Thursday, February 28, 2008

Oscar Season

This is Oscar season. The film industry's annual attempt to evaluate and reward itself. We film goers wait to see what the Industry thought was good work. We do not always agree, especially this year. Violent movies were the first choice for excellence this year. Violence that the reviewers in praise of the movie, nevertheless, called "disturbing". The films were nominated for Oscars because of their technical excellence, scriptwriting and performances. And most of the nominated films were outstanding in those areas. Still, why so much graphic, disturbing violence? I saw American Gangster, one of this years highly touted films, which opens with a scene of graphic violence and includes many others plus "disturbing images" of drug use. I chose not to see Sweeney Todd, In the Country of Old Men (even though I loved the Coen brothers "O Brother Where Art Thou?"), There Will Be Blood and Eastern Promises - all technically excellent films according to reviewers but very violent, as well. I watched In the Valley of Elah which cast Tommie Lee Jones, a favorite of mine, in an Oscar nominated role as a distraught father who is searching for his missing son who just returned from the Iraq war. Jones' work is lost in a film that says soldiers returning from the Iraq war are out of control. Numbed by the violence they have seen and experienced in Iraq, they have lost any moral compass and are liable to recreate the war violence on friends and family. It is as hopeless and dark a movie as you could ever watch. For this the academy awards it's highest honor.

I attended a Christian college in the 70's which had strict regulations about movies. We were not allowed to see them. It was a bit hypocritical since you could watch tv and there were movies to be seen there although heavily edited. How things have changed! I am still not used to the way Christians consume popular culture today, mostly uncritically, I think. When I was working with youth groups in the 80's and 90's I was frequently surprised when I heard what movies my church kids were watching. Parents seemed not to know or care. Today, I am surprised at how many Christian adults just "go to the movies" without any idea about what they are viewing or why.

Why were our Christian forefathers so concerned about movies that they were banned on many Christian college campuses? The movies back then were certainly tame compared to the "disturbing" sexual and violent images seen on the screen today. What do movies seek to do? Is movie going just an innocent use of leisure time such as watching a high school basketball game might be?

Movies have a point of view. They are windows on our culture. There are many good reasons to watch them. But we need to watch them critically. A film like In the Valley of Elah is making an anti-war statement. More than that it says that this country because of its war commitment is all wrong and in deep trouble. Do we need to see that? Does it need to make that point with its "disturbing images" of sex and violence? Maybe, maybe not. That's why we need to discuss it if we see it. It is more than "just entertainment."

Some movies are not quite so heavy, or as heavy as some think they are. Some like Enchanted or Hairpsray are for entertainment. Christians can enjoy them, too. The Bible warns us about what we put before our eyes because it goes straight to our minds and some of those images which are made to disturb you can't ever get out.

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