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Here are the sorts of questions John Frame thinks about when watching a film:

  1. People. Who wrote the film? Who produced it? Who directed it? Do we know through the writings and previous work of these people anything about their philosophy of life? The previous works of actors are also important. Actors contribute much to the quality of a film, little to its fundamental conception. But actors do tend to sign on to projects with which they have some ideological affinity (assuming financial rewards are not otherwise determinative). . . . The presence of certain actors, granting that they sometimes go “against type,” can tell you something about the message of a film.
  2. Aesthetics. Is it well-made, aesthetically? Are the production and acting values of high quality? These factors may have little to do with the “message.” But they do tend to determine the extent of the film’s cultural impact, and that is important for our purposes. If a film is well-made, it can have a large impact upon the culture for good or ill. (Of course some bad films also have a major impact!)
  3. Honesty. Is it honest, true to its own position? This is another mark of “quality.” Generally speaking, an honest film, regardless of its point of view, will have a larger cultural impact than one which blunts its points.
  4. Genre. What kind of film is it? Fantasy? Biography? Realistic drama? Comedy? Obviously each film must be judged according to its purpose and genre. We don’t demand of a fantasy the kind of historical accuracy we demand of a supposedly literal biography.
  5. Worldview. What is the world view of the film? Is it theistic or atheistic? Christian or non-Christian? If non-Christian, is its main thrust relativistic or dogmatic? How does it employ the theme of “equality?” Is there any role for providence, for God? Is the film pessimistic or optimistic? Does the action move in deterministic fashion, or is there a significant role for human choice?
  6. Plot. What is the plot? What problems do the characters face? Can these problems be correlated in some way with the Fall of mankind in Adam? Does the film in effect deny the Fall, or does it affirm it in some way?
  7. Problems. Are the problems soluble? If so, how? What methods are available to the characters so that they can find the answers they need?
  8. Morality. What is the moral stance of the film? Is the film relativistic, dogmatic, or both in some combination? What are its attitudes toward sex, family, human life, property, truth, heart-attitudes? What is the source of moral norms, if any? Does justice prevail?
  9. Humor. In comedy, what is it that is funny? What are the typical incongruities? Who is the butt of the jokes? (Christians? traditional values? the wicked? the righteous? God? Satan?) Is the humor anarchic? Is it rationality gone awry? Is it bitter or gentle? Does it rely on caricatures? If so, of whom?
  10. Allusions. Are there allusions to historical events, literary works, other films, famous people, Scripture, etc. that would give us some idea where the filmmakers are coming from? We should remember, of course, that allusions may be negative, positive, ironic, or merely decorative. A biblical allusion does not necessarily indicate acceptance of biblical values.
  11. Images. What are the chief images of the film? Is there anything interesting about the lighting, the camera angles, the sound, the timing which would reinforce a particular theme? Are there significant symbols?
  12. Religion. Are there any explicit religious themes? Christ-figures? Does the film express significant attitudes toward Christ, the clergy, or the church? Does it distort Christianity or present it at its worst? Or does it present it with some insight and/or sympathy? Does it recognize the element of personal piety in people’s lives? There are exceptions. If so, does it approve or disapprove of it? What about Satan, the demons, the occult? Does the film recognize their activity in some way? Is the devil taken seriously? If so, how is he dealt with?

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2 thoughts on “John Frame: 12 Questions to Ask When Viewing a Film”

  1. Brent says:

    John Frame lost some credibility with me on the subject of movies when he said the following in his e-book entitled “Theology at the Movies”:

    “So some movie sex is certainly sinful in itself. And one cannot, certainly, justify watching sin for its own sake. I would not go to a film for the purpose of watching an actor and actress in a nude sex scene (thus I avoid “XXX” flicks), any more than I would take a walk in the park to spy on kids making love behind the bushes. On the other hand, I would not stay away from the park out of fear that I might happen to observe some illicit sex. Similarly, if film actors wish to commit sin before the camera, that is their responsibility. I don’t believe I commit sin when I, in the normal course of my cultural pursuits, observe what they, without consulting me, have chosen to do in public.”

    This shows a significant lack of discernment and sensitivity to a host of biblical principles in my opinion.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I agree, Brent. This logic may have worked in pre IMDB parental-guidance days, but now it’s like walking through a park where you know this is going to take place.

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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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