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A Critic's Devotions

  • Interview by Mark Moring Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 22 Mar
A Critic's Devotions

When Matthew Kinne was 10 years old, he saw the original Star Wars film in the theater—and was immediately hooked on the power of movies. He knew he wanted to do something in movies when he grew up, but the "practical" side of him suggested he follow in his father's footsteps and get a real job as a doctor. He majored in biology at Wheaton College, but kept feeling the tug of movies, eventually scrapping his med school plans and enrolling in film school instead. He ended up as a Christian movie critic for five years, while also dabbling in screenplays, film/video production, and serving as a consultant for several production companies. Now Kinne, 37, who lives in Traverse City, Michigan, has a new book, Reflections for Movie Lovers (Living Ink Books), a collection of daily devotionals based on 365 different films—and he's seen all of them but one. Read on to find out which one he hasn't seen, and to get his take on movie discernment, on finding redemption in films, and why some R-rated flicks can be trusted more than G-rated ones.

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You used to be a critic with Movieguide Magazine, right?Matthew Kinne: Yes. I saw a ton of movies, good and bad, low budget, big budget, family friendly to family unfriendly.What's your fulltime job now?Kinne: I'm promoting this book, and I have two radio shows. One is At the Movies with Matthew Kinne, a weekly show on a local Christian radio station. The other is a daily show called Daily Reflections for Movie Lovers, which is basically my book.So which came first, the book or the radio segment?Kinne: The book, and the daily segment came out of it.Do you remember the first movie you ever saw?Kinne: I don't remember the first movie I ever saw, but the first movie that made me want to be in film business was Star Wars. I was ten years old, and I probably saw it 15 times in the theaters. I bought the trading cards and traded them with my friends. I even made my own light saber out of a flashlight and a tube of paper.Star Wars showed me the power of story, the power of movies. From that point on, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I went to Wheaton College as a biology major because my dad was a doctor and I thought, Well, you can't find a job in movies; a real job is being a doctor. By the time I graduated, though, I realized I didn't want to be a doctor.So what did you do?Kinne: I ended up teaching for a year at a Christian school. It was the kind of school where parents sent their derelict kids to get "straightened out." ?I had a hard time keeping discipline and keeping control in the classroom. I asked God what he wanted me to do, and he seemed to say, Well, what do you want to do? I said, Film school. So I ended up starting film school in 1992 at Regent University in Virginia.When I graduated in '95, I was hired to be a film critic with Movieguide. And because of my science background—with analytical thinking and the almost dispassionate way a scientist would examine a disease—I was able to look at film and pick it apart.Some Christians think all movies are evil, while others show no discernment, watching everything and saying, "It's just entertainment." Where's the happy medium between those extremes?Kinne: There are certainly some movies that don't have any redeeming value. The Bible says if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. So, if there's something in a movie that tempts you to sin, that movie is not for you. But that's really about the only standard that I see that should be applied to movies.What kinds of movies do you like?Kinne: Movies with conflict. Somebody gets into a jam—they've screwed up either out of their own sin or somebody sinning against them—and how are they going to get out of that jam? I think that's a wonderful thing to explore. And once we've seen the film, we can compare it to Scripture.Movies are wonderful for showing stories of the human condition. The Bible covers the complete gamut of human experience in that as well. People have said that if you filmed the Bible literally you're going to get an R-rated movie. And of course Mel Gibson did just a little bit of it, and he got an R-rating too.Is it OK to watch films that don't portray a biblical perspective?Kinne: Movies are a great way to learn about other worldviews and perspectives. If you read a piece of literature about something that's not Christian, I don't see the difference in seeing it on film. If you are versed in Scripture, if you understand the perspective that God takes on these issues, then you can do the compare-and-contrast thing, see it, and learn from it.Why did you write this book?Kinne: When I was a fulltime movie critic, there was only one really common element that I found in movie lovers—a passion for story in film. They had what I call a yearning for transcendence. They wanted to see something bigger than themselves, different from themselves. They wanted characters with intriguing personality traits, characters who got into conflicts and got out of those conflicts. This transcendence, this otherness, is God-given. It's what drives every person eventually to ask, "Is this life all there is?" "Am I alone in the world?" Those are the types of questions that Christians started out asking, and they're the questions a movie lover asks.I wanted to honor those questions by marrying the movie ideas—plots and scenes—with Scripture ideas. There's often a parallel between Scripture and the great themes we see in literature—like the monomyth, the idea that the great pieces of literature have elements of Christ's story in them, whether the writers intended it or not. Now, movies are the literature of our age, the storytelling mechanisms of our age. Why can't we do the same kind of thing with movies?Who is the intended audience?Kinne: It's on the cover: Movie lovers.Regardless of the age?Kinne: Certainly. There's something in there for everyone. I think young people particularly will enjoy it, or people that might feel intimidated by devotional books like My Utmost for His Highest, which is tough reading. But mine's a good book for people just wanting to kind of dip their toe into matters of faith in an easy, accessible way.There are 365 films covered in this book. Have you seen them all?Kinne: All but one, The Jazz Singer—not the one with Neil Diamond, but the very first talking motion picture. I just couldn't find a copy of it, but I knew I had a place for it. What I wrote about with The Jazz Singer is that forever there was silent film, and then this one movie brought speaking into film—just like when Christ came, he broke 400 years of silence, from the end of writing with Malachi to the birth of Christ. Christ broke the silence and forever changed how we see God relating to man, because he made a new way, a new covenant of how God communicates with his people. That's the parallel I brought with that one.Some people mistake a good review of a film for a recommendation. Should people assume the films in your book are "safe" for the whole family?Kinne: No. Just because I have a movie in here doesn't mean I endorse it for everyone. And just because it's in here doesn't even mean I think it's necessarily a good film; some movies are just very good at showing the consequences of sin. The only criteria I had for movies for inclusion in my book was that I could pull some spiritual lesson out of it. And there was also a little criteria I had for exclusion: I didn't want to include any movie that necessarily would invite controversy. So I don't review Pulp Fiction or The Last Temptation of Christ.Some people will have a beef that you included any R-rated movies.Kinne: Right.So, what's your thinking about R-rated movies?Kinne: I heard a writer once say, "I'd rather see an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie." I mean, The Passion of the Christ is rated R, but it's telling the truth. Other movies, like Pocahontas and Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest, are both G-rated, but had a lot of revisionist history or radical environmentalist ideas. So, the MPAA rating doesn't tell you much about the worldview, and that to me is the most important thing—what are the philosophical and religious and moral things that this movie is talking about, regardless of content? The MPAA ratings will tell you whether you should take your kid or not, but there are bigger issues other than the MPAA rating when you want to find the meat of what this movie is about.Ultimately, I think the decision of what movies to watch is between you and God. I think with most every movie, you can somehow pull something redeeming out of it. But if you have a discussion with it and use it as a springboard to explore the Scriptures further, explore who Christ is further, that's good. Jesus says, "If my people don't praise me, the rocks will cry out." If he can make a rock to cry out and praise him, then I think a film—or anything not intended for necessarily scriptural purposes—can be used redemptively.

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