Tagmovies

Some notes about Hollywood Films

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

“Can’t we just watch it?!”

When watching a movie in class, many of my students complain when I stop it in order to engage in a discussion of what the movie is presenting.  My response to their “Can’t we just watch it?” is always, sure.  “Sure, this Friday night, in your living room.”  But to be truthful, I don’t believe that we should ever “just watch” a movie.

We need to be aware of what they are presenting as truth or reality.

I’ve written about movies before: R Rated Movies, Does Movie Violence Affect the Viewer?, Language, Sex and Violence–What will we Watch?, The Demonic and the Stupid, A Negative Times a Negative Equals a Positive.  Here are some notes that I don’t think I’ve yet posted:

Movies always show a hero who needs something.

  • What they need is often not what they think they need.
  • Friends, trials, even enemies help the hero to realize what they need.
  • In the end, the hero has an opportunity to take it.
  • It’s interesting to analyze movies on the basis of what the storytellers insist the hero needs.
  • In Hollywood it’s almost always romantic love.

Masculinity, Femininity, Love and Sex

  • Male heroes often have a problem with authority–they need freedom?
  • Masculinity in the movies is muscles, emotional restraint, dominance, aggression, sexual prowess and the capacity for violence.
  • Femininity in movies presents the woman as passive and finding her identity in the man. She is expected to be sexually chaste and resist the advances of the male.
  • Sex is a physical expression of romantic love. She was chaste until she realized that she was “in love,” and this is within the rules.
  • Love in Hollywood: Romantic love is passionate, irresistible and able to conquer anything, including barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personal conflicts.

Hopeful and Materialistic

  • We like things to wrap up nicely and leave us with a sense of hope for the future.
  • Hollywood films must be rational.  We need a knowable, physical cause for everything.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I just got back from watching Mad Max: Fury Road .

[SPOILER ALERT]

It didn’t take me too long to wonder if I had made a mistake–it’s a bit over the top. The world into which we are dropped is pretty terrible–I expected it to be terrible, but not that gross. But the filmmakers are building upon so many other movies in this genre since the original post-apocalyptic Mad Max and its sequel, Road Warrior, that they obviously felt they needed to ratchet up the terribleness a notch or two. I can’t say that I ever got to the point where I felt all the dirt, defects, and disgusting were worth it, but the movie does make a pretty important and interesting religious statement.

Mad Max? Religious?

Mad Max: Fury Road–Christian Imagery

Yes, the terms hope, redemption, and salvation are uttered by the characters and the story is built upon these religious ideas.

It’s an allegory. We live in a world that’s pretty horrible–scarcity, exploitation and religious fanaticism are the order of the day.

At the top are the exploiters. Their power is maintained through a combination of withholding life-giving water, and other physical necessities, occasionally offering a meager “gift” from their bounty.  The exploiters let the oppressed fight each other for these gifts and through promises of rewards in the afterlife, they buy loyalty and sacrifice in this world.

These are the basic evils that concern your average middle-class North American and, more so, the world’s poor.

Sehnsucht

Human beings long for a better world–C. S. Lewis uses the German word Sehnsucht to describe this inherent “longing,” or “yearning” that results from knowing we live in a world that we know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be.

Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is a character of Sehnsucht; her dissatisfaction with the world comes from a childhood memory of “The Green Place”–read, The Garden of Eden. It is her mission to get back to the green place with four beautiful women who have been used as breeders for the corrupt warlord of The Citadel.

It is interesting that where the Biblical narrative moves from a garden in Genesis to a city in The Book of Revelation, the story in the new Mad Max movie moves from city to garden. This reversal is central to the religious statement at the centre of the film.

Heroic Women

One of the things I like about this movie is that the women are actually heroic rather than passive victims waiting to be rescued by a man. This is also a reflection of a positive trend in our culture. There are two men that help out a lot, but the success and fulfillment of the women does not rest solely in the hands of the male heroes.

Max and Furiosa are equally heroic and they even swap traditional gender roles; Furiosa is the better shot, where Max is the healer.  The rest of the band of heroes are comprised of young and beautiful, but also capable, girls and the old, sandy, wizened, desert women which are also formidable in their fight against the exclusively male band of evil guys.

Firiosa is going to lead her crew, sans Max, across the salt flats where they hope they can find a place to begin life again and perhaps plant the invaluable seeds that they carry. They are, allegorically, going to re-establish the Garden, but, in the context of the movie, the garden is blended into the future hope of Heaven.

