Written by Brent Dickman, Master of Divinity Student
Why do we like the movies that we do? How is it that some find a certain film funny while others are not amused? Films, whether art, entertainment, or some confusing combination therein, elicit a wide variety of responses and opinions. Many of us have had the experience of having a certain movie recommended to us as something great and phenomenal only to discover that we found it boring and horrible. There is something subjective about it all. So any time we have a discussion about Beauty and the movies, it can be challenging to know what to say. I am not yet an expert on theological questions of beauty, but I do have some studied opinions that I can share.
When we find something to be beautiful we are attracted to it. We are lead by our own desire to return to that beauty. And so we re-watch our favorite movies or make them a part of our lives and our identities. We buy products, from posters, t-shirts, toys, to dvd’s and more, in the hope that they will remind us of what we found so beautiful and fascinating. We revisit our favorite scenes, shots, characters, and situations in our memories and in our imaginations. As we do we are changed. What we find beautiful affects who we are, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large.
By “beautiful” I mean so much more than a notion that something is pretty or pleasing to look at. As Paul Tillich once said, “If ‘beautiful’ means a creation whose harmonious forms produce immediate pleasure, only a few and very questionable artistic styles are concerned with beauty. If, however, ‘beautiful’ means the power of mediating a special realm of meaning by transforming reality, art is bound to be beautiful.”[i] This notion of the beautiful suggests a transcendent notion of beauty that, I believe, is divine. God is beauty, just as he is truth and goodness. And all things, including movies, are beautiful insomuch as they relate to that divine standard.
Now all of this is not to say that just because we find some movie to be fascinating and appealing that everything about it is beautiful. Sin surely enters into the picture. So we must ask ourselves, does my imagination glorify God? How do I use my imagination and memory when considering things that fascinate me? If I see an image even remotely sexual, am I able to give praise and worship to the God that made our beautiful human forms? Or am I enticed to sin? If I see an image of violence, am I able to reflect upon the consequences of free will? Do I react by desiring justice, feeling compassion for victims and hoping that grace and mercy might come to a repentant offender? Or do I delight in the power that one person might use to exploit another?
We respond to movies in different ways, because, I think, each of us perceives different things about the beauty of God. We need each other to find the whole picture. And just as we need to be held accountable for what we do with our imaginations, we need to be encouraged to use them in ways that glorify Christ.
So, very quickly, I would like to share some ways that I have been reflecting on the beauty apparent within another Oscar contender, The King’s Speech. I found the film to be very beautiful, in the sense that we are discussing here. Here are some of my thoughts.
- Humor. Apparently there is quite the history to the philosophical study of humor. In my opinion, The King’s Speech is really a comedy, even though it has been billed as a drama. It is a buddy movie and much funnier than I expected. It got me to thinking about why we laugh at what we do. Is humor sinful? Do we laugh at the misfortune of others or do we laugh to relieve the stress of our own lives? Is there grace and beauty in humor? Where? How?
- Heroes. The King’s Speech follows the story of how King George VI of the United Kingdom overcame a speech impediment to lead his people during World War II. An historical drama based on real events, it is a film about the making of a hero when one was badly needed. Far too often we settle for celebrities, people who only remind us of truth, goodness, and beauty because we have seen such things surround their lives. I’d rather have more heroes, people who call us to these things, inspiring us to live beautiful lives even as they themselves do.
- Hope. Faith helps us find what is true and love helps us learn to do good. But hope shows us what is beautiful. The King’s Speech dares us to have hope. It is about a man, the second son of George V, who has little hope and much fear. But through love and friendship he overcomes his fear and stutter and finds meaning and hope for his life and through that, for his people.
I found The King’s Speech to be a beautiful and inspiring film. I highly recommend it. It is rated R for occasional vulgar language. The rating’s board have their reasons, but I might add that if you spend any time on campus, you are likely to hear worse language while waiting in a long line for coffee. Language aside, I welcomed the film’s addition to my memory and my imagination. I only anticipate that with future viewing, reflection, and conversation, its beauty will only become ever more apparent.
[i] Paul Tillich, first lecture to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1952, “Human Nature and Art,” reprinted in Paul Tillich on Art and Architecture, ed. John Dillenberger and Jane Dillenberger (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989), p 20; qtd. in Jobin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) p 9-10.