Some thoughts about the controversy over movie reviews that we discussed yesterday, occasioned by the Christianity Today critic giving “Sex & the City” three stars. . .(This blog seems to have become THE place to talk about this, with even one of the parties to the controversy, Ted Slater of Focus on the Family weighing in, as well as other movie critics. I really appreciate that, Mr. Slater and the rest of you, for your stimulating discussion.) But here are some of my principles for reviewing:
(1) A review is not an advertisement or an endorsement but an analysis. Just condemning or just praising a movie or other work of art is not enough. A good review should yield understanding, not just of the work but of what the work is about.
(2) The word “good” has different senses. It can be used in a moral sense (“helping the flood victims was a good deed”) or an aesthetic sense (“that movie had good acting”). A movie can be good aesthetically and bad morally. Or, to bring the other absolutes into the discussion, a work of art that is true and good may not be beautiful; or one that is beautiful and good may not be true; or any of the other possible combinations. Part of the critic’s job is to sort all of that out.
(3) Not everyone should watch every movie, and thanks to the vocation of the movie critic, they don’t have to. Recall the principle that what is lawful for one vocation may not be lawful for someone without that vocation (e.g., soldiers, police officers, and executioners are called to do what civilians may not). Just as physicians must deal with repulsive diseases, critics may sometimes have to deal with repulsive movies. Not that even critics may fall into sin. If watching a movie is an occasion for sin, the critic should stay away, but experienced professionals usually get pretty detached, like a physician operating on a naked body. But if you can’t be detached, this may not be your calling.
(4) In the case at issue, Mr. Slater reviewed the review in a way that was overly inflammatory. Even if the critic is going to condemn something, there is a right and an effective way to go about it. The purpose of every vocation, as we have discussed, is to love and service to the neighbor, so a sense of compassion can make negative criticism sink in more. And, again, the goal of a review should be to increase understanding, both of truth (as the Focus review does, rightly, in condemning sin) and the work being discussed. While still attacking the review for minimizing the movie’s sexual immorality, the Focus on the Family critic could have zeroed in on what the review both discusses and exemplifies: the plight of single Christians–such as the reviewer herself who raises these issues–who get so little support from the church and are thrown back to the resources of the world, such as “Sex & the City.”
(5) The original review could also have given us more analysis, which might have defused some of the controversy. We are told that the movie has the characters wrestling with relationships. Tell us more about the content of those struggles. What, I think, emerges (based on snippets of the TV series that I have seen) is that what these young women really want is MARRIAGE, and yet their promiscuity undermines that quest. They treat men like they treat their shoes, as consumer accessories for their own gratification, and yet they want much more. What they yearn for is, in fact, God’s design. With that kind of specific analysis, the reviewer could fully engage the movie–praising its artistic qualities, taking it seriously by arguing with it, and leaving the reader with understanding, not just of the movie, but of issues of truth, goodness, and beauty.