Finding Good Movies

An acquaintance of mine recently sent his daughter off to a small Christian college. His daughter likes college life—except for one rule: The school forbids the showing of movies on campus. The college administrators mean well. But in their effort to protect students from celluloid trash, they’re keeping them away from good films as well. As Christian film critic Denis Haack writes, "All art forms are a good gift from God, to be used to His glory—and film is no exception. Good films can be a great delight," Haack maintains, "and Christians ought to enjoy them." Dennis Haack is right. But it’s often difficult to figure out which films are worth seeing and which ones ought to be avoided. How do we recognize a great film? Not by the number of Academy Awards it receives, but by how it treats moral themes. Good film, like good literature, deals with deep human problems in a way that teaches us right and wrong through a gripping story. If I had to come up with a list of films that did this, it would surely include Chariots of Fire, about the Scottish runner who was willing to put God before an Olympic gold medal. My list would also include the 1966 production of A Man for All Seasons, about how the sixteenth century Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, refused to sanction the divorce of Henry VIII—and lost his head for it. The film’s most famous line is: "I die the king’s good servant—but God’s first." It’s a film about true heroism—and it’s also a reminder of where our primary allegiance lies. Another film on my short list is a recent release, The Spitfire Grill, about a young woman who moves to a town named Gilead after spending five years in prison for manslaughter. The film, produced by a group of enterprising priests, is about forgiveness, redemption, and second chances. Another favorite—but a much darker film—is Schindler’s List, about a man who saves Jews from the Nazis at great risk to himself. Schindler is terribly flawed—he’s a womanizer and a war profiteer. But he retains just enough of the image of God to act heroically in the face of the greatest evil of the twentieth century. Then there’s Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, about a prominent doctor who hires a killer to murder his mistress. The doctor remembers his own youth in a strict Jewish family, and he is wracked with guilt. What the film shows is that, without God, we can’t handle our guilt. We have to kill our conscience. I have used this film many times with nonbelievers to discuss the Gospel. Some of these films are not appropriate for all viewers, especially children. In particular, Schindler’s List contains violence and nudity. But these films are among my favorites because they lead to a deeper understanding of right and wrong. Yes, there are too many bad movies out there—films that celebrate depravity. But there are good one’s, too. Films we can use to teach our kids and our neighbors good lessons. If Christians start demanding real quality in films, we just might spark a cultural revolution—where movies once again portray the moral drama in the souls of ordinary men and women.


Chuck Colson


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