Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment
By: Brian Godawa
Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press:2002
Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury
If you enjoy movies, but feel there is more behind them than just an entertaining story, this book is for you. Author Brian Godawa is a Hollywood screen-writer who began his successful career more than 12 years ago. He wrote this book as a guide and handbook to provide a better understanding of movies based on what he has learned about the business of developing and producing movies.
Godawa emphasizes how throughout history, a society transmits its cultural values primarily through story-telling and myths. He sees movies as perhaps the most important aspect of story-telling that exists in modern times. He also insists that each movie/story reflects the worldview of those writing and producing it. If you suspend disbelief when you view a movie, you are setting yourself up to uncritically accept emotionally the worldview expressed by each movie. However, if you view them with discernment and are able to pick out the worldview of the movie-makers, you can learn much about the major currents of American thought, and use them to build your own personal philosophy.
The author gives a brief description of major contemporary worldviews, and then describes several movies and how they present elements or variations of those various ways of looking at the world. The major worldviews he talks about are the religious worldview, where reality is given purpose by a supreme intelligence; existentialism, where reality is ordered by natural laws but with no ultimate meaning or purpose; and postmodernism, which sees no objective reality or absolutes. He also takes a look at other worldviews which he calls fate, as a kind of God substitute; monism, an Eastern worldview that believes all reality is one and that distinctions are illusion, which is becoming fashionable in the West; emergent evolution, a reduction of consciousness as coming out of natural processes; and neopaganism, based on the spiritual emphasis and supernatural power focused on in the occult sciences with frequent references to a feminine deity.
A belief strongly implied by the author is that movies are an emotional experience for viewers, especially if the viewer suspends disbelief and uncritically accepts whatever emotional worldview is presented. Since movies are a major source of entertainment for teens, this suggests that the worldviews adopted by popular movies may leave an emotional impact on teens even though they are based on a fictional story. However, since movies have the power to glorify or demonize institutions, viewers can receive an emotional experience similar to a real experience.
For example, a series of movies showing gang members in a sympathetic light may give the impression that being a gang member is “cool” and “respectful.” Or, a series of movies with promiscuous sex and no negative consequences may be viewed as “fun” and “fulfilling” and can foster the impression that everybody is doing it. On the other hand, a series of movies depicting young people overcoming obstacles and evil forces can provide emotionally lifting feelings of “doing the right thing.”