Trailer Review: Upside Down by Caleb R. Blair
The French Canadian Sci-Fi romance flick, Upside Down, will probably never make it to a theater near you, so watching its trailer may be your only viewing option for a while. The trailer is stunning and well worth the view if you like gritty futuristic sets, incredible visual effects, and heart warming romances. Hidden behind the dazzling show, however, are significant worldview themes that are sure to be expounded upon in the film. (Please read my previous two articles on the dangerous themes in Hollywood films and movie trailer analysis to understand the purpose and scope of this trailer review.)
First off, it is important to credit the filmmakers with doing a good job of presenting a healthyand balanced presentation of men and women. The filmmaker portrays the main protagonist as a daring young man willing to lead and fight his way toward achieving his desire against all odds and at great personal risk. At the same time, the leading lady is portrayed in very feminine ways. She wants to be by his side and is his encouraging follower. She seems to remain active and industrious rather than an idle thumb-twiddling flirt waiting for a Mr. Darcy to come and woo or rescue her. He is a world changer and she is a joyful helper to his cause. This is even reflected in their names, Adam and Eden.
After Adam and Eden’s romance is established, the premise of this unique world is given: “two twin planets, each with its own and opposite gravity.” These opposing gravities quickly develop into a powerful forces the protagonist must vanquish in order to achieve his need. Adam dwells on the lower world and Eden lives in the upper. Their own world’s gravities still effect them even as they visit the other world.
At this point, one of the more subtle and dangerous themes emerges. There happens to be more that distinguishes these two planets then just opposing gravity. These worlds are divided by wealth. The lower world of Adam is oppressed with poverty and the upper world of Eden is an exploiting power of affluence. An unknown voice from the upper world declares that “We don’t go down to their world, and we certainly don’t want them coming up to ours.” Adam is often dressed in Proletarian styled shirt and suspenders, worn jeans and hoodie, or a grey wool coat, while the Bourgeoisie Eden is mostly garbed in glitz and style.
The upper world oppresses the lower world by forbidding all communication and interaction between the two. The boarder police, TransWorld officials, and both cultures create a class distinction that must not be changed. To break the rules will result in death. This theme presents the dangerous idea that wealthy businessmen are corrupt oppressors of the poor. Adam decides to defy them and rebel against the status quo in order to win Eden’s love.
This is another tricky theme to reckon with. Is it right to pursue love if it means defying the authority figures of your life? Is rebellion to the status quo acceptable if doing so would bring joy to your life? These are difficult questions to answer. The filmmaker packages these questions into a thrilling combination of exciting action sequences, stunning effects, swelling music, and compelling desires so that the viewer is tempted to applaud Adam and Eden’s rebellion without a second thought. The Boarder Police are bad only because they are trying to keep the people that we like apart.
What if the story were reversed and the protagonist was a boarder policeman who had to overcome the craftiness of a young upstart from the lower world who was trying to revolt against the law and entice an upper world woman to join him? Who would we be supporting then? We must not support a character simply because we like them, but root for those who do the right thing no matter what. In the case of Upside Down, we have to determine if Adam has Biblical grounds for rebelling against the status quo.
We all know Romans 13 which commands us to submit to our governing authorities. Only when these authorities require us to sin or prevent us from doing what God has commanded us to do are we given the freedom to resist that authority. In doing so, though, we must also be willing to face the consequences. There is probably not enough information from the trailer to determine who is in the right on this issue, but it is one to look for if you watch the film. Let us not be quick to give Adam an easy break simply because we like him better than the gun-toting boarder policemen.
The love story is also potentially problematic. It should be noted that the filmmaker deserves praise for portraying Adam as one who is willing to put his life at risk to win the one he loves. Laying down one’s life for one’s bride means more than just evading gunshot, though. Adam must be willing to lay down his own wants and desires for Eden to show true self-sacrificial love. This is something that is not really addressed in the trailer but should be looked for in the film.
Love is definitely portrayed as idealistic, however. Adam and Eden are always dreamy-eyed lovers to each other, but never really demonstrate unconditional love because they meet each other’s conditions. Love is what they are pursuing, but nothing is said about marriage. By the end of the trailer, one gets the idea that their true love for each other has overcome all odds, even the literal forces of gravity, in order that they might not get married, but simply enjoy a cavorting smooch fest. Is their love true Biblical love, or mere selfish, pleasure-driven infatuation?
The trailer does not describe how these two came to love each other, but watch out for the typical love at first sight routine. Are Adam and Eden able to control their emotion and feelings, or are they the victims of irrepressible hearts?
The trailer does not seem to indicate that there is anything defiling within the film. The farthest Adam and Eden seem to go physically with each other is kissing. The only thing that may hint toward anything else is the sequence of shots involving Adam’s house burning at night as two figures (Adam and Eden?) are dragged to separate vehicles, Adam screaming “Please, no,” and then Eden in her apartment crying. It’s unclear whether these shots go together or what they mean. It could be the boarder police punishing Adam’s family after he was shot in the arm, or it could have been the boarder police crashing an Eden sleepover before it got anywhere.
