BY CHIP MACGREGOR
Someone wrote and asked a question that is related to my earlier criticism of the movie Fireproof and some of the other religious art I saw at ICRS this year. They noted, “You said that good messages and moral content don’t trump quality… but does quality trump message and moral content?”
A fascinating question. It’s clear that to some (for example, the people who really enjoyed Fireproof) that a good message trumps bad craft. They’re welcome to that opinion, which is why it doesn’t bother me a bit to have someone join in the discussion and say, “You’re wrong — I loved the movie because it moved me.” I just don’t agree — I couldn’t get past the junior high acting and the high school script. So to me, the great message didn’t overcome the bad art.
Looked at another way, I really appreciate the redemptive words to the song “Everything Shines” from the band Great Big Sea, and I wouldn’t enjoy seeing an off-key singer and a bad garage band playing that tune, no matter how sincere they were. I wouldn’t want to spend money to see bad paintings, even if the artist was trying to portray something redemptive.
But the reverse can be tricky. The films of Oliver Stone might be nice to look at and well acted, but the messages range from “angry” to “deeply stupid.” Who needs another anti-American screed from an over-rated hack? Years ago, I thought the movie The English Patient was incredibly well done – great acting, great art, incredible script… and a repulsive message. Life is sacred. Morality does exist. Setting up a scene where two people boink one another while a crowd of people sing in church on the other side of the wall was just a bit too “in-your-face-you-uptight-religious-people” for me. Similarly, The Cider House Rules was a fairly well-done film, but it’s over-the-top focus on “why we need to be pro-abortion” ruined it for me — in the end, the film didn’t feel like a story, but a piece of pro-choice propaganda. (I know… I shouldn’t bring up the abortion issue — too emotional a topic. Sorry.)
That said, there are plenty of times where art does indeed triumph over the message — think of all those subtle messages in TV’s Law and Order. Or the times you saw political or moral messages presented in a reasonable light through well-written drama. To Kill a Mockingbird caused us to reflect on racism, and back in the 90’s Philadelphia helped Americans see gay people as real people, not as “funny TV gay people.” The books we write and the stories we tell can subtly influence others. We all know that. And, frankly, it’s why I want to represent redemptive stories rather than pornography.