I remember all the hoopla for the first Star Wars movie. I’m talking about the one made in 1977. It was the first made, but now we find out it’s number IV. I was still in my “I don’t go to movies” stage, at least partially because I wanted to retain my job teaching in Adventist schools.
A lot of sincere Adventists told me, “You have to see this movie. It’s all about good vs. evil! It’s really the great controversy!” Well, I have since seen the film. Not wanting to get into a debate about the merits of the film, let me simply say this: Every story is about some good vs. some evil. Without conflict, there is no story.
The question is, what good vs. what evil? Sometimes its very subtle. But the question becomes, What is the author trying to tell us is good, and what is he/she trying to tell us is evil? And is the message about good and evil, even if true in some sense, worth the time invested?
All this may seem far afield from the original question, about Harry Potter, and Haunted House, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it is not. In An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis tells us as readers–or viewers, or listeners–we have two duties. Our duty to the storyteller is to enter into the story, to fully experience it. At the same time, we have a duty to ourselves, to continually ask, “What is the author/storyteller trying to tell me? What is the message of this story?”
Both of those duties are good ones to cultivate, and it helps a great deal in evaluating stories. For me, when it comes to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the decision is easy, because the first question I ask is, “Am I interested in entering into this story? Am I willing to immerse myself in this world for more than an hour?”
My answer is a straightforward “NO.” I cannot imagine any message of sufficient worth to induce me to enter into such a story. I don’t need such images seared into my consciousness.
I may miss out on a few really good stories that way, but there are lots of good stories. It’s a price I’m willing to pay.
However, such examples are relatively few. And the extreme cases are usually easy choices anyway. Amazing Grace, the film about Wilberforce’s crusade to end the slave trade, is a compelling story with a good message. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? If that’s not obvious, then there’s another discussion we need to have. But I’ll save that for later.
Next time I’ll take up Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Lord of the Rings.