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Linda & Richard Eyre: Our love-hate relationship with movies

Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 11:55 p.m. MST

Ben Stiller in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

20th Century Fox

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We anticipated and watched the Academy Awards, though we chose not to see some of the top competing films. But we admit it — we see a lot of movies.

Movies are today’s storytellers, and unless you know the stories of a culture or a society, you don’t know that culture or society.

We love movies, but we hate them, too. It was Aristotle who said, “When the storytelling goes bad in society, the result is decadence.”

Movies, whether we like it or not, help shape our values. We cringe when people from the industry say things like “movies just reflect societies' values; they don’t shape them.”

Talk about a self-justifying rationalization! Of course movies influence values, and, sad to say, usually for the worse.

There are movies we love, and there are movies we hate.

In our opinion, there are way too many movies about comic book super heroes, about sex and violence and degradation, and about nonsense. And there are way too few movies about real moral dilemmas, about deep, positive emotions like love and loyalty and honor, and about joyous family life.

It’s not immorality that we hate in movies, it’s amorality. Immorality, accurately portrayed complete with consequences, is a part of many good stories, including those from the scriptures.

But amorality, depicted without context or consequence, is an insidious evil that drags down all of society, particularly its younger members.

When dishonesty or violence or especially jumping into bed together on first acquaintance is depicted as the norm — portrayed as what everybody does — it can lead kids thoughtlessly into the same behaviors.

The problem with much of the motion picture industry is that it is a minority masquerading as a majority. The “obviously, everyone does this” messages are lies, but they can become self-fulfilling. And those who create and produce these films are not just “reflecting society.” They are looking for converts to amorality.

We know so many well-meaning parents who try so hard to keep their kids from seeing “bad movies” or bad media in general, but it is so pervasive and so available that the task is almost impossible.

And the movie rating system helps little. It is based on quantitative measurements, such as how many times certain words are used, and it does not rate values or the underlying message of movies. The fact is that many PG-13 movies, with their amorality and the kind of humor that laughs at values, may do much more harm than many R-rated movies.

So with that backdrop, how refreshing it was last week to go to a special screening of a new movie, produced by our Logan friend Paul Parkinson, called "Nowhere Safe," which, for a very modest budget, succeeds in telling an entertaining and compelling story about one of the biggest parenting and family issues of our day — bullying. It is a movie with a message — a good message — and while it is a film about teenagers, it is one you can take young children to. Paul was there at the screening with five of his six kids, ranging in age from 5 to 18.

Other good, local film producers are proving the same thing — that you can, for one-hundredth of the budget for a Hollywood blockbuster, produce something that is entertaining and that has a timely message and positive values. Another friend of ours, T.C. Christensen, did so recently with "Ephraim’s Rescue."

And there have been some good “bigger” movies this year, too. We liked "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," we loved "Philomena" and were intrigued with "About Time," although it had some objectionable and unnecessary parts. And we even liked the critically panned "Winter’s Tale" (though it didn’t hold a candle to the book).

And hey, if you can’t find one you like in theaters, you can always watch a classic. Our Eyre classic favorites include "The Black Stallion," "The Princess Bride," "Chariots of Fire," "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" and — if you want to go way back — "Shane."

The best weapon parents can have in this battle is awareness. Know what your kids are seeing and what they want to see. Watch trailers and use values-based movie resources. (The Deseret News partners with OK.com, which is part of Deseret Digital Media.)

And if you are still in doubt, see it first yourself. Who knows? You might learn something.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com.

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