Christian Movie Reviews

English is a hard language.  Word order, in the absence of agreement by tense, person, and number, is just really important.  Too important.  So the title might ask us to find a bunch of Christian movies and review them.  Then we’d have to say what a Christian movie was.  Or it might ask us to produce Christian reviews of movies—any movies—in which case, we would have to ask about such a review just what it meant to say it was “a Christian review.”

Here are three things that the expression “Christian movies” could mean: a) movies made by Christians, b) movies that explain or illustrate Christian doctrine[1],  or c) movies that explore the lives of Christians, without reference to whether they illustrate Christian commitments.  Those are three plausible meanings of the expression “Christian movies.”  There are, of course, others.

A “Christian review” of movies would be an analysis that drew on the basic conceptual her 5categories Christians use and that described and explained the movie using those terms.  Here are two dimensions that might be used.  Time: so far as time is concerned, for example, a Christian review would look at a sequence of creation, providence, and the last times.[2]  Redemption: so far as redemption is concerned, a Christian review would concern itself with the fundamental nature of humankind, with the Fall, with sin, and with redemption.[3] Since “redemption” is the fundamental turning point of that sequence, and since Christians associate Jesus Christ with the hope of redemption, a Christian review would also explore just what it is about Jesus that changes the human calculus so as to make redemption possible.

Any of those ways of approaching a movie would, in my judgment, justify calling it a “Christian review” of a movie.  There is one other approach, which I mention here only because it is the one I use myself.  It does not have the merit of either of the approaches described above.  It is really no more than the use of clips from movies to illustrate biblical or theological “moments.”  For example, I once used the first few minutes of the Bruce Willis movie, Live Free or Die Hard, as an illustration of the text, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).  In these few minutes, the villains hire hackers to devise a special code, to deliver this code to the villains, at which point the hackers are killed.  In the villain’s lair, the operations panel shows three lighted panels: assigned, delivered, deactivated.  This sequence illustrates the Romans 6 sequence so well that I use it as an introduction to this peculiar way of using movies to “explore” doctrine.  As I say, it isn’t really a respectable method of biblical exegesis and I use it only because it does what I want it to do and it doesn’t take a lot of time.

her 1I’d like to illustrate my thesis by looking at two reviews on a “Christian movie review” site.  Here you can see a whole series of reviews of the movie Her, which I have been thinking about and writing about for several weeks.  What I like best about this site is that they begin with a review that reflects the viewpoint of the people who run the site—Christian Spotlight on Entertainment—and then display the reviews of others, many of whom disagree in part or in whole with the “official review.”  I think that practice is a wonderful service to everyone who wants to think about movies from the perspective of his own values.

The official review of Her was written by Andrea McTeer, who gives it a “moral rating” (extremely offensive) and a “moviemaking quality rating” (three of five possible stars).  She calls it a Sci-Fi Romance Comedy Drama, which is certainly a fair characterization, and indicates that it is intended for adults.[4]

Nearly everything else she says has to do with whether the movie offends conservative sensibilities.  What would that include?  Here are the highlights of McTeer’s review.

Near the beginning, Theodore has phone sex and the woman on the phone asks him to fantasize about becoming violet [sic] towards her with a dead cat.

While speaking to this woman on the phone, Theodore envisions a pregnant naked woman. Top frontal nudity is shown.

Theodore and “Samantha” have sex…. So to speak. The screen goes black, but they describe what they would do and there is plenty of moaning and heavy breathing, and it is quite clear what is going on.

Anal sex is mentioned and a bizarre drawing is shown of how it would look if certain anatomy were in different places on the human body.

A cartoon mom in a game is made to grind against a refrigerator.

Vulgar language abounds—F-word and forms of it 32 times, S-word 11 times, God’s name in vain (7), 2 extremely crude references to female genitalia and 3 for male genitals.

So.  There are six things you need to keep in mind while you are also keeping in mind that her 2the movie is rated R.  There is always the possibility that this movie, though crude and offensive in some ways,  as McTeer correctly pointed out, is also helpful and revealing in other ways.  This raises the question of what the movie is “about.”  Here is Theodore conversing with “Samantha.”

About halfway through this film, it finally occurred to me, perhaps the writer/director was trying to say something. Trying to use this film on a deeper level to teach us something, say something or point something out. [see the last paragraph of the review, four paragraphs below, for her idea of what that might be].

