Category Archives: Film analyses

Ralphie vs. George Bailey

This morning James Emery White sent out an insightful blog concerning two movie favorites. I thought I’d share it with you. AND … your thoughts are always welcome. -J. P.

A couple of years ago a film crew from our church hit the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, to produce a “person on the street” video asking people “What comes to your mind when you think of the Christmas story?”

Number one answer?

“The movie.”ralphie-head-logo

Yep, the 1983 “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” tale from 1940’s Indiana of a nine-year-old boy’s desire for a Red-Ryder Carbon-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB-Gun (and, lest we forget, with a compass in the stock).

An intriguing editorial in Time magazine at around the same time noted how A Christmas Story had become the quintessential American film for Christmas, replacing It’s a Wonderful Life. Titled “Generation X-Mas,” it chronicled how an “upstart film became a holiday icon for the post-boomer set.”

As for George Bailey?thanksx-topper-medium

“Not so into him anymore.”

Those from older generations stayed with Bedford Falls, along with Macy’s (Miracle on 34th Street) as their favorite film destinations. But respondents a bit younger, from 18 to 41 years old, granted the “major award” to Scott Fargas, Flick and the Bumpus’ dogs.

Time suggested this as one of the “pop-cultural shifts” such as football overtaking baseball, or salsa defeating ketchup, that “signal bigger changes.”

Perhaps because A Christmas Story is everything It’s a Wonderful Life is not – “satiric and myth-deflating, down to the cranky store Santa kicking Ralphie down a slide.”

Or perhaps it is because of the changing relationship between the community and the individual. Whereas the older films position Christmas as that which “uplifts the suicidal, raises every voice in Whoville, [and] renders peace between Macy and Gimbel,” A Christmas Story “inverts the moral.”

Now it’s the individual Christmas experience that matters. Getting the BB-gun, instead of protecting the local Savings and Loan for the poor, is the point. Or as Time put it, “It’s the individual Christmas that matters. Bedford Falls can take a hike…[it’s not about] angels’ getting their wings. Christmas is about the kids getting their due.”

But perhaps we can go where Time could not.

The great divide between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story is more than just the radical individualism that marks our day, but what has spawned such individualism. The real divide between the two films is that one retains the idea that Christmas is about the birth of the Christ child, and one does not.

Unless I have missed it, A Christmas Story does not have a single reference, symbol, picture or event that would suggest Christmas is about the birth of Christ, or has religious significance of any kind. A brief snippet of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is revealed in a downtown scene, but that’s about it. No nativity scenes, no church services, no Christian music – even the department store, Higbees, honors the season not with shepherds or wise men, but with characters from The Wizard of Oz.

It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, was rich in Christian idea and ethos, from traditional Christmas songs celebrating the birth of Christ (the climax of the movie is marked by the spontaneous outburst of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) to the central character of an angel.

Yet this reflects more than the choice of one movie over another.

An analysis of 48,000 hours of programming by the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) found that 90 percent of holiday programming did not have a significant spiritual theme; 7 percent had a religious or spiritual theme, but did not refer to Jesus or the biblical story of His birth.

Jesus was the focus of only 3 percent of all Christmas programming.

I’ll confess that A Christmas Story has become one of my favorite movies. The nostalgia of the time, and the way it reveals how Christmas often “works,” runs deep and familiar.

But when I watch it, along with millions of others, I remind myself that while it is Christmas story,

…it is not the Christmas story.

For a taste of that, I need to go back to Bedford Falls.

For a full course meal, I need to go all the way back to Bethlehem.

James Emery White


Adapted from James Emery White, The Church in An Age of Crisis (Baker).

“Generation X-Mas: How an upstart film became a holiday icon for the post-boomer set,” James Poniewozik, Time, December 10, 2007, p. 90. Read the article online.

National Religious Broadcasters analysis can be found in the Winter 2004 edition of Enrichment, and also on the website of Preaching Today (a service of Christianity Today magazine). The website for the NRB is

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.



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Filed under Christmas, Film analyses, Jesus, Johnny Price Mindfield, Media, Religion

Talking Head Film Analysis: FLIGHT

If you’d like to see a trailer for FLIGHT, here’s one:

And here are some of my thoughts about the film:

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Filed under Art, Film analyses, Film analysis, Jesus, Law, Religion


If you’d like to watch a trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, check this one out:

And here are some thoughts I had about the film:

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A Short Glance at Schizophrenia

This past Thursday at an event I moderate, Movies Worth Talking About, we screened and discussed the 2011 feature Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Bill Carolla, the Director of Media Relations for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has described the film as “a nuanced, accurate portrayal of the onset of schizophrenia and the impact on a man’s family” and also pointed out how rare such film treatments are.

In a nutshell (also drawing from Carolla’s article), here’s what happens:

“In a small town in Ohio, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) has nightmares that he tries to hide from his wife. He has apocalyptic visions of storm clouds and lightning – and growing paranoia. He loses himself building a storm shelter in his backyard. His strange behavior strains family relationships; he loses a friend; he is fired from his job.”

It is a serious, engaging film about a crucial subject that I highly recommend.

