Award-winning Screenwriter Brian Godawa on Today's Movies
- 2002 6 Nov
Describe the various types of moviegoers. What are the dangers of each?
Brian Godawa: Moviegoers seem to fall into three different categories of cultural diets: gluttons, anorexics and balanced dieters. Cultural gluttons are those who watch too many movies without discretion; cultural anorexics are those who watch no movies because of exaggerated scruples; and culturally balanced dieters are those who discriminate with a healthy balance between what they watch and don't watch. Although balance is the preferred ideal, many of us tend to drift into either one of the extremes.
The culture glutton tends to consider movies as mere entertainment, an escape, with no effect on his or her psyche. The glutton consumes more than they ought to and suffers spiritual obesity as a result. They are affected in adverse ways that they are often not aware of. Their values and worldviews are altered or weakened subversively through overexposure to counter values and worldviews presented through the drama of story.
The cultural anorexic, on the other hand, is so offended by the bad in some movies that they refuse to watch any movies in order to protect themselves from worldly influence. While trying to honor a sense of holiness from the world, they inadvertently deny the very image of God in man that the art of film provides. The anorexic becomes alienated from the culture around them because they cannot speak the language or engage in the cultural dialogue with an eye toward reform.
The purpose of Hollywood Worldviews is to give individuals the critical tools to discern the good and bad values and worldviews in movies in order to interact redemptively with their culture.
Offer one example of a “redemptive” movie. Where do we find the redemption in that particular movie?
Brian: All movies are about redemption in one way or another. In simple terms, redemption is simply the recovery of what is lost. All worldviews believe in redemption or the recovering of a better state for people. But not all redemption is good. A movie could have humanistic redemption, Buddhist redemption or Christian redemption. And there are some similarities in values between the different worldviews that make most movies a mixture of good and bad, rather than all bad or all good. For example, the 2001 Oscar winning A Beautiful Mind, is a good example of romantic redemption. The hero, John Nash, is so absorbed in finding his significance in scientific achievement and trying to understand the world in terms of mathematical formulas, that he loses touch with humanity, both in others and himself. His schizophrenia becomes a metaphor for this personal fault. He can’t relate to the real world, so his mind creates an imaginary world where he is important for saving everyone from nuclear disaster. Nash is redeemed by realizing that “only in the mysterious equation of love are there logical reasons that can be found.” He discerns the difference between the real and the unreal in his life by turning to his heart, not his mind. This is textbook romanticism; the elevation of human intuition and emotions. From a Christian worldview, there is both good and bad to this proposition. The Bible affirms that heartless intellectualism is spiritually barren, reality is more than mathematical formula, and people are more important than ideas and achievements. But the Scriptures also repudiate the human heart as deceitful and desperately wicked; therefore, equally incapable of discovering ultimate truth without the aid of Revelation. True human balance, wisdom and knowledge is found in being a person of heart and mind, with both in subjection to the Creator.
How can we begin to be more discerning in the movies we watch?
Brian: By recognizing that the story of a character is a dramatic argument for a worldview. As the hero transforms his thinking about the world through his experience, so we see what the filmmakers are trying to persuade us about how we view the world. When watching a movie, ask yourself, “What is the character flaw of the hero at the beginning?” “What makes him change his mind in the story about the way he sees the world?” “What does he learn about the way life ought or ought not be lived?” “What is different about the way he sees the world at the end from the way he sees it at the beginning?” These and other questions help us to discern the viewpoint being communicated through story, and enables us to be more appreciative of the good in a movie, while remaining objectively interactive with the bad. It’s Movie Appreciation 101.
How does or doesn't Hollywood intentionally shape our worldviews?
Brian: Logical argumentation is not the only way we as human beings are persuaded. In fact, good or bad, a lot more persuasion is accomplished in this world through emotional and story-driven argumentation. Story persuades through the vicarious identification of the audience with the hero. As we root for the hero, we subconsciously identify with him or her. As the hero goes through his character arc of changing the way he views the world, so we tend to join them until we find ourselves in the very character of the hero and their new viewpoint. The effect is not unlike the parable used by Nathan to draw David into his own epiphany by analogizing David's immoral behavior in the form of a fictional story. As David responds to the story with righteous indignation, so he is able to see that his own life is terribly out of line and in need of redemption.
What is your hope for the readers of Hollywood Worldviews?
Brian: My hope is that I may challenge all sides to rethink their own views. I would beg the cultural anorexic to reconsider the good that they are missing out on and even denying as they retreat from all movies. I would plead with the cultural glutton to be more discerning about what they watch because they are being affected in a negative way from the bad that they are ignoring. And I would hope to provide the balanced viewer with the kind of tools to interact redemptively with the other extremes around them.
Brian Godawa is an award-winning screenwriter who has taught and written on film and philosophy, screenwriting, and the art of watching movies.
Used by permission. InterVarsity Press © 2002