Today the Relays and I went to watch City of Ember as part of their ongoing discipleship programme (we have a 'culture day' once a term in Relay supervision time). It was the first time that any of them had been encouraged to 'think Christianly' about a film.
We based our discussion afterwards on some of Ted Turnau's suggested questions. I think they're really useful:
1. What was your immediate reaction to the film at its close?
2. What's the story?
3. What sort of 'world' has the film-maker asked me to enter?
(a) What counts as good or bad or beautiful or evil or unacceptable in this world? What makes relationships in this world work or fail?
(b) How has the film-maker built up this world?
- How does the movie's first shot introduce the world? How does the last shot leave us with a lasting impression?
- What were the recurring images or visual motifs?
- What patterns were there in the dialogue? How did characters interact? Were there words or phrases that were repeated?
- How does the film use music to guide you to know how to respond?
- How do characters grow and learn and change? (this is known as a 'character arc' and is a good pointer towards the message that the film maker is seeking to make)
5. What’s false, ugly and perverse? Where does the movie lie? Film worlds are a mixture of grace and manipulation, truth and lies. A film's lies will betray where its root idolatry is. (Often there is a direct relationship between where common grace is strongest and idolatry e.g. a chick flick celebrates romance, but often presents it as the one thing to live for).
6. How does the gospel apply (or give an answer)? (the gospel provides real answers to desires).
As it goes, we had a great discussion about City of Ember. It's an enjoyable film that has much truth in it: it speaks of how political power can corrupt, and of how religion, banality and busyness can often prevent communities from tackling their problems. Free thinking away from the control of governmental institutions is commended, and there is a real desire for humans to truly engage with the problems around them.
However, we found the solution that City of Ember commends somewhat shortcoming. Essentially human achievement is elevated, and the film implies that youthful people untainted by indoctrination would succeed in building a perfect community, if it were possible to start again on the earth. (Interestingly, the film ends in a kind of 'new creation', with the sun rising and a chance to start from scratch).
Jesus was much more radical in his diagnosis of the human condition. He knew that even if children were placed in a perfect new world, that without being born again, it would be soon ruined. The root problem - the problem of our hearts - needs to be dealt with. That is the promise of the Christian gospel: not that we refuse to engage with the problems around us (like the quasi-religious characters in the film), but that we turn to Jesus as the only one who can give us new hearts. We long for a new creation and a fresh start - but one where 'the former things have passed away'.