Adam has an interesting line towards the end that goes, “If I could just give my life some kind of hope, then I’m going to do it.” It’s hard to know whether this is an “ends justify the means” kind of set-up or if the line has Biblical validity. Watch for the theme that develops from this line. Does Adam use this reasoning to justify doing something wrong in order to achieve hope or does he find hope itself something worth fighting and sacrificing for?
Finally, the last line of the trailer provides some food for worldview thought. “Gravity; they say you can’t fight it. Well, I disagree. What if love was stronger than gravity?” In the context of the trailer, it seems like Adam and Eden will have to break the powers of gravity with their love so that they can enjoy each other forever, but the theme is interesting on its own. In Song of Solomon 8:6-7, the Shulamite says to her beloved, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised.” Is “love stronger than gravity” an equivalent message to this, or is the love story of this film upside down from that of the Bible?
How to Analyze a Movie Trailer by Caleb Blair
Is a movie trailer enough to make a judgement about a film? Well, it depends. Judging a film takes many forms such as evaluating its quality of production, understanding its worldview, deciding whether or not it is worth seeing, etc. Unless there are enough bad things in the trailer itself to dissuade you from wanting to see it, trailers are often not enough to judge whether or not the film is worth going to see. Trailers do, however, usually give enough information to judge production value and worldview.
Before you can analyze a movie trailer, you must understand the purpose for which they are created. Trailers are basically a marketing tool designed to get you to “purchase” the product. The tailer is designed to attract those who value this product and therefore showcases the features that would be most appealing to the target audience. In other words, the filmmakers are making a promise about the kind of a film it is and what it will be like. If the film keeps the promise of the trailer, they will have succeeded because they will have satisfied the customer.
Therefore, there are certain things you can immediately determine about the film after watching its trailer. For instance, trailers will tell you what genre the movie is. Genres play a big part in attracting target audiences and this will be easy to identify by watching the trailer (most of the time, the title and movie poster alone are enough to know the genre.)
On a good trailer, you will also be able to learn enough about the story to explain its basic premise to a friend. This would include who the main characters are, what the protagonist needs to accomplish and why, how he tries to achieve this, and what is resisting his efforts. Of course, the film will be far more intricate in its handling of these issues and will probably do so in unexpected ways, nevertheless, filmmakers are still making a promise about what the story will be like. Story is always king, and if the audience is clueless as to what the basic premise of the story is after watching the trailer, they are less likely to go see the film.
This leads us into one of the most useful ways to analyze a trailer. During the course of the trailer, filmmakers will inevitably drop hints as to what true love, justice, and wisdom are, what is the nature of man, who or what controls the universe, good and evil, right and wrong, etc. This is the groundwork for the filmmaker’s worldview and the main theme of the movie. This will also be the core of the message that the audience will be taught.
Many times you will be able to see some of the nine dangerous themes I described in my last article within the trailer. As you watch trailers, ask questions such as: Are children disrespectful or rebellious to parents? Are women the leading world changers and men weak buffoons? Is marriage sacred? Is love uncontrollable or idealistic? Is truth relative? Does the protagonist use any means possible to accomplish his goal? Is the answer to his problem to dig deep within and believe in himself? Is all human life important and worth protecting or are some lives expendable? Are businessmen corrupt misers? Are primitive savages the wise mentors? Are characters deemed noble for throwing away all things technology?
Depending on the style of the filmmaking and the MPAA rating (Motion Picture Association of America,) the portrayal of certain questionable or defiling content can also be estimated. Because trailers are supposed to be made for viewers of all ages, they often have to allude to the fact that certain content will be more graphic, while other trailers (keeping its rating in mind) will give the impression that “this is as bad as it gets.” It is becoming harder and harder to judge how explicit some esthetics will get, however, since the MPAA standards have been slowly weakening over time. The “f” word can now be used in PG movies while partial nudity and gory carnage are being slipped into lower and lower ratings. “Brief mild language,” crassness or suggestive innuendoes are virtually inescapable.
Individual movie standards will differ for ever single person, but understanding the agenda of Hollywood will help viewers decipher trailers and analyze movies. For those interested in learning more about this agenda, I would recommend Michael Medved’s book Hollywood Vs. America (disclaimer: because Medved uses real life examples to demonstrate the baseness of pop culture, there is defiling content within the book. He does caution readers at times about this, but it may be best to skip over other sections as well.)
Knowing this isn’t an article on what standards Christian’s should have for films, I simply bring this up to state that you should expect there to be a certain amount of filth in any modern film and when it is alluded to in the trailer, the assumption can usually be made that it will be ratcheted up in the actual movie. If this seems to be the case, this is the one instance in which the trailer may be enough to decide that the film is not worth investing your time, money, and mind. If, however, there are no red flags that go off from the trailer and the MPAA rating, then it is wise to look into another resource such as pluggedin.
A common objection to analyzing trailers is that sometimes the trailer leads you to think certain things about the film which are not correct. While this can be true, this is very risky on the filmmaker’s part because if he fails to deliver on his promise, he will loose his audience. If no judgment calls can be made from a trailer, then there is no point in watching it. There will be surprises in the movie and differences in the contexts of shots, but these are generally minor differences that don’t radically change the messages the film teaches.
