Does Hollywood actually possess some amount of self-restraint? In the wake of the horrifying mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Universal Pictures announced that it would “cancel” the release of The Hunt, a movie about people who are politically liberal hunting down and killing other people who are politically conservative (who later get revenge by killing the liberals in return). The film’s original title was Red State Vs. Blue State.
But wait. Universal is actually reserving the right to release the film at a later date, presumably when the public outcry over the film has subsided. So much for self-restraint.
Artistry Flourishes Within Boundaries
It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall in the room where executives at Universal decided to go ahead and finance a movie like The Hunt. Out of all the movie scripts to choose from, out of all the historical and creative subject matter that could have been crafted into a compelling film, Universal decided that a movie about people murdering other people for sport based on their political views was the one to make.
It appears that the general principle that guides Hollywood these days is that if a movie script is predicted to make money at the box office, it should be made, no matter what the actual content of the movie is. The excuse that Hollywood often uses is “creative license,” where any idea—no matter how twisted and debased—can be made into a movie. This is not only deeply disturbing, morally offensive, and degrading to society, it’s also not a good recipe for a well-crafted movie with any redeemable merit.
During most of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920 – 1960), there was a code of guidelines (called the “Motion Picture Production Code”) that filmmakers followed regarding the content of their movies, which included rules for how sensitive subject matters like sex or murder could be portrayed. The code included a number of antiquated rules such as a prohibition against scenes of childbirth, but for the most part, the rules merely guarded against the positive portrayal of gratuitous sex, violence, drug use, and other obvious societal evils.
Did this code end up suppressing the creativity and artistry of Hollywood? Quite the contrary. During this period, Hollywood produced what are considered to be some of the greatest and most iconic films of all time, including Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, On the Waterfront, It Happened One Night, From Here to Eternity, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, Ben-Hur, and It’s a Wonderful Life, to name just a few.
I’m not suggesting that we should return to this kind of official content censorship being enforced on all films. I’m merely pointing out that filmmakers can make great movies while still practicing self-restraint in what they choose to put on film.
Evil is the Result of Unrestrained “Freedom”
Somewhere along the line, probably in the late 60’s, many filmmakers stopped believing that they had any responsibility for what they exposed the public to. In times past, particularly during the aforementioned Golden Age of Hollywood, there was an understood expectation that a movie would always have some kind of redeeming value for society. In other words, a film could deal with extremely serious and even disturbing subject matter, but in the end, there was always some kind of insight gained about the human condition that was edifying for the audience. There was an implicit understanding that the whole point of art itself is to portray inherent truths about the nature of humanity and existence in new, imaginative, and enriching ways.
This is in stark contrast to what many movies and TV shows do today. In the name of “realism” and “free expression,” murders are shown in full and unnecessary gratuitous detail, sex scenes and nudity are clearly used for titillation instead of suggestion, and vile profanity and blasphemy is spewed unflinchingly and continuously without a second thought. All of this is often included in modern films and shows without any thought to how it might negatively affect the minds and behaviors of the viewing public.
But something much more insidious and disturbing is now happening. With movies like The Hunt, we are seeing humanity’s darkest and most evil tendencies being dredged up from the depths of our basest subconscious imaginings and being made into a movie. In other words, our darkest and most evil human instincts are being expertly filmed and acted out by Hollywood’s professional directors, cinematographers, and actors and being presented to society for public consumption.
When creative license is left to its own totally unrestrained devices, this is often the result. In a society where mass shootings happen with disturbing regularity and where the coarsening of our public discourse and behavior continues unabated, making major motion pictures like The Hunt for wide release is, in a psychological sense, akin to dumping a bucket of red meat next to a pasture of sheep in the countryside where wolves are known to prowl. While I’m sure that the filmmakers of The Hunt didn’t make the movie to intentionally incite violence, do they not care about the movie contributing to a coarsening of our culture toward increased hatred and violence? Did they not think of its potential danger to inspire deranged individuals to commit violence and murder?
3 Steps to Take for Believing Viewers
As believers, we should pray often for the filmmaking and television industry, that all filmmakers, actors, and writers be given a basic sense of self-restraint. These people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong to make movies like The Hunt, but they do it anyways to get a cheap thrill or to concede to financial and societal pressures. We must pray that their consciences guide them to make movies and TV shows that have redeemable value for society.
Second, we must put our resources where our own hearts are by supporting the aspiring artists in our own believing communities to enter the film and television industries and make a difference for true artistry that celebrates the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Third, we must carefully discern which movies we go to see at the theater and which movies and TV shows we choose to watch on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. These companies are carefully analyzing which kinds of movies and shows are the most popular so that they can make more content like them and consequently make more money. Our decisions to only watch movies and shows that have redeemable value are important in showing the industry that people actually want to see movies that have something valuable to say about the human condition instead of being mindlessly entertained by gratuitously graphic garbage.