The movies we watch


In the past week we’ve watched two powerful movies in our home. Hotel Rwanda deals with the genocide that took place in 1994 in Rwanda, telling a story from the point of view of a man who managed a four star hotel which became, by necessity, a refuge for over a thousand people who otherwise would have been slaughtered.  It is a story of courage in the face of the worst in human nature, and raises difficult and timely questions regarding when it is appropriate to use military might to intervene in another country’s life for humanitarian reasons. (Western nations, such as the US refused to get involved; eventually a million people were murdered.)  The other movie was the classic, Gandhi, telling the story of this extraordinary man — perhaps the most Christ-like political leader of all time. It makes a compelling witness to a life of non-violence, standing up to injustice with a willingness to suffer for what is right.

The two movies got me thinking about the power of art at its best to both inform the mind, raise important questions, and to ennoble the spirit. To a large extent, the images that fill our imagination define in what direction our lives move.

When I wander the aisles at Blockbuster I am struck by how the great majority of the popular movies that are available fall short in this regard.  It’s just entertainment, we might say, and we all need something to relax into; some good laughs, perhaps, or a good escapist, fanciful adventure, and I am drawn to this as much as anybody.  On the shelves there will be 30 copies of the latest release, and all 30 copies are out, being watched somewhere this weekend in a home in Parsippany.  There seems to be a great need to escape; I know the need well myself. But oftentimes these escapist movies embody the damaging values that are eroding life:  violence for the sake of amusement, rampant materialism and the lust for power, sex that dehumanizes.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Movies such as the two I watched this week are engrossing, providing in their own way that much needed “escape” from the mundane pressures of our stressful lives, but they also inspire at the same time, and provoke significant reflections that go on in one’s mind long after the movie is over.

Curiously, walking about Blockbuster, the movies that seem to have this capacity often have only a single copy.  (The people making money by producing movies figure they can make their most reliable profit by sticking with the dumb down movies.)

Over the long haul, I suspect that the choices we make regarding the kinds of movies we watch (and perhaps especially our children watch) is not an insignificant issue.  Who, in the end, are we seeking to emulate in life?  Gandhi… the hotel manager who rose to the great moral and humanitarian challenge of his age… or one of the shallow icons of popular culture peddling greed, lust, domination, and deceit?

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