Valuable viewing


Movies can tell us about ourselves and our faith

By Carmen Andres

The Barna Group conducted an online survey last year about people’s movie-watching habits and attitudes. They found the average American saw 1.7 movies in the theater, 10 more on DVD or streaming and still more on cable. Evangelicals saw 2.7 movies at the theater—more than the average.

But most interesting to me was this: Only11 percent of respondents said “they saw a movie in the past year that made them think more seriously about religion, spirituality or faith.”

Really? With Pew Research indicating 73 percent of Americans identify as Christian, I think this response may have more to do with how we approach films than the films themselves.

Maybe we don’t feel spiritually challenged by films because our culture encourages us to compartmentalize—put our faith in one box and our movie watching in another. Or perhaps we think of the culture around us as secular or absent of God and include movies in that.

But if we pay attention, movies can tell us about ourselves, the world and our ownstory. In an interview with Christianity Today, film critic Jeffrey Overstreet reflects, “A good movie is truthful—whether the subject is something beautiful or something terrible, whether it’s an inspiring story of a virtuous hero or a troubling story about bad choices and painful consequences.”

Movies have the capacity to reflect something of the truest and best story, the one in which we all live and breathe. Movies can reflect God’s truth and help us understand it in our lives today.

“I visualize an arch with one end anchored in the ancient world and the other in a contemporary cultural situation,” writes Robert Jewett inSaint Paul at the Movies. He looks for “parallel stories” in film that resonate with the stories in Scripture: “I look for the spark that flies between the two arches of the biblical text and the contemporary film.”

What we find, says Jewett, will help us understand biblical truth and “throw light on contemporary situations.” How can we be more open to encountering those sparks?

First, we need to start thinking about movies as stories with the capacity to, as Jewett puts it, “disclose truth in their own right.” How does that truth help us better understand ourselves, the world and our own story?

We shouldn’t be quick to dismiss genres that don’t seem valuable. The Barna survey notes the most-attended films among evangelicals were The Avengers (42 percent) and The Hunger Games (36 percent). Both stories have elements that bring God-talk into open spaces.

Don’t stay away from a film just because it is dark or has suffering. There is value in these stories. “In depicting darkness, art…can also serve as a vivid reminder of the world that ought to be,” says Brett McCracken in Relevant magazine. “(T)he redemption journey moves through all manner of blood-curdling atrocities and skin-tingling horrors along the way—and the gospel is all the more beautiful because of it.”

That doesn’t mean every story is worth viewing. “Each person needs to know their conscience and their weaknesses,” Overstreet says. “That means we need to do more than check the film’s rating.”

Read about the films you see. Some critics’ reviews are informed by their faith. Talk with others about the stories and the issues they raise. If the films we watched last year didn’t make us think more seriously about our faith, perhaps we didn’t choose wisely or didn’t watch well.

Carmen Andres is a freelance writer and former CL editor who lives in Alexandria, Va. She blogs at This article is reprinted from Mennonite Weekly Review.


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