This is the Intro to a course pack that Buddy and I are putting together. It’s for class I am teaching for Torrey Academy Emmaus Forum. We will be watching select movies, reading select texts, and then discussing them for hours. The class should be fun: I know I am looking forward to it. Here’s the first draft…
In Defense of Everything Else.
What is the most fundamental element of our human experience: the word or the image? Can we live without either language or the sense of “seeing” something with our mind’s eye? Can we think without language? Can we know something without “seeing” it? Multiple disciplines have found themselves staring at this dilemma, and the answer seems to consistently reiterate the validity of both the Word and the Image. The Bible says that the entirety of creation was made through Jesus Christ and without Him “nothing was made that was made.” This same Jesus, in whom all creation subsists, in whom everything rests for its being, is referred to as “The Word” (John 1) and the “The Image” (Colossians 1). By studying the word and image we will study the means of learning, the modes of communication, content and the presentation of content, and the differences and similarities of various forms of media. We will be studying films and texts that deal with what humanity is, and what it isn’t – and as we want Christ to be pre-immanent in all things we will have in front of us the Archetype of humanity. And having done all, we pray that we may we be granted the mercy to know The Word and The Image Himself, Christ the True God.
Still you may be asking yourself why we are reading Steven Pinker in a “film” class. Isn’t this class concerned with questions about the current state of the media, and how content is relayed? Yes, but these questions take us deeper into these fundamental questions about who we are and what we humans are here for. Today there is a battle being fought for who gets to define “human nature” and it will effect both what we say and how we say it. (Or what we see and how we are to see it.) We are being told contradictory things about what moves us, what’s important in life, and how we differ from our fellow man.
As thinkers like Pinker influence culture, we begin to see the fruits of his influence in important cultural mediums like film and music. More importantly we see the precursive thinkers on whose shoulders the Pinkers, Hawkings, and Dawkins’ of today stand. Men like Nietzsche, Freud, and Shaw whose efforts in the battle for the concept of humanity have shaped the battleground in which we now find ourselves. To engage with the discussion today is to engage with a grander discussion of nearly unparalleled depth and subtlety.
And subtlety leads us back to the question: What does this all have to do with film? When you watch a film, when you apprehend an image, when you judge a performance you are not so much critiquing from a cultivated artistic sensibility as you are reacting humanly. How can a scene be poignant if it isn’t imbued with some truth or beauty about humanity? How can we judge a character as being jarring and unconvincing unless we hold it up to our own human senses? In short, how can we rightly and critically engage in the human artistic culture unless we are ourselves, whole and developed humans?
What makes and breaks a good movie is often a small thing: a line or two, the inflection upon delivery, or the lighting in particular shot. What might be well said is that which is not said at all…but hinted at, or juxtaposed visually. What might make a scene frightening is stillness or movement, and what might show the truth behind the lie can be even harder to discern that that. As we engage these images in an effort to see the Good, True, and Beautiful we often take a great step forward by seeing through that which isn’t.
We have quite a task set before us: to examine these words and images, thoughts and feelings, pages and slides, as we hold ourselves up to the light of truth. As humans, and very concretely as Christians, we are in relation the objective Truth that is Good and Beautiful – and as we contemplate, search, and judge, we will ourselves be judged. Our consolation in all of this is not that, at the end of a week, we will defeat Nietzsche, Dawkins, and the rest of those pesky atheists; but rather that we will encounter our need to be fully human, to be in Christ – and we may find our salvation.