“God is so all over this film!”
I received this text message from my son as he and his friends left the cinema having watched Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Of course, him being a convinced Christian I would have been surprised if he hadn’t seen the film this way. Most people, whether Christian or not, are at least vaguely aware that CS Lewis was a Christian and that Narnia has some allegorical connection with the story of Jesus. But I doubt that many left the cinema that same evening having seen God so clearly in the story. Which is a shame. Especially because sometimes we hope that talking with people about a film will open up a conversation about God.
People connect with films because they connect with the issues, ideas, characters or ideals expressed. But my suggestion is that, no matter how much we hope they’ll see God, or an aspect of the gospel in a film, in general people miss any Christian perspective we might perceive because they bring their own meaning and worldview to the film and interpret it purely from that perspective.
Research into the impact that films (and a range of other media) have on the spirituality of young people found that films and TV soaps form a rich symbolic resource for young people to interpret, understand and create meaning from their actual and idealised lives. But this was limited to what is termed formative spirituality, the broad spirituality inherent in the human condition. Much as we might long that (young) people watching a film might experience a spirituality or spiritual moment that is transformative, leading them into an awareness or understanding of God (“God is so all over this film”), the reality is entirely different.
We did not find, however, that this engagement [with soap operas and films] led the young people to pursue further questions of a spiritual nature, to ask whether the ideal they periodically glimpsed or imagined through these popular arts could be indicative of a reality beyond their world, rather than being firmly limited to the worlds created by imaginative writers and technologically sophisticated special effects. In other words, we did not find our young people engaged in transformative spirituality through soap operas and films. The world view of Generation Y in this respect remains largely secular.
[Making sense of Generation Y – Savage, Collins-Mayo, Mayo, Cray]
Our experience is that young people are very happy to talk about films, the characters, issues and ideals. We love films and these kinds of discussion are a brilliant way of connecting quickly with young people. But any attempt, no matter how gently, to move the discussion into the area of transformative spirituality, the possibility of God or to draw parallels with elements of the gospel narrative, produces what may best be described as mild bewilderment. It’s as if they can’t quite understand what any of this has to do with the film, and especially with their understanding of the film. They bring their own meaning.
By way of encouragement, we’ve found that when we tell our own story of God at work in our lives, or share some part of the gospel narrative, young people are more than happy to discuss it. And, surprise surprise, many apply aspects of these stories to their own lives, often telling us that they are in some way seeking God or Christianity because they like it (their words!) The clue seems to be that people interpret any story from the perspective of their own lives, whether a film, a testimony or some part of the gospel. It’s just that the gospel, sensitively told within a trusted relationship, tells them more about the transformative spirituality of a relationship with God than any conversation about a film.
You may have come to the same conclusion or your experiences may be totally different – I’d love to hear your stories.