A few times before I have tried to write a post on a comprehensive way to evaluate and think about movies as a Christian. I kept struggling because it is such a large topic, one best suited for a book. Instead, I have decided to put down several of the criteria that I use for evaluating movies.
- Will is cause me to sin later: When watching action movies I can be relatively sure that the violence in them will not cause me to be a more violent person. Knowing myself I know that movies which contain a degree of violent material are not going to led me to start blowing up cars and taking people out. I do however know the danger of sexual images in movies. I know those image will can get trapped in my head and cause me to sin. For this reason I try to avoid movies that I can expect to contain a lot of sexual imagery.
- Is it a good movie: This is a question Christians often miss, but is very important. Movies are works of art and have their own criteria for being evaluated as such. Directing, acting, cinematography, lightening, camera angles, sound effects, music score, plot, storytelling, and more are involved in a movie. The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Compass are two recent movies that raised the ire of Evangelicals. Both largely failed to become popular because of being poor movies. Likewise, I would argue that Facing the Giants failed as movie, not to mention being theological inaccurate. Though produced on a shoestring budget, Giants could have been much better in this regard.
- Is the story good and is it told well: Story is an aspect of movies that is important to me. I believe that God is a masterful storyteller who has woven human history into a brilliant story of his redemption of unworthy human beings. I still have not seen the movie Avatar. From what I have heard it is an artistically beautiful and imaginative film, with a cliché story. I will probably end up seeing it one day, but for now it is not on the top of my list. How a story is told is also important. Movies use their own conventions to tell stories and a good judge of movies must know these. A good story can be told poorly. This is usually what happens when a movie has a great trailer, but the actual movie is a flop. The story caught your attention, but the director couldn’t tell it.
- What assumptions and philosophies underlie the movies: Every movie says something about how the director views reality. Sometimes it is the most innocuous movies that carry the most dangerous ideas. For example, I have enjoyed watching the Classic Star Trek shows lately. Underneath they carry the assumptions that mutual understanding can solve all problems, progress is intrinsically good, and the evolution of culture and religion. It not enough to keep me from watching the show because it has other positive qualities, but those issues are something I need to be aware off. Keen viewers of movies need to evaluate such ideas in light of the Bible. They also need to be test to determine they ring true?
- Is the movie gratuitous: A common part of many action movies is the perquisite sex scene. It’s superfluous to the plot and the director threw it in to boost ratings. Swearing is another area where movies can be gratuitous. Sure people swear in everyday life, but some movies go overboard. In other to be truthful, certain war movies graphically display violence. Not all should watch them, but they are better than movies that display gore for gores sake. A helpful way to judge gratuitousness is to ask what the purpose of including, for example, a specific swearword. Does it contribute to the telling of the story or is it superfluous.
- Does the movie move me: As you are watching the movie and after, evaluate how it made you feel. Did you come away enraged by what you saw? Did it make you laugh/cry/happy/sad? I once heard someone say that we should pay attention to whatever moves us. When a movie moves us emotional, it means it has brought out something in us that might not have been revealed otherwise. In this way movies help us discover something about ourselves. Once you realize a movie affected you this way, try to discover and analyze what caused the reaction. The best movie makers known how to move the audience because they understand something about human nature. Christians would do well to learn from them when this happens.
Often it can be easy for us to want a kind of checklist to tell us whether or not to watch a movie. This is not such a list. Rather it is a list of things to consider in addition to the knowledge of yourself and those who are going to see a movie with you and to help evaluate films. What is safe for one may not be safe for another. A roller coaster is a lot of fun, providing that you are the right size to ride it safely. Likewise, a book that will strengthen the faith of one can shipwreck another. As Paul says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”