How movies influence us (and how to take advantage of it)
By Jesse Jost
Movies are a wonderful gift. They can cause you to laugh together, releasing stress and family tension. They can arouse a new awareness of the grandeur and beauty of God. Movies can have a tremendous effect on us, and because of this, there is a lot of fear and concern about the impact movies have on our lives, both morally and spiritually. Even though movies have been with us for over 100 years, there still seems to be a lot of confusion about how exactly they influence us. Many people are quick to assume that movies impact us negatively and they see little potential for positive impact. It seems to me that if movies really do have the power to change us, then isn’t it possible for them to change us for the better as well? I certainly am not going to be able to answer all the questions about the impact movies have on our lives, but I would like to give you some things to think about that will hopefully help guide your movie making decisions.
Movies stir our desires
The combination of beautiful cinematography, moving musical score, and strong dynamic personalities is a potent force, grabbing our attention and igniting our imaginations. They create a craving in us for the beauty (real or deceptive) that we see. This has all kinds of potential to stir sinful desires. Colorful TV ads are designed to generate discontent with our world. In a world where the average American is exposed to 3,000 ads a day, is it any wonder depression is so common? Sensual imagery is especially intoxicating for males of all ages and has done so much damage in warping adolescents’ sexual expectations, enslaving them to a lie. Movies can make us want more stylish clothes and faster cars. They tantalize our imaginations with visions of power and fame and feed our longing for intimate relationships (but often mislead us about how to achieve them).
However, having our desires stirred or awakened in not always a bad thing. Far from it! God is the one who created our desires. He made us to crave beauty, thrills, and pleasure – things that are ultimately found and fully satisfied in Him. Awakened desires are not as big a problem as feeling dead and apathetic. The habit of feeding our desires empty and deceptive pleasures leads to this state of boredom and apathy. But movies have the potential to reach into a deadened soul and reawaken desire for what is good and beautiful. Well-produced stories have the power to rekindle hunger for reconciliation, forgiveness, harmony in the home, a satisfying marriage, etc. Movies can inspire us to create and to discover our calling and passions – and even inspire us to greater levels of sacrifice and servanthood. They can make us curious to learn more about a historical event or a field of science. Not to mention inspiring us to work out…cough, Rocky, cough.
While you can cram facts and information into your children’s heads, studies have shown that people are not moved to action until they care, ie. have been reached at an emotional level. Find movies for your children that can reach them emotionally and reinforce what you have been teaching. For example, you may want your children to join the pro-life cause. You can fill their heads with statistics, but a well- acted drama about the emotional and psychological damage a young woman experiences when she has an abortion may help fill them with greater compassion and motivation to act.
Movies shape our identities
It was once assumed the people simply act in self-interest. But sociologists are discovering that there is an even deeper motivation for the choices that we make. We act according to our identities, how we see ourselves. Proverbs 23:7 says “as a man thinks in his heart so is he.” How we label ourselves goes a long way in informing our decisions. “What would someone like me, or the person I am trying to be, do or say in this situation?” we subconsciously ask ourselves. If your child sees himself as a rebel, he will look to images in movies and music that will inform him about how to act in a way that is keeping with his identity. Without a sense of identity, we can feel lost and unsure of ourselves.
Since the days of the nickelodeons, the movie industry has been cranking out identities for people to choose from: James Dean as the I-don’t-need-anyone rebel. Katharine Hepburn as the tomboyish, independent woman. John Wayne as the strong, constipated cowboy. The list goes on from romantic Don Juans to liberated starlets. Yes, these are just stereotypes, but movies build these characters into larger than life heroes and idols. What we worship or admire, we want to emulate.
I have listed some negative identities but positive identities can shape us morally, too. We grew up on The Andy Griffith Show and Little House on the Prairie. By the ways he dealt with Barney Fife, Sheriff Andy Taylor provided many examples of how to graciously and lovingly treat those who are insecure or obnoxious. And while I like to keep my shirt buttoned up, Michael Landon as Pa Ingalls portrayed in many influential ways how true masculinity looks through serving and protecting his family and always staying faithful. These were not the only positive influences in my life, obviously, but they certainly helped shape my ideas about how to live out the kind, loving man I desired to be.
You will not always be able to control who your child admires or longs to be like, but make sure you are providing inspiring heroes through books, movies, and real life that will guide your child’s identity. As Christians our identity should be that of our Savior Jesus Christ. The goal is to be shaped into his image. Heroes who reflect aspects of Christ-likeness can inspire us towards that end.
Stories as moral instructors
Every story teaches a lesson by showing the consequences of the choices the characters in the story make. I know many times in a moment of temptation, a story I have heard will come to mind and provide a timely warning. When I was young, my mom told me about a boy who accidentally killed his brother with a hammer in a fit of anger. I thought of that story when I would want to lash out physically, and was reminded that actions done in anger can do far more damage than you intended. In the real world, God’s laws are unchangeable and to break his law will always eventually result in painful consequences. Stories that emotionally portray the consequences of immoral behavior are powerful allies in training your children in the fear of the Lord. Seeing the painfully vivid results of sinful actions and attitudes like revenge, hatred, rebellion or sexual immorality, can make a positive, sometimes more lasting impression than many sermons.
On the other hand, movies that simply project an immoral filmmaker’s lustful fantasies and portray sinful actions such as adultery and fornication as beautiful, harmless, and satisfying can deceive your children and drown out the voice of conviction.
I love watching movies and exploring the new ideas that they provoke. However, I am concerned about the effects of a steady diet of corrupting movies and TV shows. It seems to me that there is wisdom in limiting exposure to media, even good media, because we can only process so much at one time. If your child is constantly immersed in media he will grow desensitized to the effects and healthy fare will become boring. But if there is a healthy rhythm between media consumption and time in the real world, there are many movies out there that can be powerfully effective in helping you raise wise, discerning, God loving, men and women.