Arts, Media, and Entertainment

More than a Matter of Ratings

Imagine for a moment that you feel like seeing a movie, either at home or in the theater. After listening to BreakPoint's series this week on movies and Christian worldview, you know the importance of using wisdom and discernment when it comes to viewing choices. For many Christians, the exercise of discernment begins with checking out a film's MPAA rating. Unfortunately, too often that's where their discernment ends, as well. I say "unfortunately" because there are films with little or no "offensive" content -- profanity, sex, or violence -- whose worldview is hostile to the Christian worldview. And there are films that, despite some "offensive" content, contain valuable moral and spiritual insights. An example of the former is the 2000 film Cast Away. The PG-13 film tells the story of Chuck Noland, a Federal Express troubleshooter marooned on a deserted island for four years. After being rescued and returning home, Noland learns that he can't pick up where he left off. At the end of the movie, we see him literally and figuratively at a crossroads. He looks into the camera with an exquisite expression on his face and shrugs his shoulders. The lack of profanity or sex might lead some Christians to label the film as "family-friendly." But this missed the film's existential core. For Noland, life has no intrinsic meaning. The only meaning it has is that which we find through acts of heroic individualism, like Noland's struggle to survive on the island. But these acts are ultimately meaningless. As the final scene tells us, none of Noland's choices really matter and he knows it -- hence the shrug. On the other side of the coin are films like last year's About Schmidt, now out on video. It was rated R for "strong language" and "brief nudity." In it, Jack Nicholson played Warren Schmidt, a recently retired insurance company executive. His life is, to put it mildly, unsatisfying. After his unfaithful wife's death, Schmidt sets out to keep his daughter from marrying the wrong man. Much of the story -- a riveting look at the bankruptcy of life without meaning -- is told using a voiceover reading of letters Schmidt writes to an African boy he sponsors through a relief agency. The "relationship" between Schmidt and the African boy serves as a metaphor for the lesson he learns through his experiences: a satisfying life is only possible through helping others -- a powerful moral lesson, even in the midst of the profanity and vulgarity. Other examples of films ratings not telling the whole story are the films of director Whit Stillman. In movies like The Last Days of Disco (rated R), grace, redemption and Providence play an important role -- so much so that, as author Austin Bramwell has written, "In the very act of enjoying his films, Stillman's audience confirms the superiority of the Christian worldview." Does this mean ratings don't matter? Of course not. They're very important. But they're not a substitute for understanding the worldview on display in a given film. BreakPoint is here to help you think through the worldview issues in every area of life. And when it comes to movies, even more than content, it's the ideas a film espouses that can be beneficial or harmful to us, to our kids, and to the culture.


Chuck Colson


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