The main point of watching a trailer is to understand the basic premise of the story, what the viewing experience will be like, and to begin to discern what worldview the filmmaker will be discipling you in. The only time trailers are enough to be a deciding factor on seeing the film is when there is enough there to dissuade you from seeing it. With this in mind, the predominate focus of this column will be on examining the possible worldviews and esthetics found in trailers, leaving the choice of watching the film or not up to you.
9 Dangerous Themes in Film by Caleb Blair
As I have stated before, I will be switching gears and doing mostly trailer reviews as future installments of this column. My next article will be about how to analyze a trailer, but I thought it would be beneficial to first take a look at the common themes that Hollywood uses in its films and how to identify them. This will be useful as these themes will come up frequently in my trailer reviews. Though there are many more than the ones below, these seem to be the most reoccurring.
The Ends Justify the Means- This is found in plots which require a character to do something illegal or immoral in order to achieve a greater goal. The filmmaker often excuses this course of action by first letting the hero try to achieve the goal legally or morally. When doing what’s right doesn’t work, we think the only recourse is for the hero to bend or break the law in order to accomplish what is really important. He is exonerated once everyone realizes he was right in taking matters into his own hands even if it happened to be stealing the Declaration of Independence.
This counters what Scripture teaches for there are several instances in which men were punished or killed for having this “ends justify the means” mentality (1 Samuel 13:8-14, 1 Chronicles 13:9-10.) God cares as much, if not more, about the means as He does the ends. We are responsible for doing what is right and leaving the results to Him.
Life Is Expendable- This is especially the case for the villain or one of his minions. Watch out for premises in which the easiest course of action is to bump off those who get in the protagonist’s way. Wearing a fedora and leather jacket does not excuse one from this. Many times this theme is mixed with the ends justify the means theme when the end goal of the protagonist justifies his having to kill a few people. In films such as The Island, we consider the villain’s bloodshed to be murder, but the protagonist’s merely occupational hazards. Remember, antagonists are people too and if they deserve to die, it should be by due process of law, war, or extreme cases of self defense when no other option is available. The Bible continually reminds us that all life is precious and taking the law into one’s own hands by slaying an evil man is wicked in the sight of God (Genesis 49:5-7, 1 Samuel 25:32-39.)
A sickening phenomenon that filmmakers have resorted to is the use of killing someone as comedy relief. Somehow, anything is justifiable if we can laugh at it, including taking a fellow human’s life. We don’t condemn Smee’s gunning down a fellow pirate for stealing a base during a game of baseball because the acting is hilarious and it’s only a no-name pirate. Justifying the slaying of fellow beings created in the image of God because it’s funny is an unacceptable attitude to have toward human life.
Businessmen Are Greedy and Corrupt- Businessmen are often portrayed as being willing to do anything to make a buck. They will break the law, mistreat others, exploit the poor, lie, cheat, and steal, all for accumulating another dollar. We are taught to look down on wealth, rob from the rich to give to the poor, and deride the elite for enjoying luxury. Watch out when a businessman is portrayed as the antagonist because he is power hungry. Filmmakers have been trained to revile businessmen in order to create a negative view of capitalism in the minds of the audience. In reality, it is perfectly fine for someone to start a business, make a lot of money, and enjoy their wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:23, & 5:18.) Such behavior is neither wrong nor unfair.
The Savage Is Nobel- This theme basically says that those closer to nature have a better, more pure lifestyle than those engrossed in technology and advancing civilization. The most subtle form of this is found in the wise sage being portrayed by an old native American Indian or some such figure. It can also include any kind of Aborigine, clansman, or naked blue Indian who is in conflict with or mentoring “civilized” man. Themes with a strong environmental message will also be a lesson in the nobel savage because they tell us that technology destroys the planet and we must protect “the Mother.” Rather than avoiding the use of natural resources, we should be taking careful dominion over them (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6.) Naturalistic barbarianism is not man’s highest calling.
Parents Are Ignorant and Archaic Repressors- This has been a favorite theme of filmmakers for many decades. Plots are replete with children and adolescents rebelling against the repressive traditions of their parents thereby opening themselves up to a whole new world of grander and ecstasy. Once the cloddish parents realize they can’t restrain the child, they admit they were wrong and follow the child’s lead into the splendor that youth has discovered. Children constantly disobey, revile, disrespect, lecture, defy, ignore, rebel against, guide, and liberate their parents. Parents (specifically fathers) are portrayed as being ignorant, wrong, awkward, embarrassing, immature, and irresponsible. This is in total contradiction to the Bible’s teaching of children’s attitude toward parents (Proverbs 30:17, Ephesians 6:1-3.) This theme is an especially dangerous one as it is often used to get a laugh.
Men Are Juvenile, Women Are Leaders- Similar to the last theme, this theme often depicts women as taking the initiative and saving the day while men find themselves as helpless buffoons. When a man and woman are in conflict or competing against each other, the woman almost always comes out on top. Men are usually portrayed as foolish hedonists while women are courageous world changers. Very rarely will any of these situations be reversed.
