Looking at film through a biblical lens

Films are supposed to entertain us. We should laugh when we are supposed to laugh and cry when we are supposed to cry. The film industry wants people to get emotionally involved with all types of film. From the art film to the blockbuster, everyone can come out of the theatre with different reactions to the same movie. Why? Because we all have different life experiences or a different ‘lens’ we put the film through. 

Entering the theatre, we may go in to be entertained, but the film can provoke us to anger, joy, hope, tears and even action. As a Christian, I cannot get past the fact that the ‘lens’ that is supposed to influence my life is the Bible. Not to say I meditate on the Bible minutes before going into a theatre, but if it truly is the centrepiece of my life. This is the ‘lens’ that I need to consider when watching a film.

When watching a film from this perspective, I am not encouraging people only to see faith-based filmsOn the contrary, even though there are good films about the Christian faith, there is a multitude of films that provide excellent entertainment without referencing God directly. Yet, when it comes to challenging people to watch a film through a biblical lens, this means to see how the story complements, challenges or even aligns with the teachings found in its words.To go in to watch a movie and enjoy the entertaining aspects, but during the screening looking for potential biblical applications. Being careful to not apply something to the film that is not there, but to look for hints of God’s story in the movie. In reading through many of the books on entertainment theology, we can see themes throughout various films: brokenness, death, fear, sacrifice, power, community, love, mercy, grace and justice.

Let me give you an example of what I am suggesting. Sitting on the lounge the other night, I had the opportunity to pull out an old western favourite, the Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall film, Open Range.

Synopsis of the film: The classic battle between open range heritage the free graze cattleman and progress of settlements in the American West. Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) find themselves in the small town of Harmonville, the cowboys encounter a corrupt sheriff and powerful rancher. Due to the injustice of the rancher on their fellow cowboys and friends, Boss and Charley find themselves pulled into a showdown with the town’s leaders. They have to consider the reasoning behind their actions, is it justice or revenge? In amongst the story and inevitable gun battles, life suddenly takes an unexpected turn for Charley when he meets Sue Barlow (Annette Benning) and he has to decide between life on the range or settling down. There are psychological and relational battles within the gunfights. Many issues in the lives of the characters come to light and bigger questions have to be considered. 

Key dialogue in the film

Boss Spearman: We come for justice, not vengeance. Now them is two different things.

Charley Waite: Not today they ain’t.

Revenge and justice are the key drivers of this film and it makes for great cinema. Yet, why should revenge cause anyone to feel a bit uncomfortable? Justice is something we all should desire, but revenge is not something we should be putting into action. The topics of revenge and justice bring up bigger things considered. Who determines what is right and wrong and who has the moral authority to enact justice? 

Let’s look at the definitions

Revenge: to exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit.

Justice: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness and the administering of deserved punishment or reward. *

The key difference is the intent and heart of the action. Also, does the person have the authority to administer the punishment? 

How to apply the Biblical lens to this discussion

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Justice is only administered by those put into the authority to apply it. Exacting revenge on someone who has done you wrong in your life only leads to more pain and difficulty. People need to bring offenders before those who can actually exact justice in those situations. I know that sometimes the authorities of this world fail us, but there is one authority that we can trust with the wrongs of this world. God sees all things and will avenge all wrongs in his time and in his way. Why is that comforting? Because ultimately, God determines what is right and wrong and he is the one with the real authority to administer justice.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? Luke 18:7

On the topic of justice, we have to consider the ‘mirror effect.’ In most situations of revenge, the mirror can be turned around on the person trying to administer the unjust punishment. Aren’t we all guilty of wrongs and do we have the authority to go through with the action? Also, if you look into what the Bible has to say about these topics, Jesus has already paid the price for those wrongs. Do not misunderstand, we should help in defending the defenceless and seek justice, but revenge is not the solution.

This leads to other vital areas to consider: forgiveness, bitterness, anger. For this article, we do not have time to go into all of these areas. That is for another movie and another day.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. Matthew 12:18

Take time to read what the Bible has to say about these questions. Maybe even begin with the biographies of Jesus, such as the Gospel according to Luke. 

Looking at a film through a biblical lens is not meant to take the joy out of the experience. This challenge is intended to add a richness to your viewing pleasure that goes deeper than you may have ever had at the cinema. 

Oh… If you get a chance, check out Open Range. Great film!

*Definitions from dictionary.com