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Why Watch Film?

July 19, 2011

First, as a Christian, I want to emphasize the importance of being human and interacting with humanity. Being a Christian is a way of being human, not a way to be apart from humanity. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common understanding of the Church – not only by those who are not Christians – but also the Church herself. One aspect of this is that there is a redefining of the Christian community. Where it once was primarily identified by it’s worship (singing, praying, confession, communion, baptism and preaching), it is now identified by countless small groups or community groups (youth group, single’s group, elderly groups, young married couple groups, etc.), a music industry, film industry, literature ministry, television ministries, and t-shirts and numerous other products. The list could go on. It is now quite possible for a Christian to be so busy with their “Christian life” that they never spend anytime in the world. I would say “apart from their jobs,” except nowadays there are so many “ministries” out there, that it is quite probable that many people also spend their work days in a Christian community as well.

Another aspect of separating oneself from the world comes at the expense of enjoyment. Many in the church have taken it upon themselves to define what is good and bad – regardless of what the Bible or tradition has said – and have condemned certain elements of life that should be enjoyed. For instance, many in the American church regard drinking alcohol as bad, even though it has been enjoyed by the church throughout history and across the globe, and despite the fact that the Bible says strong drink and wine are good. For my purposes here, the same thing is true of movies.

Many in the church have deemed certain movies evil and should therefore not be watched by Christians. The funny thing here is that the line seems to get drawn in various places by various Christian communities. Some would draw that line at PG ratings. Some believe that any portrayal of sex is bad. Some think over the top violence is ok, but there better not be any sexual content. Some would never have a problem with most curse words, but they’ll turn it off at the first “goddamn.” Some might even stop reading this blog because of the past sentence. The point I want to make, though, is that movies are (hopefully) a reflection of life, with all it’s good and bad, and this is one of the reasons to watch and enjoy film.

Are there morally bad movies? I would say so, but that goes for pretty much any art. I would also say that it’s not an easy line to draw. One example is the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin – an admittedly raunchy film with lots of profanity and sexual content, yet it has a blatantly conservative message about sex, maturity and responsibility. I’ve had a few discussions with people who cannot understand why I would watch such a profane movie and see no reason why anyone should watch it. Now, I don’t think every Christian should watch this movie – it’s certainly not for everyone. The problem, though, is that it’s these same people who would go home and turn on Friends, a very funny show that is essentially about immature single people who often have pre (and extra) marital sex with each other. In other words, their problem is not so much with the moral content, as they would like to believe, as it is with the way that content is portrayed. They like their immorality packaged in a nice, pleasing package, not all grimy and gritty as it is in real life… then you may have to deal with it. Some would propose taking the “safe route” and avoid art altogether – which is completely their prerogative – but I would argue that they are missing out on some wonderful experiences. Which leads to my second reason why Christians should watch movies…

Art imitates life. Well, at least good art does. And life is messy. It’s also beautiful. It’s full of good people who do bad things, bad people who do good things, well-intentioned people who make awful mistakes, and ill-intentioned people who have a change of heart. There are consequences to actions, falls from grace, stories of redemption and extraordinary acts of courage. I would argue that this is why watching movies is important. A well done movie is a wonderful way to experience life that we may otherwise never experience. It also helps to prepare us for situations that may eventually come our way. To use a previous example, I’ve never experienced being a 40 year old virgin. But there are many who have… I’ve known a few. And now I can, at the very least, identify with their experience because of my identification with that character, because he is so well developed in the film. And not only him, but the other characters as well: The immature, profane co-workers (which has been my experience everywhere I’ve worked), the single mother who has given up on finding a soul mate (I’ve know a few of these as well too), the frustrated teenager who is dealing with a mom who is falling in love. And this is just a silly comedy.

I’ve never lost someone close to me, but it’s likely that I someday will. I know a little bit more about what to expect because of film. I also can sympathize a little better with those who are going through loss. One could argue that we should just forget movies and get out there and experience life, and I would agree to an extent, but let’s face it, most of us are not in a position to experience everything life has to offer. I once “experienced life” by taking my family to a homeless shelter to hand out blankets and learn how we can serve. This is something I would have done anyways – regardless of whether I watched a movie about homelessness or not. But I had recently watched Wendy and Lucy, a small film about a woman who loses everything and must rely on the kindness of strangers for even the smallest things, and this gave me a little perspective and sympathy for those who are less fortunate, the appreciation for the little things that I take for granted every day, and caused me to think about how I might react to being in the same situation. I also talked with a man there who was a recovering drug addict, and we talked about some dark things. While I’ve never experienced anything like that in my own life, movies have given me at least some point of reference and allowed me to have a conversation, rather than stand there in total shock.

Now here’s the practical application: If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you once read my blog in the past. If that’s the case, then you may have made at least two observations: 1) I haven’t written anything in over a year and a half, and 2) there were quite a few posts on movies that are no longer on the site. Well, I was writing quite a bit on movies back then – almost to the point that I was seriously considering starting a blog just for movie discussions. Then life, as it tends to do, threw me a curveball. Time became scarce. I really missed writing. And I really missed writing about movies – amongst other things. So I came back to my blog, perused it, and realized a lot had changed over the past year and a half – most notably my taste in film. Specifically, I had endeavored to put together a list of my top films of the decade by way of ranking my top movies of each year in the decade – yeah, a rather weighty proposition – but a fun one in my estimation. It turns out that some of the movies I thought were great over a year ago have not held up, and I’ve seen a number of movies since then that I feel deserve to make the list. Really, it will be just a few tweaks here and there, but you can expect to see my new rankings for the 2000 – 2009 decade start popping up here pretty soon. You can call me many things, but one of them is not a quitter.

I also plan on writing reviews as I watch movies. Now, I don’t get to watch as many movies as I once did, or as I hoped to, but I still want to discuss them. And I plan on discussing them with the criteria in mind that this post addresses. This is your final warning.

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