If you’ve ever had a chance to come out to one of our Film & Theology events, you know that these are great times to connect together as a family and with those from the surrounding community as well. The love of story is hardwired into the fabric of who we are, so getting people together to watch a great movie is not difficult. The harder task is engaging deeply with the message of the media that we are being entertained by.
Every story is preaching a message. A set of beliefs. A worldview. Some subtly and some not so subtly. Sometimes the film literally preaches it, sometimes you have to dig a little, but there’s always a message. Often without realizing it, the message is affecting us. So it’s important that we engage properly with the media that we watch. There are two ways we can engage with the media we watch: passively or actively.
Here’s the way we actively engage with media at our Film & Theology events:
- Before watching the film, we tell people to keep an eye out for the message that they think the film was trying to communicate.
- After the film, we share the ideas/messages/opinions that we saw communicated through the film.
- We then process through the observations.
This final step is very important, and it’s what separates active and passive engagement. To help us process, we’ve found the three “R”s (Reject, Receive, Redeem) helpful:
What should we reject?
What can we receive?
What could be redeemed?
These “R”s serve as filters that we can process the message of our media through. Many Christians have been guilty of trying to shelter themselves and their children from everything that is ‘of the world’, and have fallen victim of creating a Christian bubble (sectarianism). There are surely some things that we should reject and avoid, but we also potentially miss out on some great works of art when we limit what we can appreciate to only works made by Christians. But on the other end of the spectrum, others have fallen victim to allowing the messages of the culture to influence their worldview (syncretism), accepting everything at face value. And when we do this long enough, our beliefs/vocabulary/actions can eventually start to become indistinguishable from the culture around us.
As a parent, this is a vital step as younger minds are very susceptible and they absorb the messages of the media very easily. Actively engaging with various media trains our children to think through what they hear at school and from their friends when we aren’t present.
In our family, we walk through the three “R”s with our children in order to teach them to think about what they are watching. My oldest daughter (7 years old) now catches many of the points without us having to point them out to her, and I don’t worry that Disney will have her ‘following her heart’. Teaching our children how to think is even more important than teaching them what to think.
As adults, we need to actively engage with our media as well! While our core beliefs are less likely to be formed, it does not mean that the media we intake is not having an effect. A well-crafted meme will often change someone's mind, how much more will a well-crafted film with a story that pulls at your heartstrings?
Tides turn slowly and ideas take root and spread without us realizing it if we aren't actively engaged with the ideas and messages being presented to us. Filtering our media (television and movies, but also music, literature, etc) through the three “R”s can help us stay biblically rooted, and it will help us balance logic and emotion as we guard our beliefs. It’s one of the ways we can be on guard against a slow gradual shift into full blown syncretism.
As missionaries, we have an obligation to engage with the culture around us. And in order to effectively engage, we need to understand the beliefs of the culture around us. In Acts 17, Paul reasoned with the people of Athens by engaging with their baseline philosophies and beliefs. As a diverse culture, we have people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs in our workplaces and neighbourhoods. In order to share Christ with those around us, it’s important that we find out what people believe and one of the greatest ways to do this is by conversing around a common cultural voice—something like a film.
When we actively engage with our media with the people around us, we invite a discussion around not only the themes and messages in the movie, but life’s bigger questions. And the best part is that we don’t come across as preachy because everyone gets to share their perspective. They share their observations and perspective, and we share ours. We are simply the initiators of dialogue!
How to Host a Film & Philosophical Conversation
During times of mandated physical distancing, one of the best ways to bring people together is through great online communal viewing tools. Here are some suggestions on how to facilitate that:
- Arrange a virtual viewing of a film. Use technology like Netflix Party, Zoom, or many other methods. You could arrange a formal time of discussion afterwards, preparing people for it by encouraging them to keep an eye out for the films messages, themes, and what they would receive/reject/redeem. Or alternatively, you could keep an eye out for all of this yourself, and then bring up your thoughts afterward and invite conversation in a more organic way.
- Depending on how restrictions ease in the future, here are some other ideas of how you could host a viewing when it’s appropriate (only if it can be done safely and legally, according to our government):
- Host a live viewing of a film with a few people. No one can say no to an evening of popcorn, nachos, and a great movie at someone else’s house. If you’re a total keener, print off some discussion sheets for a discussion of the film afterwards… people will love it.
- Attend a live viewing of a film. There’s nothing like seeing it on the big screen, and it’s easy to spark up a conversation on the ride home together or over post-viewing Yogen Früz.
Engaging with film is not only a great way to train our kids to think, it’s a great event to do with your community group, and it’s a great way to be missionally engaged with those around us.
If you’re looking for some thoughts to get you started, there are a couple of great websites that you can check out. See if they have any information on the film you are going to watch:
Here are some films that I would recommend and that would make for a great discussion afterward:
3 Idiots — A Bollywood film. One of my ultimate favourites. Might be a stretch for some but incredibly good story.
Lion — One of my favourites. Made me want to adopt a kid.
Avengers: Infinity War — If everyone will be awake at the end of the 2h40m
Ballerina — Great animated film with a compelling story. Great for families.
Roma — Might be a stretch for some but it’s a really beautiful story about a housekeeper/nanny in Mexico.
Forrest Gump — classic.
Founder — the story of the guy who ripped off the brothers who created McDonalds. I really enjoyed this film.
Two Popes — great theology discussion.
Wonder — beautiful story about feeling different, learning to see wonder of life, and understanding villains. Great for families.
Groundhog Day — A classic film that is strangely applicable for this present season.
Cast Away - A film about weathering isolation; oddly fitting.
Hugo — good film for families. I remember loving it when I saw it years ago.
Citizen Kane — classic.
Flight — good film about a man overcoming alcoholism and owning up to his mistakes.
Stranger Than Fiction — Great example of a self sacrificial hero and good discussion points on predestination/free will.
Some of our former Film & Theology event titles that are available on Netflix:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Ready Player One
The Greatest Showman
The Truman Show
La La Land
A Quiet Place