Movie Magic and Manipulation

200495559-001I have way too much time on my hands.

That’s an exaggeration. But having complete control over your schedule sure make it feels like you have plenty of free time. Having recently graduated from college, I am however experiencing the bliss of not having homework for the first time in my memory, which does afford me more free time than I am used to.

So how do I go about filling all that extra time? Well, to start, I am abusing a free trial on Netflix. Since the trial is only good for one month, I’ve been watching more television and movies than I normally would.


And I love movies. They possess the extraordinary capability to shift you from reality to a world of their making.

Movies have a dangerous ability though. When you are drawn into the world they’ve created, they have great influence on your views and emotions. They are intentionally manipulative in ways I’m not comfortable with.

Specifically, filmmakers toy with my emotions when they portray death. In the same scene (let alone the same film) death can be portrayed as tragic and victorious, mournful and praiseworthy. But I’m uncomfortable having great emotions and convictions over who should live and die.

This narrative happens in virtually every movie though! Consider:


HungerGamesPosterThe Hunger Games: One of the biggest critiques about the Hunger Games is that it does not portray death the same way among all of the tributes. They possessed an extraordinary opportunity to make a statement about death and its tragedy–especially with children–but failed to capitalize on that possibility. For instance, when Rue dies Katniss breaks down and mourns for her. Rue’s death and Katniss compassion causes a riot in District 11. But when Fox Face dies several scenes later, there is no emotion whatsoever. Worse yet, when Glimmer dies the viewer is supposed to feel elated about her death! Rather than portray all deaths in the Hunger Games as tragic and scornful, the director fell into a too-common Hollywood narrative.

Braveheart: Consider for a moment how many people must have died in the various battles that William Wallace led against England and the Crown. The number of casualties for both the Scottish and the English would have been appalling. But virtually no emotion is evoked in any of these deaths or casualties. When William Wallace is drawn and quartered though, it is a saddening, tragic martyrdom.

TheAvengers2012PosterThe Dark Knight: When Rachel dies, it is a sorrowful occasion that shocks Bruce Wayne. No such emotion spared for Harvey Dent’s cab driver.

Any Superhero Movie Ever:  In any superhero movie (or perhaps even any action movie), there are unaccounted for deaths. Not only is no emotion evoked in these deaths, but they are hardly recognizable without further thought. When the Autobots and Decipticons battle on the freeway, hundreds of people had to have died in car accidents. When Parallax descended upon Earth in the Green Lantern, people surely died. Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane’s battle couldn’t have been casualty free. Hundreds of people would have died in the Chitauri invasion from the Avengers.

I Am Legend: As a viewer, you aren’t made to experience any real emotion about humanity’s near extinction, but when Robert Neville’s dog, Sam, dies, it’s arguably one of the saddest movie deaths I have ever seen! And the outpouring of emotion isn’t even for a human!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows_–_Part_2Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Again, death is both mournful and victorious. When Fred dies, his family surrounds him heartbroken. Lupin and Tonks deaths are sorrowful. And I cried when Harry was ready to face death. But characters like Bellatrix Lestrange get no lament to their end. However, I will give David Yates and Co. credit for making Voldemort’s death more balanced. While there was a sense of victory, it came across more as relief that the fighting was done and no more people would die, which is admirable. And in the end, you almost couldn’t help but feel sorry for an individual whose soul was so marred by death.

Marley and Me: If you didn’t cry, you don’t have a soul. Saddest movie death ever? Possibly. And again it’s for a nonhuman. (I love dogs too! But I don’t like that when a dog dies in a movie I feel more grief than when a human dies on film).

Obviously this list could continue, but the point’s been made.

Directors and filmmakers possess a unique ability to draw us into a world of their own creation. But in that world, they have great influence over our emotions and consequently how we perceive and discern events. This influence isn’t just contained to what we see on screen though–it spills over into reality and impacts how we view the world.

Death is the result of sin. It’s evidence that we are not home yet–that Christ’s work has yet to be brought to complete fulfillment. That we still rest in the heavy tension of the Now and Not Yet Kingdom of Yahweh.

And so long as there is death in the world, I want to mourn for it. I want to mourn for the people who die and leave this unredeemed world. I want to mourn for people who die not knowing Christ and the fulfillment He brings. I want to mourn that we are not yet in the Kingdom. I want to mourn that death is a reality.

When I get sucked into a movie, I lose that perspective. The narrative of triumph and justified death captures me.

I know movies wouldn’t be the same without the implications of death, I just don’t want anyone to die. Or I don’t want to happy that anyone dies. Movie character or not.


One thought on “Movie Magic and Manipulation

  1. I never realized how movies and ideas about death are interrelated. I see that now. Especially now that I’m at the hospital everyday too, being present with families during their grief and loss. Seeing real people grieve for the person that passed, who is also right in front of you, changes your perspective on how to live life to the fullest. And then also to see life right in front of you too, especially in the NICU. All those tiny babies just fighting to breathe, eat, live. Beautiful. Humanity is beautiful, isn’t it?

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