Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Celluloid Philosophy Lessons

If you've got a teenager at home, now that school's out, he's going to spend a lot of time studying philosophy. "Not my kid," you might respond. "He's not into philosophy." Well, he might not be reading Plato or Aristotle, but if he sees a few movies this summer, he's going to get what amounts to a survey course in philosophy whether he knows it or not. Everyone embraces one philosophy or another -- a worldview that defines his conception of the world, of reality, of human life. These beliefs are woven into movies -- often in such subtle ways that viewers miss them. For example, in the film Cast Away, fate is offered as a God substitute when a FedEx employee is marooned on an island after a plane crash. As Brian Godawa writes in his book, Hollywood Worldviews, "God is conspicuously absent . . . [The man] is all alone in a naturalistic universe." In the end, he finds his way back home and meets a woman to replace the one he lost. Thus, Godawa writes, "humanity finds meaning in hope for another human being, and the benevolent impersonal fate will work it all out for us in the end." Your kids may also meet the Eastern philosophy called monism. A monist believes that all of reality is ultimately one: Evil arrives when people make distinctions among things; redemption occurs when we understand this pantheistic oneness. One recent film that promotes monism is Powder, about a rejected messiah figure with superhuman intelligence and special powers. In one scene, a sheriff gives up hunting when the messiah figure "connects" him with a deer the sheriff has just shot: Enlightenment comes when the sheriff realizes he is "one" with the deer. Newer films also feature plots expressing neo-Darwinism. For example, in the computer-animated film Dinosaur, a meteor strikes the earth, forcing the dinosaurs to migrate to a new home. Along the journey, the dinosaurs fight among themselves and permit larger animals to prey on smaller ones. But then, Godawa says, a wise "Moses-like [plant-eating animal] encourages them to cooperate." They "learn that they will only survive through helping one another. Dinosaur thus embodies the theory of evolutionary psychology that cooperation" -- not competition -- "is a trait of survival of the fittest." In the darkness of a theater, kids may also bump into neopaganism, Gaia worship, existentialism, and postmodernism. The question is, will they recognize these unbiblical philosophies when they see them? Francis Schaeffer once wrote that philosophy -- often dismissed as irrelevant -- is, in reality, a powerful engine that drives cultural change. Ivory Tower ideas filter down into popular culture, including films. There, they influence millions who often have no notion of what they're consuming along with the car chases, love scenes, and popcorn. That's why it's so important that we teach our kids how to find the worldview message in every film -- including the G-rated ones. Reading Godawa's book, Hollywood Worldviews, is a great place to start. The time for philosophy lessons, you see, is before our kids walk into the multiplex -- not when the lights go down.


Chuck Colson


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