On Why People Prefer the Movie Versions of the Bible

A few days ago I was asked by a good friend to pass along my thoughts about one of the recently published “Biblical” movies. I replied that, although I had not seen the film, I was weary of all of the recently released, Bible-based movies due to their being intentionally deviant from the Scriptural text.

She responded that she had certain reservations about the movie due to its copious amounts of extra-Biblical content. I was happy to hear that she alluded to the text in order to compare and contrast what she and her children were seeing.

About a day later, I was pondering about this conversation and wondering why our generation is so affixed to the visual representation of things instead of the written. In all honesty, what this beloved and discriminating sister in Christ does isn’t common throughout our culture and more specifically in the church. Most would rather accept what they see on the screen instead of investigating the picturesque narrative further – and Hollywood knows this.

It is common knowledge that when filmmakers produce a movie founded on a true story, their way out of a potential lawsuit is to provide a rather weak disclaimer at the beginning of the film which claims that the proceeding scenes are “based” on reality. The moviegoer is lucky if the film approximates 30% of what occurred in real life.

Take for example the Tom Hanks produced miniseries for HBO entitled John Adams, based on the bestselling book written by perennial author David McCullough. Much of the dialogue between personages never occurred in the manner portrayed. Most of the lines were pulled from Adams’ personal correspondence and made to seem as if he spoke those in person to other people. Likewise, plenty of other facts were skewed and distorted.

Case and point: a scene in which Adams’ daughter Abigail is depicted as being dreadfully ill with the pox. In actuality, it was his son Charles who contracted the disease. Another blatant fictionalization, created so as to add “drama” to the narrative, was to portray Adams as a cold and distant father to his children. The screenwriters did this by making his son Charles upset because John was to leave for France for an extended period and leave his family without his presence. In truth, John took multiple trips to Europe and even took John Quincy and Charles with him in one such trip to Paris.

Why does Hollywood take such “liberties” with what are already amazing narratives without their interjections? One word: sensationalism. It’s the narcotic that attracts and hooks viewers. Think of it as an “augmentation” to what screenwriters consider to be a “boring” story if they transcribe it in literal form to the screen.

This is the reason why I object to Tinseltown putting its corrupting mark on real stories – especially the Bible. They skew what actually took place, misrepresent and even slander the subjects they depict in the process. In the end, their “version” of events ultimately skews the minds of viewers.

Evidence of this is Darren Aronofsky’s wicked interpretation of the Genesis flood narrative in his adaptation Noah. In said film, Noah is a genocidal lunatic, an uncaring father to his children, a zealot tree hugger and PETA-style animal rights activist. He is more worried about the “innocents” – meaning the animals – than the salvation of his own family.

Consider too Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film takes the liberal view of the events’ occurrences (“Late Exodus” according to skeptical scholars), dating them to 1300BC, placing Moses in the time of Ramses the Great and making them cousins. Moses is also a bit of a freedom fighter of sorts even though the Bible says nothing of his engaging the Egyptians in battle. Lastly, no soteriological context is given about Passover and the death of the firstborns with the intention of making God appear like a genocidal dictator – to say nothing of his appearing as a child to Moses at the burning bush. Then again, Hollywood has never had a problem blaspheming the Almighty.

Surely, the intention is to make money, knowing that eager Christians desire to see familiar narratives dramatized. But indoctrination is the end game. The movie makers desire to send a message. What better way to do it to those backwards, backwoods, idiotic, fairytale believing Christians than to take portions of their sacred book and “reinterpret” them in order to teach them a lesson in liberal principles like ecology worship and religious pluralism.

Still, the question remains: Why would anyone (including Christians) desire to view a film about a true story than to read about it? One word, again: laziness. Maybe two words instead: intellectual laziness.

Consider that the “interpretation” one is viewing on screen is the screenwriter’s version of events – in the best case scenario (or worst case, depending on one’s views), a fabricated one. However, since the screenwriter’s job is to capture the audience’s attention, he’ll “augment” the story, thereby bastardizing it in the process. Since the audience is entertained, they’ll accept the version of events as gospel and leave it at that. Furthermore, the movie encapsulates the narrative thereby requiring less attention from the viewer.

Reading about the event, on the other hand, requires intellectual labor. Unbroken concentration is required and for a longer period of time, since it takes more time to read about real life than to view its extremely condensed account on screen.

Hence, a lazy generation prefers the emotional and sensory experience of the visual than the intellectually stimulating one of the textual.

Yet, if one is to weight the benefits between each medium, the written word will always win and for various reasons.

  1. The text always provides more detail since words are being used to describe events and books have no self-imposed run time limit.
  2. It is said that truth is stranger than fiction. I’ll add that it is more interesting as well. When one compares the film version of events to what actually occurred, hands down, the written narrative always wins. Screenwriters over-dramatize events and intentions. In real life, the subtleties of each event have unique identifiers and qualities that give those stories their humanity which we can relate to. Not so with exaggerated narratives.
  3. We can relate to the struggles, pains, victories and inclinations of real men and women and events. Hollywood creates an artificial world that is unachievable and distorts our view of real life.
  4. The text engages the mind and the imagination. When one reads a narrative, one’s own thoughts craft the scene being read about, using the author’s words as a framework. Furthermore, each reader imagines the scene differently even though it is the same event being retold.

Next time the reader hears of a movie that is based on real events, I encourage them to pick up the book instead. It’s more than likely that you’ll learn actual history in the process, be edified, inspired and intellectually stimulated all at the same time – you know, what the Bible does to its readers.

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