Writing

From the Section Editor: Critical Engagement

Dawn Xiana Moon, originally published on RelevantMagazine.com

It’s not enough to evaluate films on the basis of wholesomeness alone.

Too often, many Christians assume that the “cleaner” a film is, the better it is. We are caught obsessing over obscenities, whether the actors portray sexual situations, what mention is made of God (especially His name), how the supernatural is involved, how much violence there is and whether the characters use drugs. Heaven forbid we watch anything rated R - unless, of course, we’re talking about The Passion. Our reviews end up reading like this: “There is also some dancing sensuality, and four brief scenes of a couple of teenagers doing some heavy kissing, mainly in the school hallway” (An actual review of Never Been Kissed). Or “Objectionable content: Language/Profanity: Approximately half a dozen profanities/obscenities, mostly mild” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). We get so hung up on minutiae that we commend poorly made Christian films, but not Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - a powerful film about love and relationships that is dismissed for its use of profanity.

A survey of the films rated “Excellent” and “Good” on a major Christian website reveals that most of the recommended movies are rated PG or G - if they’re rated at all, since many of them are “Christian” films that have no rating - with a couple of PG-13 movies that slipped through, because they were made by the Christian film industry.

Are different films appropriate for those of different maturity levels? Of course. Despite its merits, The Passion is not appropriate for a five-year-old. But we often fail to engage films critically, to look beyond the surface trappings of a movie and analyze its themes. “Good” and “family-friendly” are not equivalent terms. When I watch Requiem for a Dream, I’m not left wondering what it’d be like to try cocaine; I’m left with a sense of loss for well-intentioned characters who lose everything to addiction. The scene where Jennifer Connelly’s character is forced to perform sexual acts for the pleasure of a crowd of hollering men in order to earn the drugs she depends upon is disturbing - but necessary. Strip “Requiem” of those haunting moments and the film loses its power: its message is lost. Films like this may not be for everyone, but it is important that people can decide for themselves what they can handle in a movie.

We need films that question, films that speak truth, films that engage the culture around us. We cannot blindly support the Christian film industry; we have to determine the merits of each movie on an individual basis. Likewise, we cannot afford to support movies on the sole basis of a rating or lack of profanity; we cannot afford to be simplistic just because it's easy. Even though it is more difficult, we need to look at films in a more nuanced manner, on the basis of what they teach us about humanity, about the world we live in, about ourselves.

Our intellect and creative ability are two of the ways in which we act out our God-likeness, the fact of being made imago Dei. Mere propaganda, even if we call it “Christian,” only serves to deaden our sense of both truth and beauty - and if truth and beauty have their origination in the Creator, bad art deadens our ability to see and connect with God himself.

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