I remember when I first fell in love with movies. It was 1989, I was four years old and saw The Little Mermaid. While watching those beautiful ocean scenes wash over the big screen in that now-closed Pittsburgh, PA movie theater, something came alive inside of me. I was suddenly attuned to the vastness of the world, to the vastness of God, and all four years of me was irreversibly changed.
That feeling of bigness came over me again a few years later while watching Hook (starring Robin Williams), and then again in 1994 while viewing The Lion King with my friend and our families. It was also while watching The Lion King with that same family that, as the credits rolled, I pointed to the name of the screenwriter and announced, “That’s where my name will be someday!”
For me, movies represent the vastness of life, the common thread that run through all our lives, and the vastness of God. Like Lucy Pevensee being led through the New Narnia (see The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis), movies lead me “further up and further in.” But what the world absolutely does not need is “Christian” movies.
The world needs good movies. Not those movies black people make poking fun at themselves, not those “romances” that are basically big screen pornos, not those little-Christian-films-that-could that make us look like the dullest of pansies to ever barely bloom. The world needs good, artistic, creative films that proliferate faith, hope, and love without downplaying the hardships and without preaching to us.
Now, of course, there are exceptions to each of the stereotypes I mentioned, but that’s the problem. Good pieces of art, good movies should not be the exception, they should be the gold-standard rule. That Catholics, Christians have fallen from grace artistically and creatively is perhaps the greatest travesty of the modern Church. If we cannot master and dominate the present media that the world engages in and is moved by, how can we possibly expect to stir souls, to move minds and hearts?
When was the last time you watched a movie that truly moved you? Moved you to the core of your being? I’ll tell you my very first one: The Lion King. All nine years of me was moved from beginning to end of that movie and in countless ways. I was imbued with a greater understanding of life and purpose. That’s why I decided then and there that I wanted to be a screenwriter – because I wanted to move people. That movie (and many others that have moved me since) is not a “Christian” movie but it is more Christian than most that claim to be. We see sin and pride, grace, redemption, and forgiveness, the hint of an afterlife, being created in the image of a father who loves you without bounds…I could go on. The point is, good art, good movies, are not forthright; they gradually unveil the deeper mysteries they have been hinting at the whole time.
“The glory of God is man fully alive,” said St. Irenaeus. Movies should inspire us to live more fully, to be more alive. No sinner or pagan was converted by being told that his present way of life sucks and that this other, kind of weird-looking alternative lifestyle is way better. Conversion happens when people are affirmed in what they are doing right and gently offered a way to bring fullness to the desires they hold.
Now, you may wish to admonish me at this point and say, “You talk a good game but have no skin in it! You’re the one who wants to be a screenwriter, you go make the movies!” To that I say, you are absolutely right. I’ve been putting this off for too long. I have again begun writing a book and am self-learning the art of writing screenplays so that I may adapt a story into one. But I am not enough on my own. We need hundreds and thousands more like me with the passion and talent to again dominate the modern arts and we need even more people to patronize those arts. I urge you to, today, begin praying for our modern artists, writers, and filmmakers. Answer this call in the way that is appropriate for you but don’t deny your part in it. Four year old me, nine year old me, me now could never forgive myself if I did not, in some small way, live out this calling from God. If you do feel you have a calling to artistry, especially film, check out Act One (I’ve applied to their writing program).
“It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.” – Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Artists