The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage with a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith [NOOK Book]

Overview

Some Christians denounce nearly every move that Hollywood produces; others celebrate even the most morally and artistically questionable. While most Christians can agree on the cultural importance of films, very few are able to interpret movies with insight and understanding. Apologetics professor and film lover Doug Beaumont wants moviegoers to become more informed viewers, by better grasping the cinematic techniques and genre considerations that filmmakers use to communicate their central themes. He also wades ...

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The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage with a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith

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Overview

Some Christians denounce nearly every move that Hollywood produces; others celebrate even the most morally and artistically questionable. While most Christians can agree on the cultural importance of films, very few are able to interpret movies with insight and understanding. Apologetics professor and film lover Doug Beaumont wants moviegoers to become more informed viewers, by better grasping the cinematic techniques and genre considerations that filmmakers use to communicate their central themes. He also wades into hot-button issues of nudity, violence, and language in movies, helping Christians to more carefully evaluate celluloid depictions of sin.

Packed with quote and excerpts from many of Hollywood's most successful films-and from some of the indie favorites that have gained cult followings-The Message Behind the Movie is a fun and enlightening look at the art from that defines our age.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575673387
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

DOUGLAS M. BEAUMONT is pursuing a Ph.D. at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, NC. He teaches Bible and Philosophy at Southern Evangelical Bible College and speaks around the country on various topics related to Christianity. His work has been published in The Christian Apologetics Journal, The Baker Dictionary of Cults and World Religions, and he was the one of the only Protestant writers to be included in The Best Catholic Writing 2006. He lives with his wife, son, bird, and dog in Charlotte, NC.
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The Message Behind the Movie

How to Engage with a Film without Disengaging your Faith


By Douglas M. Beaumont, Christopher Reese

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2009 Douglas M. Beaumont
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-338-7



CHAPTER 1

Can Anything Good Come Out of Hollywood?


HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD?

Do you sympathize more with Mike or Nita? Both had good reasons for their perspectives on the subject of movies, but who was right? The fact that you are reading this book suggests that you perceive some value in movies. But perhaps, like many Christians, you are uncertain how to think about movies as they relate to your Christian beliefs.

Like Nita, some Christians choose to simply dismiss nearly everything that comes out of Hollywood as pure evil. These abstainers usually watch very few movies and are extremely critical when they do, often focusing on the style elements of movies more than anything else. While this position is not difficult to sympathize with, given the content of many movies these days, it does have negative consequences. Movies often provide us with new words, phrases, or references that can be very helpful for connecting with others. By avoiding movies altogether, Nita and others may be unaware of shifts in current popular-level thinking, thereby limiting their ability to connect with the people they go to school or work with.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have an almost careless affinity for movies. These folks are more concerned with entertainment than style. "It's just good fun," they will say. "Don't take things so seriously!" These people will watch practically anything, tolerate practically anything, and view most films uncritically. They will often ignore offensive style elements so long as they are entertained. Perhaps worse, they may not think they are being affected by the films they watch. Because they don't think critically about movies, these viewers are often unable to say anything more about a movie than whether or not they enjoyed it. Unlike the movie abstainers, movie lovers may be able to make more inside cultural references, but they often cannot connect movies to deeper issues.

In the dialogue above, Mike represents yet another approach to movies. People like Mike recognize the cultural importance of movies and may be inclined to celebrate anything with a spiritual theme, whether real or imagined. In their desire to see movies used for spiritual purposes, movie advocates sometimes ignore the clear message of a movie and impose a spiritual message upon it. Advocates may even be glad to see that there were no overt Christian elements in a movie as long as there were, at some allegorical level, spiritual themes. The danger of this approach is that movie advocates sometimes fail to see the actual message of a movie in their quest for spiritual relevance and, consequently, may champion a film with a message that is antithetical to their beliefs.

As this brief survey shows, there is little consensus among Christians concerning how to think about movies.


THE CHURCH'S PLATONIC RELATIONSHIP WITH MOVIES

It may encourage you to know that this debate is nothing new. Disagreement over movies is in many ways a contemporary version of a debate about the influence of art that has raged since long before the first moving picture was ever conceived.

Historically, there have been two competing positions regarding the purpose of art and the proper way to judge its worth, positions which originate with philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Both men admitted to delighting in art, but they had very different ideas about art's ultimate effects. Most important for us, their differences help explain why Christians can disagree about the value of film.