Max turns them from this goal toward Eden/Heaven.  It’s not certain that such a place exists.  What is certain is that The Citadel has enough water to begin again. They turn away from uncertainty toward certainty.

They return to The Citadel, conquer the bad guys and distribute water to the thirsty masses.

Allegory of Hope

Mad Max: Fury Road is an allegory that describes how a lot of people in our culture understand hope, redemption and salvation.

Our world has some big problems and we need salvation from the rich, powerful, or religious exploiters if we are going to have a better world.   But we no longer believe our redemption will come from an afterlife–our only hope is to do it ourselves, here and now.  This will take courage and sacrifice (and men and women working together), but we just might have a chance if we get out from under the control of the 1% and the religious leaders who exploit the rest of us for their own personal gain.

In a nutshell, Mad Max: Fury Road shows that, rather than risk an uncertain Heaven, we'll take a degraded Eden of our own making. Click To Tweet

Although many found this movie entertaining, I’m afraid they won’t find it satisfying. The Sehnsucht we are experiencing will not be satisfied by crawling out from under the thumbs of the exploiters. Nor will it result from a hard flight to return to the Garden.

Our true longings will only be satisfied when we live in the city for which we were made–the City described in Revelation 21.

The Equalizer

Skitterphoto / Pixabay

I just finished watching The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington. It’s a movie like many in the genre.

[SPOILER ALERT]

There are bad guys and the good guy kills them all.

The bad guys are dirty cops and various levels of the Russian mafia. They make a lot of money doing bad things to everybody, but what makes them really despicable is that they do bad things to young girls. Like I said, they are bad.

Then there’s our hero–he’s good because he protects the young girls and other meeker people. Although he looks like a mild-mannered Home Depot guy (the movie uses a different name, but they ain’t fooling anybody) who likes to read books and drink tea in his spare time, he kills four armed thugs in less than 30 seconds.

We’ve seen this movie hundreds of times, the only thing in this sort of movie is if the hero dies at the end or not–always in exchange for the life and/or happiness of the former victim. I won’t tell you if Denzel survives or not since that will be the only “surprise” in this movie.

Still, I liked the movie. And I’ve liked most of the hundred that I already saw. The one with Clint or Jean Claude or Arnold or Harrison or Wesley or Steven or Bruce or Jackie. You get the idea.

We Love Justice

Why do we like these movies so much? Why do they get away with giving us the same story again and again?

It’s because we really want it to be true. We want to watch the bad people get what’s coming to them, and we want the innocent to be rescued and given their life back. We want to see justice–we need to see justice.

It’s interesting that this impulse is so strong in Western moviegoers who rarely experience the sorts of injustices that are daily fare in many other parts of the world. If experiencing justice is such a rush for us, imagine how important it is for those who actually experience the intense injustice that we only experience in the theatre.

We also know that we will never see the kind of justice we crave unless this is true.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;

no one will hear his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.

In his name the nations will put their hope.

(Isaiah 42:1-4, see also Matthew 12:15-21)

Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Cosmetics and Self-Sacrifice

Catching Fire

Loved it!

OK, now the thing that really set me off.

Before I was born, the film was preceded by newsreels — meaningful because it was informative with a little propaganda thrown in for good measure.

When I was a kid, the movie was preceded by a cartoon–meaningless, but entertaining.

Now, the film is preceded by commercials–demeaningful.  They are demeaning.  They reduce audiences of people to mere consumers.

The Worst Commercial Possible

One of the commercials that preceded the latest adventure of Katniss Everdeen as she, once again, squares off against the evils of the Capital, was for a new line of makeup for Cover Girl.

And the name of this new, somewhat outlandish line?

The CAPITAL Line!

The trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is in the genre of dystopian fiction. That is, it presents a horrible world against which the protagonist must contend. The whole point of this genre, and therefore this particular movie, is to be a warning. By exaggerating and projecting into the future an aspect or aspects of our present-day culture, this movie makes us more aware of our vice, or (at least) our folly.

The Capital is frivolous and exploitive. One scene, in particular, brings this home. Our heroes are forced to attend a Capital party where there are so many good things to eat, Peeta laments he cannot try them all. He is immediately offered a beverage that will empty his stomach of its contents so that he may start all over again. The irony of this is not lost on Katniss who comments that many in the districts starve while they provide all the resources for those in the Capital to maintain their lifestyle of excess. Oh, and as an external symbol of the Capital’s excess –meaningless adornment.

