What do we do when we disagree with one another—or with the culture at large—about a movie?
I've been contemplating this question in the light of what I wrote a few weeks ago about art and biblical epics—especially about how form and content are equally important when we are thinking, talking, and writing about art. The movies we disagree with as a culture are the ones that have permeated our collective imaginations in one way or another. But so often, I find that when we, as a culture—and Christians especially—disagree about a movie, we haven't set the groundwork for our disagreement. Often it turns to shrill shouting, rather than fruitful discourse.
Remember that movie or a TV show is both content and form (both logos and poiema, C. S. Lewis would say). I think of the content as the Wikipedia summary of the work, which includes a plot and maybe the message. The form is the shape, the contour, the things perceived by our senses—the stuff you can't get from the Wikipedia summary. Hans Rookmaaker and his friend Francis Schaeffer call this the “communication” and the “form.”
The content connects with us in our rational register. “That makes sense,” we say. It tells us something; it answers a question we are asking about the world; it teaches us a new concept or idea; it makes an argument for a thesis. By contrast, the film or show's form connects with us in more of an aesthetic, bodily register. We jump, or cry, or laugh, or squeal. We feel something inside. We sit forward on our seats and grip the edge of them.
We could stay at home and read Wikipedia summaries of movies for free, but instead we go to the movies and pay for ...1
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Asking the Insufficient Questions
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