‘Hating Films For All The Wrong Reasons’

Jeffrey Overstreet, of the Looking Closer blog, is one of the film critics I look to with great regularity, particularly when it comes to identifying and analyzing the more “spiritual” components of cinema. (His book “Through a Screen Darkly” examines the ways in which “artists – whether they know it or not – have captured reflections of God in their work.”)

Recently, he has been in the news a bit regarding what he (generously) describes as “the debate amongst Christian moviegoers over James Cameron’s Avatar.” Mark Driscoll’s vehement disagreement with Christianity Today’s positive review of the film, which caused quite a stir in certain circles, resulted in a number of folks contacting Overstreet to give his perspective on the film and on its religious themes.

A number of related (yet blessedly Avatar-free) topics have arisen as a result of Overstreet’s thinking on the topic. And one of the most interesting of these was posted over at the Seattle edition of City Arts Magazine last week. It’s entitled “Popcorn and Penance: Five Movies Christians Hated for All the Wrong Reasons.” I found these two (of his five) of particular interest, in no small part because of the controversy they may well generate amongst the Mars Hill/Driscoll crowd:

1. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
The Charge: It mocks Jesus.
The Defense: Not true. It makes us laugh as we watch gullible, fickle, arrogant humans chase a false messiah, exploit religious teaching for their own gain and misunderstand Jesus.

2. Harry Potter
The Charge: It’s witchcraft.
The Defense: No, it’s make-believe guiding kids to consider their own gifts. Rowling, a Christian, wove scripture into the stories.

I spent several hours yesterday trying to come up with films that I think would fall into this category, but with the exception of The Da Vinci Code (which seemed much too silly and inconsequential for the “hatred” it produced), I’m at a bit of a loss. Any suggestions?

(All this talk of unjustified hatred reminds me of one of Stephen Greydanus’ more fascinating articles, in which he argues that the Christian backlash against Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ is holy justified. It’s a great read, and produced a much more tangible result that one would might have expected: Roger Ebert mentions Mr. Greydanus’ article in the most recent update to his original review of the film, saying that “the film is indeed technically blasphemous. I have been persuaded of this by a thoughtful essay by Steven D. Greydanus of the National Catholic Register, a mainstream writer who simply and concisely explains why.” Sadly, Ebert seems to miss the larger point Greydanus is trying to make. But it’s a thought-provoking exchange, to say the least.)

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Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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