Reflections on Wears Valley: Alladin vs. Shawshank

The coach bus ride to and from Wears Valley tends to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-13 hours in each direction so, as you can imagine, we watch quite a few movies on the bus as a means to pass the time. On the way down last week I watched one movie (National Treasure), but the rest of the time I had earplugs in my ears, as I was trying to get some studying done, knowing I wouldn’t be able to study much at the Ranch. On the way back, however, I read a novel and kept one eye on the television most of the way. I watched parts of Madagascar (Dreamworks), Alladin, The Lion King, and Hercules (Disney). Two movies (The Three Amigos and The Hunt for Red October) were begun but turned off due to excessive bad language (of the “h—,” “a–,” and “d—” variety).

The experience made me give some thought to how I might someday talk to my (as yet unconceived) teenage kids about what sorts of movies to watch. A thought that continually occured to me as I thought about the movies we watched on the bus, as well as the movies that were turned off, was, “What principles should guide what sort of movies our youth watch?” Is it enough to “abhor what is evil”? Or must we also “cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9)? What of the counsel of Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”? Are there not movies that contain some bad language but nevertheless offer themes and messages there are “true,” “honorable,” “just,” “pure,” “lovely,” “commendable,” “excellent,” “worthy of praise,” and thus worth watching and thinking about?

If Phil. 4:8 is the centerpiece of my guidance to kids about which sort of movies to watch, I would suggest, for example, The Shawshank Redemption ten times out of ten over Alladin, with its endorsement of stealing what one can’t afford, and consistent praising of Allah, couched in a vague warning about the trappings of power. With its “R” rating, Shawshank would never be allowed on our youth group bus (not, mind you, because of our youth pastor, I believe, but because of what some parents would have to say to our youth pastor afterward), but is an absolutely excellent and praiseworthy movie, with a beautiful message of hope, honesty, patience, diligence, restraint, etc. One Christian reviewer has written, “Whether unwittingly or not (I think not), the great film, The Shawshank Redemption, is about hope and the sacramental foretastes of redemption that can occur even in the most hellish of the world’s dark places.”

Obviously, there are some movies that contain violence, language, or sexuality to the extent that the negative impact of these things completely overwhelms the worth of any positive message it might contain (for this reason, I would never allow my children to watch, for example, American Beauty – despite the fact that I think it contains some beautiful messages about what is truly beautiful).

When it comes to youth (or ourselves, for that matter), should the message of the movie matter to us as much as the objectionable material? Contrary to my nature, I won’t be suggesting a solution here, only posing the question.

So, what say ye?

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