5 ways to tell if it’s worth it to watch that movie

Therese Bussen

It can be hard to find movies to watch. A recent Netflix study showed that 18 minutes of our time on a given day is spent just searching for a movie — and that probably doesn’t include Catholics who also have a film’s potentially harmful content in the back of their minds as they weed through what’s worthy of a watch.

A good majority of movies that come out every year aren’t worth seeing, both because they’re poor quality, and also because many have bad content: Nudity, language, violence, you name it.

So what’s a Catholic to do? Are we to avoid any and all movies that have objectionable content? That doesn’t leave us with much — and it actually a does a disservice to much of the high-quality films that do come out every year.

Turns out, St. Paul does actually give us something to think about when it comes to what we consume.

In Philippians 4:8, he said, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

If there is anything good, beautiful or true— those are worthy things. If a movies possesses these qualities, it’s worthy of a watch, because in a very small way, it takes part in who God is.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be explicitly about God.

Father Don Woznicki, director of New Ethos, an advocacy effort that aims to gather support for films that reflect truth, beauty and goodness, told Catholic News Agency that films with these qualities are about transformation and conversion.

“New Ethos is not about just supporting films and entertainment media because a Catholic made it,” Father Woznicki told CNA. “Would you get on an airplane just because you heard a Catholic made it? Quality is the rule. Christ is constantly calling us to conversion, hope and to be transformed into his image.

“New Ethos films are not about promoting sanitized Christian propaganda, rather to conversion, hope and transformation.”

So how can you discern which films or shows are worth watching? First, I always check IMDB for the “Parents Guide” section, which describes any sexual content, profanity or violence, so I have a better idea of what I’m getting into.

Then, I ask myself these questions:

– Is sin glorified, or does it tell the truth?

Displays of graphic content (violence, nudity, language) shouldn’t cause us to write off a whole movie when they portray the negative experiences of life. One good question to ask is whether the sin portrayed is being glorified — celebrated and shown as good or fun. If it’s shown as it truly is, which is ugly, then that’s true.

Schindler’s List is a great example of this. The film has a lot of violence and even nudity. But it’s a story about the Holocaust; any violence and nudity shown are realistic depictions in the realm of what probably happened in that setting, and those portrayals are always at the service of advancing the story. The result is a film, which is listed as number eight on the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, that dramatically showcases the complexity of both the darkness and the goodness of mankind. It’s a film that would change you if you watched it.

– If there’s sin, is it redeemed?

Evil is a part of the real world; but so is grace and redemption. Good should come from bad, or remind us of the truth that hope is always there. If there’s something evil depicted, there should be some element of hope, redemption or lesson learned.

War and Peace, which was recently made into a BBC mini-series, is an example. The story deals with lots of sin: Adultery, alcoholism, fornication and gambling, just to name a few. But every character who falls either experiences a transformation of heart, or we see the consequences of their bad decisions. Sin is depicted truthfully. And by the end of the story, the (surviving) characters have learned something from the various difficulties and falls they struggled with.

– Is any graphic content gratuitous?

When it comes to violence, nudity or language, showing enough to get the truth across is okay. Example: The story of Les Misérables depicts a woman who is a prostitute and shows her fall, but it’s done tastefully rather than graphically, and is shown as it truly is, as a tragedy.

– Does it lead me away from God? Or does it challenge me?

If the content or message of this film goes against what’s good for me, then it’s probably better to avoid it. Example: A story that depicts a spouse having an affair, told in a way that makes you root for those lovers, glorifies that action. (The Bridges of Madison County is an example where this exact thing happens.) It’s probably best to avoid that movie. But don’t confuse something that’s not good for us with something that makes us uncomfortable because it challenges us to see reality as it is. Like Schindler’s List, something that’s very good might not feel good.

– Is it a conversation starter?

Sometimes it’s worth watching a film that I may disagree with because of the questions it asks. Last year, Silence was one of the most controversial films for Christians, but even if people disagreed, it stirred many thought-provoking and faith-examining questions. Films like these may enhance our own convictions as we put them under the microscope, or they may help us in discussion with other people about those topics.

