Voices > Soul Food

Sin in soft focus

How movie cameras, music, and lighting make sin look good

Issue: "Foster or faster?," June 6, 1998

June is the month of weddings-but movies frequently seem to undercut marriage, often in subtle ways.

When I was in high school, the crowd I ran with was smitten by the movie version of Camelot. This, as any theater buff knows, is a musical based on the King Arthur story, particularly the fatal love affair of Guinevere and Lancelot. The segment of the movie that romantically inclined girls were most likely to remember occurred soon after intermission: a montage reviewing how the two met and fell in love, played out against a voice-over of the show's most popular song.

Here's the crucial part: The camera goes on to show Guinevere coming into Lancelot's chamber at night, her hair incongruously blowing as he sits up on his cot with a look of wonder that turns to longing. It's tastefully done, and respectably PG: She's beautiful, he's beautiful, the music is beautiful, and all our girlish hearts melted as we absorbed the certainty that these two could no longer hold back. Who could blame them? True, Guinevere is married, but when a hunky yet sensitive knight (in shining armor, no less) falls soulfully in love with her, what's a lady to do?

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Adultery is an ugly word, and the act always leads to ugly consequences. In King Arthur's case, his wife's unfaithfulness touched off the fall of his Round Table and war in his kingdom, a point Camelot makes with appropriate pathos. But the moment of yielding that set the whole tragedy in motion is shown by the camera in a soft, firelit glow that numbs our response to what is really happening-a gross sin is about to be committed, and we are led to see it as beautiful. That one scene, not more than 20 seconds long, probably did more harm to the underdeveloped female conscience than harder-edged movies released around the time, which at least showed the seamy effects of sin.

Fornication is an ugly word with ugly consequences also. While the fictional love affair between Jack and Rose aboard the doomed Titanic was not responsible for sinking the ship, it probably has been at least partly responsible for the loss of virginity in countless back seats over recent months. The soft focus works its magic again: He's beautiful, she's beautiful, the music is beautiful, and there's that same firelit glow. True, Jack and Rose are not married. In fact, they've just met and can't be said to know each other in any meaningful way, but those are minor details. Their "love" is irresistible-or that's the message of the camera.

Certain scenes in Titanic could have been less graphic or omitted altogether, and still the harmful effect would have remained. The nudity that earned the film its PG-13 rating is not the main problem-there's lots of nudity in Schindler's List, for example, but the audience response to it is entirely different! The problem is that our feelings are being hooked and tugged by elements of the medium-by makeup and set, music, lighting, and especially by the camera, deftly shaping what we see and how we feel about it.

The shaping affects the stalwart young couple who maintain their chastity under this barrage, for the camera has redefined romantic love on a level that few can even achieve, and none can maintain for very long. Among the many causes of our divorce culture, movies must take some blame for the way they've shaped our expectations of "love." Romance on screen is usually more (and at the same time, much less) than God intended.

We do well to steer our children away from salacious nudity, gross violence, and foul language in the movies, which should be patently offensive to a Christian anyway. However, it's equally important to make sure that impressionable minds (including our own) understand how a movie camera works and what it does. PG sin is just as destructive, and in the long run maybe more so, than the R-rated kind.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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