‘True Story’ Echoes
A fond memory of mine is teaching at Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO) for nearly seven years. One of my favorite classes I designed and taught was Film and Theology. On the first day of class, I often began the class with two statements: one, all good films tell good stories. Brian Godawa knows what filmmakers know, “If you don’t have a good story, you don’t have a good movie.”1 We love stories! And two, all good films echo the True Story found in the Holy Scriptures.
We order our lives by narratives. Films offer us a narrative to live by; and similarly, the Grand Narrative found on the pages of the Holy Scriptures, also offers us a story to live by. The filmmaker is a storyteller and God is the Master storyteller of His Redemptive Story.
What do storytellers like filmmakers and God know?
Wired to Love Stories
Our Creator built us to love stories. When my daughter, Briana, was a toddler, she would often request in her high pitched Betty Boop voice, “Daddy, Daddy tell me a story.”
“Once upon a time, there lived a little princess named Briana. She lived in a beautiful and majestic white castle. But one day the castle was attacked by a mean humongous fire breathing dragon. Princess Briana and all her servants were afraid and they cried out for help. Fortunately, it was not too long before a prince came riding in on a big horse and he killed that dragon and Princess Briana and all her servants lived happily ever after.”
Each time my daughter asked me to tell a story, I told this story with a few adjustments here and there. She seemingly never tired of the story. Why? Maybe she loved the lead character’s name. Or maybe she loved the story because she, like all of us, are wired to love stories. I think the latter explanation fits best. This is precisely why a good third of the Bible is written using the narratival genre. This is precisely why many children continue to hum the “Let It Go” song found in Disney’s film, Frozen (2013). Not only is the song catchy but the storyline of the film is quite moving too. We simply love stories!
We resonate with stories on a cognitive level but also on a deep visceral level. Marsha Rossiter writes, “Narrative is deeply appealing and richly satisfying to the human soul, with an allure that transcends cultures, centuries, ideologies, and academic disciplines.”2 Neal Gabler adds, “…[the] best of them [films] resonate with us because they provide us with life lessons or because they capture the cultural moment or because they give us a glimpse of the transcendence or because they stimulate the imagination.”3
Rossiter and Gabler’s insights explain my otherwise stoic son’s reaction to watching Toy Story 3. In high school, my son rarely displayed his emotions around his mom and I; he would make a great poker player! Yet, as we watched the film together he actually wept. My son is a good friend and has many friends. I think this movie excellently and movingly portrayed the transcendent beauty of real and genuine friendships. My son resonated with this film not just on a cognitive level but on an emotional level. Good films engage the whole person.
What should you and I – the film viewer – know?
Films are Not Neutral
Francois Truffaut, a French film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film critic, argued beginning in the 1950s, namely that the director, as auteur, imprints a film with his/her own vision.4 If you prefer, films are greatly shaped by the filmmaker’s worldview. Projected on the big screen is the incarnation of the filmmakers’ values or worldview. This means that films are not merely for our amusement; rather, filmmakers, guided by their worldview, seek to persuade us to live by their worldview. This is why my colleague, Dr. Walt Mueller, President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU), often says when it comes to the consumption of music and films, we should adopt this mantra “not mindless consumption but mindful critique.” In other words, we dare not check our minds at the door as films influence us. They influence our behavior. They influence our thinking. Films inspire our imagination and innovation. Films are not benign – they shape our behavior, thinking and imagination.
Films Ask Huge Life Questions
Films “reflect and promote a society’s understanding of life and the world.”5 This means, of course, that films serve as excellent teaching aids because they prompt huge questions about life and the world. Since work makes up a significant chunk of our life, many films pose questions about work and the workplace.
- The film, Wall Street (1987) asks, “Is greed good for achieving the common good?”
- The film, The Grace Card (2010) asks, “Which line of work is more important, police work or being a pastor?”
- The film, In & Out (1993) asks, “Should a Christian worker publicly support a homosexual co-worker?”
- The film, John Q (2002) asks, “What should the church do to support a family where the father has trouble finding good paying work with medical benefits?”
- The film, Wit (2001) asks, “How should doctors treat a dying patient – an imago Dei bearer?”
- The film, Up in the Air (2009) asks, “How should one react when he suffers a job lost?” And finally,
- The film, Joy (2015) asks, “What hurdles must an entrepreneur leap to launch a successful business?”
Films Are Ubiquitous
The import and influence of films is ubiquitous. Films often echo the values we hold dear and even the values we abhor. Films are not merely for our amusement and entertainment. Christians should not dodge or thoughtlessly condemn films; rather, Christians should discerningly engage films with their hearts and with their minds.
This month we will launch our blog series on film. Specifically, we hope to show you how film gives us an inside peak at the world of work.
1. Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews, p. 9.
2. Marsha Rossiter, Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning, ERIC Digest, No. 241, 2002, EDO-CE-02-241.
3. Neal Gabler, Celebrity: The Greatest Show on Earth, Newsweek, December 21, 2009, p. 66.
4. “Auteur” is French for “author”.
5. Steve Garber, “Insight into Film: Don’t Leave Your Brains at the Box Office” (ransomfellowship.org).