This Storyteller Favors Adultery

Movies and books are never devoid of worldviews. Some worldviews are so potent in films that audiences deem such movies as propaganda—having little artistic taste. Usually, it is religious filmmakers that are associated with the propaganda pieces. The non-religious populace tends to be more clever with the art of storytelling, weaving their worldviews subtly into the background.

Ironic that it should be this way. If Christians understood and implemented the storytelling methods in God’s Word, I don’t think their stories would fit into a propaganda pigeon-hole. Historical events and parables as they are communicated in the Bible are great examples of Storytelling 101 from God’s point of view. Few Christians adopt the Bible’s storytelling characteristics in films.

The Bible relates heavenly things to mankind. This is not altogether easy. God relates His worldview to us in the stories found in Scripture. But we, being human, don’t naturally understand the perspective of God. The Bible finds just the right balance to make the divine understood by creatures like us. The Bible is able to make known God’s worldview (not what we naturally assume in our sinful condition) in an understandable and persuasive fashion.

Unbelievers in this world with an ax to grind (everyone has one) that is human-centered tend to relate better with their audiences than Christians do. Pagans understand the human condition, and relate to mankind on man’s terms. They can appeal to the flesh, and thus to man’s natural inclinations and sinful nature. Sin is enticing, and stories that reward sin with true love, justice, peace, and the like, mix heavenly virtues with evil. If what you want in life is true love, and the only way you know to get it is by way of committing adultery, then why shouldn’t you commit adultery? Isn’t true love worth all costs? The message here is that the end justifies the means.

This is not God’s way. This is man’s natural inclination, and it is very effectively used in movie storytelling to manipulate the audience. Whether deliberately or not, a filmmaker tends to make his worldview perceived as the one we all should have.

Case in point:

In this historical war drama, a likable Russian doctor is faced with choosing between his good wife and “the love of his life.” His mistress is more likable and interesting than his wife. The mistress is who he’d rather be with, and ultimately become’s the doctor’s choice.

But along the way, this switch from supportive husband and father to home-wrecker wouldn’t have worked without the persuasive and relatable storytelling know-how of the filmmakers. The storytellers knew they needed to find the balance between making the doctor good-natured as a husband and father, while also giving him license to abandon his family for the other woman. In the end, the goal is for the audience to root for the adulterers. This film is a prime example of humanism in practice. The storytellers want to have virtue and sin side by side working together to reward the doctor with what he really wants in this life (to be with the one he truly loves). Read this article for more about this movie.

The movie Doctor Zhivago manipulates audiences very well. You only see what the filmmakers want you to see. For instance, it’s not good for the story to demonstrate the real-life hardships the doctor’s child will face as a result the father’s choices. It’s not good to hold the doctor accountable when the whole point is to get the doctor and the adulteress what they want in this life. The movie makes it look easy to leave your wife and child on good terms and still be “a good person.”

If the story were honest with itself, and consistent with reality, the doctor’s pitfalls would not reward him. The truth remains that sin hurts and there are always consequences for every decision. But this is not what the filmmaker believes, so he artistically and persuasively weaves his worldview of right and wrong into a story that rewards the virtues he does care to acknowledge.

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