A few weeks ago, I’d never heard of The Interview. And even if I had, it’s not the type of movie I’d usually see. But then, I had this strong desire to see it. What’s the difference? The only thing that has happened in these weeks is that North Korea has threatened attacks on movie theaters that show it. In the end, Kim Jong-Un was an unsuccessful bully.
I think this new story asks us Christians a really important question: how do we react to movies we don’t like? Usually, we don’t threaten violence. But how often do we try to ban them? With this blog, I want to ask if that’s the best strategy and suggest possible other strategies.
There is a plot classic case study of two different ways to react to offensive movies. Since 2000, Mexican cinema has produced two movies about priests who were not faithful to the vows of celibacy. In 2002 The Crime of Padre Amaro was released, amid grand protestations from the Catholic Church, yet became the highest grossing film in the history of Mexican cinema (about $27 million dollars between Mexico and the US). In 2014, Perfect Obedience was released. I happened to talk with someone involved in Church PR in Mexico a little before it was released and they said that this time the Church was going to ignore the movie. It made $2.5 million which is low even for Mexican cinema. Looking at IMDb, they both have about the same rating (between 6 and 7) so I doubt the quality of the film made for a ten fold difference in earnings. I think part of the difference was that the Church objected and created such a controversy over the first film.
A friend of mine wondered out loud if Sony was using this whole news story as free promotion for The Interview, like Christians have given free promotion to so many movies by protesting against them. The more I look at it, the less I think protesting movies is effective.
So what options are there? I think that there’s a two-step path that we need to take. First, we need to stop giving free promotion to horrid movies. Second, we Christians need go to the movies with a moral sense. I know that sounds abstract. I’ll give a few examples of how Christian morality can pervade our movie-viewing.
- A fairly simple step is to check something like Decent Films before watching a movie (this may mean skipping opening night).
- Another point is to be aware of the lessons being taught and be open to dialogue about them with children and teens afterwards. For example, Star Wars has a lot of religious syncretism that would be good to discuss after seeing it, and Star Trek is ultimately materialistic which is also a good point to discuss afterwards.
- Finally, we need to be clear about morality in general – not just attacks against Christianity. If we just complain about movies that attack Christianity, we become one more interest group who complains when they are negatively portrayed on screen. What do I mean by this? I’ll give you a concrete example. Unthinkable is a 2010 “suspense thriller” where the plot revolves around graphically torturing a man to try and get information from him. I have listened to several good Catholics trying to defend that film. If we are concerned about the morality in films, we need to be concerned about films like that just as we are about sex scenes and direct attacks on the Church.
Protesting movies just gives them free publicity. Instead of making a scene, we Christians should focus on creating moral consciousness so companies won’t want to make money with disgusting movies.