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FIRST-PERSON: The evolution of movies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Movies mirror the evolution of man. Now, I know some people raise an eyebrow when they hear a Christian refer to the evolution of man, but I’m not inferring that man came from monkeys in the trees or fish in the sea. (If that were the case, then how come there are still monkeys in the trees and fish in the sea? What, are they underachievers?) No, when I refer to man evolving, I mean his nature, his temperament and his acceptance of things good or evil.

Case in point, there was a time (not so long ago in the span of time since storytelling began), when the sadistic brutality now common and unchecked in horror films would not have been accepted by the general public. Even when the Motion Picture Code of decades past was enforced, incensed moviegoers griped about the “lurid” content found in the entertainment community’s products. Sadly, we have morphed into creatures that not only accept the graphicness of films such as the “Saw” series and their offspring, but there is a portion of the society that looks forward to this sadistic excess.

The first Saw movie interested me because of its originality. It was different from most scary films, having an intriguing premise. Despite the gruesomeness of that thriller, I appreciated the theme: How far will we go to hold on to this life, what will we sacrifice in order to stay alive — a limb, our self-respect, another’s life? But Saw II seemed more about creating methods of torture than interesting metaphors.

Subsequent sequels in that series, as well as countless cinematic copycats, keep getting more explicit, with CGI technicians and makeup appliers getting downright gleeful in the presentation of all things gory. Though I have not seen SAW III, IV, or this latest 3-D episode (the critiques of other critics have guided my conclusions), I have viewed other films (too many) with similar thematic overindulgence. Most horror films out now seem to thrive on sadomasochistic enactments. And evidently there’s a large enough following to keep this “torture porn” genre thriving. Maybe that’s the scariest aspect of my hypothesis.

Profane language is also an element of the storytelling process that has evolved. Actually, “devolved” is the more accurate evaluation. And let’s not forget the graphicness of today’s screen sexuality. Sensuality is one area in which moviemakers have anesthetized us since the inception of the movie camera.

Consider three movies out this year.

In “Saw 3D,” a woman is attached to a device that ultimately lowers her onto a blade that starts savagely ripping through her belly. You can imagine what that looks like on the big screen.

In “The Town,” the f-word alone is used at least 160 times.

In “Machete,” sexuality is exploitive and frequent.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it bears repeating. If you place a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out. But if you place him in room-temperature liquid, slowly raising the heat level, he’ll remain until he, well, croaks. And like that poor frog, moviegoers have adjusted themselves to something that desensitizes unto death.

Today, content (the reason for the film’s rating) has become as much a defining factor in moviemaking as the technical and artistic merits. And all too often the negative content overrides positive messages in today’s films. So does that mean movies were better then than now? Many were. But my analysis is not meant as a critical evaluation of today’s films so much as an examination of what the culture now accepts, even expects in their entertainment.

Perhaps we have evolved into beings capable of processing any amount of abuse Hollywood puts before our eyes. But is that what our Creator intended for us? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things,” (Philippians 4:8).

If the Bible truly is God’s guideline for our lives, then it applies to every part of our lives, including how we entertain ourselves.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright