How Does Our Culture Answer Evil?

“I wander out, hopeless and sad// No thought of where to go// Or how I ever get by// There is an answer// I haven’t found it// But I will keep dancing till I do,” begins the song “Dance for You” by the Dirty Projectors. Music and movies show us that our culture desperately wants an answer for the evil and sadness we experience in life.

In this article, I will discuss two recently released movies, Looper and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, where Hollywood expresses differing views that the world holds regarding sin and how to find hope and redemption amidst evil and pain.

As Christians, we are called to be different from the world, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay away from expressions of sin in the media. We have been called to cultivate creation, and while our fallen state makes this difficult and requires discernment, that doesn’t mean we should shy away from the challenge. Movies are not just entertainment, but an expression of culture, and we need to interact with this. It is our responsibility to be open to interacting with popular culture, and share the truth as we know it: that the answer to evil is Christ, the gospel.

If you don’t feel comfortable engaging movies with explicit sex scenes, foul language, or violence, I would suggest you don’t watch these movies, specifically Looper. However, both movies present answers regarding how to cope with the human condition, but both miss the mark. I found these movies valuable because when I walked out of the theater, I thought, “That movie was well made, entertaining, and imaginative. I am slightly disturbed by the evil in the world. I see how the world tries to find hope amidst this evil, and I am so very thankful that I have been given the only true hope, in Jesus Christ.”

Looper is a film about time travel and the mob. In 2077, time travel is invented but quickly outlawed, however, the mob gets access to time travel and uses it to take out their enemies by sending loopers (time traveling hit men) into the past to kill their targets. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a respected Looper who makes a lot of money through his job. The plot takes twists when Levitt meets his future self in the past and fails to assassinate him.

Looper stands out for its readiness to ask big questions about sin, selflessness, and satisfaction- all amid a dizzying array of adrenaline. It accomplishes the difficult task of imagining the effects of time travel without any plot flaws. Not only is it an entertaining action movie and a satisfying story, it has great depth. Relevant Magazine states that “Gordon-Levitt may have found his most thought-provoking film yet with Looper, a science-fiction film where he considers his moral implications as a mob assassin.” Levitt sums up the message of the movie, which is indeed a good one, with this, “One thing the movie reinforced with me was that violence begets violence, and I don’t think any conflict is ever really solved that way.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about an introverted freshman named Charlie who is dealing with the suicide of his close friend. He wants to overcome his shyness and start participating in life, rather than watching it float by him. Throughout his freshman year, he befriends two seniors, experiments with alcohol and drugs, and gains and loses friends. Charlie struggles to cope with the roller coaster of joy and pain he experiences.

The film is anything but cliché, dealing with problems of teen-dom in an artistic and tactful way. The characters are actual people with real high school problems such as drug use, sexual identity, isolation, and depression that the movie neither glorifies nor trivializes, but portrays authentically and honestly. The title itself deals with the message of the movie, while it seems there are no perks of being an unnoticed teenager, if you are blessed, you find your first meaningful friendships in high school who help you get through this difficult age. This movie answers the problems of life by offering genuine friendships as salvation.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Looper express different answers that culture offers on evil and sin. Looper recognizes that an appealing and honorable solution to sin is sacrifice and selflessness. It shows that the world appreciates the idea of one man giving his life to save millions. While the message of sacrifice is true, it is lacking. What Looper fails to recognize is that no flawed man can sacrifice himself to account for all evil. Only Christ, fully man and fully God, was able to abolish evil. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, however, finds the solution to sin in friendship and true love.

If you do go see these movies, think about these themes, discuss them with Christians to grow and be encouraged in your faith. We also should be discussing movies with non-believers to share the hope we have in Christ.  You will have to watch these movies for yourselves to determine their message, and to also see where the Bible provides answers. Christians must recognize that we are called to maturity and to engage the way our culture thinks. Movies are a great way to do this, as they are one of the clearest expressions of culture.