On Movies

People say it is wise to read books since life is short.

Somehow, books transports you to places and gives you the opportunity to be in other people’s shoes. May it be a detective duo uncovering the identity of an evil professor in 19th century England, a hobbit going through hills and mountains bearing himself a magical ring, a group of young adults exploring the vast world beyond a wardrobe — books offer a passage to what limitless possibilities. As long as someone thinks of it and puts it on paper to be read, it’s as if a new world can be constructed in a flick of a finger.

Now, that’s exactly how I feel about movies.

Whenever I see Shawshank Redemption, I feel as if I am part of Andy Dufresne inner circle, laughing every time he shares the story of how he made fun of the guards.

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Or joining Cooper and Brand in interstellar travel, traveling through the complex nature of time and space in order to find a new home for the sake of humanity.

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Perhaps entering the world of Inception, exploiting the world of dreams with Cobb and his crime circle.

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These feelings may even last until the last credits roll, following even to the way home, taking up a distinct space on the mind.

Roger Ebert, a renowned film critic, testifies of the same thing:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

The first memory of movies that I have was watching The Green Mile at a cinema that I still go to even until this day. It was 1999, which means I was only four, and I remember that I was half scared seeing a convict played by Michael Clarke Duncan opened his mouth and hundreds of dark-colored particles came out after he supernaturally healed a prison guard played by Tom Hanks.

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I still remember the moment when I was getting ready to watch the first Harry Potter movie after reading about it on a magazine. It is rather surprising to realize that I was only six, and it happened over 16 years ago. Whoa.

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The cinema looks completely different now. It was once surrounded by dark blue wall, having a large selection of arcade games near the left entrance with their blaring arcade-y sounds, and there was a section near the line of movie posters where people can see photos of shots that are in the movie they were about to watch. Now the cinema looks much more elegant with better lighting and a dark cream and golden tone covering the walls. There are also more studios and a distinct room filled with arcade machines so the blaring sound of the games wouldn’t fill the atrium anymore.

The place may have changed, yet the memory remains timeless.

As I got older, I realized that some movies aren’t only moving pictures where the main character hops around until two hours pass and a happy ending is presented. Some seem to want to talk about tough topics. Off the top of my head, the Oscar-winning musical drama, La La Land for instance seems to focus on the topic of achieving one’s dream. The same could be said for Whiplash which portrays a realistic and rather brutal depiction of working hard to make it to the top.

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It’s as if those kind of movies speaks, that the lines that were uttered when combined with the moving images captured by the camera, the looks and expressions of the characters are trying to calmly whisper a voice that transcends the realm of the movie itself — the voice of the filmmaker.

Directors and screenwriters seem to have a way with relating to human emotion, getting us to cry on moment’s notice, ignites laugh, or even contempt. Their creative approach in doing so testifies of a certain truth that binds all audiences — the human part in each one of us.  Of great movies, George Ebert says, “The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”

The way movie communicates about the mysterious, the sacred, the beautiful, and how all these elements relate on a personal level, I think is the main source of awe. In a way, my whole worldview is shaped by these things I watch over the years, tested and polished, in order to find the answer of what makes us human.

Movies and the Christian Faith

One of the reasons why I like to watch movies is that I can think most clearly when I am feasting on these moving pictures. While this may sound like going to the movies isn’t a relaxing activity for me, it actually is.

After long hours of sitting in a classroom or an office, for instance, it is such a great moment to just lay back with a bag of popcorn and drink on each side of the armrest, and reflect on life itself. Being a follower of Christ, I’d feel stimulated whenever a movie explores the theme of love. Not exclusively on romantic love, but rather on a higher kind — a lasting, and an eternal kind. Just like when Brand, a character from Interstellar says of love:

Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving, that transcends dimensions of time and space.

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That line really did an impact on me. Contemplating on the theme of love biblically, I find this to be consistent to the Christian faith. Jesus says of the greatest commandment, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).

About love, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).

In the great epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). He continues, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

The eternal and inscrutable love of God, bestowed unto His creations and His people, O how mighty and mysterious is this truth! O how this should change how we view our relationship with other people who are also created in God’s image, and most importantly, how our all devotion should be directed to Him alone.

