Monday, November 23, 2009

If I were a Christian filmmaker/scriptwriter

WN asked me today: if I was a Christian filmmaker/scriptwriter, what sort of film would I make? He caught me off-guard and I had to say I didn't know. So here's an attempt at an answer. This isn't new, but it's worth restating.

Firstly, every person and every culture has a Big Story, one in which they both shape and are shaped by. Within this Big Story there might be many sub-plots. However, the movement in each of these stories will include in some form creation-fall-redemption-restoration. Any story will seek an answer, explicitly or implicitly, to the well-known four questions posed by Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh:

1. Who am I? Or what is the nature, task, and purpose of human beings?
2. Where am I? Or What is the nature of the world and universe we live in?
3. What's wrong? Or what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from obtaining fulfillment?
4. What is the remedy? How do I solve this problem or where do I find salvation?

This includes films. It could be said, in fact, that films are one of the primary ways in which people attempt to make sense of their place in the world today. Whether they ponder over a so-called weighty film or simply seek solace in a light-hearted comedy, they are still in some way engaging in the task of sense-making. Every film, in summary, offers a vision of what the world is like, and how the world ought to be.

The Christian filmmaker or scriptwriter is aware that his faith claims to have the True Story. We understand that we are to understand humanity in light of God and of sin, and we know where redemption is to be found. Therefore, "it follows that storytellers in our Christian community carry a major responsibility for keeping us alert to these stories and the way they work." (Eugene Peterson). This is because stories can grab us in ways mere arguments can't, and stories always reveal something about their creators. "We feel the emotions, get caught up in the drama, identify with the characters, see into nooks and crannies of life that we had overlooked, realize there is more to this business of being human tan we had yet explored. If the storyteller is good, doors and windows open." (Peterson) So if I were a Christian film-maker or scriptwriter, then I must offer a vision of how the world is like, and how it ought to be, in line with a Christian worldview.

But how I go about that is up to me and my (imagined!) creativity! The possibilities are vast. Think of some recent films. The Dark Knight, for example, might seem to be the antithesis of what a Christian film-maker should offer, but one of the things the film does so effectively is offer a very chilling vision, via the Joker, of what a world ruled by chance and randomness rather than God would look like. This is not to claim that the Dark Knight is a "Christian" movie. Nonetheless, it is extremely effective at jolting us out of our complacency and opening our eyes to the hideousness of a fallen world. Any script that can do that is worth exploring, although I would never allow it to fall into a hopeless cesspool of despair. If in Genesis 3, God himself already offers hints of hope (v.15), then surely we should do the same.

But a Christian filmmaker doesn't have to be so "arty". I think one sort of film I might like to make is a romantic comedy which doesn't envision the partner as the saviour who "makes me whole". That would be incredibly counter-cultural. If it's done well, I think that would have a bigger impact than some "weighty" film. What the viewer of such a film will encounter is the truth that even Mr. or Mrs. Right can't function as your redeemer. What would be great too is a film that celebrates marriage, as most recently Fireproof does, given the dominant image of marriage in films to be dowdy and "a trap". [Spoiler alert] I can't remember much of the film Forces of Nature, but I do remember the ending, where the main character chooses to go back to his marriage partner instead of making off with his fling. That came as a genuine shock. I don't remember the rest of the film being very good, but if it had been better executed, then I can imagine that ending carrying a real poignancy and weight about it. [end spoiler alert]

Does a Christian filmmaker need to make an explicitly "Christian" film, i.e one in which the gospel is proclaimed? Well, they could. I would love to see a film with actual characters with an evangelical faith, not cardboard stereotypes, and if I were a good film-maker, I would love to explore such a character. But I don't think a Christian film-maker necessarily needs to do so. A film should rest on the foundational biblical storyline, and perhaps show the weaknesses of an alternative storyline, but it doesn't always have to be about the climax of that storyline (the gospel event). We could show the beauty in the everyday, in the nature of true friendship, for example. I'm thinking of something like The Station Agent. Or the nature of true sacrifice in some epic. And so on.

I suppose there's plenty more to be said, but hopefully that provides the beginnings of an answer!

You can also browse some of my previous posts on films

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