Enter Cover Girl’s Capital Line of cosmetics.

If the audience were capable of absorbing the core meaning of this film, Cover Girl would right now be attempting to recover from one of the greatest advertising debacles in history.  Young women would be rushing home from the theatre to post pictures to Facebook of them destroying all their Cover Girl products, or shooting kabob skewers at magazine-ad targets with bows made of pencils and rubber-bands.

But alas, Cover Girl didn’t make a mistake.

They know that we are capable of believing one thing and doing another.

Knowing and Doing

We can root for Katniss and everything she stands for, while in our theatre seats, but when we walk into the air, we become, once again, the citizens of the Capital, blind to our frivolous and exploitive lifestyle.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Cover Girl, particularly. I’m sure they no longer test their products on baby seals, but that they succeed in selling a product line based on the antagonist shows a disconnect.

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon buying a compact car called the Grendel, or the medieval peasants wearing Turk Brand jeans, or the British public ordering up a pint of Prussian Ale–in 1916. It wouldn’t be possible.

Why can Cover Girl get away with it today?

Because we are different than our predecessors.  For them, truth and action were inseparable.

For us, there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Not so, in the movie.  The main virtue celebrated in the film was doing what one knew. 

Katniss and the rest of the good guys knew the Capital was wrong in their exploitation of others and that things needed to change, so they did something about it, even in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.  They each embodied the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice.

As a matter of fact, this is the primary error of President Snow–he assumes that once in the arena, Katniss she will betray her professed altruistic values and become the killing machine he knows her to be.  He is right that if she does this, the revolution will be over.

All of the revolutionaries are banking on her constancy–and she lives up to these expectations.  It is not only Katniss that embodies the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice; for Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, Mags, Fennick, and Prim there is no gap between knowing and doing.

I loved this movie because it was true, but does it really do any good if we don’t act on that truth?

And do we really live in an age when art no longer has any effect?

Jesus and Injustice: 12 Years a Slave

12-years-a-slave

I had to drive past two super-sized cinemas, both showing the same eight (bad) movies so I could see 12 years as a Slave.

My wife and I like to see all the movies with Oscar buzz and, given the reviews, thought this one was a must see, so we made the trip. I’m not sure it lives up to the comparison with Shindler’s List, but it was good.

(Spoiler Alert)

It was good, but I was a little irritated by the portrayal of Christianity in the film.

Christians in 12 Years A Slave

Not only were the slave owners explicitly Christian, but the one sympathetic character–the one who boldly expressed abolitionist ideals–was not. The most abusive slave owner–the one who had his slaves whipped if their daily cotton picking was less than the day before, the one who regularly raped his best worker, the one who shredded the back of a defenseless woman–used the Bible to justify his behavior. Mr. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is the savior of Solomon Northrup, the protagonist of the film. Bass’ opposition to slavery is based on a vague objective equality inherent in all men.  Where did this idea?

It is historically accurate to present slave owners justifying the institution of slavery with the Bible. It is also, certainly, true that some of those who opposed slavery were freethinkers like Bass—unaffiliated with Christianity.

But I was irritated that the filmmakers chose to associate Christianity with the injustice of slavery and ignore the fact that Christians played a major role in the Abolitionist Movement.

Throughout history, men have used whatever it takes to justify their own greed or lust for power. Within a Christian culture, such men will use Christianity to do so. This, however, does not make them Christians–to be Christian, one must walk in the footsteps of Christ. One need only read a few chapters of one of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John to see how Jesus would respond to slavery.

It was a Christian view of humanity that fuelled the abolitionists’ opposition to slavery.

I thought the movie overlooked this fact.

I was angered by the injustice of slavery as I watched this movie. I caught myself thinking, “If I were there, I would have done something.” Almost instantly, I recalled that our world is full of injustice today–including slavery.

Modern Slavery

It is the love of and for Jesus that motivates the International Justice Mission. There are millions of victims of slavery in the world today. IJM is doing something about it. Working with local officials, IJM rescues victims of slavery and sexual exploitation and they prosecute the perpetrators of these injustices.

IJM, and Christian organizations like it, are doing exactly what the makers of 12 years as a Slave hold up as the ideal, and they do it in the name of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the movie applies his name to those whose motives and behaviours are most contrary to his.

The movie is obviously concerned with exposing injustice. But I wonder about the long-term effect of consistently presenting Christians as those who perpetuate hate and injustice.

