The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage a Film without Disengaging Your Faith by Douglas M. Beaumont
Published by Moody Publishers
Many thanks to Duane Sherman at Moody Publishers for this review copy!
Disputes concerning Christians and culture are not new and will likely continue to be a hotly-debated subject amongst them for the foreseeable future. Among these disputes is the question of movies; specifically, is it permissible for Christians to watch movies that are not explicitly “Christian”? No doubt battle lines have been drawn, dividing the “Christians-should-not-watch-secular-movies camp” from the camp in which Christians feel free to watch secular movies, so long as they do so discerningly. I looked forward to reading The Message Behind the Movie because I am a devoted follower of Christ and I love movies. As Christians we are certainly to filter entertainment through the lens of Scripture, testing what is evil and clinging to what is good. The problem many Christians face when it comes to movies, if they deem movies to be acceptable forms of entertainment, is what makes a movie acceptable for viewing. To this end, Beaumont’s book offers practical advice on how to be so discerning.
The Message Behind the Movie is divided into three “acts” (based upon a standard screenwriting procedure in which each “act” serves a particular purpose): 1) Watching and Understanding Movies, 2) Evaluating and Discussing Movies, 3) Applauding and Avoiding Movies. A brief comment on each section will suffice.
Act one focuses on watching and understanding movies and is very informative about the different aspects and features of movies, such as the lighting, sound, and structure, how these decisions are very intentional and how every moment of a movie purposefully planned. Beaumont helpfully guides the reader through these and other aspects of movie-making so that hopefully they, with a little practice, will learn to “watch movies well.” Overall, Act One was the most interesting section of the book. Beaumont’s frequent references to particular aspects of some of the cinema’s finest achievements kept me turning these early pages. I was very intrigued to read about scenes from some of my favorite movies from his perspective.
Act two slows down a bit in its address of how to discuss movies according to particular disciplines such as theology, philosophy, and Scripture. While these are essential disciplines in which to discuss movies and their message, I felt the pace of the book lagged in comparison to act one. Part of the reason is because these chapters essentially amount to an apologetic for the Christian faith. This really did not shock me, as the author is a Ph.D. student in and professor of apologetics. Please do not misunderstand me—I am all for apologetics. However, most (if not all) the information in this section is material I have read numerous times and can be found in most intro-level apologetics texts. I would have preferred more discussion and interaction with movies themselves rather than an apologetic presentation.
Act three somewhat regained my interest, but I felt was rather brief in comparison to the first two acts. Act three focuses on the question I believe most would ask when picking up this book—“What should we then watch”? Beaumont does provide a good summary of the points presented throughout the book (though brief) and will certainly be helpful for those asking this question.
Format-wise the book was appealing and easy to read. Errata were few, including a statement that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948 (they were discovered in 1947—I know, it’s nitpicking!). In summary, The Message Behind the Movie is a helpful volume that will be a good starting point for Christians who wish to be discerning about the movies they watch, having at least rudimentary tools to “watch movies well.”
“Finally, we must avoid the common tendency to balk at offensive elements in a movie while indiscriminately imbibing false worldviews and destructive philosophies when they are presented in non-offensive ways.” p. 57
“If you think the film was objectively sinful to watch, then you should discuss that later with a view toward discipleship, not discipline.” p. 156
Αυτω η δοξα,