"...LEST IN SAVING OTHERS, I MYSELF AM LOST."
I have to admit, this piece over at Mere Comments resonated uncomfortably with me. Here's the lead...
I have never been enthusiastic about film reviews as a regular feature in Touchstone. Assertions that they are necessary to engage the culture leave me cold. Reading pert and urbane reviews in culture-sensitive Christian magazines has very frequently left me with the lingering question if the reviewer, whether he found the movie good or bad by his customary criteria, ever felt—I have never seen it admitted—that he had been defiled by what he had seen, so that the confessional might be the next stop, and that there might be along with this the embryo of a resolution that one really should stop looking at these things.
I say this as a frequent viewer of films who is growing increasingly uneasy about the practice. The fulminations of the church fathers against the theatre and “spectacles,” and the difficulties the churches seem historically to have had with plays and players keep coming to mind. Troubling memories of my own exposure to the world of the theatre (of which television and the movies are an extension) as a pit musician haunt me a bit. There is something wrong with this world. It exists in a sex-charged, antinomian atmosphere, not good for marriages, not good for families, encouraging by its very nature narcissism and sexual infidelity with its endemic and unwholesome emphasis on stardom and romantic love. It is not innocent, and I wonder if it can be. I cannot forget the numerous performances of Camelot for which I have played. “I Loved You Once in Silence” and King Arthur’s sad epilog notwithstanding, the end of it all was still that it was in some way worth it. But it’s not.
I have felt this same kind of lingering doubt after many movies, especially in this past year of thematic and methodological cesspools that I had to sit through as a critic. Examples...
In the movie Closer I sat through the Internet sex scene between the two men feeling waves of disgust and horror wash over me. Frankly, I didn't even follow some of the perversions the two men were describing, and I kind of wish maybe I had been kept in the dark....or rather, kept in the light. The scene in which Julia Roberts gets particularly potty mouthed about her sexual experiences left me feeling shame for her, and for myself for having heard something that, beyond the fact that it (ie. adultery) is innately evil, in its nature (ie. sex) is properly intimate and private. Over and over in movies, I feel a sensation of being violated by having to watch things that I have no right to watch.
I felt the same way about the gross sex scenes and references in Sideways.
I'm contending here that losing one's innocence is not a good thing. We're not supposed to be wide-eyed idiots, scandalized by the darkness in the human heart, but we are supposed to have a fundamental lightness of heart, a sense of joy and beauty. I think exposure to this kind of movie robs that.
The worst effect of many of this year's movies is that they are pervaded with cynicism.
"People are basically pigs, and men are the piggiest of all." (Sideways, Closer)
"No one is really good." (Million Dollar Baby,Closer)
"Virtue is a sham because nothing is objectively wrong." ( Vera Drake, Kinsey, Million Dollar Baby)
"Heroism is in fulfilling your own dreams. Personal morality has nothing to do with heroism." (The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Inside, Ray)
"Anyone who claims to love virtue is just a hypocrite waiting to be unmasked." (Saved, Closer)
"Religion is irrelevant at best and a sham at worst." (The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby)
"Everything is rotten through - church, state, family, art, and hence nothing can be relied on as a source of guidance and direction." (All of them.)
This latter idea becomes particularly insidious when paired up with the accompanying prevaling cynicism, "Your own being is false and in denial." It makes us a generation without a compass. It makes us depressed and indifferent and suspicious and isolated. And did I say depressed?
We Christians have to be aware of the lies of the age in order to address them. But it certainly is possible that we can be poisoned slowly by the secular air until we start to look at our own creed as just another coping device.