The issue of men and women’s roles is very delicate and controversial today. Scripture teaches us that men and women are equal, but men are to treat women as superior (Genesis 2:21-22, 1 Peter 3:7.) This involves men protecting women, showing them honor and deference, and serving them. God created the woman for the man, not man for the woman and He gave man the role of leadership (1 Corinthians 11:7-12.) Hollywood hates the Biblical teachings of men and women’s roles and will therefore almost always portray the opposite.
Believe In Yourself- Most people know that this line fills many of today’s movies. Self is the answer to any problem one might face. When everyone and everything else fails, know that success lies within. Trust yourself, never doubt and everything will turn out right in the end. By making your greatest hope for everything believing in yourself, Hollywood has replaced God with self. This flies directly in the face of Biblical teaching which says we are to trust in God and not in ourselves (Proverbs 3:5-6; 14:16, Jeremiah 17:9.)
Truth Is Relative- Though this theme might not be directly revealed in the plot itself, it does show up often in character dialogue. Whenever truth is different for characters or depends upon certain circumstances or perspectives, the theme of relative truth is being employed. Truth is based upon God’s character and nature (John 14:6,) so when there really is no God in the film’s world, it is easy to have subjective truth. This void leaves man as the ultimate definer of truth and thereby creates a diversity of truth. Watch out for scenarios involving situational ethics, characters who are apathetic toward standards, personal opinion being the deciding factor in an important decision, or Jedi masters lying to their students.
Love Is Idealistic and Uncontrollable- This theme nearly defines all love stories and romances ever produced by Hollywood. Characters are unable to control their feelings and emotions and often find themselves madly in love with someone whom they’ve only glimpsed. Marriage is about finding the perfect spouse who has no faults, meets all needs, and ends in living “happily ever after.” Those unfortunate characters who begin the film already married, often find they made a mistake in choosing their spouse and are soon uncontrollably in love with someone else with whom they were really destined to spend their life. Premarital sex is also being used more and more as a test for “true love.” This idea is not only heinous sin but its encouragement in real life has lead to the rampant growth of STDs, out of wedlock births, and welfare dependency.
These themes are a gross perversion of the gospel because marriage was designed to reflect the relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33.) God designed marriage to conform us into the likeness of Christ by causing us to unconditionally love someone who does not meet our conditions, and by showing grace and mercy to someone who has failed us and does not deserve it. The themes of love and marriage found in most film are distortions and prove very destructive to our expectations about one of the holiest institutions God has made.
In Conclusion- Every film is loaded with lessons which consciously and subconsciously engage the mind and teach the viewer. This is the power of film and why it is imperative that Christians be on their guard, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5.) Are you doing this when you watch trailers and movies or are your thoughts being captivated by the doctrines of Hollywood?
It’s a Wonderful Life: Wonderful but not Safe by Caleb Blair
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all time favorite films so this will be a hard review to write and remain impartially objective. Being one of the most beloved “Christmas” movies of all times it is very likely that you will enjoy this classical masterpiece sometime this month. Though a clean movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is not impervious to faulty themes and worldviews that can be dangerous to the unsuspecting audience.
The main message of this film is, that everybody, even the lowest of the low and the down and out, has a wonderful life because God made them and they add value to those around him. As Clarence says, “one man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole” so “no man is a failure who has friends.”
It is refreshing to have a film that actually portrays fathers in a good light. Both Peter and George Bailey are shown to be good fathers who love their children and who are loved by their children. Both characters are their children’s first source of council. Both sets of children respect their fathers as the greatest men in the world and never mock, condescend, or disregard them. Likewise, marriage is honored throughout the film. All husband and wife combinations are portrayed as living happy, faithful, and loving lives. There is mutual respect and companionship between all of the Bailey couples. (This record is only marred at the end with Annie’s comment about saving up for a divorce.)
Capra does well in showing that even seemingly insignificant jobs that lack glamor are truly important and worth investing one’s entire life in its cause. Old Peter Bailey reminds George that they are “satisfying a fundamental urge” that lies deeply in the heart of man to own “his own roof and walls and fireplace.” George defends his father before Mr. Potter claiming that “he never once thought of himself… but he did help a few people get out of [Mr. Potter’s] slums.” He thought it wasn’t “too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath” because “people were human beings to him.” Here we see that it is equally, if not even more, honorable and praiseworthy to toil in an “ordinary” job that meets a basic human need as it is to build air fields, skyscrapers, and bridges which make the world marvel.
Overall, director Frank Capra does a solid job presenting an accurate view of the nature of man in this film. The characters portrayed show a natural propensity for sin that will degrade them into the most base culture of decadence if not restrained. However, the meaning of man’s life is not quite accurate. Here, the chief end of man is to help his fellow mankind by meeting their needs. Though admirable, and certainly better than the alternative, this view of the meaning of life falls short of the Biblical view. We are here for God, to serve and glorify Him in all that we do. In so doing, we will be helping our fellow man, but that is not the point of our existence.
