In the fifth part of our series, Why Do We Watch Films, author Dan Brendsel focusses on the ways in which films can demonstrate the power and majesty of beauty. As a friendly reminder, the films mentioned in the article are not necessarily a recommendation. Please do your own research before watching any of the films named in this series.
To admire beauty ...
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
There is a power and an authority to beauty (how could there not be since God is the very fullness of beauty and glory?). There is goodness and enrichment, even at times healing and renewal, that we experience when beholding beauty.
Standing before the beauty of the Grand Canyon takes our breath away and renews us. When beholding such beauty, do we think of our self-importance, of our problems, of our lusts and idolatries? Are we not, at least for one blissful instant, freed from such pettiness and vanity, enraptured by true beauty and glory and weight?
I believe we ought to expose ourselves to true beauty and glory. Just as importantly, we may need to cultivate attentiveness (the skill of “dwelling on”) and an appreciation for beauty, as well as the aesthetic sensibilities and discernment to identify it.
There are many films that offer portrayals of loveliness and purity and excellence that are worthy of “dwelling on.” It may be cinematographic beauty (as in The Tree of Life or Bright Star), or moral beauty (as in the beauty of the moral transformation and self-sacrificial love of Rodrigo Mendoza in The Mission), or material and vocational beauty (as in the celebration of food and vocation in the film Babette’s Feast, which is literally entirely about the cooking of a meal).
It goes without saying that there are plenty of films that offer very little by way of beauty, that revel in ugliness for the sake of ugliness, or that are lazily and confusingly and disorderedly put together (e.g., consider the confused jumble of images in a famous chase-scene from The Dark Knight, which Jim Emerson humorously analyzes).
Beauty may also be co-opted into the service of idolatry (the adulteress in Prov 9 is enticingly beautiful, which is what attracts the naïve to her banquet in the grave). Again, this underlines the need for discernment, and it also alerts us to the importance of developing a growing skill at discerning beauty in films (beauty/order/excellence both in the film’s “message,” as it were, and in its “form”).
We respond to beauty, though, because of how we are made. Being created in the image of God, there is something inside us that is highly responsive to beauty.
“When we realize that God is the perfection of all that we long for or desire, that he is the summation of everything beautiful or desirable, then we realize that the greatest joy of the life to come will be that we “shall see his face.”
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
Therefore, when we see glimpses of beauty in nature or in works of art, there is something in our experience of that beauty that pings inside of us. Paying attention to beauty can be a way for us to connect to our desire to enjoy the beauty of God. Films as works of art resonate with depictions of beauty. This can be created through compelling camera angles, the use of lighting or masterful script writing.
In each of the articles of this series, we have looked at how films give us interesting avenues to analyze and discuss films. As you watch films with your family, talking about what is beautiful in a film can be a rich and rewarding experience. Let us know in the comments what films or scenes you have found beautiful