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 issues—all 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 about—or watch—movies. 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 issues—sex, violence, profanity—pretty 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 them—but I’m sure they’ll come to thank us eventually!
Still, 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? Up—perhaps my favorite film this year—seems 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.