I worry, but won’t be surprised, that it will result in some new forms of injustice.

 

Bad stuff in movies can be Good, if you do the math.

Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

I never really understood math.

Apparently I could do it, because I got Bs in my math classes, but doing it and understanding it was not the same thing.  My strategy was to look at the pattern in the sample question and repeat the pattern in the exercises.  The trick on the test was just to apply the right pattern.  This was hit an miss.

I never understood why multiplying a negative by a negative was a positive.

(-n)·(-n)=n

It took 30 years, but I now understand this, until recently, impenetrable mystery, and I understand it because I understand that sex, violence, and coarse language are not necessarily a bad thing in movies.

[tweetshare tweet=”I now understand how (-n)(-n)=n, because I understand that #sex, #violence, and #coarselanguage are not necessarily a bad thing in a movie.” username=”Dryb0nz”]

Math teachers have been telling me for a long time that “a negative times a negative is a positive,” but I never understood how this was possible.   It was counter-intuitive as far as I was concerned—a special knowledge reserved for great a mathematical shaman like Mr. Stauffer, my high school math teacher.  Multiplying negatives ought to result in a whole lot more negative.

But I know understand how this could be possible.

Sexual Content, Violence, and Coarse Language

Many people, when it comes to the movies we watch, think that strong language, sex/nudity, drug use, and violence are things to avoid (for more on this topic, read “Dog poop in the Brownies”).

I was talking to someone who had this view and heard myself saying, “A movie can have ‘bad’ things in it, but not be a ‘bad’ movie.”  I was talking about Groundhog Day.  Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, was doing bad things like driving drunk and having sex with a woman to whom he was not married.

Because this movie condemns this bad behaviour, this movie is good.

Math Exercises

Exercise 1  — Instructions: Reduce the following  to an equation (show your work):

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors is drunk driving and manipulating a woman into having sex with him because when he wakes up in the morning the day will reset and nothing he’s done will have happened.  A day without consequences.  Early in the movie, Phil Connors is incredibly self-centered.  When he realizes he is caught in a time loop he uses people to satisfy his selfish desires.

Groundhog Day is critical of Connors’ selfish behaviour.

Being critical of a bad thing is a good thing.  

A negative, shown to be negative, is positive.

(-n)·(-n)=n

(drunk driving)(is dangerous) = a true statement.

The math just works.

If a movie has a bad thing in it and calls it good, it’s bad.

(-n)·n = -n

(drug use)(is good) = a false statement.

A positive (shown to be) negative is negative.

n·(-n) = -n

(sexual purity)(is silly) = a false statement.

A positive (shown to be) positive is positive.

n·n=n

(performing the Heimlich maneuver)(is good) = a true statement.

The key, then, to assessing the good, true and beautiful in a movie involves discerning the movie’s stance toward the false, evil and perverse in a film.

It’s more than adding up the # of objectionable words/phrases, etc.

The Test

Failure to understand the implicit attitude toward these things in a movie places both of the following movies in the same category.

Parental Advisory #1

  • Sex/Nudity: sexually related dialogue and gestures
  • Drugs/Alcohol: drinking, marijuana is used; mention of other drugs
  • Violence/Scariness: people are killed; gunfire; fighting
  • Objectionable Words/Phrases: 295

Parental Advisory #2

  • Sex/Nudity: sexually related dialogue
  • Drugs/Alcohol: drinking, smoking
  • Violence/Scariness: fatal shooting, beating up, intimidation of others
  • Objectionable Words/Phrases: 140

The first is Pineapple Express, the second, Gran Torino.

Don’t see the first; don’t miss the second.

 

The Demonic and the Stupid

I went to see Looper on opening night.

There’s plenty to talk about in this movie, but too many people haven’t seen it yet and I don’t want to spoil it for them.

My experience in the theatre that night had me thinking that two more points should be added to the list that I started in the last post (Read “. . . Will We Watch?”).   There, I suggested that we might consider having two standards regarding Language, violence and sexual content in movies.   Movies that explore what it means to be human can have greater latitude for including this adult content, and a film that is just for entertainment, less so.

The principle is: language, violence and sexual content can be a means to an end, but not an end in themselves.  To these I’d like to add the demonic and the stupid.

One of the films previewed before the feature presentation was Sinister.  The preview scared me spitless.  I cannot declare with certainty that this movie even has a demon in it, nor can I say with certainty that that this movie is using the demonic as entertainment.  But, I think, based on the trailer, it’s likely.

