ELEMENTS OF A CHRISTIAN CINEMA
I promised to discuss elements predicable of a Catholic cinema. Before we do that, we need to set out themes that would distinguish a Christian cinema. I am indebted for some of what follows to a book called After Image, by Fr. Richard Blake, SJ.
Clearly, we are looking at just the narrative level of cinema. The next critique we will have to do will be to isolate cinematic methods that would be compatible with a Catholic “theology of the body” and, further, JPII’s ethics of personalism.
This list is not exhaustive. I welcome additions. It is also in no particular order.
Created with a Christian sensibility, a movie will be haunted by the invisible world. For the believer, everything that we see is a sign of a reality that we cannot see. Paraphrasing St. Paul, all of creation points to the Presence and Nature of the Creator, so should it be with a truly catholic film. As Jesuit writer William Lynch has noted, “Faith is the ability of the finite to lead somewhere.” Movies should give the viewers the sense that beyond all the choas and craziness in the world, there is a Loving Mind that comprehends it all, and is over it all.
A film made by Christians should be imbued with the certainty that we are not alone. It should leave viewers with the conviction that each human being was conceived of, worked out, prepared for and assigned a place in the plan. We are connected to one another and to the One who yearns for us as the apple of His eye. Men are meant to be merciful to one another. Talents are given us to speed us all corporately on our way home to God. We should treat human beings the way we would treat any unique and precious treasure that belongs to someone else.
C. The Ironic Juxtaposition of Hope and Suffering
The weirdest thing about Christians, is the way we can hold both terrible suffering and joy in our hands at the same time without any sense of contradiction. Good Friday is at once the worst thing that ever happened, and the best thing that ever happened. A Christian dramatist needs to portray sin with the same intensity as does a purely secular dramatist because, as the great Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor noted, “Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live.” But a Christian movie would ultimately lead viewers away from cynicism and toward hope. As Auschwitz survivor Corrie Ten Boom expressed it, “We know that there is no pit so deep, that God’s love isn’t deeper still.”
I got this phrase from a Flannery O’Connor essay in the book Mystery and Manners (must reading, BTW, for any writer who is a Christian). The idea is that no person is forced to commit an evil act. No matter how strongis the assault of “principalities and powers,” the “world, the flesh and the devil” on human hearts, God is present too, making His own appeal. Any film that makes it look like a person has no choice but to do a wrong in a given situation, would be incompatible with the Gospel.
E. Good and Evil are Not Equal
Many projects from good people fall into Manicheanism in their representation of good and evil. To be Christian, a film should leave the viewer with the certainty that evil exists only as the absence of good. Good is real. Evil is a void. If evil triumphs over good, it needs to be clear that it need not have been that way, because the power of love, truth, beauty and goodness surpasses anything evil has in its arsenal. The victory of good needs to be as convincing as the horror of evil was frightening and impressive.
F. Human Dignity
(This is actually implicit in what has come before, but, in deference to the obtuseness with which our species routinely dehumanizes groups of persons, I want to state a few clear principles just for the record.) Created with a Christian vision, a movie would present human characters as having an innate dignity related to the fact that they are unique, able to reason, and possessed of free will. Man is a union of matter and spirit. The film would connote that it is never morally permissable to use a human being in a utilitarian way, and hence that the only appropriate response to a human person is love. Because man is free, he is responsible. His unique dignity in the material universe is to praise. The farther he gets from the Creator, the more he dies.
Anybody have any more?
Next, I’ll talk about specifically Catholic elements in cinema.