One of the joys of Christmas is not only receiving gifts but sharing them with others. This Christmas I received a copy of the very first Dr Who episode, and I got to share it with my wife! Oh, how we clapped our hands with glee… well, one of us anyway. Yet even as I watched that first blue police box creak and crank in and out of existence I realised most people today wouldn’t find that the hardest thing to believe…
Film and TV have a way of reshaping not just their character’s perceptions, but their viewers as well. Consider the female leads from that classic production. Your choices would be a schoolteacher who was forever screaming, “Oh, I can’t go on!” or the high school student to whom the Doctor was regularly saying, “Don’t be such a stupid girl!” But thanks to fifty years of big and small screens we’ve progressed to far stronger heroines like Frozen’s Elsa and Anna who are not only brimming with confidence – “Yes, I’m alone. But alone and free!” – but they can sing and dance as they save the day.
Film and television are large and small mirrors, sometimes reflecting the world around us, at other times reflecting the world we would like to see. They constantly refine our views of nations, relationships, right and wrong. Muppets Most Wanted taught kids Europeans take too many holidays. How To Train Your Dragon 2 suggested the best way to get a separated mum and dad back together was to surprise them with each other, then let love do the rest. But 2014 was a particularly good year for cultivating our picture of God.
In The Lego Movie, the ordinary construction worker Emmet is recruited to stop the evil tyrant Lord Business from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis. However we soon realise Lord Business is just the brick incarnation of ‘The Man Upstairs’, the Creator of all Lego life and, in reality, the uptight father of a small boy who just wants to play with his dad’s collection. Will Ferrell’s god-like character posts rules all over his creation like ‘Off limits!’ and ‘Do not touch!’ He’s uptight, angry and out of touch with his son. Sure he bought and built the Lego sets, but he’s forgotten they’re not just for him. Real happiness will only occur when this Creator lets his children become creators too.
And this wasn’t last year’s only revision of The Man Upstairs.
Last year’s boy blockbuster Transformers 4: Age of Extinction showed us Optimus Prime and his Autobots on the run after the American government decided the only good alien was a dead one. There were plenty of bad guys to choose from. Scientists had mistakenly brought the evil Megatron back to life, the CIA was running a Tranformer kill-squad called Cemetery Wind, and the government was being assisted by Lockdown, a merciless alien bounty hunter. But Optimus’ real ire was reserved for the bad guys behind the contract killer: his Creators.
“This message is to my creators: Leave planet earth alone – because I am coming for you!”
The ‘Creators’ apparently don’t like species mixing things up, and they had built Optimus to do what he was told. All the heroes of Transformers 4 want is for their authoritarian masters to leave them alone so they can become “…not who we are but who we can be.” In this story the Creator isn’t just frustrating or out of touch, he’s the enemy.
Too harsh? Let’s round out the year that was with its biggest religious release…
Exodus: Gods and Kings brought the epic story of the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt back to the big screen. The kids might have The Prince of Egypt but Ridley Scott would introduce us to plagues and miracles the likes of which we’d never seen. He’d also introduce us to a new version of this unreasonable, untrustworthy God. Moses would encounter his Creator in the form of a petulant child who would throw tantrums when he heard Pharaoh was passing himself off as divine. God was confusing and cruel, driving Moses out of his mind, and the most reasonable line in the film would come from King Ramses’ mouth:
“Who would worship a God who kills children?”
The Uptight Worrier, the Despotic Controller, and finally the Evil Child… We’ve come a long way in a comparatively short time from The Ten Commandments’ voice of authority, even Bruce Almighty’s mild-mannered Morgan Freeman.
The power of the big and small screens lies not in their talent for entrancing the eyes but their ability to fill the vacuum between the ears, particularly where kids are concerned. Not teaching our children what we think about God leaves a gap which producers, directors and scriptwriters are happy to fill. The boy or girl without any contrasting opinions is more likely to just accept what they see. But the son or daughter who has been armed with a well thought out picture of God, who is regularly exposed to what the Bible actually says about their Creator, and who daily see their parents treat Him as reality rather than fantasy, will be free to enjoy the spectacle these movies provide – and still recognise these childish images for what they are.