outside a movie theater and feel like they’ve done something. They did do something, just not something productive. In some respects, the final result really ends up being points lost. Protesting becomes the focus instead of getting real change.
You attack the Motion Picture Association of America and its Ratings System. You say they’re not helpful. According to the MPAA’s own statistics, more than 70% of people polled say the ratings do help. How can you say they’re not helpful?
They give the illusion of helping. The MPAA has these broad, essentially meaningless ratings that leave the impression they’re doing something to help society when, in fact, all they’re doing is providing cover for an industry that has gotten progressively more irresponsible since the ratings inception.
They mean nothing beyond very loose guidelines regarding some content.
There’s a concept known as “ratings creep.” We’ve all seen it happen during our lifetimes. What was Rated R ten years ago is now PG-13. What was once PG-13 is now PG, and so on. We’ve been on this trajectory during the last fifty years—where content gets worse and worse, the stories more and more nihilistic and ugly.
I put a good deal of blame for this on the Ratings System. Before the Ratings System there was the Production Code. The Code wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it did layout some rules for filmmakers and producers. You can show this, you will avoid showing this under these circumstances, etc. The industry did away with the Code and said, ‘You know what? We’re no longer responsible for what we do if we can find an audience for it.’ Buyer beware.
This, on one hand, allowed for a broader scope of expression and led to an American cinematic renaissance in the 1970s. But it also opened the door for low-lifes to tickle audiences’ basest desires. We got Godfather, Network, and Star Wars but we also got Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Debbie Does Dallas.
You complain about corporate control over the film industry saying that it has lead American cinema to become little more than a marketing arm of corporations. Other than corporate control, how else do you expect films to receive large distribution?
Go online and you’ll see the future of distribution. As technology advances, the old systems of filmmaking will recede because they’re just not going to be viable. Heck, they’re not viable now in many instances. Studios are always just a few films away from going belly up.
I honestly believe we are on the dawn of new medium. Like the early days of film or television where it took a while for artists to find their bearings, the Golden Age of the internet has yet to come. If you think data and content flows fast and free now, give it another five years.
Dramatically—no pun intended. As speed increases and 3D comes to small screens and as filmmaking technologies catch up with the demand of amateur filmmakers, you’ll see the large corporations having less and less input. The corporations that run the studios now have short sold themselves. During our lifetime, they have rehashed and remade the same junk from our pasts and they’ve stopped trying to innovate and expand. That’s why we have the lousy release schedule we’ve had over the past few years.
Online, somewhere, is the next Spielberg, and he or she is going to be able to reach millions on almost no budget with little or no marketing. Once that budding, new Orson Welles emerges, the game will change. This generation coming up will oversee the alteration of this society and that includes the Arts. Lord, help them, because they’re going to need it if they want to do it right.
You discuss agendas in movies. Are they intentional or do filmmakers put their agendas in by accident?
Movies wear their agendas on their sleeve if they intend to push a line of thinking. I don’t think anyone is leaving Avatar without catching the point that colonialism and militarism is bad, and that running around in a tribal, pre-technological society is a positive thing. James Cameron, in this instance, knew he was hammering against capitalism and what he perceives to be racism.
There are things that filmmakers can include that they may not realize—how they portray certain races, economic groups, men versus women, that kind of thing. As far as identifiable social agendas? It is intentional.
You claim all movies have a message in them, even the dumb ones like Austin Powers, Dumb & Dumber, and The Jerk. How can something made just for entertainment have a message?
Every film—just like every painting, every book, every work of art—has a worldview it imparts to the viewer. Even films that seem to offer nothing, like the ones you’ve listed, promote the filmmaker’s view of the world. Dumb and Dumber, for example. What’s forwarded there? Well, friendship is important, stealing is immoral—Harry and Lloyd offer I.O.U.s for every dollar of the ransom money they spend. There are other moral issues explored in the film, as well; quite a number of them actually.
It doesn’t matter that we would like for movies to be meaningless. They can’t be. Humans are involved, so their philosophies are at play as well. If films have no inherent moral consequence, then why is pornography so bad? Why does it corrode people so quickly? Porn films don’t intend to give moral lessons or discuss the finer points of philosophy, yet we all know they’re debasing and devalue humanity.
There were a good number of messages in Avatar which I found out most people didn’t consider. There’s the anti-military angle. And Cameron replicates the fall of the Twin Towers when the tree is toppled. The film aggressively promotes paganism and ancestral worship—easy for many Christians to spot, but most people surprisingly seem to have ignored it.
