This summer, Americans are expected to spend approximately $3 billion at the box office watching The Matrix: Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a lot more.
Since some of that money may be yours or your kids’, remember that there’s more going on at the Cineplex than entertainment. As writer-director Nora Ephron has said, movies are to contemporary Americans what books were to previous generations. Movies shape the way we feel and the way we think. That’s why Christians can’t settle for being passive consumers of films.
Instead, as screenwriter Brian Godawa writes in his book, Hollywood Worldviews, Christians should watch films with “wisdom and discernment.” They must “understand what they are consuming and the nature of their amusement.” This is especially true because films reflect worldviews, most of which are at odds with a Christian worldview.
Some go even further than that; in these cases the worldview is the story. That’s what’s going on in this summer’s blockbuster The Matrix: Reloaded. Its writer-directors are no longer content with making a highly stylized action-adventure film.
Instead, they fancy themselves as philosophers and their film as a vehicle for exploring “big questions,” like the nature of reality. The film combines Eastern and Christian concepts in a way that does justice to neither worldview and only serves to confuse the audience.
In other films, the worldview “lesson” is more subtle, but no less real. For example, the Oscar-winning film Gosford Park on the surface is a costume drama about the relationships between the British upper class and its servants.
Once you get beneath that surface, however, you see that the moral universe depicted in Gosford Park can best be described as “nihilistic.”
The world of Gosford Park is one in which all social and moral conventions are arbitrary, so much so that one character literally gets away with murder without any objection from the other characters — or, for that matter, from the audience. The story unfolds in such a way that viewers can’t help but accept the justification for the killer’s actions and, even worse, the indifference to the victim’s death.
The best response to the insidious quality of many contemporary films is, as Godawa pointed out, discernment. Discernment enables the Christian to avoid two undesirable extremes: what Godawa describes as cultural anorexia and cultural gluttony. Anorexia is avoiding the culture altogether, but that leaves the Christian incapable of “interacting redemptively” and causes him to miss good things in our popular culture. Cultural gluttony, on the other hand, ignores how popular culture affects us, for good and evil, and takes it all in indiscriminately, consuming everything in front of us.
The best way to acquire discernment is through knowledge — and by asking probing questions. That’s why this week I’ll be discussing what Godawa and others have to say about Hollywood and worldviews. If, like nearly everyone else, you’re going to spend part of this summer at the movies or renting tapes and DVDs, you’ll want to tune in and call us for Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews, which reviews many films, explaining the worldviews represented. It’s good reading.
If you go to the movies this summer, you’ll be getting more than entertainment and popcorn. The lights may go down in the theater, but don’t let them go down in your mind.