Taking God to the Movies (5): What Ocean’s 11, The Incredibles, The Notebook, Cast Away, Hannibal, The Gladiator, The Green Mile, and Other Movies Have to Say about God, the Gospel, & Life

Taking God to the Movies (5): What Ocean’s 11, The Incredibles, The Notebook, Cast Away, Hannibal, The Gladiator, The Green Mile, and Other Movies Have to Say about God, the Gospel, & Life

Bruce Riley Ashford

In the last two installments of “Taking God to the Movies,” we covered the nine elements of (nearly) every movie and then applied those nine elements to two particular movies, Braveheart and Tommy Boy. In this post, I will choose six “themes” that are prevalent in Hollywood and list a movie or two that I think express each theme. Several of the themes are ones with which I agree, and several of the themes are ones with which I disagree. I will provide a very brief response to each movie.

1. Rules are Bad:

This category is a sort of catch-all for those movies that have themes such as “moral rules are enslaving,” “Judeo-Christian morality is bad,” and “crime is cool.”

The Ocean’s Trilogy: Three of the most worthless movies in the history of American cinema are Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13. Ironically, they are also three of the most popular. One of the themes of these movies is that when cool people commit crimes, crime is cool. The viewer finds himself pulling for the heroes (Brad Pitt, George Clooney, etc.) because they have great clothes, hair, makeup, and one-liners, even though the heroes are serial felons. Film critic Brian Godawa puts it well, “I normally try to say what I like about a film, even if I don’t agree with it, but this one is so morally bankrupt, the immorality overshadows the good. It would be like trying to say what is good about a porn film. There is a point at which the bad overcomes the good and devalues anything that might have been good.” A brief response: Brad Pitt may be cool, but felony robbery is not.

Pleasantville: This film is an onslaught against Judeo-Christian morality, and accomplished its purpose by arguing that people really “come alive” when they make choices against societal norms such as marriage. At the beginning, the film is set in black and white, but at the moment that the actress decides to commit adultery (by picking an apple off the tree), the screen turns to color. The implication is that traditional moral norms are oppressive. A brief response: God’s moral law is given to set us free, not to enslave us.

2. Family is Good:

The Incredibles: One of the best films in recent memory. Its incredible J. At the beginning of this animated children’s film, the family of five superheroes is weakened by internal irritations and arguments. But by the end of the movie, the family has realized that its real enemies are external. Their deep bond is revealed as each person uses his or her unique power (which reflects their individual personality traits) to strengthen the family. Along the way, The Incredibles criticizes the culture of entitlement, lawsuits, and blameshifting that has grown in the United States. A brief response: I agree with the several intertwined themes.

Other flicks with pro-family elements are Family Man, The Patriot, and The Gladiator.

3. Love is a serious commitment:

The Notebook: OK, I know I’m going to take a beating from the male species for this one. I’m going to say that one of the best Hollywood movies of the past several decades is The Notebook. It is one of the few movies that presents a realistic and robust view of love and marriage. It refuses to paint a simplistic or superficial picture of love and marriage. The movie begins with a scene in which an old man reads a love story every day to an elderly woman (Allie). The viewer soon finds out that the elderly woman, Allie, has dementia and cannot remember her past. The old man, Noah, is her husband, who comes to her room daily to read her their loves story until, at the end of the story each day, she realizes that the story is about her love story, and the man reading the story is her husband. The rest of the movie tells the tale of how they came to love one another and marry. The Notebook’s view of love is realistic and robust. It portrays marriage as difficult but worthwhile and that it is forever, and not just for a season. A brief response: The movies is very strongly pro-marriage and pro-family, but does not make clear that human love is not ultimate.

4. God does not exist:

Cast Away: This movie turns Robinson Crusoe on its head. The lead character, played by Tom Hanks, is alone on an island, but unlike Robinson Crusoe the point of the story is that we are alone in the universe. There is no God. Hanks buries the deceased pilot, and after the funeral says, simply, “so that’s it,” implying that there is no after life. Hanks relives the evolutionary stages of mankind by finding shelter, building fire, etc., implying that there is no Creator. There is one spiritual symbol in the movie, a volleyball which Hanks names “Wilson,” but Wilson is a human construction who serves merely as an emotional crutch, implying that there is no God other than human projections. A brief response: The message of Cast Away is antithetical to the gospel.

