It was 1986. The film was Short Circuit.
We sat with friends in the middle of a crowded theater,
about 300 people.
The story is entertaining. A military robot is struck by lightening, suddenly becoming human. The robot quickly gains knowledge and learns by experience. The child-like nature of the machine is contrasted with silly human responses. Ally Sheedy befriends the unusual creature protecting it from those she deems a threat. Steve Guttenberg, creator of the robot, falls in love with the Ally, she in turn allows her suitor access to the robot-now-human.
In a face-to-face meeting, scientist and science experiment dialogue. Earnestly seeking answers to how metal becomes man, Guttenberg’s character is amazed at his original creation. The military, unable to control their latest weapon, seeks to destroy the machine.
“They are coming to kill you,” says the scientist.
“Killing is wrong,” retorts the Robot.
“Who told you killing is wrong?” questions the scientist.
“I told me killing is wrong,” is the ethically charged response.
Without thinking about the 300 other people in the theater, I stood up, pointed at the screen, and said in a voice all could hear,
Robin, my embarrassed wife, is trying desperately to get me back in my seat. All the while I am fishing for paper and pen to write my thoughts. Back in my chair, Robin whispers in my ear,
“Can’t you ever stop thinking?!”
The answer is the same after 30 years.
Early in my teaching vocation, I began to train students how to watch movies, how to write movie reviews. Since the early 1990’s, classes were watching full length feature films; interactive responses followed. We engaged Harrison Ford’s scientist who thought he could control creation in Mosquito Coast. We saw through the wrong-headed, romanticized educational views of human nature from Robin Williams’ Dead Poet’s Society. We countered errant truth claims resident during Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
If you ask my students now what they remember about my classes then, they will smile and say,
“He ruined watching movies for me forever.”
Now adults, teaching their own children, students are now training their kids to think about what they are watching.
You can read my philosophy about how Scripture teaches we should “test the spirits.” You can read my essay which explains my biblical view of engaging cinema. You can read my educational approach here. But if you really want to know the end result of interpreting movies from a Christian point of view, ask my students.
And I bet you could even find a few people who would tell you,
“Yeah, I remember when this crazed guy stood up in the middle of the auditorium and talked to the screen.”
I still talk to screens today.
Mark’s movie reviews can be found under the verbal-visual section of this site. Part two next week will explain how Christians should think about every story they see from the vantage point of The Story, God’s Story. Dr. Mark Eckel is teaching a fall series about watching movies at his church, Crossroads Community in Fishers, Indiana.