A Christian Guide to the Movies

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From time to time I am asked what kinds of questions run through my mind when watching, discussing, or writing about Christianity and movies. Usually I have a rough outline in my head, when asked to present or discuss Christian themes in movies, literature, etc. After all, these questions could just as easily be applied to a variety of other creative mediums. And so the following list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is beneficial as we declare and defend the Christian faith in the 21st century Areopagus. Enjoy the movie on its own merits. For some this means the artistry, creativity, or style of cinematography, animation, or acting. For others it’s something like Starlord’s Awesome Mix Volume 1 or an Oscar-winning musical score, like that of John Williams or Howard Shore. Whatever it is, take some time to think and discuss various aspects of the movie such as the plot, story-arc, character development, conflict and resolution, main themes, or favorite parts of the movie. It’s engaging and lays groundwork for later when the discussion leads to particular Christian themes that may be in the movie.

A word of caution; be careful not to overanalyze or examine it so much that the joy of watching the movie is sucked up like a minion in an ice cream truck. The old maxim, “to dissect is to murder” can apply just as well to movie discussions. It’s not that we shouldn’t discuss or analyze, but like a good stake, it ought not be overcooked.

Every story (and movies are stories) comes from someone’s worldview. I’ve found that a discussion on diagnosing worldviews is also helpful. Worldview is the way we look at the world around us. “What is real? What is true? How do we know what is right and wrong?” These are worldview kinds of questions. And the award for best writer on this topic goes to James Sire. In his book, The Universe Next Door, he provides a thoughtful summary and commentary on some of the most common worldviews out there (e.g. Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, etc.).

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I also ask a lot of questions to get discussion going but also to unpack many of the things that I or others notice without just quickly saying it and moving on. Here are a few of the questions I commonly ask:

  • Were there any religious themes in the movie? If so, what did you notice? Was there anything specific like calling the Force in Star Wars a superstitious religion or was it more subtle, like The Shawshank Redemption?
  • How did any of these movie themes harmonize or parallel some teaching of the Christian faith? How are they different or opposing to our Christian/Biblical worldview?
  • Did you notice any specific Christian themes portrayed in the movie? Examples of common ones are: good vs. evil, slavery vs. freedom, redemption, rescue, sacrifice, hope, longing for a better world, a hero or heroine, death and resurrection, a portrayal of a sinful and broken world, value of human life, family, etc.
  • How would you describe these Christian themes? Were they implicit or explicit - obvious or more subtle?
  • In what way(s) was this movie similar to any story (or stories) in the Bible? How is it different?
  • Was there a clear Christ-figure? Why would this character qualify as a Christ-figure? Not every movie has a Christ-figure, but many do. Think of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Gandalf, or any number of superheroes in the latest surge of comic-book movies. A Christ figure is not meant to replace the person and work of Jesus. Rather, they will reflect some aspect of Jesus’ atoning work on our behalf. Some of the best stories (on film and in books) reflect the greatest story of all time, the Gospel.
  • How does this movie point us to the true story of the Gospel? Again, this is not meant to substitute solid teaching of the Gospel. The Christian story isn’t one more story in a long history of fairy tales and fictional works. Jesus’ death and resurrection is an historical event. Every movie, book, or song that has Christian themes in it has in some way, shape, or form borrowed from the real story of the Gospel. Not only is Jesus’ dying and rising a point in history; it is the point of history – and many a good film has given us a glimpse of this.
  • If you were discussing this movie with a friend, how might you move the conversation to the Gospel? Is there a window or bridge from this movie to some aspect of Christian doctrine? Many times there are, both by way of negative and positive examples. When talking about Baptism, for example, I often use the illustration of Andy writing his name on the foot of each of his toys to show how Christ marks us with His cross in Baptism and calls us His own child by name.

Hopefully this has been a helpful guide. And if you think of other questions or observations feel free and post in the comment section below. For now, that’s a wrap.