Film in not a good tool for preaching. If an audience decides you’re using the story as a pulpit, they’ll tune out.
But one of my writing mentors made a great case for what film does do well: a worldview test drive. If you tell a good story, the audience will try on the worldview of the film for two hours, no questions asked. If you write a compelling protagonist who happens to believe in God, the audience will root for him — and his faith — no matter what they themselves believe.
These presuppositions, woven into the fabric of the story world, are far stronger than any didacticism within the story itself.
We watched a small, simple, surprising move last night that did this brilliantly. Lars and the Real Girl follows an introverted, but seemingly normal and competent, young man who shows up on his brother’s doorstep with his new girlfriend, Bianca — a life-sized doll.
The world in which Lars lives assumes the following things:
1) A faith community is a normal, valuable part of everyday life. Lars, his family, and many of the characters in the film attend a local Lutheran church. To hear and apply a sermon is nothing unusual. One of the first things Lars’ family does after he shows up with Bianca is to go to their church family for support. The church members are not perfect, but neither are they vapid, bizarre, or cultish.
2) All human beings, no matter their condition, should be treated with respect. Lars walks through most of the movie with a very obvious mental illness. No one mocks or ridicules him. Even when they’re surprised and thrown off balance, they treat him with dignity and respect.
3) Choosing to help a community member in need is a given, not a choice. When the doctor pronounces that the only safe treatment for Lars is to walk him through his delusion, his family, their friends, the church, Lars’ co-workers pitch in. There is very little question of whether it ought to be done; they simply do it.
I don’t know anything about the filmmakers, but in crafting their story, they created a world with a very Christian understanding of community and the value of human life. And for two hours, anyone who watches this film will give that lens a try.