A large number of films over the last fifty years have cast America as the villain, have degraded capitalism and profit-making. Many times these are done without being overt. The business man is devilish, the military man is a thick-headed brute, and so on.
Many Christians think of The Matrix as having Christian undertones. In your book you criticize this. Why?
The Wachowski Brothers, who made the movie, borrow Christian elements and clearly cast the hero, Neo, in a Christ- role. They are simply borrowing those elements, however. Any pressure on the symbolism of those elements makes their meaning fall apart. Also, if for no other reason, Christians should be hesitant to embrace a film in which the characters explain that the general public is “lost” and promote gunning them down in cold-blood as acceptable.
You explain that movies are used to forward social agendas like secularism, homosexuality, and global warming. Isn’t “Christian film” the same thing? Another group pushing their agenda?
Yes. There is little difference–and that is one of the problems I have with “Christian film” in its current form. Films generally will not work as mission tools–we’ve had Christian film for decades and the results would be obvious if they did. Yes, some people have been moved by a movie, but those are exceptions to the norm and the results are usually short-term and not pronounced.
I do, however, exempt a film like The Jesus Movie which is a specific mission tool used in a coordinated presentation and support program–and has significantly changed thousands of lives around the world. The run-of-the-mill Christian film, however, merely reinforces whatever theological point the filmmaker wants to make–correct or not, biblical or not. This is propaganda for the anointed. That is why we must have less focus on the creation of Christian art and more focus on creating Christian artists. Nurture the trees and they will bear good fruit.
You thoroughly explain stories in the book. Do you really expect the average audience member to think about all of that when they watch a movie?
I cover a lot of information in my book, and it may seem like people wouldn’t be able to absorb it all. I’ve taught this content—have explained it to many people—and over and over again I see that most people catch on quickly because most of it is stuff we all instinctively know. You recognize archetypes and the story structure I explain in the book like you know North, South, East and West just by being here. It’s in your bones. It’s a part of being human. I just remind you that you know it.
That’s why in my book I warn that I will change the way you watch movies. I seriously warn people. Once I show you the parts of a movie, why things are in there, you can’t help but notice them. As a film geek, it’s my bread and butter.
I say they are being lazy. If the movie is so meaningless, then why are you watching it? What does that say about you? Do you have so little regard for your precious time on this Earth that you’re fine with utterly wasting it on nothing? Why not just watch paint dry? Of course it’s always more than a movie. Every movie has a point, a worldview.
You warn against Christians being too restrictive in their choices of movies. People only watching Rated-G or PG movies for example. What is wrong with avoiding temptation?
There are those who do have issues they need to address and I would never deny them the right to avoid undoing themselves. Some people can’t handle on-screen sexuality, others can’t handle violence. It’s vital that we each keep a close eye on our souls, so there’s nothing wrong with avoiding temptation—if you’re actually avoiding being tempted. I find a number of people, however, avoid movies because they take some pride in being divorced from modern culture. It has less to do with being tempted and more to do with making yourself out to be too good for media.
There’s a trade off that needs to be addressed. People who avoid media can’t be a part of normal society. They cloister themselves. Again, some people should be. Most however? I question the wisdom and in some cases the morality of avoiding culture for the sake of being comfortable.
Not in itself. It can be sinful depending on one’s reaction to the content. If you go in knowing you’ll be enticed by the violence or if you find sexual pleasure in seeing others in pain—I know that sounds sick, but it’s a serious issue for some people—then, yes, it is sinful. The work of art is not sinful. It is the audience member who sins when they disregard God’s teaching on the appropriate way to satisfy whatever personal interest they have in the content.
I will say that horror movies obviously tend to have demonic themes and this is never something you want to mess around with.
First, trust your gut. Watch the trailer. If you watch the trailer and a voice in your head tells you something’s not right, listen. Chances are, something’s not right. God gave you instincts. Trust them. Read the synopsis of a movie on IMDb.com or another site. Watch the trailer. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a sense of what you’re in for.
With films that may not be so black and white, so clear cut, don’t go see them on opening weekend. Wait until the reviews have come out, until co-workers and others around you have had a chance to see the movie. Ask the questions you need to ask. You never need to see any movie on opening weekend. The only reason we think that’s important is because its new and because the film’s marketing pushes us to think that’s important. You can wait. Wait and let others jump in. Let them test the water before you dive in yourself.
Demonic imagery is always a signpost. If the trailer strongly focuses on sex or violence, take note. Pay attention to any statements of belief or worldview. If they don’t mesh with yours, that’s a bad sign.
