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Christians & movies (part 1)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is the first in a five-part special series by movie reviewer Phil Boatwright examining the coarse content of movies.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Clark Gable’s famous line in “Gone With The Wind” — “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a d***” — caused quite a stir back in 1939. How times have changed.

Yet when it comes to film content, Christian moviegoers have become just as complacent as everyone else. This five-part series will examine what has become acceptable to Christian moviegoers and how we can change our apathy. While movies and television are an escape from daily pressures, irreverence to spiritual matters has become synonymous with media entertainment. Cynicism, crudeness, lewdness and excess are not just aimed at the drive-in set, but are praised as high art. And we in the church pay to see it right along with nonbelievers.

Has the amount of bawdiness and blasphemy in entertainment had any detrimental effect upon the Christian’s spiritual growth? How about the church? And what’s the worst of Hollywood’s offenses? Let’s begin our examination.

Through production companies with innocent-sounding names, producers today are attempting to entertain a new generation of Christians by incorporating film content that was once accepted only by the general public. While still professing the need for faith in Christ, these filmmakers believe the church to be worldly enough to accept the same PG-13 content once only found in theatrical releases.

For those who faintly remember movies made by World Wide Pictures and Ken Anderson Films, the new sights and sounds of some of today’s filmed religious parables cause pause. Violent imagery, including torture, can be seen (“Mercy Streets”); sexual innuendo can be heard (“To Save A Life”); and though obscene dialogue is still a frontier not yet pioneered by Christian picture makers, some are pushing the envelope with a curse word here, another one there.

Now in theaters, “To Save A Life” has its share of message-laden misdemeanors, but the film’s sobering themes and the writer’s ability to string all the subplots together into an absorbing story trump its minor disappointments. The powerful climax satisfies the spirit and reminds the heart of Christ’s command to love one another. In an attempt to show real life, however, the film contains PG-13 content: a few minor expletives; violence, including a teen suicide; one sexual situation (only brief, it is more frank in discussion than graphic in depiction); teen drinking, including a beer-chugging contest; and a teen group smoking pot. To be fair, none of this material is meant to be exploitive, but rather used to give a realistic view of teen life in America. But it’s there, just as in every other film.

In “Jake’s Corner,” a PG family-aimed DVD set for a March release, a homosexual artist is featured. Though there are no sexual situations, the painter has done a work entitled “Queen Kong,” showing the face of the angry younger brother of King Kong. I couldn’t figure if the film was just trying to embrace a particular community with a loving spirit, or showing an acceptance of that lifestyle. Being released by Monterey Media, “Jake’s Corner” is aimed at the mainstream audience, but with the “family friendly” quote on the cover, along with the toe-headed child and the cute dog, it’s one that will also entice Christians as well.

On the more secular front, publicists are hoping Christians will support the PG-rated “Extraordinary Measures.” The storyline: a father sacrifices everything in order to find a cure for his children’s life-threatening illness. While the film moves us and tests us, it doesn’t depress us. The characters are fighters and their energy unites and uplifts us. Sadly, there’s no indication in the film that the lead characters ever turn to God for help or strength. Although there is a desperate scene where a child is near death, there are no church scenes, nor any prayers offered up. How secular do you have to be to not pray when your child is dying?

Every time the film’s star, Harrison Ford (playing a research scientist) gets mad, and he gets mad a lot, he curses or utters Christ’s name as an expletive for relieving frustration. Jesus’ name is taken in vain four times and God’s name is followed by a curse once. While that may not seem an excessive amount of profanity, try uttering a racial or ethnic slur just once in a film without it serving to indicate prejudice and ignorance. Those disrespects would be met, justifiably, with outrage. So why do publicists expect us to ignore the abuse of our Lord’s name? And why are we accepting of irreverent behavior in the name of entertainment?

The Scriptures instruct us to not conform to the world, but to be set apart. We are to be the salt of the Earth and a light to the lost, not a copycat in order to be accepted. I’ve used this analogy before, but it seems to fit with this column’s direction. If you place a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out. If you place him in room-temperature liquid, slowly raising the heat level, he’ll remain until he, ahem, croaks. Over the past several decades, the media has simmered society in a stew of moral ambiguity, excusing their offenses with “Hey, it’s only a movie.” And like that poor frog, we Christians have adjusted ourselves to the same numbing content as everyone else.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at “The Book of Eli” and at how film studios are attempting to court the Christian demographic.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” Read his film reviews at previewonline.org. To read other columns in the “Christians & movies” special series click here.

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  • Phil Boatwright