Quest: Christianity and the Movies, Extras, Part IV
This blog post includes media used in part 4/4 of an Online Quest Course taught on Tuesday October 1st 2013.
In part four of this Quest course we looked at two areas. 1 a) Hymns in Film; 1 b) we briefly looked at examples of baptism and Holy Communion in film 2 a) and then we looked more closely at a specific scene from the film True Grit (2010) to see how a film goes from book to the screen. Nearer the end of the blog post you'll find links to resources you'll need for doing a movie night in your congregation. 2 b) Lastly we looked at a scene from The Passion of The Christ (2004) to test our discernment. Again like in Part I and Part II and Part III we are thinking about discernment (being able to judge well) as a Christian when you are watching film and other media.
The catechism we'll be using is Luther's Small Catechism, if you're interested in purchasing this edition you can order one from Concordia Publishing House (Hard Cover and Kindle available) or you can find your closest Lutheran Church-Canada congregation and they will be happy to assist you in getting one.
Hymns in Film
The book used to get some information about the hymns that come up in these film clips is called Then Sings My Soul. There are many books that detail the stories behind certain hymns, this book lists these hymns chronologically as opposed to alphabetically, with the oldest songs at the front of the book. The hymns that appear in these clips are not all traditionally Lutheran hymns and this blog post is not an endorsement of all of them. We are simply taking not of them and how they are used in the context of the film. Again being aware of how something like a hymn is being used in a film is also part of judging well, this again is discernment.
With the aid of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using his son's life-generating device, the Genesis Device, as the ultimate weapon.
Director: Nicholas Meyer Writers: Gene Roddenberry, Harve Bennett (story), Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
Amazing Grace [in space] (1779)
By John Newton: This Hymn is found in the Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 744, and is based in part on Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” This illustrates power of this hymn, that even in a Sci-Fi film if you have a funeral of a beloved character, even an alien, then Amazing get's played.
Places In the Heart (1984)
In 1930's Southern US, a widow and her family try to run their cotton farm with the help of a disparate group of friends.
Sacrament of the Altar pg 30
Q. What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
A. It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.
In the concluding scene of Places In the Heart we see a Calvinist observance of the Lord's Supper, 1 Corinthians 13 is read and then the words of institution are said by the minister. an additional element of the film is that, in it, if you'd seen the whole film, you'd see that the individuals partaking include individuals who have died in the course of the film's story. While this is not a depiction of how Lutherans celebrate Holy communion it does bring to mind an aspect of Holy Communion.; The aspect where in members of the body of Christ are all participants in the Super, both the ones here present and the ones who are at rest with the Lord. In the Lutheran Divine Service during Communion Liturgy there is something called the proper preface in which these words are either said or chanted, "It is truly good right and salutary that we should at all times and all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who on this day overcame death and the grave by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, ever more praising You and saying ... Holy, Holy, Holy. Holy communion involves the living on earth and all the host of heaven. This is in a way a visual stab at this.
In the Garden (1912)
As all of this is taking place the hymn "In the Garden" is being sung by a choir. This hymn is by C. August Miles, and is not traditionally a Lutheran Hymn, it's based on John 20:14, “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” The writer of this hymn, a pharmacist, is said to have visualized himself with Jesus in the garden following the resurrection, imagining himself there as Mary Magdalena had been there with Jesus. Interestingly this hymn focus on the Calvinist idea of going to be present with Jesus as opposed to the Lutheran confession that Jesus comes to us by means because we cannot go to Him.
There will be Blood (2007)
A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay), Upton Sinclair (Novel) Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds
Sacrament of Holy Baptism pg 23
Q. What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
There Is Power in the Blood (1899)
This hymn is by Lewis E. Jones, and again it's not traditionally a Lutheran Hymn, Then Sings My Soul says that this hymn is based on Jeremiah 10:6 “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and Your name is great in might.” And the book recounts how it came about upon reflection following a demon possession in California and an exorcism and Baptism of a Chinese farmer.
In There will be Blood this hymn is used in conjunction with another sort of exorcism and what looks in part to be a baptism. Unfortunately what happens to the oil man played by Daniel Day-Lewis wouldn't count as a baptism because it's missing one of the elements of a sacrament; it doesn't contain the words given by Jesus when He commanded the disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,"
Night of the Hunter (1955)
A religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he'd stolen in a robbery.
Directors: Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, Writers: Davis Grubb (Novel), James Agee (screen play), Stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (1887)
In Night of the Hunter we are introduced to the Hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (1887) Again not a traditionally Lutheran Hymn but used a bit more frequently than the last ones, it was written by Elisha A. Hoffman and it's based on Deuteronomy 33:27 "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms. And He thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy.’" In this film the Hymn is used in a sinister way as it' sung be a psycho killer who thinks he's doing the will of God. We watched this because the film makers of the 2010 version of True Grit had seen this film in their younger days and the Hymn made an impression on them. The Hymn is then used by them in True Grit but in a way that's more in keeping with the original purpose of the hymn.
First watch this clip from Night of the Hunter and then watch the following clip that talks about the Music of the film True Grit.
The thing to consider here is how purposeful the film makers are, they consider every detail of their film even down to what music they will used, because it "tells the viewer things that they would not otherwise know."
