Films can help us to focus more clearly on a specific circumstance. What I might not be able to see because I am immersed in a difficult situation, I might be able to see when I take a step “outside of myself” and watch a film. I can get the feeling of being on the outside looking in and I can gain insights that I might not see when I sit among the problems of everyday life. I might be stressed and not finding comfort or peace anywhere, although opportunities abound around me. I am “missing the forest because of the trees”. When I see a film, however, such things as characters, settings, etc. can resonate with me in a way I would not see if not presented to me visually apart from my everyday life.
Never discount the setting of a movie when searching for spiritual value. Take for instance the movie, Billy Elliot, a movie that centers on the story of a young boy who would rather learn dancing than boxing. The setting, a struggling, working class neighborhood beset with the strife brought on by constant strikes against the government, tremendously enhances the spiritual value of the movie. Young boys in that environment did not learn dancing, they learned boxing and prepared for their adulthood working in the mines. It is for this reason that when the story unfolds of Billy falling in love with dancing and his father’s eventual acceptance, it is not such a stretch to find spiritual implications. Had this story been told through the optic of a young boy living in the 60′s in the United States, however, this boys desire to be a dancer might not have brought about such consternation. In the 60′s it was almost expected for people to “go against the grain”. So it is that we should never devalue the importance of a film’s setting for guiding our spiritual journey.
While many people believe that a movie, to be truly spiritual, must be free of all controversy over issues such as sex and violence, even the Bible, has its share of controversial content. Consider for a moment the stories of David and Goliath, David and Bathsheba, and Peter using his sword during the arrest of Jesus in the Garden. How far can a movie “go” before it loses its spiritual value? Are there limitations on what a movie can contain before it begins to tarnish any spiritual value to be gained from it?
When I ask my high school students how many of them think that media, (music, television, and movies), affects their behavior, many of them will firmly shake their heads, NO! Next when I ask how many feel they need to have music or television on in the background when they study, a great many of them raise their hands. Whoa……just a minute. These same students with their hands now in the air were many of the same students that just told me that media does not affect them. Yet here they are telling me they need to have music or television on in the background when studying. Apparently media affects us more than we know….or perhaps more than we are willing to admit?!
What is the “agent for change” in each film? What causes the film to veer from a path it had taken thereby allowing the film to delve more deeply into the realm of the spiritual? Why was this particular agent of change chosen for this particular film and placed in this particular scene.
Les Mis, the big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical opens in theaters nationally Dec. 25. If you have not seen Les Mis on the stage, I highly recommend seeing it in the theater. Les Mis is one of the most powerful stories of redemption ever told!
6 theological reasons why Christians should enter into a dialogue with film.
- God’s grace is continually present throughout human culture
- Theology should be concerned with the Spirit’s presence and work in the world
- God speaks to us through all of life
- Image as well as word can help us to encounter God
- Theology’s narrative shape makes it particularly open to interaction with other stories
- The nature of constructive theology is a dialogue between God’s story (as presented through the Bible, Christian tradition, and a particular worshipping community) and our stories (from the surrounding culture and our life experiences).
Reel Spirituality–Robert Johnston–pg 91