During our first COVID-19 summer, most of us found ourselves stuck at home, and understandably spending way too much time watching television. Dan Brendsel shares some interesting observations on why we watch movies. Stay tuned for a six-part series as we explore our love for movies.
Of course we must add a disclaimer: Just because we discuss a film here is not necessarily a recommendation to watch it. To find out how to research movie content before watching, take a look at the following blog post: What Are We Watching Tonight, by Carolina Dalmas.
Why do we watch films? Most often, I have found that when I ask this question of myself or other Christians, the answer amounts to one of two things:
- We watch movies as a diversion/distraction/decompression/entertainment/escape, or
- We don’t really know why we watch movies, but we just do (because it’s normal, because everyone watches movies, don’t they?).
There is nothing inherently wrong (and perhaps much good!) in the first response, though it is crucial to ask why there might be good in such a motivation and function for watching movies.
The second response, however, is problematic (and also lazy). Many of us spend some time, possibly much time, viewing films (or, as an increasingly close analog, television).
There are always functional and implicit reasons we do this, even if we have never paused to consider what they are. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our decisions and the use of our time are tied to impulses and motivations and sensibilities and desires. Identifying those reasons is well worth the effort for people who seek to submit to a LORD who is other than (though not necessarily in conflict with) our impulses and motivations and interests and desires.
Sometimes we will find that the impulses and sensibilities and motivations that lead us to spend time watching movies are less than commendable (that is, out of keeping with the character and purposes of God). But that does not mean that there are no good reasons and motivations and pursuits in the watching of films.
I want to suggest six such good impulses and aims for movie watching. These are not meant as an argument that we all should watch movies (some people don’t spend much time doing so, and there is no need to persuade them to do otherwise); rather, these are some ideas for how we might better redeem time that many of us already do spend at the box office (or with our current social distancing rules, with our Roku's or Apple TV's). By no means is this a comprehensive list of proper motivations and aims in watching movies. It is, instead, a group of suggestions.
So why might we as Christians go to the movies? Over the next six weeks we will discuss the following reasons:
- To stir up conversations with others.
- To “defamiliarize” reality.
- To see through the eyes of others.
- To be transformed.
- To admire beauty.
- To understand culture.
1. To stir up conversations with others.
In the beginning was the Word.
At the beginning and root of all reality is a Word, and for that reason, words matter deeply. At the beginning and root of all reality is love and communion between Father, Son, and Spirit, and for that reason, our interrelation and communion with other people (often by way of words) matter deeply.
We were made for fellowship through words. Conversation is part of our created human nature. Unfortunately, conversation is, it seems to me, something of a lost art. Being able to talk with others for an hour or two, without an agenda, uninterrupted, engaged deeply by the person(s) before us and dialoguing over things that really matter is something that is increasingly hard to do (our attentions are diverted elsewhere by, among many other things, the delightful flow of text messages we receive).
Rich and attentive and lasting conversation is increasingly hard to enter into and sustain. One of the consistent ripple effects of movie-watching is the conversation that tends to follow. Rarely do we simply watch a movie only, but we also regularly go on to talk with others about the films we watch.
Films frequently stir up conversation, or at least the beginnings of conversation. In our home, we have hosted weekly small group Bible studies for young adults for over a decade. One summer, a few years back, we decided to use the summer months to discuss a handful of recent films.
Perhaps the most remarkable and surprising development from that summer was that individuals who had been a part of our small group for years, and who in all that time had hardly said a word in our weekly Bible study discussions, all of a sudden began entering into the discussions about the films we watched together!
By some deep magic, movies pull our voices out of our throats, throwing us into dialogue with others. They provide an easy entry point into the beginnings of conversation, whether with friends or family or neighbors and co-workers, with believers and unbelievers alike.
In fact, the mere watching of a movie with a desire to understand it and learn from it is, in a manner, the beginning of a conversation, in this case with the maker of the movie, who, presumably since the effort has been made to make the movie, has something to say to us viewers. Admittedly, there are [many] movies that have little to say because they are made mainly for the making of lots of cash for the makers and the studios.
There is, of course, a world of difference between deep, meaningful, relationship-strengthening, personally stretching conversation, on the one hand, and small talk, on the other (which my dictionary defines as polite conversation about unimportant matters).
There is a world of difference between dialogue about the yearning for and nature of revenge in Gladiator (and about why we so thirst for such revenge as we watch the film), and telling each other that “the fight scenes were cool” and “Russell Crowe is awesome.” There’s even a world of difference between simply saying that “the fight scenes were cool” or “Russell Crowe is awesome,” and asking why we thought the fights scenes were “cool” (what about these scenes was compelling to us and why) and why we like Russell Crowe's characters so much.
Movies don’t automatically deepen our skills in the art of conversation. They can stir up small talk just as easily as they can stir up enriching conversation. However, they provide a good entry point into meaningful conversations, and for that reason are worthy of attending to more carefully.