Other movies promoting a naturalist view of the universe include Bicentennial Man, The Hannibal trilogy, and perhaps Forrest Gump.

5. The Christian gospel is false and harmful:

The Da Vinci Code: Tom Hanks has chosen to star in quite a few films that are blatantly antithetical to the gospel, and this is yet another. In the movie, Langdon (Hanks) asserts that wherever the one true God has been preached, there has been killing in his name. The implication is the monotheism is a murderous worldview. The author, Dan Brown, pens this book as a piece of fiction, but also claims that it is based on facts. This is his way of saying anything negative he wants to about Christianity, implying that those things are true, and when the smart viewer realizes his assertions are not based on historical fact, he throws up his hands and claims, “But its just a work of fiction.” A brief response: A hypocritical and deceptive move.

Hannibal: This decadent and desensitizing movie tells the fictive history of Hannibal the Cannibal (Anthony Hopkins). As Brian Godawa points out, this movie is an intentional mockery of the Christian gospel. The hero of the movie is an agent of darkness and death (Hannibal the Cannibal) instead of Light and Life (Christ). The man who betrays Hannibal in the movie (Pazzi, a police officer) does so for $3 million, which is a play off of Judas’ pieces of silver. Pazzi is killed, like Judas Iscariot, by being hung upside down and his guts spilling to the ground. Hannibal, like Jesus, has a last supper, but Hannibal’s supper is one in which he kills and eats another man’s body. Unlike Jesus, who offered his own body that others might live, Hannibal sacrifices others so that he may devour them. The movie ends with an ascension with Hannibal seated in a jet as it ascends into the sky. Throughout the movie, the writer and director portray Hannibal as a likeable and winsome hero. He is smart, funny, cultured and likeable. A brief response: The theme of this movie is despicable.

6. The Christian gospel is true and good:

There are more than a few movies that, in one way or another, are positive toward the gospel. Les Miserables is the story of a convicted prisoner whose life is transformed by the grace and mercy shown him by another man. The theme of grace and mercy runs throughout the story, making this a fine movie. The Green Mile is the story of a wrongly accused minority, John Coffey, who is able to heal infirmities by touch, by taking the disease into himself, suffering pain because of the disease, and later releasing the disease. In the end, not only does Coffee die in the place of the real killer, but the screenwriter informs us that the electric chair was never used again. This story intentionally parallels the gospel, as Jesus was a wrongly accused minority who heals us by taking our sin on his shoulders, dying in our place, and in dying defeating death. Braveheart is a movie in which the hero’s death became the loss that won Scotland’s freedom, just as Jesus’ death is the loss that wins our freedom.

A brief response: These movies parallel the gospel in significant ways, but of course the movies themselves are not the gospel.mobi online

Taking God to the Movies (3): Nine Elements of a Hollywood Storyline

Taking God to the Movies (3): Nine Elements of a Hollywood Storyline

Bruce Riley Ashford

This third installment of the “Taking God to the Movies” will include a brief look at the nine elements in nearly every Hollywood movie: theme, hero, hero’s goal, adversary, character flaw, apparent defeat, final confrontation, self-revelation, and resolution. Once the viewer can identify these nine elements, he or she is ready to begin analyzing the movie and responding to its storyline from a confessionally Christian viewpoint.

The first element is a movie’s theme. The theme is the author’s message, the ultimate point he makes. It is what the movie is ultimately about. For example, in the movie Braveheart, the theme is that some things are worth dying for, because in dying we might set others free. In The Incredibles, the main point is that the family must band together to fight the forces that would come against them. From Shrek, we learn that we should not be afraid of others who are different from us (even if they are green and have ears that look like small saucers). In Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12, the theme, as best I can tell, is “crime is cool.” A movie doesn’t necessarily have one theme; it might have two or three or even more. One question we should ask is, “Is this a theme that resonates with what I believe to be true and good?”

