THE MESSAGE BEHIND THE MOVIE: How to Engage With a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith – Douglas M. Beaumont (2009)

The Message Behind the Movie by Douglas M. Beaumont discusses the importance of engaging with worldview themes in movies.  The author reveals his cards upfront (which is increasingly rare these days, especially in a movie).  He writes as an “evangelical, philosophical, theological, movie lover” and seeks to unite these interests in his approach to the book.

The book is organized in three basic acts.  Act one focuses on watching and understanding movies.  Act 2 discusses the evaluation process.   Act 3 explores what kinds of movies to watch and what kinds of movies to avoid.  Ultimately, the author seeks to “show how we can all better interact with our culture by understanding the movies that shape and reveal it.”  His aim is “to show how we can all better interact with our culture by understanding the movies that shape and reveal it.”

ACT ONE: Watching and Understanding Movies

The author begins by setting forth the historical context by which we knowingly or unknowingly evaluate entertainment.  The two positions find their origins in Plato and Aristotle.  Plato held that art is basically useless and even may be harmful.  Aristotle’s view was quite different.  He believed that art has the ability to “describe ultimate reality” and as a result should not be avoided.  The author sides with Aristotle and writes approvingly: “An Aristotelian approach to movies needn’t condone sinfulness; instead, it can recognize how central storytelling is to human experience and seek to accurately critique the messages that stories in films are communicating.”

Beaumont points out that movies either engage in direct or indirect communication.  He argues that if a blatant message is promoted in a movie, most people will consider this propaganda.  “Almost by definition, then, popular movies will rarely state their messages explicitly.”  All the more reason for disciples of Christ to carefully discern the times.

The author makes it clear that when a filmmaker produces a piece of work, this does not necessarily mean that he/she is endorsing what emerges on the screen.  “This is the difference between description and prescription.”  Therefore, readers are urged to evaluate the message of a movie with objectivity.

The author helps readers understand the story or plot-line of a movie.  Style is discussed (or style elements).  Again, caution must be exercised not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Beaumont takes time to explore the suppositions that emerge in movies – what we generally refer to as a worldview.  However, the author stresses that the worldview is “not necessarily the same thing as its message.  In fact, distinguishing the two is one of the most important, and difficult tasks of evaluating movies.”  Again, discernment is critical.

ACT TWO: Evaluating and Discussing Movies

The author encourages Christians to discern good and bad in movies.  He prompts Christ-followers to use movies as a starting point in sharing the gospel message.

Beaumont encourages Christians to explore movies from a philosophical angle.  He adds, “[Movies] can also open doors to conversations about philosophical issues that might be a hindrance to faith.”  The author presents a basic approach to epistemology and rightly notes that “truth is objective (based on reality, not our thoughts about reality), absolute (true for everyone), and knowable.”

ACT THREE: Applauding and Avoiding Movies

The author not only has his eye on culture; he also rejects the sympathetic attitude that some Christians have toward postmodernity.  By embracing the correspondence theory of truth and the law of non-contradiction, he places himself in a school of thought that is oriented to classical apologetics.  For this we can be thankful.

Beaumont writes boldly and humbly.  His mingling of authoritative teaching with a sympathetic heart to lost people is encouraging indeed.

Evangelicals have a track record of retreat.  For too long, we have fled from culture instead of interacting with and influencing culture to the glory of God. The Message Behind the Movie is a step in the right direction.

3.5 stars

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