Article and Media by Jake Cannon.
There’s something alluring about the darkness. The stench of the unknown sets your teeth on edge. The air of mystery overwhelms you like a plague. It beckons you to be embraced by the shadow, not knowing what you will find. This world is filled with darkness. As Dennis McHale once wrote,
“This is a world where nothing is solved –
where time is a flat circle
and everything we ever do, or have ever done,
we do over and over and over again.
Where you touch darkness
and darkness touches you back.”
This is the premise behind the masterful drama, True Detective. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey play two detectives who are assigned a case with an incredibly sinister nature. The show follows their story as they descend into the depths of the darkness, and darkness touches them back.
McConaughey’s character, named Rust, has a haunting line in the trailer, “life is a dream…and like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.” Why is media like True Detective so compelling? It almost feels like an eternal void. It makes you feel depressed, awful, haunted. This genre of television has increasingly become popular among the masses. The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones. All four of these shows are universally acclaimed by critics and have been nominated for several Emmy awards.
My question is why?
We love our happiness. We love neat, package-wrapped endings. We love things being resolved. We don’t want our faith questioned, our hearts disturbed, or our thoughts haunted. This line of thinking has invaded much of our “Christian” media. Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, God’s Not Dead. That kind of media sells because that’s the kind of God we want, a God who resolves everything for every person with a bow on top.
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:7).
“We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him.”
We ourselves were once in darkness were we not? Paul, in Ephesians 5, writes, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” We have been brought from the darkness, inescapable on our own, into the light. We connect more with the things of the darkness because we have been there before. We see the evil and vile nature of our indwelling sin coming to fruition on our screens and we turn up our noses. If we had been left to our own devices, and God withheld His hand from preventing our most evil of actions and thoughts, we would be the ones with blood on our hands.
But we do have blood on our hands don’t we? “We all carry about in our pockets His very nails” as Martin Luther once said. We are culpable for the death of Christ. Where divine sovereignty and human responsibility met in a horrific and beautiful display. In that darkness was the most beautiful picture of redemption for God’s children.
So should we embrace the darkness? Paul soundly rejects this idea, that you can be a Christian and continue to live in sin (Romans 6). “For we are all children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thess. 5:5) How does this translate into the story telling medium of film? Film producerLaura Hinson said in an AEI panel that what makes a compelling story is “accurate portrayal of darkness, and how it can be overcome by light.”
While accurate portrayals of evil and darkness can haunt us, what ultimately will stick with us is when good and light overcome. Yet even in films like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, where nothing is resolved and darkness appears to champion, light may overcome by the thoughtful and critical analysis of the messages of such films. Where depicting horrific acts of violence in No Country For Old Men will help us evaluate the need for violence in films, we must be careful where we tread.
We may find ourselves with an “open consumption” model for media. Where we consume all because, in our minds, all is fruitful. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23).
You’re probably thinking, I haven’t really provided solid answers. You’re right. It’s a tricky line we walk upon, those of us in the media. We must evaluate for ourselves what is fruitful for our own Christian walk. What will give God the most glory? What will help you grow in your relationship with God? Christian filmmakers, we should never be afraid to touch the darkness. For He that is light is within us and will overcome. Expose the darkness for what it is and allow Christ to overcome.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.” – Eph. 5:11-13
To hear more about this topic, check out episode 3 of my podcast “Fire Away.”