To put it simply, Plato viewed art as largely useless and, oftentimes, even harmful. This assessment was based on the philosopher's understanding of virtue and goodness. Plato believed that to be virtuous, a person must have true knowledge. If art only imitates truth—but is not actually true—it cannot make a person truly virtuous. He also believed that the highest good is also the most real. Because all art is essentially an imitation of reality (and often a faulty imitation), it is not morally neutral, but is actually bad. Finally, art can be dangerous, because its "language" (whether music, poetry, painting, or something else) is emotionally provocative. When the passions are aroused, the soul's balance is disrupted and a person becomes irrational. For these reasons, said Plato, people should only be exposed to art that strongly and clearly communicates ultimate truths.

Plato's student Aristotle thought of art differently. While he agreed that art imitates reality, he did not consider this a problem. Artistic imitation is one way humans distinguish themselves from the lower animals, and that makes it a good thing for humans to do. Art is also useful for learning, even when it depicts immoral behavior. For example, a comedy depicting fools and their folly is useful because it can teach us to avoid foolishness (which is good) without our having to make foolish decisions (which is bad). Aristotle also noted that art has cathartic value; that is, it can help us release the very emotions that it arouses, so that we ultimately achieve the balance Plato thought was lost when the passions are inflamed. For example, viewing violence may make us more compassionate toward the victims of violence.

Finally, Aristotle recognized that art can actually describe ultimate reality more effectively precisely because it is not bound by mundane reality. As we all know, examples of virtue are sometimes hard to find in the real world. The virtue of courage, for instance, can often be more easily taught by watching a movie like The Lord of the Rings than by watching politicians on CNN. In other words, art can communicate profound truths about reality.

When it comes to movies, it appears that many Christians have agreed with Plato. We want films that communicate truth clearly without displaying anything bad. We want movies that have a strong, easily discernable moral message that does not arouse our "lower" passions. So when a film comes along that presents the dark side of life, asks more questions than it answers, portrays sinfulness, or excites our emotions, Christians may judge it as immoral. As I will argue, that's not always the correct response—we often must look deeper to discern the underlying message of a film. Think, for example, if movies were made of every book in the Bible. Some of these films would include portrayals of sinful behaviors and attitudes. How might film versions of Ecclesiastes, Job, Judges, Psalms, Song of Songs, or Revelation be produced?

Instead of following Plato exclusively, I think Christians would do well to recognize the merits of Aristotle's perspective. An Aristotelian approach to movies needn't condone sinfulness; instead, it can recognize how central storytelling is to human experience and seek to accurately critique the messages that stories in films are communicating.


DEEP IMPACT

Today more than ever before, popular culture may have a bigger impact on people than their family or church. Consider this: one study reported that teenagers spend about ten hours per day consuming media of various kinds. This means that even if teens were to spend two hours per day with their parents, by the end of the week they would have spent five times as much time immersed in media. By the time a person in America reaches the age of eighteen, they've spent about forty thousand hours consuming media versus about eight thousand with parents and four thousand hours at church, if they attended regularly.

As early as the 1930s, one theater critic wrote, "Theaters are the new Church of the Masses—where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human." In other words, movies encourage community by creating shared experiences that unite people as they try to make sense of the world—which means movies serve a function similar to that of religion. That is to say, for better or worse, movies can shape the way we think about the world. This can be a good thing. For example, and to echo Aristotle's observations about art in general, movies serve as a vicarious means of experiencing life. We can encounter things through movies that we might not otherwise get a chance to explore. This goes beyond mere entertainment. Movies provide a way to experience a myriad of situations with a measure of detachment that is impossible in real life. Rather than being shocked and ill-equipped to deal with these situations when they arise, it can be beneficial to safely explore these issues through cinema before being faced with them in real life.


CINEVANGELISM?

Because movies explore issues central to human experience, they can provide an excellent means of engaging people in conversation about the Christian faith. Much of my experience and training is in apologetics, the art of defending and explaining the Christian faith to non-Christians. So one of the primary ways I have found to integrate film into my life and ministry is to understand movies as communicators of current thought that can aid my understanding and conversing with contemporary culture.

Any relationship requires common ground, whether that is speaking the same language, living in the same neighborhood, or sharing a work environment or common interests. Sometimes this common ground has to be cultivated. Certainly we must avoid associating with non-Christians in an ungodly way that blurs our distinctions (2 Corinthians 6:14) and ruins our witness. But the best evangelists know that finding common ground means meeting people right where they are. In Acts 2, for example, Peter spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem using Old Testament prophecies to prove that Christ was the Messiah. But in Acts 17, when Paul was at Mars Hill, he used Greek philosophical arguments from creation to lead the pagan philosophers to Christ. In both cases, the success of the evangelism was directly related to the speaker's ability to make use of cultural connections through the power of the Holy Spirit.

