Throwing New Light on the Silver Screen

Jan. 26, 1998

Some film enthusiasts read movie reviews like they're the gospel, but a new course at Baylor will teach students to read the Gospel in reviewing movies.

Dr. John Wood, professor of religion, is teaching "Christianity and Film" as an elective undergraduate course this spring. Dr. Wood said he wants students to better understand the messages movies send to viewers.

"I would like students to look at movies with a critical eye," Dr. Wood said. "This course gives students tools to analyze moral judgments given to them through movies."

Students will examine past and current films from an ethical and theological perspective. They also will review a number of publications on religion and film. In addition, students will view selected films outside class and submit theological analyses.

Increased awareness

Dr. Wood said people should recognize the purpose of a movie's production. "Every movie has a point of view," he said. "Some are for fun and escape, while some are more intentional about promoting a world view and trying to tell you how to respond to situations."

Communication researchers have long debated the extent of the influence movie and television content has on its viewers. The "bullet" theory, which contends attitudes and beliefs are strongly shaped by what people view, once represented the dominant belief.

Many communication theorists, however, now counter this theory with the "limited effects" theory, which holds that the messages people receive visually and audibly typically serve to reinforce already held attitudes.

Different doctrines

Dr. Wood noted part of the course will evaluate religious content in films. "Some movies offer the idea that the way you deal with evil is to destroy it with violence," he said. "That is a way of dealing with evil, but not a Christian way." However, he said a movie does not have to promote religion directly to support Christian theology.

The list of movies students will analyze includes "Pale Rider," "Chariots of Fire," "Nine to Five," "The Deer Hunter," "Star Wars" and "Mad Max."

Looking for more news from Baylor University?