If justice is what God does, then beauty is what it looks like. ~ Bill Dyrness
Can a film be just? A film can almost certainly be beautiful, so based on Dr. Dyrness' definition, one would assume that a film can indeed be just. But what would that look like?
The first kind of film that springs to mind is documentaries like Invisible Children or Waiting for Superman. Like prophets dressed in rags hurling invectives at the gates of a king, socially conscious documentaries try to rouse us to just action.
Documentaries aren't the only kind of film that work justice in the world. Narrative films can be just as just.
Consider Paris, Texas. This film chronicles a man trying to figure out why his family fell apart and his attempts to put it back together. Paris, Texas is a film of profound grace and forgiveness. It is a film that embraces people in their brokenness, that accepts the unexplainable in life, and that holds up the all-healing power of covenantal love. Paris, Texas is a beautiful film because it is so just.
Contrast it with the recently released, Tron Legacy. The cyber-light landscapes of its digital world are mesmerizing. Unfortunately the film itself offers very little in the way of narrative beauty. The film feigns profundity and ends up being unintelligible. For a film to be beautiful and just it must be genuine, and it must make sense.
Perhaps the finest examples of beautifully just films are those made by Pixar. Visually stunning and narratively complete, Pixar's films consistently show a better world.
Consider Finding Nemo, a film about parenting in which a father searches relentlessly for his son so he can give up his fear and set his son free. Wall-E upholds not only care for creation but also life-awakening, outwardly-focused love between two robots/people. Ratatouille affirms that class and prestige are not prerequisites for social worth. Up! focuses on the persistent value of the elderly. I could go on and on.
Films become truly moving images when they point us to a better world, when they cause us to reconsider our lives, and when they push for just action.
In your film viewing, I encourage you to seek out true beauty—not the flash of movies like Tron Legacy, but the soul-stirring beauty of grace and love like that depicted in Paris, Texas. Risk an evening on a challenging documentary. When in doubt, go Pixar. Join in the just beauty of a truly good film.
Elijah Davidson is the Co-Director of Reel Spirituality at Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center for theology, arts and culture. Follow his reflections via Twitter, or at the Brehm Center blog and the Reel Spirituality website.