 

At the end of the day, watching films are a very subjective experience, and the discernment is up to you. And discerning it requires a holistic look at the film, rather than a checklist of unacceptable items. Look at the whole story, the message it’s saying, and how it’s told. Sometimes there are good films where you’ll have to turn away or fast forward at a few parts, and there are times where you should probably avoid it all together.

COMING UP: Catholic-friendly films on Netflix: September

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Much of the time spent on Netflix is in the search for something to watch, and the inventory is updated so frequently that it’s hard to keep track of recently added (or have been there for a while!) films worth watching.

Look no further. In no particular order, and by no means comprehensive, are the synopses of some amazing films and a few shows worth mention that you can queue up for your next movie night. Films appropriate for the whole family are marked as such.

For details on the content of each movie, visit IMBD’s website and click the “Parents Guide” section for that movie.

Movies:

Rogue One, PG-13 – A spinoff story of Star Wars, set immediately before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, following a group of rebels on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

The Prestige, PG-13 – Rival stage magicians engage in a competitive one-upmanship show with unfortunate results.

Lion, PG-13 – Based on the non-fiction book, A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierly, about a man who finds his way back to India to find his birth family.

Memento, R – A man who suffers from anterograde amnesia pieces together his trauma to find the persons who attacked him and his wife, using a system of polaroid photographs and tattoos to track information he can’t remember.

Schindler’s List, R – An ethnic German businessman saves the lives of more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during World War II.

The Little Prince, PG (Family-friendly) – Based on the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupery about a young girl who befriends and elderly man, who tells her the story of his meeting with the Little Prince in the Saharan desert.

The Sixth Sense, PG-13 – A psychologist helps a young boy who is able to see and talk to dead people.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas, PG-13 – World War II as experienced and told through the eyes of two young boys who befriend each other: A son of a Nazi commandant and a Jewish inmate in a concentration camp.

The Prince of Egypt, PG (Family-friendly) – An animated, musical retelling story of the life of Moses and the events of Exodus that lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

The Giver, PG-13 – A dystopian story following a boy living in a seemingly utopian society where emotion has been eradicated and lacks color, memory, climate or terrain in order to preserve order and equality rather than individuality.

Midnight in Paris, PG-13 – A frustrated writer travels back in time every night at midnight to visit famous artists and writers of earlier decades, exploring themes of nostalgia and modernism.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, PG-13 – A French film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of his life after suffering a stroke that left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. |

The BFG, PG (Family-friendly) – An orphan girl befriends a friendly giant (“Big Friendly Giant”) who takes her to giant country where they help save man-eating giants from taking over the human world.

How to Steal a Million (Family-friendly) – Starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, about a daughter of a wealthy Frenchman who creates counterfeit art and decides to steal back his forged sculpture in a heist to protect him from exposure.

Hugo, PG (Family-friendly) – A lonely orphaned boy who lives inside a railway station attempts to fix a broken automaton left to him by his late father with the help of a friend and find a place he can call home.

Begin Again, R – A singer-songwriter is discovered by a struggling record label executive, who collaborate together to produce an album recorded all over public places in New York City.

Little Boy, PG-13 (Family-friendly) – A little boy befriends a priest, a Japanese immigrant and a magician who help him bring his father back home from World War II.

Odd Thomas, PG-13 – Based on the novel by Catholic author Dean Koontz, a young man who sees the dead saves his hometown from tragedy.

I Am Sam, PG-13 – The story of a mentally-challenged man raising a young daughter with the help of his friends, until the unconventional family setting comes to the attention of a social worker who wants the girl placed in foster care.

Mary and Martha, PG – Two women who lose their sons to malaria come together to thwart the disease in Africa.

 

TV shows worth a mention:
Daredevil – Although very violent, Netflix’s Marvel superhero series explores many Catholic and moral themes throughout its current two seasons.

Father Brown – A light-hearted mystery series produced by BBC and based on G.K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” short stories.

Person of Interest – Crime drama starring Jim Caviezel about a man who tracks down would-be terrorists with the help of a computer programmer who developed an artificial intelligence “machine” for the government.