What of guilty pleasures? Is it okay for Christians to watch movies they know they probably shouldn’t like?
I have some guilty pleasures. I admit I love zombie movies. I do. I’ve been asked why I’d like something so vile and stupid, so I thought about it and realized the answer comes down to the fact that they’re the only movies I can sit back and not think about what I’m watching. For someone who watches as many movies as I do, that’s a real treat.
As for other people, we all have things we think of as guilty pleasures, and I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up over them. Some women have a weakness for romances. Some men love shoot-’em- ups. I don’t begrudge people their tastes. The thing to remember is that they’re called guilty pleasures for a reason. Examine why you enjoy whatever it is. You need to explore the reasons why you feel guilty. This can easily be a path to sinfulness if you jump in without thinking.
In the book you claim rough language, nudity, and violence are acceptable for Christians to watch. How is this Biblical?
Christians and social conservatives have become too focused on the “what” in movies rather than the “why.” This is a serious problem because it’s limiting and it assumes certain content is naturally abhorrent. You’ll find this on websites that give family-friendly reviews—they give what I call a “nun list”: this movie has twelve breasts, six mild cuss words, four references to feces, someone smokes in the background of one scene, and on and on. The presence of breasts or someone’s rear end does not automatically mean the film is sinful or dangerous. Yes, it’s best to know about content before you see the film, but it’s equally important to know the context.
An example I use in the book is this. What if I asked you to come see a movie with me and I told you that not only did the film feature an extended nude shower scene with women completely naked but it also had a full-frontal shot of a naked man? Here’s the thing, I could be describing the sex-comedy Porky’s or I could be describing Schindler’s List, arguably one of the most important films in our lifetime. For some people, it won’t matter—nudity is nudity and bare flesh is a deal breaker. Okay, that’s your choice and you need do what’s best for you. I believe, however, that it’s not unchristian—or I would go as far as to say unbiblical—to view such things provided it is done within the proper context. As I explain in the book as regards Schindler’s List, Porky’s intended to illicit lust in the audience while Schindler’s List intended to show the horrors inflicted upon the victims of the Holocaust and the cruelty of their Nazi captors. Spielberg exposed the evil of the Nazi regime in his representation of their crimes and the impact upon their victims. The context is crucial.
As far as the audience is concerned, it all comes down to each of us managing ourselves and understanding our weaknesses and what will tempt us toward ungodliness.
How to Train Your Dragon is a good pick for families. At first I dismissed it as another cheesy family flick, but my pastor raved about the thing–and he was right to.
There is a French documentary entitled Babies that was to be released May 7th. It has been getting some great buzz. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t give it my full recommendation, but everything I’ve heard is positive. I would keep my eye out for it.
Overall, it is summertime and to be honest most movies are not worth seeing. We assume they may be worth watching because the marketing and trailers make them look cool, but with very few exceptions I would suggest you spend your time outside.
I like the Dove Foundation. I also suggest websites like Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, and there’s Decent Films Guide and MovieGuide, as well. The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is identify a couple of film reviewers you trust, that you align with as far as taste and morality. Don’t choose just one because we all make mistakes and we’re talking taste here—you’re not going to agree 100% of the time. Find two or three reviewers you like, and compare and contrast their reviews.
A good movie is more than good dialog, inventive plotting, or clever scene work. These all make a movie better, but the heart of a good movie is Story. The opening and the ending. It may seem like I’m giving the most simplistic answer, and maybe it is obvious, but the story that’s being told is often the last thing we pay attention to. You can have the greatest technology, a fantastic cast, all of that, but if you’re not telling the audience a good story, it’s all for naught. You can have no budget and make a great movie because of the story, but if you have no story, no amount of money is going to help.
You call for Christians to be more active the film industry and the Arts in general. Are you saying Christian artists aren’t involved already?
They are, and there are more Christians active in the entertainment industry than most people realize. Some are open, some are more secretive, for a variety of reasons. I argue that Christians, first, should be open about their faith. By that, I don’t mean slapping people with the Bible—just not being covert about it. Be a Christian and live your life as a confession of your faith.
I also believe we need to be less focused on nurturing this Christian sub-genre we’ve developed. While it serves some function, we’re not serving as broad a purpose as we could, infusing our labor and voices into the mainstream.
By remaining devoted to Him when you make your choices. Pick truth over spectacle. Choose films that will enlighten and improve you, help you focus on Him, over ones that debase you. You can honor Christ and watch secular movies, you just have to watch the right ones.