The moral influence in the lives of the people of Bedford Falls which restrains their evil tendencies comes, not from God or the influence of the gospel on their lives, but from an ordinary man who chooses to resist temptation and remain a good example to those around him. George Bailey is indeed an admirable role model of strong character and self sacrifice, but this comes from a good upbringing and sense of duty rather than the sanctifying work of Christ.
God is only mentioned on five occasions in the film (one of which is Mr. Potter simply wishing “God rest his sole” in a board meeting.) God is depicted as being the giver of the greatest gift: life. In this sense, Capra is slightly wrong. Gods’ greatest gift is eternal life, while earthly life remains His second greatest gift to men. All other times God is mentioned in the film happen when characters pray to Him for help. This makes God out to be merely someone to use only in emergencies rather than a sovereign and personal deity who is intimately involved in all we do.
There is a fine line that this film walks in its portrayal of businessmen. Businessmen are often shown as greedy corrupt individuals who should be overthrown and forced to share their wealth with the less fortunate of whom they have been taking advantage of in order to amass their wealth. The shrewdest businessman in this film does indeed fit this picture in the figure of Mr. Potter. Not only that, but George even acknowledges the fact that his father was no businessman and merely tried to help people even if it hurt himself financially. George is hardly a better businessman than his father. Consequently, George lives in a “drafty old barn” but has plenty of friends while Mr. Potter lives in an opulent mansion without a friend in the world. Overall, the film tends to portray businessmen in a bad light while yet praising the efforts of smaller entrepreneurial capitalists.
There are, of course, two glaring inconsistencies with this film as it relates to a Biblical worldview. The first is the warped view of the afterlife and angels. Clarence is a dead clockmaker from the 1600s who has been reincarnated, in a sense, into an angel and enjoys reading Tom Sawyer as he tries to win his wings. This ironic character was probably developed in this way to add a much needed dose of entertaining humor to a largely heavy section of the story. Though this may be a smart decision from a filmmaker’s point of view, it still presents a faulty view of life after death. Instead of enjoying the rapturous ecstasies of the untainted near presence of Jesus, Heaven is more about staying caught up with what’s going on here on Earth and continuing one’s purpose in life in helping men by meeting their needs.
The second is the fact that Mr. Potter never faces the consequences for his evil deeds. In a way, Mr. Potter’s getting away with bribery, theft, manipulation, and lying, fits in a world in which God is only there in case of emergencies and man’s chief end is to help his neighbor live a better life. With no true standard for morality and without a God who is actively involved in the affairs of man, “warped frustrated old men” can only be resisted but never truly punished.
It’s a Wonderful Life remains one of the all-time great films providing wholesome entertainment and a praiseworthy main message that is worth watching more than just during Christmas. Due to its errors, however, this film is in no way safe to simply sit down and watch without engaging a critical mind. Often times, the most subtle messages are the most effective messages, because we don’t even realize that we are being taught something that may be unbiblical. With this in mind, make sure that you “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” found in this film, “but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11.) I would encourage you to discuss the themes and worldview of this film with your family when you watch it this season.
Is Clean Enough: Christian Discernment and Movies by Caleb Blair
If you were following any of my movie reviews, you may have noticed that it has been a while since my last posting. One of the reasons for this has been the lack of films being produced of which I am willing to give my time and money to go and see. This article will be the launching pad for the future direction of this “column.” I still plan on reviewing films when possible, including older films that have pertinence to the occasion. My main focus, however, will be to watch movie trailers and review the trailer in a way to help Christians discern whether or not the film is a viable entertainment option. Unlike my “review” on Brave, these will not be an attempt to review the film based off of the trailer.
This article will take a hard look at how Scripture should influence our entertainment decision making in films and be the bedrock from which all future reviews are derived. I understand that most readers will probably disagree with my stance in this article, but I would challenge them to determine whether this is because I am wrong or because it would mean changing their movie going practices that they enjoy so much. It may help some to know that I too have had to change in this regard.
Language is not something we should brush aside and accept because “that’s reality” or something “all of the films have.” “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29.) So too, we should not expose ourselves to verbal obscenities since they do not “impart grace” to us, nor are they edifying, noble, pure, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8.)
Scripture tells us to not let any uncleanness including “foolish talking and coarse jesting” to even be named among us and to “not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:3-7.) We “are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8.) Even “mild language” should be a big issue to us because it is a big issue to God. He has saved us out of such coarseness, so why would we turn it into amusement?
Likewise gratuitous violence used for passive entertainment is just as condemnable. It troubles me to hear boys laughing about shooting or blowing people up in movies. They talk about gore as if it is “cool.” You must be up-to-date on the latest carnage film to fit in. We have become a culture that “drinks the wine of violence” (Proverbs 4:17.) This should trouble us because “the soul of the unfaithful feeds on violence” (Proverbs 13:2) and “the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Psalm 5:6.) Hollywood has made our culture thirsty for more blood and gore. This grotesque carnage not only desensitizes the mind but it is certainly not pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8.)
