Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Magnolia, A Case Study - Part 1

A few nights ago, I finished teaching a class on Faith, Media and Culture. One of the things I talked about is how we experience God at the movies. Can he use films to speak to us, especially mainstream movies that may contain content that some Christians could find troubling? I used Magnolia, a 1999 film, as my case study. Sure, I could have picked a movie that would have been less controversial, but Magnolia presents no easy answers. Most Christians found it difficult getting past the first 20 minutes, but if you stay with the movie long enough, you will realize that there is a profound truth that’s being presented about the human condition and the need for forgiveness.

In fact, the central theme of the movie is that there is no past wrongdoing that cannot be undone and forgiven. Magnolia did exactly what I wanted it to do. It started a discussion and a dialogue with the class, which is exactly what any good movie should do. We had a lively debate. Most of the people in the class could see the merits of why Magnolia could have such an impact on people searching for answers. Others were still doubtful about whether or not they could view such material.

One member of my class asked me if I was endorsing the idea of nonbelievers or Christians watching Magnolia and why I would recommend it. I made it clear that I think that this is between you and the Holy Spirit, and that it could be appropriate for believers as well as nonbelievers.

I think there are three reasons why I recommend Magnolia and other films that are similar. I was interested in this film because I had read many articles about how it had impacted both Christians and nonbelievers. It made me wonder, “Is God at work here?”

When you read comments such as—it touched me greatly; this film heals; the film explores ways in which we hurt each other and the need for forgiveness—it’s obviously going to get our attention. Magnolia helps us to see a bigger picture. If God can be at work in a mainstream, Hollywood film, a place in which we do not think he could possibly be at work, then that means he could be at work in anything, anywhere. If we embrace this concept, that means God does not fit neatly into our perspective of how we think God operates. We serve a big God.

My second reason for seeing the movie is that I believe it can help us grow as believers. In this film, we see the fallen nature of the human condition in its full ugliness. I know it makes me more determined to fulfill the Great Commission and build the Kingdom of God. Films like Magnolia also remind us that we are all fallen sinners and only by the grace of God do we have any hope for a future. For Christians, it brings us back to a reality that sin is real.

And, finally, Magnolia helps us to relate to the lost. We can better understand their situation and what they’re facing. After watching Magnolia, it’s hard to remain judgmental or to condemn people for their actions. We want to offer them hope and forgiveness. The real beauty of Magnolia is that it offers us an opportunity to dialogue with people who are asking legitimate questions.

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