I recently attended the Campus Crusade for Christ fall retreat for the University of Louisville ministry (where I am currently on staff). Our speaker was Dr. Bruce Ashford, who is a prof at SEBTS. He gave a great talk about how movies are made and what are some key things to look for when watching a movie. He specifically mentioned 9 characteristics that you’re sure to see when you watch any particular movie, because all stories tend to be told in similar fashion.
These 9 things are characteristics found in every movie, but could be expanded to common elements in any story that is well told, including biblical stories.
1. Every story has a point. If it doesn’t, its a lame story.
2. Every story has a hero. This is the person or entity the screenwriter wants you to like and root for. A great way to discern the point of the story (#1) is to determine what kind of person or entity am I supposed to be rooting for. In Hannibal, for example, we’re rooting for a serial killer cannibal. These characteristics are clues as to the worldview of the screenwriter and director.
3. Every hero has a goal. This goal drives the movie forward.
4. Every hero has an adversary (external opponent). This may be another person (usually portrayed by a Russian), a force of nature (like a tornado), even chance (as in Forrest Gump).Â The adversary may even be the hero’s own deficiencies, such as a physical handicap.
5. Every hero has a character flaw (internal opponent). There is some weakness in the hero that must be overcome, such as a temptation, ignorance of reality (Neo in The Matrix), or physical limitation (Sylvester Stallone is only 4’11”).
6. There is an apparent defeat. This is the “all is lost” moment, when the hero appears to succumb to the apparently insurmountable odds, or he realizes that he’s lost her forever because he was too stupid to commit, etc.
7. There is a final confrontation between the hero and the adversary. Usually some revealing dialog (“I am your Father,” “you had me at hello”) and the adversary may give a rationale.
8. The hero has a self-revelation where s/he corrects the internal flaw or confronts it.
9. There is a resolution. The results of all of the prior decisions are played out. This resolution best reveals the worldview of the director/screenwriter. What point was being made?
Try it out. If you apply this to any movie you see, you should be able to detect these elements in every movie, although some will be more difficult than others. If the movie is a summer action blockbuster, it’s totally obvious. If its an arthouse flick, you may have to really think about it.
Who is the adversary and how is s/he/it portrayed? How about the hero? These questions will clue you into the worldview of the director. Oftentimes, the adversary is a Christian who is portrayed most negatively (The Crucible, Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.), while the hero is a free-spirit (Disney’s Pocahontas, Neo) who hates authority but it all works out in the end.
Can you think of other examples?