Staying awake in films and television shows is a problem. Personally I find the combination of a long day at work, a good meal and the laughing-screaming-crying wrestle we call the kids’ bedtime to be a powerful sedative. But that’s not the sort of sleepiness I’m referring to…
Film and TV productions are designed, at least on one level, to put your conscious thought processes to sleep. Stories have been doing as much long before the Lumière brothers set up their first tripod. There is a certain detachment necessary to enjoy a good story, a surrendering of our present world so the characters can come to life. We do at least that much willingly; story time at any age is a relaxing time. But over and above this film and TV promote something of a hypnotic state. I’m not the first to note the contemplative state human beings associate with staring into light sources – stars, sunsets, campfires – and, in a darkened room, it’s that much easier to find ourselves slipping into that comfortable suspension of reality where this month Tarzan, James Brown and the Ninja Turtles will emerge from the shadows.
But surrendering yourself to the moment shouldn’t mean surrendering your mind. Every film and television story is, after all, a message. Everything from the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to the modern epic Hunger Games arises from a worldview and asserts a way of seeing life. And communicators know that the easiest minds to sway are those taken unawares. That’s why the prophet Nathan decided to tell a murderous King David a sheep story rather than call him an adulterer to his face.
So how do we stay aware enough to decide whether what we’re hearing is worth accepting? I’ve been asked this question for as long as I’ve been a reviewer. The answer is as simple as the query: be prepared to ask yourself some questions after you’ve finished watching. Here are some helpful ones I’ve collected over the years:
Ben McEachen: Is this a good film?
Ben is the former editor of movie mainstay Empire Magazine and one of the most published film reviewers in Australia. Among other things he wants to encourage Christian readers to remember the medium they’re watching. “Films should be assessed on their merits, as a film endeavour,” he says, noting there’s no point condemning a production because it doesn’t provide the detail a book like the Bible might. “Then, as a Christian, consider your reaction to the film’s subject matter, tone and implications in the light of your belief system.”
Adrian Drayton: What about this film moves me?
Adrian is a Christian writer who had already been reflecting on popular culture for more than a decade by the time I wrote my first review. He is a past master at considering the ‘phenomenological response’ films have – the laughter, the tears, the goose bumps. “Filmmaking can manipulate a message through intercutting, editing, attaching an evocative soundtrack,” he says. According to Adrian if we don’t consider what a film is asking us to feel strongly about, and whether we agree as Christians, we’re more likely to just passively consume a culture rather than speak into it.
John Piper: Does it express or advance my holiness?
Recently American pastor John Piper expressed these thoughts on Christians watching the MA15+ HBO series Game Of Thrones: “In the Bible, from beginning to end, there is a radical call for holiness – holiness of mind and heart and life. ‘As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.’” There’s more at stake than just understanding how much a production agrees with or contradicts the Bible. Does the production help or harm you spiritually? It can only do one or the other.
Myself: Are there bits of broken treasure?
Our Christian culture is often at odds with this world and so I regularly find myself exiting a preview screening with a list of things I don’t agree with. But I also need to remind myself that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”  Healthy father-son relationships? A strong desire for justice? The conviction truth will win out in the end? The Devil didn’t create any of those; everything worth celebrating is from God. Sin might obscure His masterpiece but I do my readers a favour by pointing out where the Creator’s handiwork shines through. By doing so I can slip under the guard of His creatures, who were designed to agree. And by pointing out where it comes from, I can challenge their worldview as well as prepare my Christian friends to tell them about Jesus.
 James 1:17, NIV, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A17&version=NIV