Christian film reviews: moving beyond "the checklist"

Andy Rau

I noticed recently that the Faith and Film Critics Circle has a shiny new website. The FFCC, an association of Christian film critics, has some admirable goals--in their purpose statement, they (among other things) pledge

to examine and interpret film in all its aspects - from aesthetic qualities to social, political, and spiritual implications and beyond. We promise to avoid relying on a "ratings tyranny" - a "checklist" of potentially offensive elements that distracts readers from a fuller examination of the work.

This trend--trying to evaluate all aspects of film instead of rating movies based on their offensive content--has been growing in online Christian film criticism of late, even in film review ministries that traditionally relied heavily on the "checklist of offensive elements" mentality. I think this new trend is a very healthy thing.

I don't discount the value (particularly to parents) of the "checklist" approach, but as the above quote suggests, focusing too much on negative elements in the hopes of steering viewers away from them can actually have the opposite intended effect. When I was growing up, my parents subscribed to a Christian film review magazine that rated movies in this manner, listing out all of the offensive elements in each film... and let me tell you, as a teenage boy, I found the (sometimes surprisingly graphic) lists of offensive content that accompanied each movie review to be far more interesting reading than the actual reviews.

That speaks to my teenage immaturity, but it also points to the tremendous challenge faced by Christian film and art critics: how do you approach and understand a piece of human (and thus sin-tainted) art? If, when reviewing a film, we downplay or deliberately overlook its morally offensive or spiritually troubling elements, we risk trivializing sin and adopting the world's values as our own. On the other hand, if we stop and focus on each bit of ugliness that appears in a movie, we can quickly find ourselves obsessed with the very evil we're trying to avoid.

Neither of those options seems healthy--and I'm glad to see the FFCC and other Christian art critics working to chart a course between those two extremes.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Art