Story vs. Message

October 17, 2011

I felt pretty sure that I blogged about this before, but I couldn’t find anything, so here goes.

A little movie came out recently called Courageous. I haven’t seen it, but it’s done by the same church that put out Fireproof and Facing the Giants. I have seen both of those and they’re not horrible. It’s basically like someone filmed a community theater production on a pretty high budget. The acting in the movies I’ve seen is uneven at best, as is the writing. It seems that for a lot of Christians, enough to enable them to continue putting these movies out, it’s better to have a “good message” that feels likes “a [very long] sermon” than it is to have a well written story where the message may be a little less in your face.

For me though, I really want something more. I really don’t have a problem with movies, music, or books that deal intelligently with themes or struggles inherent in the Christian faith. If you’re going to put something out there that is really out there with the gospel message (whatever you think that is) then by all means, do it. All I ask is that you put a lot more effort in the production/writing/acting/etc. than you think you need to. Everything you do in that vein is going to be judged, more than that scrutinized, and not just by “the world”.

If you’re going to make a movie like this, it really needs to feel like something more than a direct to video effort. Make something that I don’t feel reluctant to watch or that I feel I have to apologize for. That really shouldn’t be that hard. It’s really all I ask of any book, movie, or song, regardless of its message. The created thing needs to be good on its own and only then will the message have any meaning beyond the “choir”.

That’s my two cents anyway. Let me ask you, is message or story more important and why?

6 Responses to “Story vs. Message”

  1. I personally find it hard to care about the message if the story isn’t there, and hard to recommend it to others for the message if I can’t also recommend it for the story. I did see Fireproof and it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but it also wasn’t great from a film standpoint. The messages about being a good spouse and faith needing action as well as words were fine, but it’s not at the top of my list of movies I’d recommend for those messages, for the reasons you named.

    I have separate lists of favorite movies, one for movies I love watching but aren’t necessarily highest-quality cinema (e.g. The Mummy, Underworld, Newsies) and the other for movies that are amazing but aren’t as much fun to watch repeatedly (e.g. The Constant Gardner, Pi, Beyond Borders). Some movies bridge the two lists somewhat like O Brother, Where Art Thou (which is fun and literary) and Serenity (which I watch every year but makes me cry every time).

  2. Your first sentence nails it. There are movies with great messages (whether I agree with them or not) that resonate with me not because of the message so much as they do because of how well the story is told. As a result the message gets in there more deeply.

    If a creator wants a message to get across and really get into someone’s head (especially people who aren’t already in their corner and thus able to overlook the shortcomings) the story needs to resonate with them and bring the message along with it.

  3. That’s what story is for. If it’s boring, or contrived, you’re missing the point. 

  4. Also, I can’t endorse where you put the Mummy on that list. It’s great cinema! 😉

  5. I think that the reason lies in this quote: “The literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger.” –Christopher Hitchens

    Good literature and storytelling turn on their ability to subvert convention and expectation. That which doesn’t at least give surface-level subversion and surprise is moribund and stillborn, but to the minds of people who view themselves as, for example, engaged in a culture war, the mere hint of irony or subversion or surprise is threatening.

    But there’s more than that. As a virtual reality technology, fiction is a liberalizing force. It allows a person to inhabit the viewpoint of an alien, and the mere act of doing so habituates readers/viewers to expanding their circle of “friend” vs. “other.”

    For a religion highly focused on holiness and avoiding the threat of hell or the trials of the post-rapture Tribulation, these things are not only uncomfortable, they’re very dangerous.

    The American Protestant tradition, particularly the post-Jonathan Edwards variety that arose in the south–has within it a very strong strand that is *terrified* of temptation, subversion, and intellect. It’s a brittle religion with very brittle theology, being as it is a complex hybrid of Dutch Calvanism, dispensationalism, fideism and Anabaptist ideas of holiness that born during an era of immense cultural upheaval. Paranoia is, as it were, written into the DNA of Evangelicalism and its older brothers Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. And it’s THAT tradition that the entire alt-culture movement (Christian music, Christian bookstores, Christian movies, Christian theme parks, Christian fortune cookies, etc.) is built on.

    So, that’s why Christian writing and filmmaking tends to pretty well suck, when so many of the earlier greats of literature who were Christians (Madaline L’engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, et. al.) told stories that could move ANYONE, and so many of today’s Christian “greats” suck.

    FWIW 🙂

  6. If I do my job right, they will be equally present. But if I’m ever unsure, I’d err on the side of story. Presenting a ham-handed message will only lose you credibility with your intended audience.

Leave a Reply