My favourite theologian John Frame in his book ‘Theology at the Movies’ lists some key questions that goes in his when he watches films. He recommends that we all ask the same questions. The importance of question may vary from film to film. I have moved the numbers around to put them in what I think is a logical progression, which may or may not be logical!
1. Who wrote, produced and directed the film? The writings and previous work of these people says something about their philosophy of life. The previous works of actors are also important. Some actors tend to sign on to projects with which they have some ideological affinity.2. 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.3. 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. 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. 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?6. Are the problems soluble? If so, how? What methods are available to the characters so that they can find the answers they need?7. 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?8. 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?9. 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?9. What is the worldview 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?10. Are there allusions that would give us some idea where the filmmakers are coming from? This may include allusions to historical events, literary works, other films, famous people, Scripture, etc. 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.12. 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?
Frame’s list is naturally helpful. Grant Horner’s book ‘Meaning at the Movies’ has another great treatment. I will put down some of Horner’s questions in a future post. One question that Frame includes which Horner doesn't is (12). That is a very easy one to miss. Sometimes of course it is very obvious. For example, it is clear Loki in the Avengers Assemble is a type of Satan! But you may be a Loki fan who disagrees!
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013