Even if it’s not, I know that this type of movie is not good for me to see.  This is a bit tangential, but an important point when it comes to movie viewing.  Not everyone can view everything.  For some, sexual content needs to be avoided as a matter of course.  For others, this isn’t an issue, but violence is.  For me, it’s the demonic.

Even though the demonic in The Exorcist is a means to an end, this type of content is something I avoid.  Dicerning movie viewer need to know themselves.

The Exocist (1973) is such a film in that it deals with important themes and in many ways it affirms Christian understanding of reality.   The presentation of the demonic was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.  This is more than can be said of the flood of “supernatural thrillers” that followed.  Like sex, and violence, the demonic is not to be glorified or celebrated or simply exploited for entertainment purposes.

Nor is the stupid.  I was reminded of this by Jeff Daniels.

Jeff Daniels plays the role of Abe in Looper.   He also played Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber (1994).   I admit some parts were pretty funny and a quite clever.  This is probably one of the best in the genre—but it spawned a long string of movies that celebrate utter stupidity.   Most fall far short of clever and don’t have the same level of talent (Daniel’s co-star was Jim Carrey).

These movies compensate for their lack of cleverness and comedic talent, with more stupidity and crudity.   I’m not sure if it’s even possible to have stupidity as a means to an end.  Maybe that’s why most of these movies are simply stupid, and because we can’t send them to their room for misbehaving, we can only ignore them and hope, that without an audience, they will stop.

Language, Sex, and Violence — Will We Watch?

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

“If it’s not appropriate for children, it’s not appropriate for anyone.”

I’ve always had trouble with this idea, because if I took that approach, I’d no longer be able to read my Bible.

I have been told by those who can read the original languages in which the Bible has been written that some of the language is pretty course, especially in the prophets. And you don’t need to read the original language to find sexual content both the beautiful stuff, like The Song of Songs, and the repellant, the story of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30-36) comes to mind. There’s also plenty of violence. When I was young, my imagination played the tent peg story (Judges 4:21) and the murder of Eglon (Judges 3:12-30) clearly on the screen of my mind.

The good folks down at the Skeptics Annotated Bible give the following, tongue in cheek, review of the Bible using the same categories that some concerned Christian groups give to movies:

• Sex/Nudity: 197
• Drugs/Alcohol: no information
• Violence/Scariness: 957
• Objectionable Words/Phrases: 180

Their jibe does make a point.

Rather than using the naively using the MPAA rating system or a misunderstanding of Philippians 4:8, I would like to suggest a new standard by which discerning parents, can determine what movies to watch with their older children or patronize themselves.

A New Standard for Evaluating Movies

It is not the language, sexual content and violence in and of themselves that should keep us from reading the Bible. It is not the presence of Sex/Nudity, Drugs/Alcohol, Violence/Scariness or Objectionable words/Phrases that should prevent us from going to movies.

It is how these things are treated in the move. If they are treated as the Bible treats them, maybe we can watch them. Maybe we even OUGHT to watch them? You see, I’m not just looking for a loophole to get away with watching whatever movie I want.

Art—and movies are art—is a dialogue about what it means to be human. It explores the good and beautiful; it also explores the evil and sin, and it explores the need and longing for redemption.  All movies are about these things.

Experiencing art broadens and deepens our experience and, therefore our understanding of our neighbours. Understanding the language of film, and how to talk about it, makes us better able to attend to, and even contribute to, the dialogue and, thus, be more effective servants to God and neighbour.

Art has this serious purpose, but it can also be fun. This distinction is important when we talk about movies and some of the more adult content they often contain.

“Just for Fun” or “Getting Serious”

Movies have two functions that occupy points on a continuum. On one side are movies which are made to provide consumers with pleasure or entertainment. Commercial success is the primary goal so these movies are designed to help large numbers of people. This is not in itself a bad thing. Because they want to attract as many viewers as possible, they have to provide a good product, and they need a PG rating, so they don’t have strong language, nudity, or realistic violence.—if successful, everybody wins. I would classify The Avengers (2012) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) as a film that occupies this end of the spectrum.

On the other end are movies that are made in the hopes that it may broaden, deepen or sharpen our awareness of the human experience. These have a more artistic purpose and they demand more from us in that they attempt to bring us more deeply into life’s joys and struggles, while they and often produce empathy in the audience. Precious (2009) or Ordinary People (1980) perhaps fit into this category.

