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From an interview with screenwriter and movie critic Brian Godawa about his book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment:

IVP: Describe the various types of moviegoers. What are the dangers of each?

Brian Godawa: Moviegoers seem to fall into three different categories of cultural diets: gluttons, anorexics and balanced dieters.

Cultural gluttons are those who watch too many movies without discretion; cultural anorexics are those who watch no movies because of exaggerated scruples; and culturally balanced dieters are those who discriminate with a healthy balance between what they watch and don’t watch. Although balance is the preferred ideal, many of us tend to drift into either one of the extremes.

The purpose of Hollywood Worldviews is to give individuals the critical tools to discern the good and bad values and worldviews in movies in order to interact redemptively with their culture.

IVP: Offer one example of a “redemptive” movie. Where do we find the redemption in that particular movie?

Godawa: All movies are about redemption in one way or another. In simple terms, redemption is simply the recovery of what is lost. All worldviews believe in redemption . . . But not all redemption is good. There are some similarities in values between the different worldviews that make most movies a mixture of good and bad redemption.

For example, the 2001 Oscar winning “A Beautiful Mind,” is a good example of romantic redemption. The hero, John Nash, is so absorbed in finding his significance in scientific achievement and trying to understand the world in terms of mathematical formulas, that he loses touch with humanity. Nash is redeemed by realizing that “only in the mysterious equation of love are there logical reasons that can be found.” He discerns the difference between the real and the unreal in his life by turning to his heart, not his mind. This is textbook romanticism; the elevation of human intuition and emotions.

From a Christian worldview, there is both good and bad to this proposition. The Bible affirms that heartless intellectualism is spiritually barren and that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; therefore, equally incapable of discovering ultimate truth without the aid of Revelation. True human balance, wisdom and knowledge is found in being a person of heart and mind, with both in subjection to the Creator.

IVP: How can we begin to be more discerning in the movies we watch?

Godawa: By recognizing that the story of a character is a dramatic argument for a worldview. As the hero transforms his thinking about the world through his experience, so we see what the filmmakers are trying to persuade us about how we view the world.

When watching a movie, ask yourself,

  • “What is the character flaw of the hero at the beginning?”
  • “What makes him change his mind in the story about the way he sees the world?”
  • “What does he learn about the way life ought or ought not be lived?”
  • “What is different about the way he sees the world at the end from the way he sees it at the beginning?”

These and other questions help us to discern the viewpoint being communicated through story, and enables us to be more appreciative of the good in a movie, while remaining objectively interactive with the bad.

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7 thoughts on “Redemption and Worldview at the Movies”

  1. Randall Hartman says:

    I have not read the book so I’m not familiar with either the author’s overall perspective or the book’s content beyond this interview. However, for believers, I was hoping to see comments about discernment in other matters have to do with the method of delivery…profanity, sex, nudity, etc. These factors often are “disqualifiers” that lead to movie “anorexia” but weren’t addressed in the interview.

  2. Paul Ireland says:

    As Christians we talk a lot about interacting with culture, but we really mean “top-down” culture. We should realize there is “top-down” culture and “ground-level” culture (and of course a big mixing of the two). Top-down is created by people with the ability to influence (like by funding a movie or make an album). Ground-level culture is the culture of life people experience and just exude.

    Top-down culture is getting a lot more variety, and hence individual voices are less influential. In 1995 there were 273 movies released to box-office while there were 886 released in 2010, which does not even include the vast number of videos released directly to DVD or to networks. In that same period of time the number of TV Shows and even TV channels has grown exponentially. With the shift of audio consumption, there are less bands that hit “mainstream”, which is why we still hear SmashMouth playing at the department stores 13 years later. Not even funny web video clips (like of cats running into walls) are dependable “shared” experiences. With this increase in the variety of options, there are less generally “shared” cultural items, especially in movies, videos, books, and music. So people now can only really count on shared cultural experienced within the “tribes” they are a part of.

    When I am chatting with my non-Christian neighbors at a BBQ, they are still quoting “Dumb and Dumber” and other movies from the 90’s. It’s not that they haven’t seen any other movies since then, its just that they cannot depend on a shared experience with most of what they’ve watched recently. Multiple times I’ve heard people quote movies and get totally blank stares from people around them.

    Because of this, I would argue that a “balanced diet” of cultural interaction should include more personal interactions with ground-level culture than with top-down culture (just like our diet should include more vegetables than meat or dairy). In other words, instead of just watching people let’s actually meet people and get to know them.

    My wife and I can sit down and consume a movie and debate the pros and cons of it (which we do on occasion). But honestly, there’s a rare chance we’ll really even use that in our daily witness. We’d rather spend the two hours reading scripture together (how many couples do that for fun these days?!), out meeting our neighbors, or on the ground on our knees begging God earnestly for the souls of our beloved friends, family, and neighbors who need Jesus Christ.

  3. Bob says:

    Another great book that came out recently is: Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows up at the Movies by Roy Anker of Calvin College. He reviews 20 “secular” movies that reveal God’s grace. This would be great for a care group for young adults or even Baby Boomers like myself because I’m over 60 and learned a lot.

  4. John Thomson says:

    While ‘in theory’ I agree with this post I also think there is a lot that is unrealistic.

    1. How many people actually watch movies to analyse themes? We watch for entertainment. We watch largely to relax not with critical intention.

    2. How do we know what movies will be edifying and which won’t?

    3. How many non-edifying movies must we consume in the pursuit of the edifying and to hone our critical skills? How many frogs must we kiss to find the prince?

    4. Even the movies with ‘redemptive themes’ often come packaged in most unedifying and destructive ways. When is the packaging so defiling and enslaving to our souls that it occludes the good? The end does not justify the means.

    5. The ‘redemptive’ features of movies rarely have any real parallels with biblical redemption. Movies are better at exploring human sin than divine righteousness and redemption. Redemption is normally completely pelagian (self achieved).

  5. Joe Durso says:

    The article assumes good discernment on the part of the public in general. Indeed, for a person to have truly good discernment they must be in fellowship with the one true and living God, through faith in His son the Lord Jesus Christ, and having repented from their sins, having been born again, and become a student of His word the Bible. God alone is truth, apart from him good discernment is impossible

  6. Rick Segal says:

    Godawa wrongly characterizes the story of John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” as one of a distorted worldview caused by a misplaced worship of mathematics. John Nash suffered from clinical paranoid schizophrenia, a fact apparently not made sufficiently clear to movie-goer Godawa, but entirely clear to readers of Sylvia Nassar’s magnificent biography of the same title.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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