Many godly people think that the goal is for movies to be "non-offensive" in terms of sex, language, and violence. But the problem with that standard is it only describes a void. It doesn't give any creative guidance. A lot of Christians lauded the 2002 release A Walk to Remember mainly on this basis: "It didn't have any bad language, and the two teenagers didn't sleep together." Yes, but it was a banal, predictable story with underdeveloped characters, pedestrian acting, and saccharine dialogue.
There aren't going to be any simple narrative guidelines that make a project acceptable. Sometimes, it will serve the Truth to have the bad guys get away with murder, as in the 2002 film In the Bedroom. This project, which dealt with the spiritual and psychological urgency of forgiveness, was rejected by many Christians because the film's two protagonists kill someone in revenge and don't get caught. "Yes," I groaned to one indignant pastor, "but the characters are insane at the end of the film! No one wants to be them!" He responded, "I just think it would have been better if they had ended up in jail." Ironically, the film is more haunting because the two characters don't end up in a man-made jail but in a psychological prison of their own making.
While Christian projects will not be defined by the topics they treat, we can expect that certain defining themes will inhere in our projects as the cinematic "aroma of Christ."
Affirmation of Spiritual Realities
The 20th-century Christian apologist Frank Sheed distinguished Christian storytellers from pagan ones by the fact that Christian writers live in a world that is as much driven by spiritual realities as by material ones. He noted, "The secular novelist sees what is visible; the Christian novelist sees what is there."
Created with a Christian sensibility, a movie should be haunted by the invisible world. For believers, everything that we see is a sign of a reality that we cannot see. Paraphrasing St. Paul, all of creation points to the Presence and Nature of the Creator. A movie made with this conviction will leave viewers with the sense that beyond all the chaos and craziness in the world is a Loving Mind that comprehends it all, and is over it all.
This broader vision--encompassing what is seen with the heart as well as with the eyes--has as much to do with good writing as with pastoral urgency.
A Christian film should be imbued with the certainty that we are not alone. We were conceived of, worked out, prepared for, and assigned a place in the plan. We are connected to one another and to the One who yearns for us as the apple of his eye. Humans are meant to be merciful to one another. Talents are given to us to speed us corporately on our way home to God. We should treat human beings the way we would treat any unique and precious treasure that belongs to someone else.
Good and Evil Are Not Equal
Despite how it seems to a merely human perspective, good and evil are not locked in an equal struggle. The good is much greater, because it can incorporate every evil and turn it into a good.
A Christian dramatist needs to portray sin with the same intensity as does a purely secular dramatist because, as Flannery O'Connor noted, "Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live." But a Christian movie would ultimately lead viewers away from cynicism and toward hope. As Auschwitz survivor Corrie ten Boom expressed it, "We know that there is no pit so deep, that God's love isn't deeper still."
Coined by Pope John Paul II, the term "the culture of life" encapsulates the attitude toward human persons that defines Christians. Pope John Paul II distinguishes the reverence with which believers approach the human person from what he calls secularism's "culture of death." A society has bought into the culture of death, the pope notes, whenever it concludes that the resolution to a social problem can be found in the death of a person or group of people.