A few years ago, a bunch of my friends and I went out to the movies and saw an outstanding film: Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood. All of us walked out of the theater and thought, “man, that movie showcased one of the most blatantly Christian themes of any movie in the last 10 years!” Eastwood plays a grouchy old racist war-vet named Walt, who is watching gangs and Hmong refugees overrun his once good ole white neighborhood. The whole story is carried along by strong redemptive undertones, and—SPOILER ALERT—ends with Eastwood lying dead on his back with arms spread out in the shape of a cross and his body filled with bullets. His death redeemed others (the once hated Hmongs, in fact) from their own death sentence. Walt’s death gave his former enemies new life.
The movie interacted with themes of redemption, life, death, racism, and racial reconciliation. In other words, the film is a modern-day exposition of Eph 2:11-22.
But the movie is filled with swearing. Many Christians are therefore turned off by it. Personally, swearing in movies can be quite annoying, especially when it’s unnecessary. But the swearing in Gran Torino actually fits. It often surrounds the scenes where there are gang squabbles and other scenes where in real life we would expect the people to swear. A Christian movie director might choose to leave out the swearing, but this would raise the question of honesty: Would it be an honest portrayal of a bunch of gang bangers if they didn’t swear? And plus, a good Christian measure of what makes a movie good is not whether it contains sin—for the Bible contains tons of sin—but whether it promotes sin. In my honest opinion, Gran Torino contained a lot of sin but it doesn’t promote sin. But it does promote love, redemptive sacrifice, and racial reconciliation through substitutionary atonement.
This raises the question: Should Christians watch a movies that contain swearing, even though they have blatantly Christian themes? Or to flip it around, can a movie truly be considered “clean,” if it has no swearing (or nudity, or drug scenes, etc.), but is driven by strong anti-Christian themes, such as the many sappy Romance flicks that skew the biblical definition of agape love? Or movies like Taken, that are driven by that all too enticing theme of vengeance (contrast Rom 12)? Or, is it safe for my kids to watch movies like Cinderella, which cuts against the grain of a whole host of Christian values including materialism, a worldly view of beauty, and again, a very wrong understanding of agape love?
I suggest that some Christians have a narrow view of what constitutes “Christian” or “safe” movies. Some of the most dangerous and faith-threatening values promoted by Hollywood that are not the taboo things like swearing, drug scenes, or witchcraft, but the more subtle yet captivating anti-Christian values like vengeance, conditional love, and materialism.