What’s Ethical At The Cinema?

David Gushee has some thoughts. He analyzes several recent movies for their virtuous elements. Here’s his view of True Grit

True Grit is certainly the only movie in living memory that starts with a biblical quotation and has a musical score drawn from old Baptist hymns like “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” This Western of fierce retribution and family honor is indeed one of the most explicitly religious major films in a long time. (If you leave out the Left Behind movies, or anything with Kirk Cameron in it.)

But this is a religiosity of law and retribution, of wrath and justice. This is eye-for-eye religion; it’s about the price in blood and sweat and risk one is obligated to pay to avenge the unjust death of a loved one. True Grit teaches the virtues of, well, true grit, courage and toughness and unflinching justice. And yet the score hits grace notes in the margins, perhaps a reminder that frontier religion mixed justice in the street with grace in the sanctuary, a paradigm that is still with us.

I have a passion for movies. Last night, my wife and I watched I Hate Valentine’s Day, a romantic comedy. The film carried no great moral weight. It was sweet and funny. I can work with that. Not to mention the fact, that while I am watching a Korean film like Cyborg She, my wife is dozing in the background. So, fnding common film ground is important if she is to remain conscious or not flee the room.

I Hate Valentine’s Day

Cyborg She

I try to watch at least one film a night. I don’t manage it as often as I like.

Many films are just entertainment. But the great films like Ikiru, The Seven Samurai, The Apartment, Lawrence of Arabia, etc. often carry a great deal of moral weight.

Movies tend to bypass our analytical abilities and go straight to our emotions and unconscious. Sending moral and ethical messages more or less unconsciously has serious ethical implications. Nevertheless, since it is already a common practice, using this unconscious loading factor we can manipulate our own morality and the morality of others through film choices.

James Pilant

3 thoughts on “What’s Ethical At The Cinema?

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  2. Andrew

    I really enjoyed ‘The Seven Samurai’. It was filled with eastern philosophy to ponder on. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes their movies to make them think.

    Another good movie with moral weight behind it is ‘Silent Hill’. I originally wasn’t too interested in seeing it because it was based on the video game, but it really surprised me. If you don’t mind a bit of blood and gore, then it will really make you think a lot about the nature of good & evil and how blurry that distinction can be.

    ‘Gladiator’ starring Russell Crowe is another good one that touches on moral subjects such as what it means to be a good man, revenge, and social/political philosophy.

    Last, but certainly not least, I HIGHLY recommend ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. The two newest batman movies. Both are chalked full of moral, social, and political philosophy to ponder on.


    1. Generally, foreign films are more likely to discuss the big issues. Cyborg She looks like a shallow comedy but it’s meditation on the nature of love. Windstruck is about love and death – how they relate.


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