Fletcher Mann, Director of the Greenville chapter of NAMI, wrote me a note, offering seven important facts that help put perspective on the scope of the problem:

  • We don’t know for certain the causes of schizophrenia, but there does appear to be a genetic component.
  • About 40% of individuals with the illness will recognize the symptoms before family and friends do.
  • A) People usually seek help from a family physician first. B) Most of those physicians are not able to treat schizophrenia, but they can help rule out other causes of the symptoms and then make a referral to a psychiatrist. C) But there is a great deal of stigma associated with going to a psychiatrist.
  • There is a significant shortage of psychiatrists in this country, especially in rural areas. Even Greenville County, the most populous in the state, has the lowest per capita rate of psychiatrists in South Carolina. SC is the first nation that is experimenting with “telepsychiatry”. Emergency Room or other hospital personnel examine a person and then call in to the Medical University of South Carolina, which has a 24-hour on-call psychiatrist. The psychiatrist makes a more detailed examination via phone or video-conference and then prescribes immediate medication.
  • Most of these medications are expensive. The older, cheaper generics cause all kinds of side effects (some temporary and some permanent), which then require additional medications to treat the side effects, which then have their own side effects and might require a third medication. The better, newer medications are more effective with fewer side effects, but much greater expense. Insurance might cover the costs but co-pays are usually high. Public mental health centers rarely have or prescribe these newer medications due to the costs.
  • Sleeplessness is very common with most mental illnesses, and it is one of the biggest triggers for psychosis. Think of the stress of lack of sleep on a “normal” healthy person and then magnify that for a person with mental illness. Sleep deprivation is one form of torture. People die from lack of sleep.
  • Losing one mental health provider and having to start over with another provider happens frequently in public mental health centers, and it is a very big setback to treatment. I can’t think of any other area of medicine where knowing a person’s history and establishing a doctor-patient rapport is more important, especially with schizophrenia and even more especially with paranoid schizophrenia. With the lack of funding for mental health systems, the increase in population, and the shortage of psychiatrists, then the system is overloaded.

If you, a family member or friend is struggling with any form of mental illness and you don’t know where to turn, let me seriously recommend NAMI as a good starting point. Each local chapter provides its own resources and can also refer you to additional resources in your area. Their web address is

If you have observations to add to this small article, I’d really appreciate them.

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Talking Head Film Analysis: END OF WATCH

If you’d like to see a trailer for End of Watch, check it out right here:

If you’d like to hear my analysis of the film, here it is:

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Emmy Follow-Up: Hatfields and McCoys

The tragic feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families was recreated on The History Channel and aired this past Spring. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as “Devil” Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, respectively, the three-part miniseries drew 62-million viewers.  

Nominated for 16 Emmys, last night Kevin Costner won for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series and Tom Berenger won for Best Supporting Actor.

This localized Civil War, which ran between 1880 to 1891, was fueled by initial transgressions ranging from suspected murder to a stolen pig. But it was rooted on both sides by the basest of sins: pride and an unwillingness to forgive or show mercy. And as a result the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families, drew national attention, and prompted the governors of both Kentucky and Virginia to call up their state militias to restore order.

If you’d like to read a good overview of the conflict, go to:

There is a significant – and ultimately ironic – theme that threads its way throughout this saga, a spiritual one.

Anse Hatfield is a man who has no use for God, goes to church only when his wife “drags” him there and when, during the Civil War, he’s encouraged, in the thick of battle, to “make your peace”, he responds, “I never courted God before … I doubt he’d hear me now.”

Randall McCoy, on the other hand, goes to church regularly, talks about God, talks to God (at least in emergencies) and quotes Scripture.

But he seems rather selective in his reading of Scripture, knowing nothing of the call to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 31, 32)

Hot-tempered, McCoy also ignores:

Matthew 5:44 – “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.”

Mark 11:35 – “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him… “

Romans 12:20, 21 – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I John 3:15 – “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

The stark difference between these two men is evident in one particular confrontation:

McCoy: “Devil Anse Hatfield, I rue the day I saved your life. May God damn your eternal soul.”

Hatfield: “That may be, Randall. But I don’t remember God saving your ass that day. We saved each other because that’s what men do in war. Now this all here: this all sits the way it sits cause of us and nobody else. You feel the need to bring up God one more time, whose side he sits on [cocks rifle] you won’t be makin’ the ride home.”

As the violence escalates over the years, costing the lives of some of his own children and the sanity of his wife, McCoy begins to abandon any claim he might make for the goodness of God.

“I prayed to a merciful God who showed us no mercy. Is this his will? My children dead? My wife hurt and my house burned? Where was God? If this was his will, what kind of God is that?”

Having turned more and more to drink, McCoy shows up for what turned out to be the final confrontation between the two families: The Battle of Grapevine”, in 1888. Completely drunk he cries out, “The law be damned! Hatfields be damned! God be damned! Damn you all to Perdition!”

It’s a relatively short skirmish and both Ansel Hatfield and Randall McCoy live through it, although Hatfield’s youngest son is killed.

After that, it is Hatfield who decides enough blood has been spilled. It is time for the fighting and killing to stop. And in a somewhat heartless manner, he brings it all to an end.

Years later, Randall McCoy, in a deranged, drunken outburst, ends up perishing in a house fire.

Ansel Hatfield, on the other hand, is shown having come to a faith in Jesus as his Savior and being baptized in the river.

These two men, to the extent that their lives were accurately portrayed, demonstrate some very important dimensions of the Gospel.

Regarding Randall McCoy:

1)      Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

2)      He also said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”(Matthew 12:34)  and

3)      “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20). Then,

4)      The Scriptures describe the fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23)

Regarding Ansel Hatfield: He exemplifies Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20. No matter how late someone responds to Jesus’ invitation, he is as welcome as the one who came first.


Filed under Art, Christian benevolence, Evil, Film analyses, Film analysis, Jesus, Media, Religion, Television

Talking Head Film Analysis: THE WORDS

If you’d like to see a trailer for THE WORDS, here it is:

If you’d like to check out my analysis of the film, just click right here:

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