Of course, there is a difference between violence and carnage. Weapons are tools that are to be respected and handled with utmost care and only used against another person in extreme circumstances. Shooting someone can be very biblical, honorable, and praiseworthy, but we must be careful that these are shown in a tactful and non-gory way. Excuses that gore is “reality” is no trump over Biblical principles. Carnage-filled movies are incredibly detrimental to the viewer’s mind, judgment, and conscience. Are we being tantalized by the gore? If so, then we are becoming thirsty for bloodshed and drinking violence like wine; a very deadly cup to quaff.
Again, shoot ‘em up films, fist fights, and sword duels can be great discipleship tools and teach honor, courage, nobility, justice, and a host of other lessons. The level of the gratuitousness that is acceptable, however, must be measured to determine if the filmmaker is using carnage as shock value for entertainment purposes, or simply showing what is necessary to advance the story. The levels of violence that cross these lines will be different for each person and should be monitored by the individual conscience.
Illicit sexual scenes or sensual images are obviously as dangerous (if not more so) than gratuitous violence. First of all, they nearly always cause men to commit adultery in their hearts through lustful thoughts. Secondly, these sexually charged images teach our culture anti-biblical ideas about manhood, womanhood, dating/courtship, marriage, divorce, purity, modesty, love, sexuality, etc.
Like violence and gore, there is also a difference between romance and sexually defiling esthetics. Films which flaunt immodest clothing or seductive behavior are not pure, lovely, or virtuous and must be forsaken. Let us follow the example of one of the most godly men who ever lived and say, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1.) If a film is going to push the sexually arousing and defiling, let us have the discernment to not go and see it no matter how acceptable every other esthetic element is.
So is clean enough? If a film does not defile me with language or graphics, does that alone make it acceptable? I think not. Every film will have aspects that will go against Scripture in some way. After all, we do need an antagonist and a flawed protagonist so there should be evil and moral wrongs in all films. The question is, how is the filmmaker portraying these ideologies? We are being effectively taught by Hollywood how to act toward those around us, how to view our world, and how to make decisions regardless of whether or not the film has defiling content. Sometimes these lessons can be just as dangerous because they are subtle and more influential to our daily behavior.
The worldviews and philosophies promoted by Hollywood through the scripts and characters almost always fail the Philippians 4:8 test. For instance, how do children treat their parents? How are men and women’s’ roles portrayed? Is lying condoned in unbiblical circumstances? Do the ends justify the means? Is there absolute truth? Which characters are portrayed as cool and which are ridiculous fools? Is dominion evil and the savage noble? The way a film answers these questions determines which worldview they are teaching us to live by and mimic.
Great care must be taken by the Christian to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11.) A Christian may be free to view a film if he can discern these worldviews, critic them, and counter them with a Biblical worldview while not being defiled in the process. Let our film viewing not be evidence of the fact that we “profess to know God, but in works deny Him” (Titus 1:16a.)
2016: Obama’s America- A Journey into the Heart of Our President: A Movie Review by Caleb R. Blair
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view; till you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” This line from the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird best sums up the approach that director Dinesh D’Souza uses in 2016: Obama’s America. This captivating film is refreshingly intellectual in an age filled with triviality and mass entertainment. Dinesh D’Souza does a superb job of sympathetically, objectively, and scholarly tackling a topic usually rife with negativism, conspiracy theories, and mudslinging.
When you consider things from President Obama’s point of view, you realize that he is driven by an insatiable hunger to win the favor of his father. The powerful influence of a father in the life of a son is best exemplified in Jesus Christ and His Heavenly Father. In this case the full pleasure of the Father rests on the Son because of who He is, not what He does (John 3:35; 5:20.) In the case of President Obama, his father was almost entirely absent and never really expressed a true love for the son. Like many sons, Obama therefore resolved to win that love by working to be worthy of it.
D’Souza puts the audience into the skin of President Obama by taking a journey through his background and life. The trip is a sad one but crucial to add power and objectivity to the film. Most of the film is based off of President Obama’s autobiography Dreams from My Father. D’Souza aptly points out that the title of the book is Dreams from My Father, not Dreams of My Father indicating that the president has taken on the very dreams his father had; dreams of anti-colonialism. In modern times, anti-colonialism divides the world up into the oppressors and oppressed. It seeks to concentrate economic power by having government control economies through high tax rates. Today, anti-colonialism is basically anti-Americanism because it sees America as an oppressive country due to its higher standard of living.
In the case of young Barack Obama, his mother continually idolized Barack Obama Sr. in the young boy’s mind. D’Souza brings in a psychologist who specializes in children of absentee fathers making the case that this whole situation would likely have created an identity crises in young Obama causing him to want to prove himself worthy of his father. Indeed, some time after learning of his father’s death in a car accident, Obama went to Kenya where he visited his father’s grave and renewed his commitment to fulfill his father’s dreams.
Fathers have one of the most defining impacts on their children, even in their absence. Parents, but especially fathers, are given the responsibility of raising children and teaching them the things they should know and believe (Deut. 6:7, Pro. 3:12; 22:6, Eph. 6:4.) This is the way God designed it to be and when this way is neglected, the results can be serious. This film does a great job of showing the importance of fathers in the lives of their children and the kind of impact that they can have.
