Celluloid as Sacrament: An Introduction
Every person is involved in culture. Some like to deny it, and others maintain that Christians are separated from “culture” and “the world.” As a master’s student in theology, writing a thesis on the subject, I find fault with such opinions. This is not, however, the matter at hand.
What is at hand is the involvement of the faithful person with cultural artifacts such as film. In his work “Culture Making”, Andy Crouch proposes that any cultural artifact may be examined by asking five principal questions which shed light on the nature of said artifact and its relation to both the culture which created it and the world at large around it. These questions are as follows:
(1) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is? What are the key features of the world that this cultural artifact tries to deal with, respond to, make sense of?
(2) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be? What vision of the future animated its creators? What new sense does it seek to add to a world that often seems chaotic and senseless?
(3) What does this cultural artifact make possible? What can people do or imagine, thanks to this artifact, that they could not before? Conversely…
(4) What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)? What activities and experiences that were previously part of the human experience become all but impossible in the wake of this new thing?
(5) What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact? What is cultivated and created that could not have been before?
Crouch does not spend significant amounts of time exploring the relation of his questions to artifacts such as film: it is not his primary aim. This is left to the reader and, in our case, the viewer. As such, I invite you to continue reading throughout the semester as we examine popular (or perhaps not-so-popular) films and prod them with Crouch’s questions in mind. Together, we will explore how it is that the experience of cinematic participation could serve as a sacrament for the faithful person.
However, the question is not,
Should Christians watch this film?
Indeed, this exploration of celluloid as sacrament tends to believe that one ought to watch films on general principle, even ones sometimes considered outside the Christian realm by “religious isolationists.”
Rather, the question is,
What does this film tell us about the good life?
How can the worldview of this film and the worldview of the faithful individual inform each other?
After all, it is sometimes the sources with which one ultimately disagrees by which one’s worldview is the most strongly shaped.
Stay tuned for our first film examination in the next column – Django Unchained!