More often than not, these cultural connections can be found in a culture's stories. Ursula K. LeGuin writes that "story ... is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there are no societies that did not tell stories." In the same way that we can investigate ancient cultures through their stories, we can learn much about our own through films. Movies make us conversant with the great stories of our time. Like tales spun around the campfires of our forefathers, movies draw us together and give us a common story. At a time when religion is distrusted as a source for ultimate truth, movies allow us to collectively reflect on our own stories and share our reflections with other viewers.

In order to successfully integrate movies into our spiritual lives, though, we first need to learn how to evaluate movies, so that we neither miss the good nor uncritically accept the bad. It may sound like a tough job, but with some basic guidelines, anyone can make objective judgments of a movie's worth. When this process becomes natural, you will begin to see things you might never have noticed or appreciated in films before. You might find that this training helps you enjoy movies more, in the same way that musicians often have a greater appreciation for music than do those of us who don't play an instrument. Even so, increasing our pleasure in movie watching is not our primary goal. Rather, we are concerned primarily with learning to evaluate a movie in light of our Christian beliefs. So we will learn to discern a movie's message or significance as revealed by its story, including how that story is told (its style) and what worldview it assumes (its suppositions). Whether a movie presents a strong Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian worldview, we need to be prepared to address its worldview in our conversations. Therefore, the second part of this book will feature basic lessons in message evaluation and response.


SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE INVOLVED IN SECULAR ENTERTAINMENT AT ALL?

Even if we acknowledge the possible positive influence of movies, we may still wonder whether we should consume products created by non-Christian culture. If we follow the example of the apostle Paul, the answer appears to be "yes." Consider the following Scripture verses:

• "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats."

• "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

• "Bad company corrupts good character."

• "Cretans are always liars."

• "It hurts you to kick against the goads."

• "In him we live and move and have our being ... for we too are his offspring."


In order, these quotations are from 1 Corinthians 6:13 (KJV); 15:32 (KJV); 15:33 (NIV); Titus 1:12 (NIV); and Acts 26:14 (NRSV); 17:28 (NRSV). What may surprise you is that in each of these verses, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to quote pagan writers! In fact, in its original form, the last quote refers to Zeus! Yet God saw fit to use the statement to communicate the truth of the gospel when Paul spoke to the Greeks, whose authors penned those words. It seems, then, that Christians can utilize truth communicated in non-Christian culture to further God's kingdom.


WHY DO YOU CALL IT "GOOD"?

"Is that a good movie?" can be a dangerous question. We use the word "good" to refer to pizza, dogs, books, and God. Clearly, we don't always use this word in the same way. If two people do not agree on what makes something "good," they will surely reach different conclusions. This is especially true for movies. There are any number of elements that people judge movies by (artistic styling, acting quality, storytelling, special effects, musical score, a moral message, etc.). In addition, nothing on this earth is perfect, so anything we evaluate will be a mixture of good and bad. For this reason, movies that some consider "good" should not necessarily be viewed by all people. The Exorcist (1973), for example, ultimately portrays the triumph of faith, which is a good message. Yet the film's depictions of evil are so horrific that they might not be worth enduring for the sake of the film's good message. There is often a fine line between the good a film contains and the objectionable elements one must endure to get to it. This topic is covered in more detail in chapters 4 and 11.

In light of these considerations, we need to keep in mind that saying a movie is "good" can mean that a film is well-done, or that it affirms a biblical worldview, or simply that a viewer enjoyed it. Throughout the book, I will sometimes make positive comments about movies for the skill with which they use various elements to tell a story and convey their overarching message. Please understand that I am not attempting to provide a guide for which specific movies are acceptable for you to watch. Rather, I will present principles that can help you make informed and Christ-honoring movie-watching decisions.

In either case, my purpose in this book is to show how we can all better interact with our culture by understanding the movies that shape and reveal it. In order to do this well, I will cite a wide variety of movies as illustrations of various points. However, unless I specifically state my overall evaluation of these movies, my use of them as examples should not be understood as either a general recommendation or condemnation.