Another example would be paternal love, a theme that can easily be found in most family movies. Of parents the Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

The captivating love between a woman and his son portrayed in the 2015 movie Room for example, a portrayal that surely is an effective tearjerker, when compared to God’s Word should then invite us to meditate on a love that is more transcendent, that even the strong bond of a mother and her child don’t come close. O how this should point us to the inscrutable love of Our Heavenly Father!

How immeasurable is this love! May we join Paul contemplating with other Christians, “.. the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:18-19). O how such knowledge should compel us to love God more!

These are several examples of why movies are really precious to me. For me, these movies are great because they make most of Christ. Even though the directors don’t intentionally mean it to be so, the messages that they’re trying to deliver for me are whispers of deep yearning for something transcendent, Something awe-inducing in which all pleasure dwells, the One that deserves all praise and honor, the Trinitarian God Himself.

In the end, I love watching movies because they make me a believer. I hope it does the same to you too.

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The Experimentation Years

As a young adult living in the 21st century, I often hear that the teenage years are the crucial moments where one can explore the world to figure out who they really are — the things they like and what they would like to do when they grow up. Many teenagers are given the freedom to do all sorts of things — taking classes, applying for internships, or maybe even backpacking through Europe — to answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

This liberty of experimentation encourages us to see everything the world offers so that we may know ourselves better. Thus many nurture romantic relationships, apply to their favorite schools, choose career paths, believing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. However, this exploration journey might not be forever a smooth sail — relationships may end with heartbreaks, school applications replied by rejection letters, and wrong career decisions leading up to frustration.

Sometimes we are unconsciously experimenting with our own lives, following the demands of our culture, with the hope that we’ll get the much-aspired answer to the question of our identity. Shall we find it in relationships, academic reports, or our professional accomplishments? Or have we been looking in the wrong place all this time?

Experimenting with the Heart

People have a lot to say about hearts. The heart is a delicate thing, they say. When we are about to make important decisions, we’re told that we should follow our hearts. “Go with your gut!” they say.

The Bible also has a lot to say about hearts. Ever since the fall, the disobedience of Adam and Eve has led humans to eternal death (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12). Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The famous reformer and theologian, John Calvin, goes even further, saying that the human heart is a “perpetual forge of idols.”

Naturally, our instinct tells us to follow our hearts, for it is the moral compass we’re commended to rely on. On the other hand, the Bible sees things quite differently; instead of trusting it, we’re presented to the only solution that only God can accomplish – change it, and follow Him instead.

God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is the solution to our heart problem.

Timothy Keller says, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there.” None of our heart-forged idols — our relationships, study, or career — can ever fit to the God-shaped hole. We can experiment all we want, but none will quite fit. Ironically, in this search, our natural state fails to distinguish things that are truly beautiful and mere vanities (Romans 1:21-23).

About this C. S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are far too easily pleased, indeed.

New Heart and Our Identity

Only a restored heart, the gift of salvation given by grace through faith, can point us to the only One who truly matters, God Himself. It is through Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” that we’re enabled to know Him (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In our search for fulfillment, look at Christ who humbled Himself, not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philipians 2:6-7). Fix our eyes on the One who came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15, John 3:16), by “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

About this Paul testifies, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philipians 3:8).

The experiments can now end. Our identity is found in Christ. What are we supposed to do with our lives? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

This is the gospel. This is our identity.

How Should Christian Watch Movies?

An issue recently arises as a Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast gets adapted into a live-action movie. In the new adaptation, a character is introduced as “Disney’s first gay character.” A lot of questions then come up regarding how Christians should respond to it. Should we boycott the movie? Will it be okay to see it? Should I rebuke my fellow friends who decide to see it?

Firstly, something should be made clear — the Beauty and the Beast is not the first movie that includes values contrary to the Scripture; many are playing in the theaters and spread around the internet for everyone to see. A better question to ask might be: How should Christians watch movies?

I have been pondering over this question for quite a while. I myself love movies, more than most people perhaps. I am mainly fascinated by the amount of efforts the filmmakers put in order to turn their visions into a reality — birthing visual spectacles followed by melodies playing out harmoniously throughout the movie, stirring up the hearts of the audience. Personally, watching movies has been a special moment where I can appreciate the works of various people who each has a unique story to tell. Continue reading