I almost never go to see movies in the theater. The cost/worth ratio of most movies is just too high. I could go into how repulsed I usually get at my theater-mates for their disgusting and distracting snacking habits, “whisperings,” chair-kickings, and ill-conceived entrance/exit strategies, but I’ll just say I think the tickets have gotten too expensive. Anyway, my point is that I usually catch movies after they’re out of theaters, which means I’m always late to the discussions about them.
I recently watched Sherlock Holmes for no other reason other than Robert Downy Jr. could charm a Jehova’s Witness out of his spot in the 144,000. As expected, Downy Jr. was sufficiently entertaining, the plot twists were acceptably reminiscent of the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and the action sequences were predictably unrealistic. No big surprises — it was a decent pop movie as pop movies go.
Then after a day or so of subconsciously chewing on the movie, I recognized a striking similarity between the plot-line and perhaps the most famously misrepresented and maliciously spun story of our modern time. Allow me to summarize the movie’s plot thusly: “The villain of the movie, Lord Blackwood, is a supposed magician who routinely speaks enigmatically of another world, who gathers a small group of followers behind him by convincingly demonstrating his power, and whose mere reputation sparks riots in the streets among religious fanatics. Though caught and executed, his amazing resurrection baffled everyone, and it seemed as if he and his followers were set to take over the world in the name of superstitious magic. Thankfully though, the skeptical and rational Sherlock Holmes sets about debunking all of his “tricks” and puts an end to Blackwoods’s agenda and influence.”
The correlation I’m drawing is of course to the caricatured rendition of the Gospel stories and subsequent accounts of the spread of the Church as given by block-headed and brilliant secularists alike. Obviously I believe this caricatured account of Christianity to be unwarranted and probably (though admittedly not always) serving a biased agenda. In the case of this movie, however, I think there probably was an agenda, which my summary makes clear. Now, those who have seen the movie may think my little plot summary to be a caricature, serving my own agenda. And quite so; it was certainly tailored to highlight what I meant it to. But I think it is actually fair to the ethos of the movie and probable intentions of the writer(s) — unlike caricatures I’ve heard that entirely misunderstand almost every level of the Gospel (cultural, literary, metaphysical, narrative, etc.).
I’m not really all that concerned with Sherlock Holmes specifically. I hear there will be a sequel, and I’ll probably see it too. I thought I’d just use this example as an opportunity to ask the question, How do we enjoy entertainment? What level of attention are we paying, or what types of spectacles are we wearing when we watch movies, listen to tunes, view art, read novels? The answer most likely varies depending on if it’s a pop movie or a documentary, if it’s Twilight or 1984. But should it? One may assume one could approach a film or a book differently depending on the perceived intent associated with it — entertainment, informational, or perhaps satire, for example. Perceived intent isn’t always correct, though, and certainly doesn’t always reflect the intent of the writer/author.
I’m not advocating cynicism instead of honest enjoyment of entertainment. What I am advocating, especially for any one who has never really done this, is that we filter our entertainment through critical eyes and ears (in the productive criticism sense). Practically speaking, the easiest way to do this is to identify some major world views, learn their histories, and practice recognizing them wherever they may be found. For example, the Sherlock Holmes subtext is enthralled to a classic “Rationalism vs. Superstition” world view that has its strongest roots in the 18th century enlightenment. With your eyes wide open to that world view and the narratives that go with it, I promise you’ll watch the movie quite differently. This practice can and should be applied liberally, I believe. It will help to guard us, but it will also help enrich our entertainment experience in many ways. We will find that we have broader perspectives, and thus much more within our view to enjoy.