‘A Good Story Well Told’



It’s November now, and here at Plugged In that means we’re on the cusp of Oscar season. Films with Academy Awards aspirations are starting to trickle into the the theaters, and those sorts of films present all manner of opportunities and challenges for us. I mean, what do we do with beautifully made films that grapple with weighty, spiritual issuesall while gunning out profanities by the minute?

In the most recent installment of my eight-part series “Not Just a Movie,” I talk about how there is no one way for Christians to think aboutor watchmovies. We Christians are all over the map when it comes to this stuff, so it’s probably not too surprising that Christian film critics tackle films from different viewpoints, too, Here at Plugged In we tend to take some of the more obvious issuessex, violence, profanitypretty seriously, largely because tons of parents read our reviews while deciding what to let their kids watch (or not). I know this can frustrate the dickens out of kids—I’ve gotten letters from a few of thembut I’m sure they’ll come to thank us eventually!

slumdog.JPGStill, that doesn’t alter the fact that some problematic movies can contain some really worthwhile messages … and figuring out how to navigate that paradox is probably the biggest single challenge all of us Plugged In writers face. How do we talk about Slumdog Millionaire‘s inspirational love story and sense of destiny without shortchanging the fact that it’s steeped in poverty, prostitution and horror? Can we convey Gran Torino‘s Christ-inspired sacrifice’s and its alarming number of racial epithets, too? Upperhaps my favorite film this yearseems like it’d be a slam-dunk for us: Stunning storytelling, great messages and no problematic content to speak of. Yet, after Plugged In published my review, we got an angry letter or two from parents shocked that we’d give such a glowing critique of a film that dealt with death.

I know sometimes readers get frustrated because we don’t grade our movies by stars or thumbs up and down … but frankly, many films are too complex to just give them a Plugged In stamp of approval (or disdain). We’re here to make you think more critically about movies, not just provide a list of do’s and don’ts. Sorry, folks, but you’ve got to make your own hard decisions.

Last week, Joel, a reader, offered some e-mailed thoughts on my first “Not Just a Movie” chapter:

As I read your first installment I thought of my bottom line criteria for watching a movie: "Is it a good story well told?" It's a simple question, and when the movie is over it becomes a simple statement (one way or the other); but it is full of meaning when you allow the words "good" and "well" their full contexts and meanings ... which deepen as I experience both life and the Lord of life.

Pretty good criteria, I’d say. Thanks, Joel.

So, with that said, I want to open this up to you. What, in your mind, is a “good story well told?” What film has moved you the most this year? I’d love to hear from you.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Bunjiman:

"Up" has been my single most enjoyed film of the past few years.  Much like Pixar did with Wall-E, I marvel at the ability in the first few minutes of Up to tell a story with little to no dialogue (it brought a tear to my eye).  The rest of the film won me over with it's storytelling, semiotics, and themes of undying love.  If the Oscars pass on this one in the Best Picture category because it's a cartoon or children's movie, then they have done themselves a disservice by not recognizing a good story well told.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  MMSprings:

Surprisingly, since I can't abide violence, it was 16 Blocks!   I wasn't expecting much but I really loved the theme of redemption - that overarching voice that said no-one is beyond the ability to change - beyond Hope.  There was a depth you don't see much in action movies today, which was refreshing.  Tho I must confess to watching it on TV and closing my eyes/ears quite a bit.  Oh well.  How do we get the good meat without chewing through some of the fat and gristle?  Can't live on brocolli - or milk ...

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Superheroine:

You got an angry letter about your review of Up? I find that ridiculous. Up is a slam dunk--clean, hilarious, and with a tearjerkingly deep message to boot. It shows the reality of life, death, and everything in between.

Contrast that with William Young's book The Shack. In The Shack, a man's daughter is kidnapped and brutally murdered. A year later, he recieves a letter from God summoning him to the shack where his daughter died. The story deals with themes similar to those in Up, but in between there are messages promoting things contrary to Christianity--most notably, the doctrine that Christ saved everyone at the cross and that accepting or not accepting it is immaterial; you're going to heaven whether you asked forgiveness or not.

We need more stories that deal with heavy issues in a positive, Biblically sound manner. Up is one of those stories. Dismissing it because it's an animated movie that deals with death is not only stupid; it's dangerous.