Scene 1 is pretty dark, I agree.  The point of it is to set the viewers up for Scene 2, where Theodore meets “Samantha” his new operating system.

We have become such an electronic society. Go anywhere that a wait is required, say, a doctor’s office, and no one can just sit there and wait—they have to be on an electronic device. My own children take an electronic device in the car for a 5 minute ride to a friend’s house, where they plan on playing another electronic device…We have replaced human interaction with electronic communication, to a fault, I think.

I agree with McTeer entirely.  We have become entirely too dependent of having some visual or auditory distraction always at our fingertips.  We abuse our access to media and we will pay the price for it.

Maybe this movie is a commentary on our current dependency on electronic devices and how our reliance on such devices and “conveniences” has replaced human interaction. I think and hope, this is the point of this film, otherwise it is just dribble[“drivel,” she probably means].

I strongly advise all to skip this film. Jesus says in Matthew 6:22-23, “The eye is the light of the body, if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. If your eye is bad, your whole body will be dark.” In the words of the old children’s Sunday school song “Be careful little eyes what you see… be careful little ears what you hear.”

her 3Here is the scriptural reference, which is a regular part of the reviews here. This seems an odd one to choose.  If I were forced to choose one, I would be more likely to go for Paul’s advice to the adult film types in his church in Corinth.  Don’t eat meat offered to idols ( or “see R-rated movies”) he told them, because some in your congregation will not be able to see past the offensiveness of the story and get to the powerful point of the story as you are able to do.  Don’t flaunt your sophisticated “I can handle R movies and you can’t” character.  It just isn’t what you would do to a brother in Christ.

There is nothing edifying about this movie, in spite of what I interpret as an attempt to comment on the human need for companionship and our dependence on technology.

Here, of course, I disagree entirely with this reviewer.  I think the exploration of what “person” means, in the context of our growing dependence on “entities” that can “perform” personhood to the satisfaction of many people is a crucial exploration for which director, Spike Jonze, should be given some kind of public commendation.  “Thanks, Spike,” it would say, “For helping us think through this issues that is coming at us like a train in a tunnel.”

The next two reviews, both positive, are by Tim Blaisdell, age 50 (USA) and by E, age 29 (USA).  I know nothing about either of them, but I urge you to read their reviews if this question of “Christian movie reviews” interests you.  They are the first two reviews under the official (McTeer) review.  I don’t entirely agree with either review, but I very much admire their interest in what the movie was actually about and their suggestions on how we might get the most out of what there is.  Also, both are respectful of the people whose site this is.

For myself, I am really glad I don’t have to see movies I don’t want to see or to write reviews I don’t want to write.  The fact that I tend to see movies in Christian terms doesn’t really mean any more than the fact that I see life in Christian terms.  So when I write about either, that’s the way I write.  Oh well.

 

 

 

[1] It wouldn’t have to be doctrine all by itself.  If you follow the orthodoxy, orthopathy, orthopraxy sequence I have been playing with for the last year, it could be about “right beliefs” (that would be Christian beliefs, in this context) or “right emotions,” (those would be the emotions that properly belong with the situation), and “right actions,” (which would be the actions that the beliefs and the feelings properly led to.  Some approaches emphasize one approach to a life of faith over the others.  Here, I am just indicating the several meanings the expression might have.
[2] Creation isn’t “creationism” but a doctrine of creation would postulate that our world began in a way that allows for the question “why” to be asked in addition to the question “how.”  Providence is just, as one wit put it, the word Christians use for “history”—for what happens, in other words, from the beginning to the end.  The Eschaton, the last times, are the bookend to creation.  Most Christian traditions don’t claim any special knowledge of what the end times will be like, but a Christian use of it would, like creation, allow question of “why” to be posed, as well as questions of “how.”
[3] The redemption metaphor imagines us as “slaves to sin,” and when the price is paid, we are freed from that slavery.  It’s really like a pawn shop.  You sell an item, during which time you do not control it, and then you redeem it, and then you do control it.
[4] I understand the “adults only” designation—the movie is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America—but I haven’t ever really liked it.  They want to say that it is not suitable for children, but they wind up implying that it draws upon adult tastes or capacities.  So a completely tasteless juvenile sexual extravaganza, which is really aimed at fourteen year old boys, would be called “adult” because they want to exclude children.  It implies that R films are the kind to which “adults” should aspire, rather than the kind from children should be protected. It just isn’t the way I would do it.

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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