I recently watched the film “Becket” for one of my English courses.
To be succinct, it’s about the appointment of Thomas Becket in the 12th century to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury by his closest friend, King Henry II of England, and it portrays the resulting change in Becket’s life.
Becket’s ordination was for political reasons, but he eventually contests the will of the king in order to protect the church and is summarily assassinated.
The film was an interesting observation of the power of religion in a man’s life.
Becket begins to experience religion more fully when he becomes archbishop, and that changes him, even causing him to sever loyalties to his friend, the king, in order to protect the honor of the church.
Becket’s faith is inspiring, and the film was moving and lifting.
That said, the film contained elements that were not lifting. It opens with Becket and Henry II “wenching” in a town near the castle.
The scene does not contain explicit content, but it’s clear that the men each slept with a woman.
Later, in the middle of a hunt, Becket and Henry get caught in a rainstorm in the forest and find shelter in a hovel.
They find a young woman hiding under some blankets, and Henry proceeds to size her , wondering aloud whether he should bring her back with him to his castle.
He even goes as far as to lift the girl’s skirts, inspecting her for sexual worth.
Later, after Becket saves the girl from being taken by the king — he claims that he wants her for himself and subsequently leaves her in her home — Henry asks Becket to return the favor by allowing him to sleep with a woman Becket is in love with.
Needless to say, this was all rather disturbing to me.
I understand perfectly that “Becket” is a depiction of medieval England and that such events were common, but that doesn’t make the film any less jarring.
Nonetheless, on finishing the film, I felt like I had gained something in learning about Becket’s devotion, even if I had to wade through Henry II’s promiscuity to find it.
I have had similar experiences with other media; I had misgivings about seeing the newest film production of “Les Miserables” because of the prevalent theme of prostitution. After seeing it, however, I felt like I had gained something valuable in witnessing Jean Valjean’s devotion to God, and understanding Fantine’s victimhood.
I like to think the film helped me to become a better person.
Nonetheless, both films present behavior that is unacceptable in our Latter-day Saint culture, and both films violate the media standards in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, which reads, “Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable.”
“Becket” violates all of those standards; “Les Miserables” violates most of them. Many other movies I consider inspiring — including “Lord of the Rings,” “Stand and Deliver” and “October Sky” — do not follow all of those criteria either.
However, the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet also contains the direction, “Select only media that lifts you.”
In my opinion, all of the movies I have listed fit that qualification.
So I find myself at a stalemate. What is the solution? Does the lifting nature of a movie have the potential to outweigh its more offensive material? Or should we remove movies from our personal collections because they have offensive content, regardless of how much of it there is? Obviously, obedience to the Lord is a top priority, but is watching “Lincoln,” “The Help,” or “The Pursuit of Happyness” a violation of the church’s standards, or obedience to them?