Friday, October 05, 2007

Meaning in Movies

A friend, still in high school, is inviting all the friends in our circle to a watch a movie with her. The movie that she wants to see this time is a western rated R. I could say I don’t understand, except it would be lying. She wants to see the movie because she enjoys the acting of not just one, but two main actors.

Her family is very conservative. I once loaned them You’ve Got Mail, a highly quotable movie with its share of inappropriate content ranging from language to the way women are viewed and relationships are valued. They actually called me, having paused the movie, to get clarification: are both main characters living with people to whom they are not married?! I reluctantly recommend such movies, but the girls under the supervision of their parents seemed so eager to watch the movie, that I gave in to their request and let them borrow my copy.

I’m told my friend’s dad is no fun as a companion watching a chick-flick because he feels the need to point out every moral failure as a warning to his daughters. They’re well-versed in the Bible and Christian morality, not just by teaching, example, and influence, but also by practice. They know as well as I do that the behaviors depicted by Hollywood are wrong. Their own lives will always look quite different from those in the movies.

Another friend says her family barely even watches kissing on TV or movies, because that ought to be very private. It isn’t healthy spiritually/emotionally to be feeding yourself media that doesn’t agree with your values. We get desensitized, and participate in the desacralization of love and marriage and God’s name, etc.

I am torn. Trust me: I know that my heart and mind can only filter so much secular media before I succumb at best to the sin of discontent and bad moods. There is value in considering the worldview of the secular world, though; and to watch a movie in the critical mode, thoughtfully refuting the choices and lifestyles of the characters. If you were only going to associate with people who exactly exemplified your values, you probably wouldn’t even be hanging out with yourself.

Perhaps the best example is one of my favorite movies, Pride and Prejudice, in which the priorities promoted by Miss Austen are the sort that I harbor in my life. Please don’t misunderstand. Jane Austen writes characters, and uses even the bad ones to point to what she sees is good. I’m not valuing marriage for money or comfort or class anymore than I am arguing for elopement or promiscuity or absurdity or selfishness. Pride and Prejudice, one might anticipate by the very title, is about flaws and mistakes. Even the main characters have to overcome decisions or feelings in themselves which neither I nor Jane Austen would find upstanding. Perhaps the feeling of superiority I have in watching Elizabeth Bennett’s and Mr. Darcy’s blunders is only because I already learned the intended lesson: the product of previously watching the movie and being educated by Miss Austen in the noble understanding of friendship and love.

However, the point of this post is that I am so refreshed and delighted to find books, and especially movies (because they’re so rare) in which I never have to think, “I would never be in the situation the heroine finds herself, because I would never have made such choices.” The stories then are dear, because they are relevant, and familiar, and possible. To watch characters endure with godly patience, to love with honor, to laugh and to cry all without making major moral mistakes – which are as bad as movie discontinuity – is inspiring!

While telling my mom these things, she was giving me a look of incredulity. “How many movies have you seen like that?”

“At the moment, I can think of only one,” I laughed (realizing maybe its uniqueness and wholesomeness is what makes me want to start it over immediately after finishing the five-hour film), “… the one I’m in the middle of downstairs right now, Wives and Daughters.” While working on an apron to eventually sell, I was watching the miniseries with my thirteen year old sister, and we were both admiring the character of the various wives, daughters, husbands, brothers, fathers, and friends in the story. I can see how Molly could fall for Roger, without doing anything wrong. She treats him like a brother, but they talk. He’s kind to her, and shows that he understands and cares about her. She too, easily demonstrates her affection for his whole family by her ready service to them. Not only can she keep everyone else’s secrets; her heart guards the hardest secret to keep: her own.

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell by George Richmond
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

In the end Molly is no longer the na├»ve, obedient little girl. She has always had a mind of her own. Now she has a will, and a heart, that can match the challenges and requests of every adult around her. I’m still trying to lay my finger on how her face changes by the end from the face we see when she is first reading in her little nook overlooking the drive.

Ephesians 5:15-18, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;"

Colossians 3:2, 17, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth… And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

Entertainment saturates our culture, binding us to futility by addicting us to me-pleasing inactivity. If watching movies, especially long ones like Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters, has no eternal or applicable value, I would not do it. These movies have had an impact on my life: my philosophy, convictions, resolve, inspiration. We all know what we read affects how we write and talk. If I’ve been watching Jane Austen, suddenly my sentences incorporate a wider vocabulary and proper grammar. Beyond that, these movies can have visible applications.

