Do we have faith in film? There are two ways to answer this question and both of them matter. Here’s why.
Asked one way, the question considers whether film matters. Do we have faith in film as a medium? Do we believe in the power of film?
The answer has to be yes. As the great theologian Jack Nicholson once said, “We learn how to kiss or to drink, talk to our buddies — all the things that you can’t really teach in social studies or history — we all learn them at the movies.”
While Nicholson is considered one of the great actors, actually not a theologian, his observation reflects a biblical parallel.
Stories matter. Stories have power. The Bible is mostly a book of stories, all of them telling one great story. Those stories, and that story, can change the way we think and live.
As a Christian, I believe the ultimate story is expressed in John’s Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The power of the Jesus story is that it was lived out in a human life. He had been predicted, he was born, he was a carpenter, he lived among the people, he taught, he worked miracles, he was hated, he was crucified, and he rose again. People saw this story play out, not just heard about it.
In a similar way, albeit lesser, movies have an added power over the printed novel. They show, as well as tell, the story. Viewers not only identify with a character’s story and lines, but also actually see how it is acted out. Film adds visual power to the story. It is not just entertainment power. It is emotional power and educational power.
This is why Andy Warhol said, “It’s movies that have really been running things in America. They show you what to do, how to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”
So we have faith in film’s power as a medium. Movies visually carry you into a story and model life for viewers in a moving way. Perhaps we should resurrect phrases like “motion pictures” and “moving pictures.” Movies have the power to change.
But will that power be for good or for evil? This is the other way to ask and answer the question, “Do we have faith in film?”
We should ask ourselves about the faith content of every film. If the content of film has an educational effect, not just entertainment value, shouldn’t we want films that are pro-faith and pro-virtue? “Good” films should be more than “good” entertainment, but have content about the good, the true and the beautiful.
The best content is obvious. Imagine a movie today that equaled a 1965 cast of Max von Sydow, Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire, Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, Shelley Winters, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowell, John Wayne, Sidney Poitier, Angela Lansbury, and Robert Blake.
Those were the actors for the film, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The gravitas of that cast reminds us that the old story, the biblical story, is the greatest story. There should be no surprise that more films have been made about Jesus that any other human being. We should expect, and want, more films like “The Passion of the Christ,” “Son of God” and “Ben-Hur.”
But faith is about all of life. To have faith in film does not mean we only want Bible films, or even mostly Bible films. We want films about everything, but we want those films to represent faith values.
Those faith films should cover almost every genre, but should explore “worldview” questions, such as:
Where did we come from? (The origin of life)
What does it mean to be human? (The meaning of life)
What has gone wrong? (The problems of life)
How can it be made right? (The redemption of life)
Where is everything heading? (The future of life)
This is the way to have faith in film; it is to have films of faith.
Yes, suspense films can do this. So can drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, and almost every other kind of movie. It takes talent to do this. These movies need to be creative, entertaining and excellent in every artistic way.
Along this line, C.S. Lewis wrote of literature: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christian talent.” Amen to Lewis, and the same goes for movies.
• Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D., is president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters. The NRB will hold a Film and Entertainment Summit in Orlando, Florida, as part of its annual convention, Feb. 27-March 3, 2017.
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