So clearly you are all aware that I love movies. I know a lot of you could live without them and prefer reading but I like both and I’ll tell you why.
Reading is like the cross country race of storytelling. You really dive into the characters and setting for weeks, sometimes months. There’s a real dedication to a book; whereas, a movie is 2 hours with people and their stories. There are a lot of people I don’t mind spending 2 hours with that I wouldn’t want to have hanging around me for 2 weeks. It’s a different standard.
Also, a book you have an experience colored from 2 perspectives- your own and the author (or protagonist). A movie has so many different voices all involved in making the story happen. You have a director, cinematographer, actor, writer etc- all bringing something different to create the story and art.
Television is like an in-between of movies and books because you live with the characters but are still getting the varied perspective.
So, if you want to understand our culture and people I think it is important to be well-versed in all 3 storytelling mediums (and music as well but that is less primarily a storytelling device) .
However, this desire can create a problem for some that are like me and want to watch compelling stories, but do not want to sully our standards and faith. We want to see better than the made-for-Christian variety of entertainment, but don’t want to verge too close to the morality cliff.
It invites the question- how can you be a Christian (or Mormon in my case) and like movies?
First, there is a great article in the Ensign (church magazine) by Academy Award winning director Keith Merrill where he gives a much more thorough answer to this question than I could give. I recommend reading it. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/04/i-have-a-question
He starts off by talking about the rating system. How it is decided, what content makes an R, PG, G, X (this was before PG-13). He says:
“How then, does one select appropriate film entertainment? A more efficient rating system would help, but it would still fail.. Ultimately, there is no rating system that will satisfy every person’s individual standards. ”
Your personal individual standards.
In another section of the church website we are told:
“Like other forms of media, movies and television can offer much that is informative, uplifting, and appropriately entertaining. However, many movies and television programs can be spiritually damaging as inappropriate behaviors and viewpoints are depicted as normal”
So, the brethren tell us that movies can be entertaining and informative and uplifting (doesn’t have to be all 3). It is up to us to decide what is spiritually damaging.
Keith Merrill tells us how to make these choices:
“It remains for each of us to sort through word-of-mouth reports, media reviews, publicity, and then compare what we find with our own conscience. The only reliable standards are the ones we set for ourselves, guided by our quest for perfection and inspired by the principles of the gospel”
Setting a standard for ourselves and sticking to it can be difficult but I’ve learned that it is worth the effort. If I want to be confident in making wise media choices, I must analyze all the factors, and not rely on any one vetting option. For example, some people say absolutely No R rated movies and that is fine for them, but I think it could give a false confidence in the non-R movies making their research less diligent.
My personal standards for entertainment have been developed since I was in high school, and I did make some mistakes along the way. However, as a whole I have been able to enjoy movies and being a movie fan, without endangering my worthiness.
Here’s what I’ve learned
Rachel’s Personal Standard-
I believe in using the resources we have available and for only $25 a year a membership at http://www.screenit.com will tell you briefly or an insane amount of detail anything in the movie you might find offensive or disturbing. They put stuff on there that I don’t know if anyone finds offensive like if a baby spits up. If you don’t want to be spoiled but want a basic idea they have a content summary and a suggested audience for all new movies and many older films. Screen-it is my first step in deciding to see a movie.
Watch a few critics. Find someone you trust and get a feel for the type of content they recommend. This will give you a general idea if they love edgy movies those probably are one’s to stay away from. If they say something is violent than I would avoid it. Most critics are not Christian based but they still give clues to the values in a movie and if there is anything particularly disturbing.
Check out friend of the blog Forest Hartman’s great DVD blog. http://foresthartman.com/
If you follow a critic on twitter or other social media ask them about the movie and they may respond. Couldn’t hurt. I actually did that with 12 Years a Slave. I asked several critics if I should see it including Forest. .
There are also lots of parents review sites like the Popcorn Parents http://www.chesapeakefamily.com/blog/movies-a-dvds
3. Ask Friends and Family-
Gather some word of mouth about the movie. Ask people you trust to spill the beans on content. This can help you understand context and tone, which plays a lot into the offensiveness of an item. If someone is about to get shot in a WWII movie perhaps language isn’t as shocking as someone who stubs their toe.
One of the hardest movies for me to gauge recently was 12 Years a Slave. The critics actually freaked me out because they talked about how violent it was. Screen-it didn’t really help me because a lack of context to the list of events. I kept hoping that one of my friends would see it and let me know but none of them did. I finally decided I needed to take the bullet and see it and I’m glad I did.
4. Learn Your Movie Weaknesses-
I’ve made 4 bad movie decisions in my life that taught me a lot. The first was in 2001. Everyone was talking about Moulin Rouge and being a musical lover I was very tempted. I still love the music, but I knew the story was explicit. It was back at a time when I believed in the rating system so I rationalized watching it was ok because it was PG-13. (stupid).
The first time I saw it I was kind of bowled over. It was unlike any film I had ever seen, and I was very excited. So much so that I ignored all of the offensive content and just focused on the bright colors and music. A friend of mine had been debating about going and I sold her on it (ie why word of mouth can be wrong!). We went, and with her as my guest, I noticed every offense.