Because this is a continuum, movies usually occupy some point between the two ends of the spectrum. Some lean toward the entertainment side but still tell us something about life—Finding Nemo. Others tell us something serious about life, but while they do it, they entertain—Little Miss Sunshine.

Too much sex, violence, and language?

How much language, sexual content, and violence we are willing to tolerate in a film has something to do with where it is on the continuum. Movies that are on the entertainment side of the continuum ought to have a minimum of language, sexual content, and realistic violence. These things are a means to an end, and they ought not to be an end in themselves. If they are presented as such, discerning viewers will avoid them.

But because language, sexuality, and violence are a part of the human experience, they can be in the sorts of films that bring us into reality. Context matters a great deal here. The nudity presented in Spielberg’s, Schindler’s List (1993) is much different than the nudity presented in American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (2006). The first shows the humiliation and abuse of women in a very dark time in human history, and the other objectifies women for the viewing pleasure of its male audience.

I have never been impacted by a scene of violence as much as the opening scenes of A Time to Kill (1993). 10-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally attacked by two rednecks. These two white racists are caught boasting about what they did to Tonya. Her father, played by Samuel L. Jackson is understandably distraught and, recalling an incident a year previous when four white men were acquitted after raping an African-American girl in a nearby town. He is determined that justice will be done. So he shoots and kills the smirking rednecks as they leave their arraignment.

The violence of the initial attack is intense, but it was necessary for us to share some of the horror and violation of the act so that we could empathize with the distraught father who killed the men who attacked his daughter. The rest of the film involves his trial for murder. There is no doubt that he is guilty, but we understand his actions because we watched the event that motivated his decision to kill. Had you read this story in the newspaper, you’d likely be able to offer a flippant opinion about who’s right in this case, but by your participation in the violence, the issue is at least more complicated and your empathy makes you a better neighbour.

The violence in this movie is not the end, it is the means to an end, and that end is the honest exploration of the human condition.

“Faking It”

There are some movies that seem to say something significant about life and human experience, but are really presenting sentimental and over simplistic views of life. One such movie is Remember the Titans, which the filmmakers would have you believe is a realistic representation of how a football team overcame issues of racism and hatred to win the state championship. Although, based on a true story, racism in the real world is not so easily dealt with and movies that tell us that it is are not doing us any good.

Food Analogy

The following analogy might be helpful.

  • The movies which are just for entertainment are like home-made apple pie with a scoop of good quality ice cream; they are really good, but you oughtn’t to have a steady diet of the stuff.
  • The artistic film that brings us into reality is like a well-balanced meal—I’m thinking turkey dinner here—they are good for the soul.
  • Then there are the TV-dinner type movies that pretend to be saying something about life, they got processed turkey and mushy vegetables, but they are really giving us such a simplified version of reality that we’re better off eating the pie.
  • The ones that are full of sex, violence, or base humour are analogous to chocolate covered dog poop—they might look good in the trailers, but you won’t like the taste it leaves in your mouth.

Art has this serious purpose, but it can also be fun. This distinction is important when we talk about movies and some of the more adult content they often contain.

Does movie violence affect the viewer?

Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Does movie media violence desensitize?

I heard this question asked the other night.  They didn’t ask me, but if they did, I’d have said, I didn’t think so.  The reason is that I have been exposed to a lot of media violence.  I have played Counter Strike and Call of Duty for over 10 years and have watched a lot of movie violence.

Even after all this, when I see an actual act of violence, I have an instant significant emotional, even physical, reaction to it.  The 1968 execution of Captain Bảy Lốp is one example.  I saw it once.  It affected me profoundly and I will not willingly see it again.

Based on this evidence, I would suggest that all my exposure to game and cinematic violence has not desensitized me to real violence.

The person to whom this question was actually addressed claimed there is no doubt that movie violence affects the viewer.

In one sense this is certainly true—one of the purposes of film, indeed all art, is to affect the viewer.  I think, though, that behind the statement was the tacit assumption that movie violence has significant negative effect.

I wouldn’t have been too worried about this claim except that it wasn’t about the violence in John Wick or The Walking Dead.  It was about the action sequences in The Avengers.  I wasn’t so sure about that.

Who is most affected by Media Violence?

James Potter brings together many studies on the effects of violence in On Media Violence.  Ted Turnau summarizes Potter’s findings in his book, Popologetics.

The data suggests that media violence can have an effect of viewers, “but the kinds of effects and the depth of those effects vary greatly depending on the individual viewer and his or her contexts.”

Those who are most affected media violence are:

  • those who watch a lot of television;
  • those who cannot differentiate between types of violence (small children or the mentally disabled);
  • those who already have an aggressive personality;
  • those who are already emotionally upset or angry when they see an episode of violence.

According to the research, “Family background seems to play an important role as well.  Children who come from strong families that teach children that violence is not acceptable do not act out aggressively after seeing media violence.”

Portrayal of Media Violence makes a difference.

How violence is portrayed also makes a significant difference as to how much it will affect a viewer.

Violence seems to have more of an effect

  • when the violence is portrayed realistically;
  • when violence is seen by the viewer as justified;
  • when the violent act seems to have no consequences;
  • when the violent act goes unpunished;
  • when the violence is done by an attractive person or a person who is demographically similar to the viewer;
  • when violence in linked to erotic content.

When violence has no effect

Violence seems to have little or no effect on the viewer:

  • when the violence is portrayed in a humourous fashion;
  • when violence is seen as having specific negative effects, such as pain to the victim, or when the perpetrator is punished;
  • when violence is done without malice or a revenge motive by a professional, such as a policeman or a soldier in a war movie.

The research seems to suggest that violence does, in fact, affect the viewers.  But it matters a great deal who the viewer is and the nature of the violence presented.

 

 

Sometimes “Restricted” Means True

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

It happened again today. I sometimes show movie clips to show that literary devices used in great poetry and prose are used in movies as well.  Today’s lesson was Allusion.  I had just hit play on the movie There Will Be Blood (2007) and the big “R” shines on the screen.  From some dark corner of the room, a student utters a mock gasp and says, “My mother won’t be happy I’m watching this.”

It suits my educational purposes to show only the first 10 minutes of the film until Daniel Day Lewis holds up his oil covered hand in Macbethian fashion and my point is made.  We never get to any of the R-rated content.

An R rating is given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to a film if the language, sexuality or violence is considered inappropriate for children under 12 years of age and it recommends parental guidance for those under 17.

The student comment was a joke, but it indicates the reality that the MPAA rating system is being used by parents, even Canadian parents, to decide what movies they will allow their children to see.

This makes some sense since the purpose of the rating system is to give parents some idea as to the level of language, sexuality, and violence in the film.  And we ought to be concerned about these things.  Harsh language, sexuality, and violence are unsuitable for children.

The problem here is that the rating system assumes that language, sexuality, and violence are all that parents should be concerned about.  There are a few things that I think Christian parents would hold higher that the trio of cinematic vice.

The movie rating system assumes that language, sexuality, and violence are all that parents should be concerned about, but isn't the truth even more important that the absence of this trio of cinematic vice. Click To Tweet

Some parents restrict their viewing, and that of their older children, according to the MPAA rating system.   But when the MPAA rating system is the guide,  some movies are being watched that shouldn’t be, and some are not, that should be.  A “G” or “PG” rating doesn’t mean it’s good and an “R” rating doesn’t mean it’s bad.

When the rating system is our guide, some movies are watched that shouldn't be, and others are not, that should be. A *G* or *PG* rating doesn't mean good and *R* doesn't mean it's bad. #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmoviesClick To Tweet

Let me illustrate what I mean using two movies: Remember the Titans, rated “PG” and Crash, rated R for language, sexual content, and violence.  Both of these movies seem to explore themes related to racism.

Remember the Titans

Dove Foundation reviewers have no problem recommending Remember the Titans to families.

“Well hurray for Hollywood! At last – here’s a story about overcoming bigotry told without profanity, exploitive sex or excessive violence. What’s more, it’s downright entertaining. . . .  If a film is done right, no one is going to leave the theater let down by its wholesomeness.”

One of the things the reviewer got right is that it certainly is entertaining.  And if they are saying that we ought not to indulge in movies where profanity is pointless, sex exploitive and violence excessive, I also agree with them.  But, I would object if they were suggesting that profanity in a movie is inherently wrong, that all sex is exploitive and that any violence is excessive.  They go on:

“[W]e approve of [Remember the Titans] because it represents a concerted effort to tell an uplifting story without the usual ratio of obscene and profane material. If that sounds like a Hallmark card commercial, well, what’s wrong with leaving the theater feeling hopeful and satisfied? Isn’t that the purpose of art – to uplift the spirit of man?”

