Tonight I had an interesting discussion about horror movies…though I rather did most of the talking.
The thing about horror movies is that I’ve always liked the genre because the stakes are high and often the plot devices (magic, technology, absurd levels of psychopathy, etc) are too over the top to be truly capable of influencing the way you think about reality. Thus, a horror film or book is one of the few pieces of entertainment that allows me to experience feelings I don’t often have. It’s not that I’m not easily frightened, it’s that I live within civilization and I’ve rarely been afraid. Truthfully, any adventures I’ve have in the wilderness or with the unpleasantries of crime and violence have all happened so suddenly that any type of fear came later.
Anyhow, my wife and I were at a cafe with a friend and she asked about horror as a genre of art. We discussed it in as Socratic a fashion as we could.
Essentially these were the questions:
- Scripture commands us not to fear so often, why intentionally be afraid?
- Well, lets hold off on that, is natural fear ever a good thing? For instance, is it biologically, socially, or personally expedient?
- Are those commands in Scripture generalized for all human emotion or are they contextual?
- If they are context based, is it possible to enjoy exploring circumstances that lead to fear without inculcating bad or inappropriately fearful habits in life?
- Could fear ever be spiritually expedient?
- Have Christians utilized the genre of fear producing rhetoric or imagery in positive/negative ways?
- Is it possible that horror genres give rise to emotionally exploring topics usually too difficult to explore quickly? For instance, this scene in the Fly (don’t watch if you’re squeamish):
Essentially the idea is that the human without restraint is every bit as brutal, but also every bit as morally significant as an insect.
- Does the portrayal of horrific material necessarily entail the endorsement thereof?
- Can horrific material be portrayed in a way that is not reveling, pornographic, or celebratory of evil? Or could a book or movie portray people celebrating evil, even horrifying evil without the author’s endorsement thereof (one thinks of Scripture)?
- Horror movies, as a genre, tend to include a great deal of gratuitous nudity, is that a logical conclusion of enjoying the fictional fear of other people?
- Is it possible to enjoy frightening roller coasters without creating a lapse in virtue because you’re merely simulating fear as a form of pleasure, sort of like enjoying a romance poem when you’re single?
- Should we make a distinction between art/film designed to create a yearning for perversion rather than to display it as perverse and thus undesirable? Also, is there not a difference between entertainment that portrays people pretending to do something for plot purposes (pretending to lie/steal/be a villain/take over the world) and something that literally portrays people performing morally illicit acts (various forms of nudity, filmed sadism masquerading as art, etc)?
All of these questions came up. Ultimately, I suppose, we all need a bit less low entertainment in the form of movies and more time with other flesh and blood humans, more books, and more quality high and folk art. But, when it comes to movies, should Christians choose to watch them, is it merely preference that dictates what Christians watch, should they choose to do so?
I think anything that draws you away from God, the transcendentals (truth, goodness, and beauty), or the truly human things (virtue, community, contemplation, vocational excellence, etc) is a bad idea.