CONCLUSION

I hope that this book will help you avoid careless affinity, unnecessary abstinence, and overzealous advocacy of films by focusing on how movies communicate their message. This will allow us to evaluate films more objectively. Then we can appreciate and utilize movies for what they are, even when they are not what we might like them to be. Author Stephen Lawhead once wrote, "Those who reject popular culture wholly or in part tend to see the devil as extremely active in the world, so terrible in his power and influence that the best defense is retreat." His advice, and mine, on the subject is neatly summarized in the quote below.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Message Behind the Movie by Douglas M. Beaumont, Christopher Reese. Copyright © 2009 Douglas M. Beaumont. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Prologue: What's the Story?

ACT ONE: Watching and Understanding

Chapter 1: Can Anything Good Come Out of Hollywood?

Chapter 2: How a Story is Told vs. What a Story Tells

Chapter 3: Story: Structure, Sights, and Sounds

Chapter 4: Style: How the Story Moves

Chapter 5: Suppositions: The World of the Story

Chapter 6: Significance: The Moral of the Story

ACT TWO: Evaluating and Discussing

Chapter 7: Discussing Movies Religiously: Is Salvation Self Realization or Sincere Repentance?

Chapter 8: Discussing Movies Philosophically: Is Reality Virtual or Veritable?

Chapter 9: Discussing Movies Theologically: Is God a Delusion or Deity?

Chapter 10: Discussing Movies Scripturally: Is the Bible Mythological or Miraculous?

ACT THREE: Applauding and Avoiding Movies

Chapter 11: What Should We Then Watch?

Credits
Resources/Contact Information
Notes


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  • Posted July 14, 2009

    A MUST Read!

    Allow me to preface my review of Doug Beaumont's latest title, The Message Behind the Movie, by first providing some background as to my own evolution of perspectives regarding Christians and Hollywood. I grew up in a vehemently separatist, fundamentalist branch of Christianity. As I grew in age and interests I would often times find my desire to see the latest summer blockbuster running in opposition to the wishes of and teaching and warnings of my pastors. The mantra "Nothing good can come from Hollywood" reverberated throughout their sermons as they would wax eloquent on the evils of motion pictures. So, needless to say, this anti-cinema conditioning caused a great deal of confusion in my life and especially my newfound life in ministry. I would be told that if a Christian attends a film he/she has disqualified themselves from spiritual leadership and service to the church.

    As I struggled with these issues I began to see examples throughout the Scriptures in which Paul quoted from popular media (I realize I am using this term anachronistically) in his presentation of the Gospel to a pagan world. As I wrestled with the methodology of Paul in contrast to the teaching I was so indoctrinated with I stumbled across www.DougBeaumont.org. There I found that Doug's blog provided clear and coherent answers to the claim that "Nothing good can come from Hollywood." Rather than abandoning the popular media, Doug provided a Biblical framework in which a believer could evaluate a film, digest the good elements and use various points in communicating the Gospel. Finding someone so balanced on the Scriptures and with such a positive outlook on a Christian's ability to be "in the world" but not "of the world" was quite refreshing and encouraging. That was a number of years ago now and yet I remember even then thinking, "This guy REALLY needs to write a book about this stuff!" Well, finally Doug has and I Am excited to be one of the reviewers selected by Moody Publishers to give my take on this excellent text.

    I am very grateful for The Message Behind the Movie. The nascent form of this book found in Doug's blog impacted my life at a critical point and I believe this text will impact many believers struggling with the same issues I had to face. Now, as an instructor of Apologetics and Theology I plan to use this text as an example of how one can critically engage the culture and remain relevant without losing one's faith. This is a MUST read!

    See my full review @ http://messagebehindthemovie.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/reader-reviews-dayton-hartman/#comments

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2009

    Unique, Interesting, Relevant

    Should Christians avoid all movies, dismissing them as bad, evil, or garbage? Should they watch any movie without any regard for content, dismissing the idea that they can be violated by anything on a screen? Or is there a way to evaluate movies, a way to judge them, a way to filter what should be watched, and finally, a way to use them as a launching pad for apologetics and evangelism? This middle way is precisely what the author provides in The Message behind the Movie.

    The book is divided into three sections, which are called 'Acts'.

    'Act One' is about watching and understanding movies. This section covers movies as an art form, which includes story structure, characters, the visual aspects of a film, and the sounds. All of these elements, Beaumont argues, are important to understand the story of a movie, which is the first step to understanding its message. He also covers other elements of style such as profanity, violence, nudity, sex, and a very interesting and valuable exploration of the MPAA rating system. Finally, Beaumont talks about the suppositions and worldview of a movie, which form the message behind the movie.