 Actually, it’s not the purpose of art.  There are two limited understandings of the role of art.  One is that it must contain some moral instruction and the second, it must be beautiful.  Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit of man, but it ought never to do so at the expense of the truth.  If it does it will legitimately be labeled “bad” art.

Do you like feel-good movies? Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit, but it ought never to do so at the expense of the truth. Some movies are fluff disguised as truth. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmoviesClick To Tweet

Why is this movie “uplifting”?  It’s quite simple.  We feel good after viewing it.  The movie begins with a few “good” people and a whole bunch of “bad” people.  The good people are not prejudiced and the bad people are.  The audience, very early on, is led to identify with the good people.  That’s why we feel good after viewing it.

Through the course of the movie we shake our heads at the close-mindedness and cruelty of those racist people, but feel uplifted as more and more characters see the light and join our team of the generous and open-minded non-racists.  This movie reinforces our simplistic preconceptions of the world in general and racism in particular.  Worse, it reinforces, rather than challenges our simplistic preconceptions of ourselves as “good.”

This movie draws too clean a line between good and evil which is not representative of reality.  It suggests racism is simple and easily overcome.  It denies the reality every human being is a racist.  Granted, there are degrees of racism, but to claim one is without any prejudgment on the basis of race, is like claiming one is without sin.

Remember the Titans tells us that there are many people who aren’t racist—most particularly the movie’s audience.  This movie allows the audience to sit comfortably in the knowledge that they are good and open-minded citizens of the world and if the world were full of people like themselves, there would be no racism (and perhaps no sin) in the world.  Certainly an uplifting message.

Sure, one function of art is to “lift up the spirit of man,” but it ought never to do so by lying.  If you are going to take Philippians 4:8 at its word, you are not going to allow your children to watch this movie alone without someone to help them see where this very entertaining movie falls short of the truth—even though there is almost no language, sexual content or violence in the film.

A movie ought never *lift up the spirit* by lying. Philippians 4:8 means to help our children to see where a movie falls short of the truth, even though there's no language, sex or violence. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmoviesClick To Tweet

Crash (2004)

Another of art’s aims is to challenge our faulty preconceptions of the world and ourselves.  Crash won the academy award for best picture in 2005.  Like Remember the Titans, this film deals with racism.

Although commending this film for its acting and cinematography, a reviewer at the Dove Foundation criticizes it because it “generates a very negative perception of America and its inter-racial relationships.”   In other words, Crash does not present a view of the world (or of America) consistent with that of the reviewer.  In this case, this fact ought to commend the movie rather than earn the critic’s castigation.

The Dove Foundation website gives a detailed description of all the sexual content, both shown and talked about, and it describes the acts of violence in the film.  It also itemizes the language:

87 F, 17 S, 11 A, 10 N, 8 H, 3 B, 2 J, 3 C, 7 G/GD, 1 D, 2 OMG, 4 P.

I’m not even sure what all of these mean, but I think it would be a sin for me to sit and try to figure them all out, so I accept that there is strong language in this movie.   For all these reasons, the film does not earn Dove Foundation Approval Rating. Granted, this rating is based on suitability for families, and it is not that.

I want to be clear, this movie is completely inappropriate for younger children.  But, I recommend this movie to any adult who can see past the content.  Why?  Because it’s “excellent” and “praiseworthy”—it’s very well crafted—but it is also “true.”  It gives us a picture of the world in that we see good and evil, not clearly embodied in individual characters, but all mixed together.

The characters I initially judged as “good” do bad things and “bad” people, good things—eventually the categories don’t work anymore.  When you get to this point, you have taken some important steps toward understanding racism.  I came away from this movie convinced that racism isn’t simple, nor is it a problem only out there somewhere, but resides in every human heart, most significantly in mine.

This movie doesn’t uplift the viewer but challenges his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good.

And true.

Some movies don't uplift the viewer but they challenge his assumptions—his prejudices. It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good. And true. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmoviesClick To Tweet

There are many movies out there that ought not to be viewed by anyone, let alone children—some of them are rated G.  It is likely that more of them are rated “R,” and ought to be avoided for their treatment of language, sexuality, and violence.  But there are also those that are not only well crafted but also tell us the truth about ourselves.  And sometimes they have content that earns them the “R” rating because the language, nudity, and violence actually help the film to deliver the truth in a meaningful way that changes us for the better.

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