If you know me, you will probably have noticed that when I can, I wear skirts, even though I own the perfect pair of jeans. This decision was inspired not by an interpretation of the Pauline epistles, nor by all those dresses-only homeschool conservatives, but because I want to be allowed to be beautiful like Molly. Everywhere she goes: gardening or running to meet her father in the barn, she wears full beautiful skirts. Her shawls and dresses lend elegance to everyday life. I’m thinking of my hair today: old-fashioned, looking really fancy (but my coworkers have no idea this is just the tip of the iceberg. If I were wearing what I wanted to wear, I’d be dressed early Victorian!). Molly didn’t bend to fashion much, either. We can tell she’s tempted, but ultimately wants her own things, things that remind her of her mother, and she goes by her own taste whenever she can.

Fiction, music, and media have great capacity to influence the world.

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity
in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
- You've Got Mail

“Give me the making of the songs of a nation
and I care not who writes its laws.”
- Andrew Fletcher
To God be all glory.


Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Christian Bale and Russel Crowe, no doubt? FYI if you're not sure, the movie has a little nudity in it.

While I very, very often don't agree with their views in their movie reviews, Focus on the Family runs this site:

I go there not for their own views and deductions, but because they honestly list questionable content. (That is, if you feel like reading that...which I don't always. Just enough to figure out if you'd watch it or not is enough.)

They're too hard on things I think are fine and not hard enough on things I know are wrong, but hey, like I said, I don't agree with many of their views.


P.S. And btw, I'm a dresses-only conservative, actually. :-D

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Yep, I read the review already, and wouldn't watch the movie myself. I love Plugged In for just giving me facts. Their conclusions must depend on who is reviewing or something (or if they told you not to see any movies they worry we'd stop reading it), but I love their list of content. I don't understand who go see bad movies when you could just check ahead of time.

Dr. Paleo, I wasn't trying to say that dresses-only conservatives are wrong, but that I don't do what I do to be part of a group or as a result of peer pressure. I'm a little paranoid of being categorized as legalistic or cultic, which I know people do because I used to. My point was that the reason I did decide to wear skirts more was because of the influence of Wives and Daughters.

Have you seen Wives and Daughters?
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Ha ha, I find it funny that you ask that. Have I seen Wives and Daughters? Lol, my sister loves Gaskell! I like Roger. He's a naturalist, like me. ;-D

Ever seen North and South?

Lisa of Longbourn said...

The only thing that bugs me about Roger is that he seems to have been interested in evolutionary naturalism. He talks about comparative osteology proving we're more closely related to the apes. But he is really cool.

I did watch North and South, and found it quite different from Wives and Daughters. The latter is about the characters. Whatever is happening is only a product of who they are and the choices they each make. We see character progression, and also the contrast between characters. In North and South, the characters are reacting to the story, the big situation of the cotton industry, poverty, death, etc. They're both legitimate styles of story-telling, and I more often write the kind of story that North and South is. But I prefer the character-centered story of Wives and Daughters.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

I think N&S is very character-centered. At least for me, perhaps because I'm a guy, it's easy to see the feelings, motivations, etc. of Thornton, and even Henry...whatever his last name was. :-P

Lisa of Longbourn said...

I'm not saying there aren't strong characters, just that the point of the plot is the progression of the story, not the development of the characters. Like Dickens, there is a social point to be made.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Hmm...I see your point. But to me, I really just like the Thornton parts. It seems like the social drama is more of a backdrop, although it does pervade the story more than a usual backdrop....

Robert said...

I checked out plugged in and it looks like a good site to see what's in a movie.

I'm also in the process of rewatching Wives and Daughters.I've also seen North and South.Molly reminded me of Fanny Price though she can be outspoken at times.I also thought the Molly/Roger and Fanny/Edmund relationships were similar-espically when Roger and Edmund realize that the woman they loved were a kind of hypothetical person that never was.

It was through reading some bloggers who make and wear old-fashioned dresses and watching Jane Austen and similar movies that I came to appreciate ladies wearing dresses and skirts.