The Movies in a Theocentric worldview

A new approach to film reviewing

Assuming that the closest many people get to looking at life in a deeply meaningful or philosophical way that goes beyond the mundane concerns is their discussion of the themes and ideas of movies they see, this worldwide web site exists to aid and abet that kind of discussion in what C.S. Lewis described as a Tao-centered context or a theocentric or God-centered context.

If, as the great creeds and more than a billion people confess, all things have their origin and purpose in a single creation and Creator, then all the issues of life large and small should be seen–at least by them–through the "spectacles" of that reality. That's what this unique approach to film reviewing attempts. The reviewer, a magazine editor, a campus minister at Stanford University from 1972 to 1983 and recently a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, has been writing from this approach for more than 25 years.

Jon Kennedy's book, The Message of the Movies, a theocentric approach to the movies, published by Kuyper Institute in 1975, describes the 10-point-scale approach to rating the movies used in this site. A brief synopsis will help readers make better use of this forum. In the early '70's, there were half a dozen distinct categories of movies being made on a regular basis. Though more films actually are released now every year than at that time, the number of categories has narrowed as film producers have found certain formulas to be profitable, others to be risky.

These general principles still apply, however:

  1. In general, realism-based films are closer to a theocentric worldview than romances, thrillers, and fantasies. Realism-based films view life as either an accident of evolution or a gift of God, and death as the inescapable end of life, barring resurrection. In general, realism films describe life as meaningless–in the face of ultimate death–if there is no God. Such films are also called film noir (dark films), "existentialist" (life is bare existence; that's all there is), and historical-redemptive (those that, while facing the reality of death, find God or redemptive forces at work in history). In short, the following reviews assume that if a 10-point score defines a perfect movie, the one that best tells the real truth gets the highest score.

  2. Romance, the popular idea that love conquors all, is a cheap diversion from the truth that either death is victor and all is shifting sand, or God is victor and there will someday be a judgment. Romance, therefore, generally rates fewer points on the scale. Unless the romantic love reflects the transcendent love of God, it is a phoney device used solely for escape from facing the truth, a kind of mental masturbation. Romance movies are not always about the love between persons; often they are paeans of praise to abstract ideals like courage, honor, platonic friendship, and goodness, with no substantive foundation undergirding the virtues. It is humanistic–secular humanist–idealism, the hope-against-hope (and reason) worldview that life is meaningful simply because we choose or affirm it.

  3. Thrillers have even less worldview or values content than romances. They are a form of sport, simply diversion from having to face the realities of life and death. Thriller elements are often powerful devices to compel our attention in realism films, of course. But when a film is simply a bus ride over a cliff, it has no more to teach us than a roller coaster ride, a baseball game, or a pulp fiction romance or detective novel.

  4. Fantasies can be theocentric and life-affirming (like the Narnia and science fiction tales of C.S. Lewis), but most–especially most of the children's fantasies from Disney and that company's imitators–are not. Their basic themes, like romance, are unrealistic ideals: life derives its meaning from what we learn, what we give, and what we acquire (preferably knowledge and love). But in theocentric terms, this is a destructive heresy: it is the literary sphere of life's most potent tool for diverting people from squarely facng the life-or-death choices God gives them.

This is the context of the reviews and ratings presented in this forum. I hope you find them stimulating, enjoyable, informative–any or all of the above.

Jon Kennedy

"Without prayer there is only madness and horror." –Vasilii Rozanov

© Jon Kennedy 1996
All photos © by films' respective releasing companies.