There has been an idea kicking around in my head for a couple of years. I have considered creating a curriculum for a class tentatively titled: “Christians at the Movies.” I’ve been of two minds about it though. I really think movies are time wasters. I think most Christians would be better off (and certainly none the worse) if they never watched another movie. Me telling this to students would be like . . . well, me telling it to my computer. My computer will dutifully record my words but otherwise be unaffected. Secondly, there’s the fact that I’ve been known to waste a little time with a movie or two myself.
So I thought, how best can a high school Bible teacher (which I was at the time) help his students make wise choices about movies and come out the other side of an hour and a half in a movie theater not just surviving, but possibly being better for it.
I discovered that students are for the most part noncritical about movies. They watch passively. They don’t question. They don’t ask what the filmmaker’s purpose is. What is the message behind the message? As I began to explore this idea with my students, I realized they were unaware that movies could even be used as a vehicle to promote hidden (or not so hidden) agendas. George Lucas wanted to create a new mythology based on Buddhist thought. This is what the force is in the Star Wars series. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is steeped in Christian symbolism (so much that if the writer and director of the films had wanted to remove it from their screenplays, they wouldn’t have been making the Lord of the Rings.)
As I walked through this process of analyzing movies with different classes, I discovered something about the students: They loved the discussions. They loved dissecting plot lines and looking for hidden elements. They loved discussing (and often disagreeing) on the true meaning behind a movie. I can remember a pretty epic battle over whether the last five minutes of The Book of Eli completely changes the meaning of the movie.
Students discovered something else. Once they had opened the box, it couldn’t be closed. As one student put it, “Thanks for ruining movies for me Mr. Bray.” He went on to tell me how horrible his experience had been watching the animated flick Rio. “Mr. Bray, the whole movie was one long propaganda piece on feminism.” I haven’t seen the movie, but I wish I had a video of his reaction. He was not a passive recipient of the movie’s message. He was engaged and critical.
We conform to our culture. It is inescapable. But we can face our culture armed with tools that will help us recognize the ways in which our culture subverts and attacks (or reinforces) our fundamental beliefs.