The second element is the movie’s hero. The hero is the main character of the movie. In the Rocky films, the hero is Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). In The Lion King, Simba is the hero. In Christmas Vacation, the hero is Clark Griswold. The hero is the person the screenwriter and director want you to like, and they will use everything at their disposal to help you like the hero (script, lighting, sound, etc). This element of the movie is the rather easy to discern and very important to the movie’s story. One question is whether or not the hero is a character that should be admired. “Does the hero correct his character flaw? Is the virtuous? Does he stand for what is true and good?”

The third element is the hero’s goal. The hero’s goal is a strong desire with which he is obsessed, and which drives the story of the movie. The hero may want to win the love of a woman (Titanic), gain control of his own destiny (The Truman Show), free Scotland from the control of those bad English people (Braveheart), or to win the love of a man (Legally Blond). The screenwriter and directors are able to craft the story in such a way that we usually find ourselves pulling for the hero to achieve his goal. We should ask, “Is the hero’s goal an admirable one? Are there any ways in which it is wrong-headed?”

The fourth element is the adversary. This character is the character in the movie who opposes the hero and tries to keep him from obtaining his goal. The adversary could be a person (Drago in Rocky IV), several persons (Dan Ackroyd, Rob Lowe, and Bo Derek in Tommy Boy), an animal (Ursula in The Little Mermaid), or a force of nature (the storm in The Perfect Storm) or even God (Christof in The Truman Show). The adversary usually is the person who the screenwriter and director want you to dislike. They will use visual effects (the adversary may wear black), audio effects (ominous music), and scripted lines to let you know who the adversary is and why you shouldn’t like him. This is a significant clue for the viewer as to whether or not he agrees with the theme. We should ask, “Is the adversary actually bad? Does the adversary represent someone or something which I would actually want to disagree with or pull against? Is the film calling something evil or bad which is actually evil or bad?”

The fifth element is the character flaw. Whereas the adversary is the external opponent of the hero, the character flaw is the internal opponent. The character flaw might be a wrong way of seeing the world, a wrong way of living, etc. If the character corrects his flaw, the movie is be a drama or a comedy. If the character does not correct his flaw, the movie is a tragedy or a comedy. In Braveheart, William Wallace’s flaw was his gullibility in trusting Robert de Bruce. We should ask, “Is the character’s flaw really a flaw? Does he rely on God’s grace to correct his flaw? Does he refuse to acknowledge the flaw?”

The sixth element is the apparent defeat. This scene usually occurs during the middle of the movie. The hero is being thwarted by his character flaw and adversary. He cannot achieve his goal, and it seems that all is lost. He may have a near-death experience or a time in which his life appears to be worthless. Often viewers are so caught up in the movie, and so committed to pulling for the hero, that they find themselves afraid, or very sad, or caught up in hair-curling suspense. Perhaps the plane is about to crash (Top Gun), the hero gives up because he will never fit in (Elf), the dad will never find his daughter (Taken), or the nerds will never win (Napoleon Dynamite). The apparent defeat is usually connected to the next element, the final confrontation.

The seventh element is the final confrontation. Usually, this comes toward the end of the apparent defeat, and is a scene in which the hero and adversary square off. Usually, the adversary explains his rationale for who he is and why he does what he does, and the hero does the same. This is an exercise in “worldviews in conflict.” The adversary’s rationale is the one that the screenwriter and director do not want us to accept. We should ask, “Is the screenwriter correct that I should oppose this adversary and his rationale?”

The eighth element is the hero’s self-revelation. This is a scene, often at the end of the movie, where the hero has an “aha moment.” In Braveheart, William Wallace is being tortured on the rack when his eyes focus on a crowd of Scots, and a small child in particular, and realizes that his death is for a worthy cause, that of setting the Scots free. We should ask, “Is this self-revelation a good one?”

The ninth element is the resolution. This is the “happily ever after” or “sadly ever after.” It shows the result of the hero’s decisions and actions.angry racing gamessmm smo