Christian Culture out of the Bubble: Loving the World through Watching (and Making) Movies

Last week, I argued that Christian culture is asking the wrong questions about movies and other entertainment and that Hollywood doesn’t corrupt us pure souls. We are perfectly corrupt on our own already.

So how should a Person of Faith (POF) approach movies? Just as we should every aspect of life: with humility and respect.

Jesus left the faithful folk with two basic commands: Love God with all our “heart, soul, strength, and mind” and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Thus, as POF, we are called to love the world. Think of two people who show love to each other. What do they do? One of the most basic way of loving is to listen with respect. Not while planning what our response should be, what argument will quiet them, or with an ear to hearing what is wrong with them. When we listen, we hope to hear the heart of the person. We believe the best of them until proven wrong (and sometimes even after).

We love them, so we listen.

The conversation in the world today is taking place through the visual medium. When we study the art forms of the past, we see the great paintings of Da Vinci or the sculptures of Michelangelo. We look at the icons of the Middle Ages or the broken lines of the modernist movement. When future generations look back at our times, moving pictures will be the primary art they explore to understand us. It’s a great tragedy that Christians, by and large, aren’t part of this conversation.

I wish People of Faith would understand: Watching is listening. When you watch a movie, take in a TV show, or listen to a song, you are not condoning, assenting, agreeing, or endorsing. You are listening. You are listening to the conversation. And by listening, you are loving.

I say listen with respect because there is always respect to find. Anyone who has tried to put together a montage video to show at a wedding or graduation knows how difficult the visual medium is. Any movie, down to the stupidest comedy, requires a staggering amount of skill. The script must be written. Sets and costumes must be made. Cameras have to catch everything at the correct angles and with good light. The actors learn their lines and infuse emotion into them, sometimes while dangling from a helicopter. Makeup must look natural while adding alien features or 40 years to an actor. Things that blow up, crash, or explode must be coordinated, a whole impossibility in itself. And that’s just the filming. After, the film must be cut together, edited just right, adjusted for lighting and color and sound. The right music must be composed or selected, recorded and woven into the movie to create emotion without distraction.

It adds up to an art form, an incredibly complicated art form. It’s a wonder movies get made at all. Excellent ones are nothing short of a miracle. Why, then, are we so quick to be snide about them? How can we be dismissive?

Once we stop criticizing and start listening, we find almost every film has something to say. The ones that don’t are the poorly made ones, derided by faith-based and secular critics alike.

The raunchy comedies of Judd Apatow, “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” and the recent blockbuster “Bridesmaids” (which he produced) explore human nature in the extremely crude, explicit world in which modern people find themselves. They go through great crudeness to find places of innocence and truth.

I often say two Jewish boys, Joel and Ethan Coen, are making the most Christian movies of our time. “A Serious Man” tells the story of Job. “True Grit” matter of factly depicts old time religion. My favorite Coen movie, “No Country For Old Men” is nothing less than a profound meditation on the nature of evil, God’s role in it, and our role in fighting it. I’ve sat through years of sermons that have affected my view of the world and of God less than that movie.

And don’t get me started on the insight and transcendence in Pixar movies or the prayer that is “The Tree of Life.”

Some movies take the viewer to very dark places, Lars von Trier’s nihilistic masterpiece “Melancholia” or Steve McQueen’s unsexy but NC-17 rated exploration of sexual addiction “Shame.”  Yet dark places are often true places. Even when they express viewpoints contrary to our own, a well-made heartcry is part of the conversation and worth the time to listen.

Of course, most movies aren’t “No Country for Old Men” or Pixar’s “Up.” What about the “Mission Impossibles” and the “Fast Fives” of the world? Some people of faith distain all mindless entertainment. They’re obviously more spiritual than me. I’m all for mindless entertainment to a degree. It’s a good thing to spend an enjoyable time with friends, children, a date, or a spouse, to escape from the world for a bit. After all, we can’t be reading the Bible and taking food to the hungry 24/7. Or at least, I can’t.

It comes back, again, to looking at our own weakness. Is entertainment taking too much time, causing something we used to call sloth? Then that’s a weakness for the individual, something that must be fought. The danger, as I said before, is within. Sloth is not Hollywood’s fault (although they certainly profit from it).

When we listen with an open heart, we become part of the conversation. Perhaps even some of us will join the Industry and create art of our own.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey


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