But the reason we covered the film is precisely because we knew everyone would be talking about it, and will be for quite a while (especially if Di Caprio wins an Oscar), simply because it's a movie made by a legendary filmmaker that talks about a very sore spot in our culture: the ethical nightmares our market excesses bred in our recent history. And it's also about how pride comes before a fall, but how our broken system lets some people get away with more pride than others.
For every person who contacted us outraged about our coverage of Wolf, there were a few who contacted us to say that they saw the film and were glad that we covered it, because it helped them (they say) frame the movie in the context of that "worldview" question. There are others who were on the fence about whether or not they should see it, and who read the review and decided against it, but were grateful for the perspective we provided.
I can't—and won't—write a review that will tell every CT reader what they should do with a movie like Wolfof Wall Street. That's not my calling. What I, and our other critics, can do is this: we can give you the tools to decide if this is a movie that you will see, based on your conscience and on where you want to spend your money and time. And if you decide against a film, or never intended to see it in the first place, we can give you a perspective that will help you have a more thoughtful discussion about a movie with your friends and neighbors, rather than dismissing their interests out of hand.
In his Gospel Coalition piece, Trevin Wax asked: "at what point do we consider a film irredeemable, or at least unwatchable? At what point do we say it is wrong to participate in certain forms of entertainment?" Later, he asks, "At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?"
He doesn't actually answer that question in his post, though he points out that throughout Christian history, different figures have approached this in different ways ("Paul used a popular poet of his day in order to make a point in his gospel presentation," he says, while Gregory of Nyssa "saw the entertainment mindset as decadent and deserving of judgment"; I might add that the Psalmist exhorted us not to "stand in the way of sinners," while Jesus was criticized by religious leaders for hanging out with "tax collectors and sinners").
In his response, though, Wax is doing something pretty close to what we're aiming to do here. At CT Movies, we're asking that question with every movie we review: is this film irredeemable, or at least unwatchable?
But we're not going to give you an answer, either. It's up to you to decide. That's what the local church is for; that's why God gives wisdom to those who ask for it. Our movie reviews aim, instead, to help you think and converse more thoughtfully—even more wisely—about a medium that's shaping our culture in powerful ways, whether or not you saw a particular movie.
Why do we review R-rated films? Because we want to raise questions, not give answers. Because we want Christians to be some of the most thoughtful conversation partners and culture makers you can find. Because we want to celebrate the excellent and mourn what's bad—even if those two things show up in the same place. And because we want to serve our readers as they love their neighbors.
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic. She is also Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at The King's College in New York City. You can follow her at @alissamarie.