In The Message Behind the Movie, he takes us backstage for a look at how screenwriters and producers think as they construct their stories. He also demystifies how all the components of a film—things like style, sound, and story structure—work together to convey a filmmaker's message. Armed with an understanding of what goes into making a film, Christians can engage a film on multiple levels. We can appreciate a film's artistic achievements without neglecting how it relates to our faith.

So, can anything good come out of Hollywood? "Like most things in life, Hollywood is a mixed bag," he remarks. "It's pretty easy to say that at least some good things have come out of Hollywood. No one can watch Schindler's List—which was made by a major Hollywood producer—without it gripping your soul. And yet it is this incredibly transformative and amazing film." Beaumont admits that all films are not created equal. "Yeah, there's a lot of falsehood. There are films like The Da Vinci Code and a number of politically charged films" that are well-crafted but don't convey a good message. "At the bottom of the spectrum there are some films that are artistically and morally worthless."

With so many films scattered across this spectrum, how do we measure a particular film's worth? Is there a point where the good in a movie can outweigh the bad? Beaumont thinks there are two matters at play here:  What makes a movie good versus what makes a movie good for me to view. "We have to make a real strong distinction between talking objectively about what makes a movie good and a completely different question—should I go watch it?"

Take the ‘70s film, The Exorcist, for example. "There's probably not a scene in the movie that a Christian can comfortably sit through. And yet, it has a very good message that I think is strongly amplified by all those heavy, often disgusting, style elements. I can objectively say that the movie is good, but that doesn't mean that I think that anyone should watch it."

As we think about these questions, he reminds us to consider the Bible itself and how it relates its message. "There's a lot of communication in the Scripture that is a lot more descriptive and a lot more harsh than it has to be just to communicate the message," he points out. "Why did God do that? Why does God describe, in detail, people being killed? There are a lot more dimensions [to the Bible] than just factual meaning." God often constructs his stories for emotional impact and sometimes uses graphic elements to drive a point home. And that's not a bad thing.

To See or Not to See?

Beaumont doesn't see Hollywood as the enemy. "Hollywood is just a place where movies get made," he remarks. "There are a lot of Christians working in Hollywood—people like Ralph Winter who's behind most of the superhero movies that have come out lately along with TV's House, M.D. If Hollywood were 100% anti-Christian and anti-truth, guys like him wouldn't be able to survive." On the other hand he admits, "Hollywood is also more than willing to make movies they know won't make money just to be artistic and push the boundaries."

Ultimately, "To see, or not to see?" is a question each believer must answer on his or her own. Rejecting every box office offering robs us of important insight into our culture. But, failing to apply the guidelines Scripture and our conscience provide can harm our souls. Sharpening our eyes to see what films are communicating and sharpening our consciences to respond appropriately to those films takes maturity and insight. The Message Behind the Movie offers help on developing both.

For more information about The Message Behind the Movie:  How to Engage with a Film without Disengaging Your Faith, please visit Moody Publishers.

Douglas Beaumont is pursuing a Ph.D. at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, NC.  He teaches Bible and philosophy at Southern Evangelical Bible College and speaks around the country on various topics related to Christianity.  His work has been published in The Christian Apologetics Journal, The Baker Dictionary of Cults and World Religions, and he was one of the only Protestant writers to be included in The Best Catholic Writing 2006.  He lives with his wife, son, bird and dog in Charlotte, North Carolina.  For more information, please visit his personal site here.

**This interview first published on September 23, 2009.