4 Ways to Watch a Movie like a Catholic Culture Pro

By: Rev. James Searby, Guest Contributor

“What do you want to do tonight?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

“Not sure. We could watch a movie.”

“Yea sure, I could do that. What’s good?”

“I don’t know, let’s look and see what there is.”

Over and over, night after night we’ve had this same conversation. It’s the mantra of dull evenings, a tired dialogue spoken weekend after weekend, month after month. What will we watch? Since the 1950’s movie going has been a national pastime. From drive-in’s to megaplexes, large-screens to laptops, we’ve all sat in front of the blue screen and searched for an adventure to have, a tear to shed, a laugh to cheer; regularly we search for an authentic encounter with the drama of being human. In 1992, Bruce Springsteen noted that there’s “57 channels and nothin’ on”. Now the channels and possibilities are limitless from movie theaters and iTunes to Netflix and YouTube, we haven’t stopped asking that perennial question, “What’s good?” The question is, would I know a good movie even if I saw it? As a Catholic who loves culture, how can I watch a movie and be entertained and edified? Here are 4 ways to watch a movie like a Catholic Culture Pro that will put an end to the dullness and put the excitement back into movie-going.



Become an active audience member:
In theatre, it can be argued, the audience is as important as the cast. In stage productions, the director, actors, techs and the entire company interact with the audience in an active and living way. There is an exchange, an interplay between those giving the art and those receiving it. In the middle, a new and exciting creative life is being formed and lived out. While film is limited by the pre-created experience, it can still be full of vibrant life if we watch it “actively” and deliberately by mentally engaging the work rather than just passively watching it.


Approach the film like you would a book:
What is the plot? Read some reviews of the movie before watching it. Do you agree with them? Did the reviewer or critic see things within the story that you saw or did they miss the point? By considering the story before you see it you notice more and engage it in a deeper way.

Who are the characters? How do they play into the storyline? Are they believable and realistic or one-dimensional? In other words, are they truly human?

What recurring images, themes and symbols are there in the movie? How do they lend to the story. Is the director showing off, or are they trying to tell a story that speaks to the heart of the human experience?

Take notes. It might sound a bit nerdy but having a little journal or notebook to write thoughts, quotes, and ideas that come from the film for your own creative endeavors helps to make the experience entertaining and enlightening, much like highlighting favorite passages and moments in a novel.


Have a sense of the Dramatic:
Is the acting effective? Does it resonate with your experience of life? If you were playing this role how would you play it differently? (Have fun with this one. If the movie is really good, then get parts of the script online and do a reading with friends. This is a great thing to do with young people to help them grow in empathy and a deeper understanding of the human experience).

What is the “spine” of the film? The spine is the fundamental action or conflict in the story, the conflict that runs through the piece and holds it together.

What choices are being made by the characters and how does it affect their actions and the story as a whole?

How can you relate with this character or the choices and decisions they make? How would you have responded differently to the conflict?



What are the broader moral implications of the film? 
Is there a clear delineation between good and evil? In other words, does it show good as good and evil as evil or is it ambiguous and relative?

Does it glorify the good in man or the evil? Are evil characters the “hero,” or does it have true heroes and true villains?

Is truth celebrated and beauty elevated?

What good can come from this film? Can I glean lessons and points from the story that will invite people to have good discussions about the good, the true and the beautiful since these are what God is and to discuss them, whether it is overtly discussed or not, is to talk about God and godly things.

What are they selling? What’s the moral argument the filmmakers are making? Does it resonate with my Christian understanding of the world, the human condition and redemption?

If we stop being “viewers” and start being an audience who hears and is truly engaged in the artistic act of movie-making, we will be active participants who walk out of the theater or TV room better, more enlightened, and more edified than when we walked in, eliminating any apathy and making movie time impactful.

This post originally appeared on the Diocese of Arlington Website:


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