Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Why We Watch Films, Part 4: Transformation

What is the meaning of transformation? Simply put, it means to be transformed, to challenge one’s own understandings/self-understanding/perspectives/dispositions /character, and thus, to mature.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 3:18

How can watching a film help with this personal and collective transformation?  How can we grow and mature through watching films?

We become what we behold. Or better, human nature is such that we are transformed into the image of that which we contemplate and give our consistent and deep and even reverent attention to. Attentively viewing films is a way of opening ourselves up to formation. There are two points to make here.


Films shape our ideas


1.  Formation


Movies have a shaping effect on us. The preceding points in blog post one through three, have already touched upon some ways in which movies are formative, with the focus being on a good kind of formation that can take place (e.g., truthfully forming our perceptions of reality, forming our hearts for greater sympathy).


But movies can form us for ill as well. Psalm 115 clearly asserts that we become like the idols we make and revere. We can be transformed into the image of idols as we give our attention to them, as we begin to bend our knee in worship to them, as we gaze upon their ways and works. And this can happen through the portrayal of idolatry and idolatrous inclinations in films. Caution is due because we must be discerning as we watch films (and a crucial way to help in this regard is to enter into meaningful dialogue with wise brothers and sisters in Christ about what we watch).

2. The Hope for Formation


A second point is this: in spite of the fact that we can be formed for ill (in idolatrous, disordered ways) by way of our movie watching, we should nevertheless watch movies in the hope of formation.


Films should shape us for the better.


Movie watching should be tied (at least in some way) to the desire for formation, to the desire to grow and mature. There is a way of viewing films (and reading books, and going to church, and living life) that seeks not to grow us into something more mature and renewed, but simply to stimulate what is already present in one’s character.


One way of watching films sets out to watch not in order to grow into greater understanding or deeper emotional life or renewed wonder at reality or more rightly ordered affections, but simply in order to kick up the old and cherished feelings and ideas and outlooks we already had. Sometimes watching movies amounts to patting ourselves on the back for knowing this or that already, or stirring up feelings we’ve had in the past (feelings of romantic love or despair or bitterness or whatever). Sometimes there is no expectation for transformation and growth because there is little sense that what one needs is transformation and growth but mere stimulation of and an outlet for everything we already bring to the table.


But another way of watching movies acknowledges that we do not see or know or live fully as we ought, and that we need help. Annie Dillard comments,

“My eyes account for less than one percent of the weight of my head; I’m bony and dense; I see what I expect … The lover can see, and the knowledgeable.”

We need to learn how to see and how to live from “the lover” and “the knowledgeable,” and (good) films are one culturally important place in which they have shared their love and knowledge with us, if we are humble enough to search for and receive what they have to offer.


Take a moment and share in the comment section below films that you consider worthy of watching in the pursuit of moral growth.






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