I am thankful for Christian movie reviews—that is, movies reviewed by professing Christians, not necessarily reviews of Christian movies. Before considering whether or not to watch a movie, I always consult Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online.
I have noticed, though, that Christian movie reviewers don’t always share the same perspectives. Consider the following two reviews of the 2005 movie A History of Violence.
First, from Plugged In Online’s review:
Anyone buying a ticket for a movie called A History of Violence shouldn’t be surprised when they’re assaulted by graphic images of death—which this film provides, in spades. The killings alone offer enough reason to steer clear of this blood-drenched tale. Add to them the disturbingly violent way Tom responds to his son and especially his wife when they confront his deception and you’ve got quite a toxic cocktail on your hands. Two explicit sex scenes and lots of obscenities seal the deal.
Christianity Today‘s review concludes with something similar:
This film deserves its R rating for scenes of graphic bloodshed, intense sexual interaction, profanity, and characters who take the Lord’s name in vain. None of this behavior is glorified or condoned—in fact, the filmmaker wants us to call these things into question. Nevertheless, young people, and perhaps many adults, should steer clear of this upsetting, nightmarish vision of human depravity.
And yet, Christianity Today gives A History of Violence 4 stars out of 4, and says this about the film:
The Godfather saga. Apocalypse Now. Full Metal Jacket. Unforgiven. The Passion of the Christ. They’ve all been rightfully celebrated as artful, original explorations of dark subject matter, unflinching in their portrayals of human evil. Each film leaves viewers exhausted, bruised by depictions of gross violence. This is not mere “entertainment.” Many viewers would be wise to avoid them altogether. Not all sensibilities are equipped for such troubling explorations.
A History of Violence belongs on that list. If you buy a ticket for this nightmarish vision, proceed with extreme caution . . . and vigilant conscience. It is a supremely executed and revelatory work on the nature and consequences of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual violence. But while it is cleverly crafted and meaningful, it is not pleasant or uplifting. Just as it takes a strong, discerning doctor to cut into a human body and search for the disease amidst the gore, so it takes a certain kind of moviegoer to glean insight from David Cronenberg’s discomforting exploration of human misbehavior.
I’m curious . . . what kind of “sensibilities” are “equipped for such troubling explorations”? What is the identity of the “certain kind of moviegoer” who can “glean insight from David Cronenberg’s discomforting exploration of human misbehavior?”
Carl Trueman, in his thought-provoking (yet somewhat rambling and strangely named) post “Why Are There Never Enough Spaces at the Prostate Clinic?” argues,
I am . . . struck by how Christian talk of cultural engagement has coincided with a watering-down of Christian standards of behavior and, ironically, thought. I have lost count of how many times I have been told in recent years that Christians should be able to watch any movie, providing they do so with a critical, Christian eye. There are several obvious problems with that kind of statement. For a start, such a categorical, sweeping statement has little, if any, scriptural or exegetical foundation and indeed seems not to take any account of texts such as Mt. 5: 27-30, Eph. 5: 1-3, Phil. 4: 8, etc. Second, even those making the case rarely mean exactly what they say: ask them if Christians can therefore watch child pornography, and none that I have spoken to have been prepared to go that far, except in the necessary cases of those professionally involved in the detection and prosecution of paedophile crime. No, Christians shouldn’t watch child porn, they’ll say; but the problem, of course, is that definitions of what is and is not pornography, even child pornography, are changing all the time and are driven, by and large, by the wider culture which increasingly mainstreams such material. Witness the new Kate Winslet movie [The Reader], involving a sex scene between her character and a fifteen year old boy. Specious distinctions involving the actual age of the actor notwithstanding, it is arguably child pornography. Frankly, there are films rated PG-13 today which my grandparents would have considered as porn. Is the standard of what is and is not obscene set by biblical truth or by cultural accommodation? Talk of `Christians can watch anything as long as they do it critically’ is as daft, unbiblical, soft-headed, ill-thought-out, and confused as anything one is likely to come across. In fact, I have a suspicion that for some it might simply function as a rationalization for watching whatever they like and not having to feel guilty about it, the Christian voyeur’s equivalent of the `I only do screen nudity and sex when the script demands it’ excuse of so many `serious’ actresses whose bank balances have been boosted by the occasional flash of on-screen flesh.
What do you think?