An interesting contrast is made in the film between President Obama and his half brother George Obama. George also felt the absence of his father since he died when George was two, but unlike Barack, he grew up knowing the darker side of his father’s character and became disillusioned with anti-colonialism. As a consequence George has known poverty and hardship most of his life, occupying what could barely be called a shack while his half brother’s drive to prove himself worthy of his father carried him to the White House.
In a way, fatherhood also plays a role in the mentors that Obama surrounded himself with. D’Souza shows the audience that Obama’s “Founding Fathers” such as Communist activist Frank Marshall Davis, Communist professor Roberto Unger, terrorist Bill Ayers, radical black pastor Jeremiah Wright, and anti-Israeli professor Edward Said all contributed to an anti-colonial worldview that has lead the president to actually hate America. This is something very unusual for an American President, as the interviewees admit, but one which is undeniably true.
So why the title 2016? D’Souza’s purpose for taking this journey into the mysterious past of our president is to learn what his motives are and what he plans to do to our country. With this information, he makes several predictions of what our country will be like in the year 2016 if President Obama is reelected.
D’Souza argues that the president has been striving to realign America in the world as an ordinary country rather than a superpower. He has sought to reduce America’s nuclear warhead numbers while ignoring the growth of nuclear weapons in enemy countries, cut military spending, raise taxes, and drastically increase the national debt. He seeks the total destruction of America to fulfill his father’s dream; a dream which is not only bad for America, but bad for the whole world.
My biggest criticism for the film is the nauseating cinematography. I don’t say this flippantly. The shaky camera work and motion-filled images distracted from the film’s content and made me dizzy at times. The content of this film is gripping enough to hold the audience’s attention without needing to give them something new to look at every few seconds. There was also too much music which added another element of distraction.
Besides these, the film was very powerful and one which every voter should go and see. It presents a new argument that is very important for Americans to understand. Unfortunately, many Americans have become apathetic to important issues like what our president thinks of our country. Many will leave the theater not caring about the fact that our president is anti-colonial and seeking to realign our nation in the world. This film will hopefully awaken conservatives to the importance and urgency of this next election and perhaps change the minds of immigrants and independents that currently support President Obama. I also hope this film helps Christians to know how to pray for our president in a more personal and understanding way.
D’Souza never resorts to lambasting or ad hominem attacks, nor does he give a depressing analysis about our situation. The news media has dropped the ball in investigating our president and holding him accountable to the standards of America and should be put to shame by the diligence and standards that D’Souza exemplifies in his examination. This film helps Americans understand their president and the things he does by considering things from his point of view. For that, it has done our country a great service and should be well supported by its people.
Monumental- A Strong Foundation, but Showing Signs of Wear: A Movie Review by Caleb R. Blair
Monumental left me with mixed feelings. In one sense, it was better than I expected. There was a wealth of rich information about the Pilgrims which I did not anticipate but thoroughly enjoyed. I also have a lot of respect for Kirk Cameron and loved watching him as usual. In another sense, it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. The editing and cinematography were quite awful and there was too much music, making the sound mix busy, overbearing, and distracting. These esthetic elements seemed to continually clash against the content of the film and made it difficult to enjoy. It was refreshing, however, to see a film take a unique approach to studying our nation’s founding.
Kirk sets out to discover how Christianity made this county so great and determine if it can be reapplied to pull our nation out of the dire situation we now face. He made a very smart move by examining our nation’s true founders: the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims faced a far more dire situation than we do today and yet overcame seemingly insurmountable opposition to lay the Christian roots of our nation. This creates a perfectly analogous case study for Kirk to follow.
The more studying scholarly historians do on the Pilgrims, the more undeniable their Christianity becomes and the clearer it is who they were, what they wanted to accomplish, and why they wanted to accomplish it. The more historians study the Revolutionary Founding Fathers, however, the more controversial and convoluted things seem to get. Were they Christians, Esotericists, Rosicrucians, Deists, or all of the above? Kirk avoids this heated debate by spending the bulk of the film’s screen time studying the lesser known and undeniably Christian founders of our nation.
In England, Kirk interviews the delightful Sue Allen who quickly captures the interest and hearts of the audience. She is very knowledgeable of the Pilgrims, expounds on their theology, and passionately transports the audience back 400 years in a way that almost makes you feel like you are fleeing the King’s men yourself. The history she shares and the way she presents it are both fascinating. Sue was the best interviewee in the entire movie and made it worth watching.
Sue begins explaining who the Pilgrims were by defining who the Puritans were. The Puritans were a group of people who first obtained the Bible in English. The ruling authorities at the time knew the danger of letting the common people have Scripture in their own language because then the people would hold them accountable to its teachings. Monumental begins with the greatest starting point it could have: Scripture. It shows us the beauty and power of the Word of God in the hearts and minds of His people (Hebrews 4:12, Deuteronomy 8:3, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and explains what motivated the Puritans to do what they did and endure the things they endured.
