Book of the Month: Meaning at the Movies
Most Christians go through life with an uneasy truce with the media. We can’t avoid the media altogether. (Maybe we can, but nobody really does.) But we also distrust it. We find music, movies, and tv shows compelling, but we also sense that we are being asked to believe something that is not true. Most Christians don’t get beyond this tension. They say, “Okay, media, I’ll stay tuned in, but I’m not going to be entirely happy about it, and I reserve the right to feel guilty from time to time.”
In this post, I want to introduce you to a book that can help you move beyond the media truce: Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer by Grant Horner. The book is directed at movies, but Horner explains that his theory for what movies are and how Christians should relate to them applies to all aspects of cultural production.
Why do people make movies? And why, when we watch movies, do we find things that seem so true and important standing alongside other things that are clearly false and destructive? Horner explains this in light of Romans 1, where Paul essentially says that every human being knows the truth about God, and that every human being is attempting to suppress that truth. So the grand human drama that plays itself out every single day is one of truth and suppression: we know God’s truth, but we push it down. We are never entirely successful in our attempt to suppress God’s truth, says Horner, so truth continues to spring up, even in the most unlikely places.
So how do we relate to movies? We do so with discernment. Horner encourages us to engage with the stories that our culture is telling. But he warns that there is no such thing as mindless entertainment. The Christian must use her God-given mind in every sphere of life, and movies are no exception.
Horner is realistic about the harmful effects of film. He argues that film is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling that any culture has ever known. Sometimes this powerful medium has a beneficial effect; sometimes the effect is harmful. Each Christian must be aware of what he can helpfully view, and what he ought to avoid. Not only does this vary from person to person, we may also find that we can watch a film and benefit from it one day but not the next.
All of this fits within the first half of Horner’s book. But the second half is equally fascinating. He explores particular genres of film and asks questions like: Why do we find comedy funny? Why do people like watching horror films? How should we think about Hollywood Romance? Though the Bible does not address modern films directly, Horner’s analysis of these topics comes from a thoroughly biblical worldview, and I resonate with his explanations.
If you don’t care about movies, you probably shouldn’t bother with this book. But for the rest of us, this book is very helpful. You spend a ton of time investing in movies of all types. Why not spend a few hours thinking about what movies are and how we should relate to them as Christians?