    'Act Two' is about evaluating and discussing movies. This particular section deviates from talking directly about movies and provides the tools (Christian theology and worldview) needed in order to properly evaluate the movie for the purposes of evangelism and apologetics. The author demonstrates, through use of examples, how to evaluate a movie philosophically, theologically, and biblically.

    'Act Three' discusses the question of what Christians should and should not watch. Instead of giving black and white rules for how to choose a movie, the author gives general principles. These principles serve as tools that Christians can draw from in order to make a decision on which movies to watch. Some of these principles are given by way of clarifying often misunderstood scriptures about the avoidance of evil, and how to properly understand them in their context.

    Some of the features of the book include reflective questions at the end of each chapter, which can be used for groups, book clubs, or private study. Throughout the book, movie references are made which demonstrate how the principles of the book apply to actual movies. Also, the author does an excellent job of creating a mock dialogue with characters who engage in a conversation about watching movies, the significant issues that arise from movies, and opportunities to use them for apologetics and evangelism. The dialogue demonstrates the value of story telling while at the same time bringing together the contents of the book and having them being played out through characters.

    If there was ever a need for a book on how Christians should not only evaluate movies, but should first value them as a legitimate and worthy form of art to be enjoyed, Doug Beaumont's The Message Behind the Movie is that book. The author makes it clear that increasing our pleasure in movie watching is not the primary goal, but rather to learn how to evaluate a movie in light of Christian beliefs. This involves discerning the message of the movie revealed by its story; the structure and the assumed worldview of that story. Only then can Christians evaluate whether the movie presents a strong Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian worldview, which they can then respond to and use as a starting point for apologetics and evangelism.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2009

    Every Christian who is serious about engaging their culture needs this book

    Christians need to be serious about engaging our culture in a relevant and yet non-confrontational way. We need to find common ground with those who don't share our faith. What better way to do that than to use modern movies as a launching point for spiritual conversations?

    This book is exactly what we, as Christians, need at this point in time. I'm probably not the only one who has wondered if there is any benefit to seeing movies anymore. As is pointed out in the foreword for this book, Christians generally tend to fall into one of two extreme positions: either they avoid modern cinema completely, or they abandon discretion completely.

    I have to admit it--I was one of those people who thought that we should protect our minds at all cost, and, for the most part, avoid a majority of the movies we find in our theatres these days. For example, one of the movies I recently saw was "The Watchmen." I hated it! I didn't see that it had any redeeming value whatsoever. The movie is filled with gratuitous violence and gore, profanity, and sex. What redemptive value could such a movie offer? While I still believe that this is not the best movie for Christians to see (and I should note that Mr. Beaumont makes the points that a) you should read reviews before you actually go and see a movie (which I didn't do); and b) he's not saying that we should see anything and everything--there is a line that we shouldn't cross), I have recognized the redemptive value of a movie like this: that being that a) Americans are obsessed with super-heroes, which is an indication of our need to be saved; and b) no human hero is beyond the need of being saved themselves.

    The Message Behind the Movie dissects the "formula" (for lack of a better term) of the screen-writing process, and will instruct the reader in how to a) evaluate the movie from a Christian worldview; b) find elements within cinema which reveal deep-seated human needs and desires; and c) how to intelligently engage the unbeliever in a discussion about the movie. There is plenty to be learned from reading this book pertaining to apologetics as well, including some basics on defending the reliability and authority of Scripture and the existence of God. It also introduces the reader to some very simple ways of questioning the post-modern philosophy of our age.

    This is really the first book of its kind--the only other book like this in the past 100 years would probably be Francis Schaeffer's "Art and the Bible." Kudos to Mr. Beaumont for this much-needed, very unique work. I whole-heartedly recommend this book for all Christians!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    Great Book!

    In this book Beaumont explains some of the techniques used in producing movies as well as how those techniques are used to unfold the story on the screen. For example, I was amazed to find out that the musical score in The Fellowship of the Ring so precisely tracked the progression of the plot. But besides giving the reader insights and tools for increasing movie-watching enjoyment, Beaumont explains to Christians how they can analyze movies beyond merely the stylistic elements in order to understand the worldview of the movie and message that drives the movie. The book also contains helpful 'coffee-shop' dialogues that show how one can use great movies to discuss universal themes ultimately leading to the reality of God and divinity of Christ.
    A good read for parents and youth leaders who are concerned with the media's influence over young adults but don't think complete isolation from the world is the answer. Also, pastors and theologians may enjoy the weightier aspects of the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 19, 2009

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    Posted May 4, 2009

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