One minor fault I found with the film was that Kirk became one of the storytellers himself. I would much rather have had Sue Allen tell all about the Pilgrims than to have Kirk and her go back and forth explaining their history. It made Kirk seem biased in his search since he was both looking for answers and giving them as well.
The Pilgrims faced imprisonment, loss of all possessions, separation from loved ones, violent storms at sea, a harsh winter, sickness, and death, yet they remained focused on the future, on the calling of God, and on His Word, rather than their disheartening circumstances. This is where the Pilgrims and this film teach us an important lesson: if you know that your actions are founded on Scripture, adversity is not a closing door, but an opportunity to learn what God is preparing you for in the next mission (James 1:2-4, Exodus 18:8.)
What was their motivation? The Mayflower Compact tells us: “Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and the honor of our king and country…” They were consumed with the Word of God, doing all for His glory, enduring anything for the advancement of the gospel, and honoring their ruling authorities (1 Corinthians 10:31, Luke 4:18, Romans 13:1-7.) No matter how much persecution they faced from the King, no matter what hardships they endured, they persevered to do what was right in the sight of God. This is truly a monumental lesson we must learn in our day.
Kirk then introduces us to Dr. Marshall Foster who likewise does a good job of explaining the Pilgrim history. There comes a point when Kirk asks Dr. Foster if there is any recipe the Pilgrims left us that explained their intents for our nation. This is when we are introduced to The Founders Monument. The way Dr. Foster pitches this monument makes you think it was either designed, built, or influenced by the Pilgrims. As soon as the camera rounds the corner and the monument rises in full view, however, it is shockingly apparent that this monument had no Pilgrim influence in it whatsoever. Rather, it looks like a typical Greco-Roman construction which Freemasons would have designed. Whether or not this is the case, I do not know.
Marshall gives an overtly Christian interpretation of the symbols in the monument, some of which are hard to argue with while others come across as quite a stretch. On one side of the statue of education, for instance, there is a cutout of a mother teaching her son and on the other side, there is a grandfather with the Ten Commandments and a globe. Marshall argues that this points to a system of education built upon multigenerational family discipleship rather than state run schooling. This is hard to contradict. When he claims, however, that an unlabeled book another figure is holding is the Geneva Bible, it comes across as reading far too much into the symbolism. It could be reasoned just as well that the book is Plato’s Republic, Paine’s Common Sense, or Locke’s Treaties of Government. It would be interesting to learn who designed, funded, and built this monument and what their intensions were. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t as Christian as Dr. Foster thought it was. It certainly wasn’t Pilgrimy.
The last twenty minutes of the documentary look at the Revolutionary Founding Fathers kicked off with a visit to David Barton and the largest private collection of Founding Father documents. Barton makes an interesting point on the Christianity of the Founding Fathers in the film when he said that everyone argues over whether or not Jefferson and Franklin where Christians, while the better argument for Christianity among the founders is the 29 signers of the Declaration of Independence who held seminary degrees. The larger Christian influence is among the lesser known founders.
Kirk did a great job of taking David’s points and clearly stating that though the Founders may have seen Christianity as being beneficial to our nation, it does not mean that they necessarily trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They may have approved of Christianity without being Christians themselves.
Kirk concludes that the problem we have as a nation economically, morally, and spiritually is due to the fact that men have lost sight of what built this nation. The key is faith in God, which produces character which in turn gives us courage to do what is right. He continues that the answer begins in our homes, not the government. After establishing a solid argument for the gospel centered motivation of our nation’s founders, the Pilgrims, a foundation which was added upon by some Christian influences of the Revolutionaries, Kirk bunts the ball in his conclusion rather than knocking it out of the park.
He closes by saying, “As for me and my family, we’re going this way. The way of our heroes who fought against all odds and changed the world. The time is now. Join me, and together, we will secure a monumental future for our children.” I don’t disagree with what he concludes, but he falls so short of what he could have easily said based off the content of the rest of his film. Faith in God, theology, and religion all play a very significant role in Monumental, so it was a disappointing conclusion for me. Instead, he could have easily presented the gospel, called for our nation to place its faith in God, and declared that, “as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
So my recommendation? I would definitely recommend the film to people; at minimum, I would recommend the first 45 minutes. Sue Allen will delight you and you will probably learn much about the Pilgrims. Regardless of whether you think the Colonial Founding Fathers were Christians, Rosicrucians, or both, you will probably agree with and enjoy the content of the film. Its presentation will most likely bother most, but it’s information is worth an hour and a half of your time (or at least 45 minutes.)
Here Come the Closet Black Conservatives
Rev. C.L. Bryant is making waves with his new documentary, Runaway Slave. I had the opportunity to preview the film in Bossier City, Louisiana, and I found the documentary thoroughly compelling.
Runaway Slave was conceived by Rev. Bryant and supported by private donations and FreedomWorks. It has been well-received in private screenings so far, often receiving standing ovations, and is poised to open in select theaters across the country next week. While at Regal Cinema 9 in Bossier City, it was the highest grossing film there.