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Thinking about movies

The Godfather and Ocean's 11

Posted Thursday, September 21, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Popular Culture  
I like movies. There are certain kinds of movies that I do not enjoy, such as horror movies, but I do enjoy watching many styles of movies. We recently signed up for Netlix, so we are now watching a greater variety of movies than we have in the past, and this, along with having a child, has caused to do more thinking about movies, and specifically, what makes a good movie and what makes a movie moral or immoral. The first question I am not going to discuss now, but the second question is more interesting to me and more relevant to the list anyway, so that will be our topic of converstaion. 

Growing up in the evangelical church, I quickly learned that the immoral movies were those which had bad stuff in them, such as swearing, sex, and violence. The more they had, the worse they were, and the more explicit they were, the worse the movie was. But as I grow older, and as I think about what type of movies I will show to my little girl, I am beginning to rethink this. This is not original to me, of course, I am only stealing other people's ideas. Another aspect to a movie that must be examined is the worldview presented in the movie. The Godfather is a great example of this. The movie is filled with violence and has the occasional sex scenes (including some nudity), which makes this movie an immoral one based on that criteria. But the message of the movies are fascinating. Essentially, the evil that Al Pacino does comes back to haunt him in the later movies. Sin has consequences. While he tries to make a better life for his kids, his actions come back to literally kill his child. While the movie is super depressing and full of violence, it has a very biblical theme to it: Sin has consequences. 

On the other hand, Ocean's 11/12 is relatively clean, except for the swearing and the brief shot of a strip club in the first movie.  But the movie highly glorifies stealing. The last shot of Ocean's 12 presents the life of the thieves enjoying their loot and having a great time. Ocean's 12 does get a little bit of the consequences theme in as Benedict (the second godfather from the Godfather movies, by the way) threatens them for their earlier theft, but there is no ultimate punishment. 

All that being said, I like the Ocean's 11/12 series much better than the Godfather, and I was very happy to hear that there is an Ocean's 13 being made for next year. And to further link the Godfather with Ocean's 11/12/13, Al Pacino, the star of the Godfather, is going to play a role in Ocean's 13 as a casino owner.  I would much rather watch Ocean's 11 than the Godfather. Ocean's 111/12 are two of my favorite movies. But which would I rather have my kids watch? Which one is more moral? Those are issues I am still thinking through. 

Friday, September 22, 2006 12:56 PM

Josh wrote: Bad stuff and bad movies...


If we are going to describe movies as moral or immoral perhaps it is necessary to figure out what we mean by "moral".  You have already indicated that you don't think that "moral" equates with "no bad stuff".  So a clean movie is not necessarily an moral movie and a less-than-clean movie is not necessarily immoral.  So how do we balance plot/theme and its relation to Biblical truth and events/actions/scenes and their relation to Biblical truth and determine morality?  Or, can a movie with a message that is consistent with Biblical truth while seemingly comfortable with behavior that seems inconsistent with Biblical truth be labeled a "moral" movie?  Or, to rephrase again - what do people really understand the message of a movie to be?

Friday, September 22, 2006 12:57 PM

Josh wrote: by the way... P. S.  I think Netlix sounds like a good idea, but some people might find it unsanitary.

Friday, September 22, 2006 3:50 PM

Brian wrote: The Bible is not PG

The Bible certainly doesn't fit into the category of "Clean" by any stretch of the imagination. The Bible presents the world as it truly is. This is a good measure of a movie (or a book for that matter): does it accurately represent the world?

Sunday, September 24, 2006 8:41 AM

Charlie wrote: 

I agree with Brian's thought. I guess that terminology works as well: reflects the world as it is. But then, even that gets a little iffy, although the Bible does this as well. Think of the proverb that talks about how well a bribe works, for example. 

I would say, Josh, that the more "surface" things can also make a movie immoral (think porn flick, for example [actually, don't think about porn movies, they are bad for the mind (think about elephants crushing cars instead)]). But I think we should be more fundamentally be concerned with the underlying theme. An example of this would be some Disney movies, which seem to be totally clean as far as the surface things. But Finding Nemo is all about believing in yourself. Do we want to teach our kids that theme? Or the Little Mermaid who gets away with being rebellious. That is certainly not something I want to teach my child. At this point in my thinking (that is my caveat), I would rather have my kid watch a  PG-13 movie with some violence and swearing than the Little Mermaid.

I think another part of the problem is that Americans can't figure out a story. They have a hard time figuring out the point. They might pick it up without knowing it and assume it as part of their worldview, but they can't show where they picked it up or what the point of a movie is.  

Monday, September 25, 2006 6:50 AM

Josh wrote: Elephants Crushing Cars 2: Terror at the Zoo

I think that "accurately representing the world" is going to be a pretty difficult standard to apply to movies or literature consistently.  Does that mean we toss out Lord of the Rings (as well as any other fantasy/sci-fi)?  Say goodbye to musicals - no more Phantom of the Opera, Sound of Music, or Guys and Dolls I guess (all the breaking out into singing seems a little inaccurate).  I suppose if we wanted to get picky, we would probably have to avoid movies that have all loose ends tied up neatly too - I don't see that reflecting the real world very well.  As for comedies, we will have to cut out a lot of the impossible situations and witticisms. 

If you will pardon my facetiousness, I am simply attempting to indicate that I think the issue is a lot more complex.  What about the often escapist nature of movies?

I am not sure that watching violence and swearing is preferrable for children to watching the Little Mermaid.  Which is easier for a child to pick up on and copy - a cartoon character who rebels against her father, or an actual human being who says a profanity or acts violently?  Perhaps they are both degrading.  I think saying that a bad theme is more disturbing than gratuitous or even non-gratuitous immoral activity is painting the issue a little too starkly.

Brian, I certainly agree that the Bible is not "clean."  It records and makes plain human depravity in full color.  I would suggest however that you would be hard-pressed to find gratuitous immorality in the Bible, whereas it is quite a bit challenging to find a movie without it.  While the Bible is literature, it is also inspired - something which movies are not.  I don't think the Bible's explicit accounts of human degredation can be used to give carte blanche to film-makers.

Charlie, your reference to Americans and story perception is well taken.  I think that is a good point.  In addition I think we have to recognize that our perceptions of themes and messages can vary widely.  For example, is the message of the Godfather about the consequences of sin or about the glamour of the Mafia life/culture?  Does the Little Mermaid communicate rebellion against parental authority or the redemptive sacrificial love/action of a father?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 11:34 AM

Charlie wrote: 

I enjoyed your point about corresponding to reality. Although it would be rather enjoyable if more people just broke out into song sometime. But to defend Brian's point, I would assume that he means corresponding in the bigger picture. 


At this point, I'm not really questioning you, but I am wondering how much of the "stuff" in the Bible is non-gratuitous by definiont rather than in reality. For example, do we really need all that stuff in Song of Songs to get the picture? Or the violence at the end of Judges, which is very gruesome. Sure, it is making a point. But if that is not gratuitous, then it seems to me that large chunks of the Godfather would not be gratuitous either. But maybe not. I'm just thinking. I do think, however, that if the Godfather glamorizes the Mafia culture then the watcher has severly missed the point. If you enjoy your job killing off your kids and causing incessant problems, including forcing you to knock off your own brother, then I guess the movie could glamorize the Mafia, but I think it clearly shows the sour side of it. Oceans 11/12 on the other hand, totally glamorizes it.

Your point about not having kids watch swearing and violence because they imitate it is well taken. I guess the one firm point I would make is that just because a movie does not have swearing or violence in it does not make it "safe." The underlying themes can be just as dangerous.  

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