A couple of weeks ago, I raised this same question regarding music (see the post below), but the same sort of question can be raised with movies. A few years ago, a bunch of us at EBC went out to the movies and saw the Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood. All of us walked out of the theater and thought, “man, that had one of the most blatantly Christian themes of any movie in the last 10 years!” Eastwood plays a grouchy old racist war-vet named Walt, who is watching his once good-ole-white neighborhood be overrun by gangs and Hmong refugees. The whole story is carried along by strong redemptive undertones, and ends with Eastwood lying dead on his back with arms spread out in the shape of a cross and his body filled with bullets. His death redeemed others (the once hated Hmongs, in fact) from a death sentence; Eastwood’s death gave them new life. Quite honestly, the movie could be viewed as a simple modern-day exposition of Eph 2:11-22.
But the movie is filled with swearing and so many Christians are turned off by it. Now, personally, swearing in movies can be quite annoying, especially when it’s unnecessary. But in a way, the swearing in Gran Torino actually fits. It often surrounds the scenes where there are gang squabbles and other scenes where in real life we would expect the people to swear. A Christian movie director might choose to leave out the swearing, but this would raise the question of honesty and sin: would it be an honest portrayal of a bunch of gang bangers steeped in the muck and mire of a sinful world if they didn’t swear?
In any case, this raises another interesting question: should a movie be viewed by Christians if it has swearing, and yet also has a blatantly Christian theme? Or, to flip it around, can a movie truly be considered “clean,” if it has no swearing (or nudity, or drug scenes, etc.), but is driven by strong anti-Christian themes, such as the many sappy Romance flicks that totally skew the biblical definition of agape love, or movies like Gladiator, that are driven by that all too subtle theme of vengeance (contrast Rom 12)? Or, is it safe for my kids to watch movies like Cinderella, which cuts against the grain of a whole host of Christian values including materialism, a worldly view of beauty, and, again, a very wrong understanding of agape love? I suggest that we have a very narrow view of what constitutes “Christian” or at least what would qualify as a “safe” movie for Christians to watch. Most of the dangerous values promoted by Hollywood that are embedding themselves into the hearts and minds of Christians—I would argue—are not the taboo things like swearing, drug scenes, or witchcraft, but the more subtle yet captivating anti-Christian values like vengeance, conditional love, and materialism. It’s no wonder that the Evangelical church is so plagued with these sins (50% divorce rate?), even though they are relentlessly condemned in the Scriptures.