I will confess that there are times that I fall asleep during a movie….Okay, I will confess that most of the time I fall asleep when I’m attempting to watch a movie. Basically, if you let me sit down on a comfortable couch, in a quieted, darkened room for any length of time, my breathing will change to snoring in a matter of moments. So, I find myself awakening as the closing credits are scrolling up the screen and I’ll ask, “Was it a good movie?” Then I’ll politely listen to each child’s position on the film’s merits or failures, and try to form some concept of how the film handled its presentation of life. While it’s admirable that I want to have a discussion with my children about what they just watched, I really need to stay alert through the whole film so that I can interact with them more than just a nodding of my head or a random “Oh?” So, I’ll work on increasing my caffeine levels before family movie nights. More importantly, however, I need to return to a series of questions that I used when I was in college and was required to read some less-than-stellar works of literature for my English education degree.
In Leland Ryken’s Windows to the World, a phenomenal resource on examining literature, Mr. Ryken lists a variety of questions that can be used to establish a framework of ideas or a map of various worldview landmarks that will help the reader to determine the author’s intent. Many of those same questions can be used in the context of watching a film, and are directly related to this whole concept of looking at the movie’s storyline to help decode the movie’s worldview. Consider some of the questions Ryken posits:
- What do the characters in the movie value most? For what do they strive? What motivates them? What are their preoccupations, as revealed by their thoughts, actions, and words?
- What kind of action do the characters (especially the hero) undertake? What is the nature of the experiment in living? What things test it or stand in its way? And what are the results that follow from the hero or any other characters living and acting as these characters did? Does the protagonist fail or succeed in the experiment in living?
- Do moral qualities such as good and evil and love and courage really exist? Do relationships among people or loyalties to institutions exist, or is only the individual regarded as real?
- What constitutes moral behavior toward other people or toward the physical world? How, if at all, can people have a relationship with God?
- According to the writer and/or characters, how should life be lived? What constitutes a good life?
to the characters/writer, what brings human fulfillment or happiness?
Virtue? Sex? Pleasure? Money? God? Physical objects?
How these questions are answered –either directly or indirectly in the film—will help a viewer determine the worldview being emphasized in any given work. That process will, in turn, help the viewer to discern whether it was a “good” movie or not.
In short, my discussions with my children about a movie needs to go beyond, “Was it a good movie?” That may be a decent way to start a conversation about the film they just watched, but I need to use Ryken’s questions to pull even more thinking and discerning from them. It’s not so much the “is it?” as the “why is it?” on which we need to focus.
 Ryken, Leland. Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.), 138-140.