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Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (Updated and Expanded)
Author: Brian Godawa
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 261

“God loves movies,” Brian Godawa writes in the first sentence of Hollywood Worldviews. He goes on to explain that, “Movies are visually dramatic stories, and in the Bible the dominant means through which God communicates his truth is visually dramatic stories­not systematic theology, or doctrinal catechism or rational argument.”

Like it or not, “In some ways, television, music and the movies are the modern arena of ideas.” In light of that, Godawa advocates “interacting with the culture” rather than the two extremes of “avoiding it or embracing it.” He favors a middle ground that encourages discernment but avoids reducing movies to just a set of ideas that are good or bad. “My goal,” he writes, “is to help the viewer discern those ideas that drive the story to its destination and see how they influence us to live our lives­to understand the story behind the story. But we must be careful in our discernment not to reduce a movie merely to its worldview, as if knowing the idea is enough to understand it.… It is ‘entering into’ the story where one comes into true contact with that worldview, not through mere rational analysis. This book is not a call to praise or condemn films simply because of their ‘message.’ Rather, by learning to be more aware of worldviews, we will be more equipped to appreciate the finer elements of what is going on in our movie-watching experience.” A good story is something you experience.

With that end in mind, Godawa educates the reader about the various elements of story, including the worldviews that shape them. Fundamental principles are reinforced with examples from different films, which makes this an excellent resource. There is a wealth of scholarly analysis covering several hundred films that can easily be found by using the index in the back. Practical exercises follow each section.

This book is written for the general public, but it also serves as a mini-course in philosophy covering the predominant worldviews of our time­existentialism, postmodernism, romanticism, monism, evolution, humanism and neo-paganism. The author is an expert at not only highlighting these ideas in films, but also in his knowledge of the many movies that he examines. 

Seeing how pervasive and sometimes subtle these worldviews are made me wonder if I want to keep watching. After all, many of these ideas are antagonistic to a Biblical perspective, which can be a rarity in film. Sex, violence and profanity are frequent reasons cited for avoiding movies. However, early on the author addresses this issue showing that context is all-important. 

Though some may fail to appreciate the distinction, offensive items may be a little more palatable if they are necessary to the story versus being an excess of the filmmaker. “The key,” as Godawa writes, “is to ask some questions: Is this an educational approach to exposing evil? What are the context and consequences of the vice portrayed? Is it dehumanizing or humanizing? Does the movie celebrate evil, or does it ultimately condemn it? Is the sin displayed as an end in itself, or is it a part of the bigger picture that leads to redemption? Does the movie go overboard in detail, or is some detail necessary to emphasize the seriousness of our behavior?” We must also remember that no work of art, no sermon or anything in this life is perfect. Everyone and everything suffers from our fallen state. We are continually exposed to a mixture of truth and error. 

Thankfully, this author is one that believes that growing in discernment does not have to take away from the benefits of watching a movie. We are better served when we understand what is being communicated through a film, but Godawa wants us to hear what is being said through movies. “Let them challenge us, allow them to help us see the world through different eyes, let them help us experience human existence in ways that we haven’t before. By entering into the story, we can experience a part of human existence and truth that we cannot reduce to abstract ideas or philosophy.” Movies are an artform and to the degree that they reflect truth, they transcend their format and enrich our lives. Godawa wants Christians to embrace the truth found in movies while being informed by a Biblical worldview. 

Michael Dalton
August 20, 2009



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