The Anatomy of a Scene
True Grit (2010)
A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen (screenplay), Ethan Coen (screenplay), Charles Portis (Novel)
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Here we'll take some time to look at two scenes, first the hanging scene from True Grit (2010) and then the scene with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane from The Passion of the Christ (2006).
First take a look at the trailer for True Grit.
For the next part we listened to an excerpt from the book True Grit (1968) by Charles Portis, you can listen to that excerpt below, then we watched the corresponding film clip. While you listen take note to the order of thing and likewise take note of the Christian content, then look for how the Ethan and Joel Coen portray this in their film.
True Grit has a lot of Christian content throughout, but by being discerning, and by following it up with some additional research of your own, you'll be able to see better how a film maker is using their sources. That last film we looked at was the Passion of the Christ where we considered the scene set in the Garden of Gethsemane and thought about how well the film maker stuck to his source material.
Here is a Power Point File of a presentation on the film True Grit you are free to look it over and use it if you're alble.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
A film detailing the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Benedict Fitzgerald (screenplay), Mel Gibson (screenplay)
Stars: Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern
To get the full effect of this take some time to read, either before or after watching this next clip, these Scriptural passages that correspond with the scene from the film. Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; and John 18:1-11. Again ask how close are they following the readings and if they are deviating from the readings how are they doing so and why?
Some additional thoughts for you:
Many People wonder why Christians should bother watch movies at all, in fact some people like Rev. John R. Rice wrote against watching movies all together.He also wrote against dancing and other things. He wrote a book called "What's Wrong With The Movies" in 1936, the edition that I have is from 1964 and was at that time was in its twenty-second printing. In it Rice lays out a case for quitting watching films; he points out that films are made by "sinful, wicked people, unfit to be examples," that their motivations in making movies are rooted only in greed and gaining notoriety and that "films deal principally in sex, crime, and impure themes" for this reason Rice claims that the movies, "encourage crime, endorse sin and teach lust." Rice implies that the very act of watching films can be linked to everything from the rise of "insanity" in America to the rapid increase of death by cancer and that the film industry is complicit in the ever escalating tempo of society (What's Wrong With The Movies, Sword of The Lord Publishers, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. John R. Rice, 1938, 22nd edition 1964, pg 55 - 62.) As a result of all this the movie theatre, according to Rice, is a School for criminals which breaks down virtues and hinders the spread of the gospel while grieving the Holy Spirit. His solution is to avoid films and withdraw from society.
How are Lutherans to respond? Even though Rice wrote this may years ago this view can be found amongst Christians today, it falls into the category of "don't drink, don't dance, don't chew and don't go with girls who do," which is a part of North American pietism. As we looked at before in 2/4 of the Quest course, Lutherans had a part to play in the history of the development of this kind of thinking. At this point in time the influence of German Lutheran Pietism has come full circle and now it's a pressure that has fed back into Lutheranism from other denominational source. Rice for instance is not a Lutheran but his view points are influenced by the history of pietism. If you're interested in thinking more about the history and results of pietism I again recommend looking at this article "THE ROOTS AND FRUITS OF PIETISM" by Ronald R. Feuerhahn Concordia Seminary St. Louis, MO.
Over and over again in the four parts of this Quest course I stressed that it is important to be an informed viewer of media, that when you watch film you should keep the Bible and what you've learned from the small catechism and the Lutheran confessions in mind. That you continue to work on discerning what you are watching, so that you would be able to judge well. But to what end? First the Christian is to be a light to the world, (Matthew 5:14) by thinking about what you watch you can shed the light of Christ on it and in conversing with friends, family and co-workers you can let your light, your faith, shine. Second without putting your mind to the task of watching you will not be able to distinguish what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for you and your family. Saint Paul says, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV) The Christian then in Christian freedom can watch all sorts of things but are all sorts of things helpful or beneficial? This is where there is a great tension in the life of the Christian. As an example one drink for some people is not too much but one drink for another is more than too much. The same can be said for films. This is where the question of conscience comes into this conversation.
Does the Christian shut themselves off from the public square? Or do they shine the light of Christ in the public square shedding the light of His gospel on everything there? Is it Christ against culture or is Christ there to transform culture? And then to what end? Is the job of the Christian in Culture to clean it up or to sit above it or is it to be an image of Jesus to a world that sits in darkness. There is a great deal to think about in this area of life and Christian apologetics watch for more opportunities to think about these ideas in the future. While every detail of his theology cannot be endorsed it may be fruitful for you to take a look at Richard Niebuhr’s categories from his book Christ and Culture. In it Niebuhr gives these categories 1) Christ against culture; 2) Christ of culture; 3) Christ above culture; 4) Christ and culture in paradox; and 5) Christ the transformer of culture. Rice with his book "What's Wrong With The Movies" falls into the category of 1) Christ against culture, where do you fall? These categories may be another good starting point to think about where you fit and what your personal piety looks like when watching movies. If you were along for the ride durring the live presentations of this Quest course I would like to personally thank you for participating if you've come to this at a later date I hope you'd consider participating in future Quest courses.
If you are thinking of running a Movie Night at your church in Canada you'll need a licensing agreement from one of these two companies, or from both:
the first is Audio Ciné Films Inc
the second is Criterion
Quest is a programme presented by Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton Alberta: For more information, or for any other enquires including enrolment details, contact the office of the registrar at (780) 474-1468
Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.