No offense to professors and pastors, but the most influential philosophers and religious teachers in our nation are its screenwriters, producers, directors, actors, and soundtrack artists.
These artist-priests convey their worldviews and dogmas through Hollywood movies, which are unusually powerful and effective media for conveying messages, making impressions, and rousing emotions. They create an imaginative world with powerful stories, moving scenes, memorable one-liners, and catchy songs that make it easy for us to buy into the movie’s view of the world.
Movie directors such as Quentin Tarrantino, Oliver Stone, and M. Night Shyamalan probably exert a broader influence on Americans than any three professional theologians we might select. Movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Despicable Me have most likely captivated more people this decade than religious books such as Mere Christianity or Knowing God. Soundtracks by Lynyrd Skynrd (Joe Dirt 2) or Beyonce (Fifty Shades of Grey) presumably have more access to American homes than podcasts or sermon series by Matt Chandler or John Piper.
Given the amount of time Americans spend watching movies and television each year, visual entertainment likely shapes many American Christians’ fundamental desires and ways of thinking more than their pastors and churches do.
In light of the pervasive influence of Hollywood movies (and soundtracks), therefore, I offer “How to Watch a Movie: An Evangelical Guide,” a series of brief articles exploring how to evaluate a movie’s “story” (rather than, say, its special effects) in light of the Bible’s story.
If we can learn to evaluate a movie’s storyline, we can more easily ensure that the movie experience doesn’t shape our thoughts and desires more than the Bible’s story does. Additionally, we can more easily discuss movies and television with our neighbors, as a way of engaging in meaningful conversations with them about life’s most important questions.
In the following posts, we will:
- Summarize the Bible’s storyline. Taken together, the Bible’s 66 books reveal the true story of the whole world; they teach us about God, the world, humanity, knowledge, morality, history, death, and redemption.
- Discuss the nine components of a Hollywood movie’s storyline. Our ability to identify these nine components will enable us to understand the movie’s message.
- Discuss the storylines of two popular Hollywood movies in order to illustrate those nine components.
- Discuss six prominent themes that appear in Hollywood movies, illustrating each theme with one or two Hollywood blockbusters.
- Anticipate some objections to my approach and conclude with an encouragement to watch movies with wisdom and discernment.
In this series, I rely upon what I have learned from a variety of resources, including Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Worldviews, Robert Johnston’s Reel Spirituality, and Bryan Stone’s Faith and Film. I want to acknowledge Brian Godawa especially, as his movie criticism (via Hollywood Worldviews and his web-based movie reviews) have influenced nearly everything I’ve written in this series in one way or another. I hope the installments in “How to Watch a Movie” will cause the reader to read Hollywood Worldviews and other similarly helpful resources.