Identifying Themes in Movies
"We take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ."
1 Corinthians 10:5
Enjoying Your Shows to the Glory of God
Identifying the Message of a Movie
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among some robbers..."
"While some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet."
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord..."
There's something electric about a good story. It has the power to grip you and captivate your attention. It reels you in and speaks to your soul.
Yes, it speaks. A story's value (or detriment) is not merely in its entertainment value, it is also in its ability to convey ideas.
The Lord knows this well. That's why he composed the Bible the way he did. Approximately 70% of it is narrative. He reveals his truths in dramatic form to our emotions and senses as well as our hearts and minds.
The movies and films of today are merely contemporary society's way of embodying this age old phenomena. And, if we are wise, we will seek to be just as discerning with what we watch on the screen as we are with what we read in Scripture.
How exactly do we do that? Much of it comes by understanding the basic elements of a story. In his book, Hollywood Worldviews, Brian Godawa outlines how you can discern the basic message (or "theme") of a film by understanding its core structural elements.
The theme is what the movie is all about. Sometimes it can be thought of as "the moral of the story" and can be stated propositionally as a premise that leads to a conclusion. If we put it as an equation, it would be "x leads to y."
My wife and I have recently re-watched the 1998 Disney production of The Parent Trap. It's a corny romantic comedy about how two twins separated at birth bring their divorced parents back together. It's theme might be "Cuteness, determination, and a little tit-for-tat deception lead to the restoration of true love."
But how did I get there? Let's walk through the rest of the plot elements and see.
A story has a central figure who serves as the hero. In The Parent Trap, there are actually two heroes. They are the adorable 11 year old twin girls, Hallie and Annie, who (by fate or by chance) happen to meet at summer camp.
The Hero's Goal
The hero always has a goal, which drives the story. This obsession is what makes the story. For Hallie and Annie the goal is a united family, where father and mother live together, love each other, and shower their dual affection upon their kids. In sum, they are obsessed with what might be called the ideal nuclear family.
The means used to achieve this goal may be of some question. It's not your good old fashioned "honesty is the best policy." Their sisterhood had been hidden from them, so they practice a little deceit of their own by switching places when the time comes to go back home.
Conflict is central to every story. That is why every story has an adversary. Some may call it "the bad guy" or "the villain," but it doesn't necessarily have to be a person. It could be nature, a corporation, chance, or overly strict rules/society. Whatever it is, it stands against the hero to keep him from achieving his goal.
In The Parent Trap, the adversarial role may be said to be the dazzling beauty who is attempting to wed the father figure, thus preventing the unification of the parents. But the adversary may also be said to be divorce and man's inability to reconcile due to a lack of humility, repentance, and the ability to forgive.
The Character Flaw
Just as the adversary acts as the external opponent, so too there is an internal opponent. On the way to achieving the goal, the hero must overcome this defect. As the story unfolds the hero will learn the right way to live.
In The Parent Trap the girl's youth may be said to be that flaw.
The Apparent Defeat
A good show will at some point have the hero utterly stymied. The adversaries mentioned above will become too great an obstacle and leave the hero facing a moment of hopelessness and despair as the goal seems out of reach.
Hallie and Annie feel like they meet their match when the plan they hatch falls apart. The lovely fiancée and the stubborn pride of their parents seem to win the day.
Towards the end of the story the adversary and the hero must face off in one last battle. It may be a physical fight or a verbal confrontation, but either way it is the moment for which everyone has been waiting.
The final confrontation in The Parent Trap is a camping trip where the ritzy beauty is in comedic style revealed to be a less than desirable fit for the father.
Just before the movie ends the hero will give "the moral of the story." Typically it will be wrapped in a conversation where the hero will give a speech about what he or she has learned or how his/her mind has changed. The theme will break loose at this point as you now understand how you are supposed to live in the world.
As with most romantic comedies, the self revelation of The Parent Trap is teased along and extended until the "big kiss." The father and mother realize the folly of their ways and express their repentance in their re-unifying smooch.
What happens as a result of the change (or lack of change)? Where does the hero go from here? That is the resolution. It is the "happily ever after" moment when the cowboy rides off into the sunset or the "ah ha" moment of the tragedy where the consequences of one's bad decisions play out. In sum, all the questions posed in the movie have been answered and the curtain can fall.
In identifying these elements of the movie, the theme can be better recognized. That theme and its supporting elements can then be analyzed.
For The Parent Trap, there are wonderful Christian motifs at play.
*This is part 2 of a series on "Watching Your Shows to the Glory of God." Be sure to read the first installment in this series.
What to look for in a Movie
Was the above article helpful? Would you like to apply it to your own shows? Good news! Godawa has a short piece on "What to look for when watching a movie" that can help you pick apart your shows. Bookmark it for your discussions with your family.
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