HOLLYWOOD VETERANS aren't known for their humility, but William Goldman is an exception. The writer whose screenplays include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride continues to insist to legions of disbelieving admirers that he has no idea why some of his movies soared and others fell flat. It's not just his problem, says the screenwriter of The Year of the Comet and The Great Waldo Pepper. In Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything."
Goldman's famous maxim doesn't just deflate would-be screenwriters. It also cautions anyone who wants to change the direction of culture, including the growing number of Christians who are apprenticing in culturally influential places like Hollywood. Now that Christians are returning to cultural creativity, we may need to learn one of culture's difficult lessons. It's not just that "nobody knows anything" about achieving the cultural leverage to create a blockbuster. No one can even say, ahead of time, which cultural products will advance the cause of the gospel and which will undermine it.
Suppose that back on February 22, 2002, you had received the following inside information about two of the twenty-eight movies that were opening in the U.S. that night. The first, a PG-rated film written by and starring a baptized Christian, would feature nothing less than the conversion and baptism of the leading man as its dramatic turning point. The second movie, rated R and directed by a Hindu whose past work included an explicit film called Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, would unabashedly celebrate the pluralistic world of India. Which would you pick as the most likely to make the gospel more attractive and plausible in American culture? And which would you expect to be the biggest success?1