If I were narrowed down or distilled to two passions they would probably be Mormonism and movies (arguably media generally, perhaps pop culture, or stories, but we’ll go with movies). I like to meld these two often and frequently have what I can only describe as spiritual experiences as I watch films or read books. This definitely influences the media that I choose to consume and my reactions to it (and I consume a pretty large amount of media).
I like to think that my media consumption is more than just entertainment, but that it in some way helps me understand the world and grow closer to God. I believe there’s some scriptural support for this idea, a smattering of which I present here:
A selection of Alma 30:44 says “and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it.” ALL things denote there is a God. All of them. That’s a pretty bold statement and to me doesn’t quite feel true. I guess I think I can find God most places, but don’t know that I’d argue that all things denote there is a God.
Similarly, Moses records words spoken to Adam by the Lord in Moses 6:63 “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual.” Now, I like this assertion that not only spiritual things, but also temporal ones bear witness of God and the Savior. Particularly since many of my spiritual experiences are related to secular, temporal works of art.
An interesting application of the last part of 2 Nephi 29:7, which reads “I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth,” relates to this idea. The suggestion here seems to me that God speaks to all His/Her/Their children, regardless of religious affiliation, time, and place. God wants truths to reach people, however that is possible. So, I think some of this happens through art. Being a humanities guy and everything.
I appear to be in good company, as Elder Douglas L. Callister in “Our Refined Heavenly Home”, said of Pres. David O. McKay: “He referred to the grand masters of literature as the “minor prophets.”” I would extend this to actors and directors and others involved in film as well as any other art form.
Finally, I’d turn to Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” It seems pretty clear to me here that God wants us to gain knowledge and understanding through sources outside canonized scripture.
So, now that I’ve sort of walked through how I’ve come to believe this, I guess the question is why. Why does it matter? How should this change how I consume media? How do I know what testifies of Christ and what doesn’t? How do I find these minor prophets to follow?
As usual, I don’t have solid answers to those questions. I’ve written about this sort of topic before, but was drawn to it today by some sort of bamboozling film experiences that I am trying to process. The Revenant is one. Pulp Fiction is another. And Bridge of Spies, or Room, or perhaps Spotlight for the final one. Hopefully, as I try and work through these some insight will be shed on the practical side of what I believe (for my benefit and yours, dear reader).
- The Revenant
I did not like this film. The acting is largely stellar. The cinematography is breathtaking and absolutely stunning. Just, unreal. The music and sound is used very effectively. Yet, even with all that, I was left feeling empty. It wasn’t a dark feeling necessarily, but the absence of anything good. It was like I had been hollowed out and left as a semi-soulless shell of a person. I think because the moral of the film seems to be about survival and human endurance, but that was linked with vengeance. Revenge keeps Glass (the main character) alive, nothing else. Some may (and likely do) disagree with my reading of the film, but that’s how I read it and that feels wrong/bad/unpleasant, whatever it is, but mostly it feels empty. I would not classify this as a film that helped me gain empathy or understanding or appreciate some truth. I don’t know. I don’t want my films to be didactic, but I appreciate some core of goodness. Still grappling with it.
- Pulp Fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed Pulp Fiction. The first and as of today the only Tarantino film I have seen. Yes it was packed with profanity and violence and frequent drug use, but it was entertaining. And provided some incredibly surprising thought-provoking theological ideas dealing with miracles and recognizing the divine in our lives. I have no idea what the intention of those sub-themes was, but for me, it led to some uplifting and good experiences. Rihanna may have found love in a hopeless place, but I found God in a violent, profane, most unlikely place.
- Bridge of Spies/Room/Spotlight
These three films, while quite different, left me with a similar feeling of hope. All were somewhat challenging and difficult, Room and Spotlight extremely so, for different reasons. I feel that these would be more readily recognized as having some sort of moral standing, semi-scriptural if you will. And they have a stronger feeling that way. The films as each whole worked to create something good, whereas Pulp Fiction had some thought-provoking elements, but I would never (at this point) call Tarantino a prophet of any kind.
I think, as I sort of came to last week, that I’ve just got to stick with what I feel. As scary and overwhelming as that choice is, that’s all I’ve really got. I mean, I do my homework and look at content and context and use my ever-expanding viewing experience to judge what else I should participate in, but even that relies on going with my gut. On seeking after those things that are virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy, and of good report. I don’t know that we all have to agree on what those are. I am pretty confident that we don’t and I’m not too concerned with that. God works with each of us individually, so I would likely find God in places that someone else would not. And if you don’t find God there, well, I guess that makes me Jules and you Vincent. And I’m ok with that.