More Than One Lesson is a unique website offering entertaining podcasts that discuss and review movies from a Christian viewpoint. Although they do an occasional faith-based film, their focus is primarily secular films that have lessons of value to Christians. Tyler Smith is the founder and host of the podcasts.
What is the idea behind More Than One Lesson?
The idea is to approach movies – Christian and otherwise – as modern day parables wherein we can learn about God’s Truth through the themes explored. The goal is to expose Christians to movies they may not otherwise look twice at, while simultaneously giving non-Christian movie fans a new perspective on Christian belief.
Tell us a little about your podcast.
It started in 2009. I originally hosted it by myself, before bringing on my co-host, Josh Long, in 2011. It is released weekly and features in-depth artistic and thematic discussions of modern movies.
Almost any time I have a strong emotional reaction to a movie, I ask myself if it would fit into our format. We operate on the theory that artists, whether they know it or not, are attempting to get to an inherent truth about the world or humanity. I believe that one can only search for the truth for a matter of time before encountering God’s Truth. Certainly, most directors don’t know they’re doing this, but that doesn’t change the effect these films have on me as a Christian searching for Jesus wherever I can find him. We don’t talk about every movie that affects or convicts us, but we tend to use that as a basic barometer.
What is your criteria for rating a movie?
We approach a movie on several different levels. First, there is the artistic level. Is this a well-made film? Is it well-written and visually striking? Are the performances convincing, and the characters believable? If a movie is all of those things, we tend to like it. However, there are some very well-made films that advocate philosophies that we don’t agree with. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but there is a big difference between admitting a movie is good and embracing it emotionally and philosophically. Most movies that I truly love hit me on both the artistic and the thematic levels.
What can Christian filmmakers learn from Hollywood?
Christian filmmakers can learn how best to make a movie. Whenever we go see a movie- no matter the genre or the filmmaker’s intentions- we will always have an emotional response to the characters’ struggles and triumphs (or failures). It would benefit Christian filmmakers to ask themselves why we are responding this way and try to latch onto that. Perhaps it’s the theme that is being explored, but it is more likely that it’s the way that the theme is explored.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a fellow Christian talk about a Christian film and say, “Well, it was pretty good, for what it was.” That extra qualifier at the end is what separates Christian film from other movies. When people throw in that “for what it was,” what they’re saying is that it was a bad movie. People tend not to say that kind of thing when they feel a movie is genuinely good. But they don’t want to say things like that, because the movie has good intentions. It wants to get the Gospel out there, which is a noble goal. But a movie’s quality shouldn’t end with the goal; it needs to be executed in a believable way.
We wouldn’t judge any other Christian professional on their goals alone. But, when it comes to film, Christians tend to look at intentions first, with execution coming in a distance second (if it places at all).
What do you consider most important in a Christian movie?
Subtlety. Not everything needs to be completely spelled out. We can use Jesus’ parables as an example. Sometimes he came out and said what everything meant at the end, and sometimes he didn’t. There were times when he actually allowed the listener the opportunity to sit and think about what he might have meant. That can be a scary prospect, because there was always the possibility that somebody could come to the wrong conclusion. But Jesus thought it was worth the risk in order to engage his audience and force them to actively contemplate what he was saying, rather than simply sit back and have everything fed to them.
Christian filmmakers need to stop being so worried that somebody somewhere might not get what they’re trying to say. People are smarter than we think they are. If you make a movie that is good enough and engaging enough, your themes will come through without somebody just declaring them.
What are your favorite Christian movies?
There aren’t many Christian films that I would say I liked, but the Christian film industry does seem to be getting a little better. For example, while there are major structural problems with Courageous, it was technically leaps and bounds ahead of Fireproof, especially in the action sequences. They were actually pretty effective. The director, Alex Kendrick, really seemed to buckle down and try to understand the way editing and cinematography can affect the emotional engagement of the audience, and he applied that towards his film. It’s far from a perfect film, but I was genuinely surprised at the improvement and am interested to see what he does next.
I tend to approach Christian attitudes towards film from a negative standpoint, and I feel like I am a little too judgmental of those that look for different things in movies than I do. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch movies that we agree with, but if that becomes the only thing we’re concerned about, then all a filmmaker has to do is cram a few basic Christian philosophies into a terrible film, and we’ll still eat it up.
Like all art, film can be used to do tremendous things to further the kingdom of God. We just need to be open to it. I have been so personally convicted by movies that I never would have expected (a recent example is Spike Jonze’s Her, which really convicted me about my lack of trust in other people and my inability to find my identity in God alone).
Film has made my life better and, in some cases, made me better. I’ve come away from a movie reinvigorated to pursue God with my whole heart. I’ve come out with tears in my eyes from relating to the characters on screen, warts and all. I’ve come out with the intense desire to hug those that I love and thank them for putting up with me.
Film is, to me, the height of artistic endeavors. It incorporates every other form of art, from writing to acting to photography to music, into one complete piece. We can get lost in it and become deeply involved with characters that don’t even exist. There can be real humanity up there on the screen, linking not only the artist and the viewer, but those in the audience to one another. It is a communal, yet still surprisingly personal, experience.
Can you imagine how astounding it would be if Christians were at the forefront of cinematic achievement? Embracing every new technique to tell the most compelling stories; stories that inherently make the audience feel that there is something more out there, something they’re missing, something they yearn for. Like Grace, Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Love. We Christians could do all of this and more, if we were just open to doing it the best way we can.