Five questions to ask when watching movies
Are you being careful about what you set before your eyes?
The Bible says we have to be careful about the things we look at. In Psalm 101:3 we read, "I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless". So how does this principle apply to how we watch movies?
Take for example the movie Noah, which has inspired loads of debate among Christians. There are those who are outraged by the creative liberties taken by director, Darren Aronofsky, and say Noah should be avoided. At the same time, a second group of believers have no problem with rock monsters or Noah having a few fight scenes, but acknowledge the movie is nothing like the real story.
Movies communicate a lot more than what is found in your typical Netflix description. And because of this, Christians have to learn to watch movies with their brains turned on. To help you begin this practice, here are five questions to consider the next time you go to the movies.
1) How is this movie trying to teach me something?
The question is not "if" but "when." Think about it this way, what is Harry Potter about? Wizards or family? Or what about The Hunger Games? Is it about kids killing each other or about the inequality between the rich and the poor? Movies resonate with us because they repackage important ideas in fresh ways. Here are a couple simple ways to understand a movie's message.
- Listen for key lines: Whenever a movie repeats a line a few times, your ears should perk up. It's important. Divergent unashamedly repeats the phrase "Faction over blood" throughout the movie. This should tip you off to consider how the factions and families relate throughout the story.
- Work out the main character's goal: Normally the story's main character is going to have a central goal, something that motivates every action they take. Disney movies make this easy to recognize because the character will probably sing a song about it (Elsa wants to “Let it Go” in Frozen; Rapunzel asks “When Will My Life Begin?” in Tangled). Once you recognize the character's goal, dig around a little bit. Do they attain that goal? If so, how? Does their goal change throughout the story? These questions will tell you a lot about what the makers of the movie want to communicate.
There's no such thing as a movie without a message. So try and understand what the movie is trying to 'say', and think carefully about whether you agree with it or not.
2) What does this movie assume about reality?
A movie's worldview is determined by stepping back and thinking about the big picture. Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia use almost the same language to describe an ancient type of magic that is produced when someone sacrifices their life for another. The worlds in which these stories take place are governed by forces that sound a lot like the Christian perception of the world.
On the flipside, think of all the romantic comedies where the main character cheats on their current partner, because they found 'the one' elsewhere. Often, movie makers will set up the original partner as the 'bad guy' to justify the actions of the cheater. What does this communicate? It says that morality is flexible and determined by the individual, not by God.
3) How is this movie affecting me spiritually?
I honestly believe the messages a movie communicates are more important that the rating. But this does not mean we throw caution to the wind when it comes to sex or violence. We still need to be wise about what we allow ourselves to be entertained by. "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial" (1 Cor 10:23). So look at content advisories before you watch a movie. Consider how that movie will affect your walk with Jesus.
4) How does the Bible interact with this movie?
As Christians, the Kingdom of God must penetrate every aspect of our lives, so we need to ask ourselves what the Bible says about the answers to these previous questions. To do this effectively, you need to know what Scripture teaches. In a positive sense, it allows you to recognize themes from the Bible that are present in movies (e.g. Christ-like characters; theological concepts; parables). Negatively, you will notice when a movie's message contradicts Christian belief. This does not mean that any movie with a cuss word or a gay character needs to be thrown into your next bonfire. The goal is to be able to perceive these messages and be careful about how they influence you.
5) How can I use this movie to talk to my friends about Jesus?
Not everyone thinks deeply about the movies they see. Not everyone pays attention to directors or writers. But everyone watches movies. Conversations will come up. So watch a lot of movies and talk to your friends about them. Maybe even bounce some of these questions off them. It is an easy way to take a common conversation and naturally shift its focus to spiritual things.