I was so embarrassed I had brought my friend to this movie with horrible content. She was upset with me and rightly so. Lesson learned. I know my weakness is music. I will put up with a lot for great music so I am exceptionally careful when it comes to the modern musical and honestly most have failed my test. I enjoyed Hairspray but most I chose to not see.
5. Trust Your Gut-
My second bad movie decision was in 2008. I knew I would regret seeing the Dark Knight. I knew it was violent and dark and that the Joker was an all too convincing villain. My gut told me to avoid the movie as violence sticks in my head for weeks. Other people it doesn’t seem to bother them but I can see a preview for a Lifetime movie on a killer and it give me the creeps for weeks.
But everyone I knew LOVED the Dark Knight. Even my father had seen it, and he never goes to the movies. My younger siblings saw it, and they liked it. All of my friends prodded and pushed me to see it. They didn’t mean to challenge my beliefs, but they had enjoyed it, and wanted me to have the same exciting experience. I totally get that.
Finally after about 6 months I gave in and watched it. I regretted it then and still do now. It was too violent. The imagery was too ghastly and evil. I didn’t have a good spirit while watching it and I didn’t feel right. You can say it is a ridiculous and pathetic reaction but that was how I felt (again personal standards here). It was just an incredibly unpleasant experience, and I wish I could remove those images from my mind. I shouldn’t have finished it but at the point where the Joker puts the pencil through the guys face I needed some kind of redemption or it would haunt me even worse.
It was a huge mistake, and I will never make it again.
6. Walk Out-
I’ve only walked out of 2 movies in my life. The first was Drop Dead Gorgeous, which you guys know is my most hated movie ever. It is cold, disgusting and repulsive. It actually made me cry I was so disturbed by it. You can read more details about it’s depravity here (don’t watch it) http://smilingldsgirl.com/2014/01/31/best-and-worst/
It’s just so sick in its view of human nature and femininity and everything else. I was on a date when I went, and I left my date and friends in the theater and went into the lobby and cried. It wasn’t even worth staying around for a cute boy! That’s saying something! 🙂
The other movie I walked out on is called Superstar, and I only lasted about 10 minutes. There was a scene where an actor was clearly trying to portray a Jesus character and it was so offensive I couldn’t tolerate it.
That’s another piece of advice- have your line in the sand and then stick with it. My line is I will not watch anything that openly mocks Jesus. That is too far.
So, that’s the movies I have walked out. of. Both were stupid to even start watching but it was at the $1 theater before I had my system in place. These days most bad movies I am kept away from by the critics (reason I could never actually be a critic).
7. Offensive or Mature-
Slumdog Millionaire was a real game-changer for me It was a mature movie with some graphic things happening to children and characters but none of it was offensive or gratuitous . It all felt like part of the story. There are lots of things that I don’t want anyone under 17 to see without another adult present. It’s mature content but I don’t think it is offensive.
Schindler’s List was a mature film and the behaviors depicted were at times offensive, but I was not offended by the movie. That’s the blurry line best determined by word of mouth. If you are lucky enough to have friends who have seen a movie pick their brain to see if it is mature or offensive. Most of the time this applies to dramas as most offensive comedy is just offensive but still worth determining.
8. It is Worth It-
Some might say ‘why bother’? It’s too much risk for entertainment. Others simply don’t care about movies and that’s fine. For those of us that like the medium of story telling through movies I say it is worth it. I can honestly say that my life would be less colorful and beautiful if I did not have movies in it.
If I said ‘that’s it I’m never seeing another movie again’ than I would miss going to space with Gravity, or recovering from a Tsunami in The Impossible, or see an amazing love story in Silver Linings Playbook. I wouldn’t have reminisced about my high school years with Perks of Being a Wallflower or basically had my life narrated by endless Nora Ephron quotes. All of that would be gone and I would be sad.
That doesn’t even count the artistry and beauty I’ve seen like in The Artist or 500 Days of Summer. The lives I’ve gotten to dive into like The Descendants or Friends with Kids. Not too mention the total fantasy words you can enter that are much more vividly portrayed than anything I could conjure up (not the greatest imagination for worlds).
My life would be less vibrant without movies so I have my personal standards and they allow me to enjoy responsibly.
9. You Won’t See Everything-
I always have to remind myself there are some films I’m not going to be able to see. The personal standards I’ve developed won’t allow it. It can be tempting when everyone is raving and the performances look good but don’t give in. In that case, it isn’t worth it. Your standards are more important than entertainment. When you get to the judgement day you aren’t going to be able to say ‘well, it was nominated for an Oscar’…
A great example of this for me is Martin Scorsese. I have only seen one of his movies, Hugo. All of his other movies are loaded with profanity, so much so, I can’t justify a viewing. Others can, that’s fine. No judgement from me. Like I said earlier it’s a personal decision. (You might recall his recent Wolf of Wall Street had 508 f words. )
I have the same problem with Tarantino. I’ve never seen his movies because the language and violence is too much. They look intriguing and sometimes I am tempted, but no I can’t do it.
Like I said, everyone has to decide what they feel comfortable with and then stick to it.
What are your feelings on content and the movies? What strategies do you use? What personal standard have you developed? What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen? The best? Do you think movies are important to see?