As this year wraps up, I offer the following retrospective on some of the more popular entertainment in 2014. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I don’t necessarily recommend everything on it. It’s simply meant to provide insight into the cultural stories that are reflecting and/or shaping a lot of worldviews, particularly those of a young adult audience. Though some of the authors or directors on the following list do not approach life from a Christian perspective, they are all storytellers who wrestle with some of the most profound questions in life. Hopefully, entering into these stories will better equip us to understand the times and know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).
FOUR BOOKS (or series) WORTH NOTING
1) Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series offers one of the best YA stories I have read. Maberry offers great characters, intense story lines, philosophy, ethics, honor, love, and sacrifice embedded in books that will make you reset your alarm. It’s pretty grim – it is a zombie apocalypse – but it’s also saturated with goodness and hope. If my boys grow up to be like Tom Imura, I will be well pleased. Not surprisingly, the series is on its way to the big screen.
2) Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series (Unwind, UnWholly, UnSouled, and Undivided) presents a dsytopic world that is uncomfortably connected with ours (he includes actual news clips between many of his chapters). It is a mesmerizing, sobering look at not only what it means to be human, but also what happens when a society agrees to give up on those declared to be unwanted, broken, or simply unnecessary. The high school students at the Christian school where I teach love this series – and that’s a good thing.
3) Innocence is the latest novel from Dean Koontz, perhaps the most famous Christian author alive today. He has sold over 450,000,000 books, with 17,000,000 added each year. He’s moved more books than Stephen King, which is no small feat. Since he’s not published by a Christian publishing house, he flies under the radar in Christian circles. That’s a shame. He is writing about horror, hope, good, evil, nihilism and purpose in a way that is captivating, true, and broadly accessible.
4) Though the worldview in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series is decidedly more secular than the previous books I have listed, it is worth knowing about for at least two reasons. First, it offers a good opportunity for a conversation about war, human nature, the importance of the individual vs. the community, and the pros/cons of consequentialist ethics. Second, it’s on its way to theaters with Robert Zemeckis at the helm, so you might as well know what’s up.
THREE TV SERIES THAT BLEW UP THE RATINGS IN 2014
1) AMC’s The Walking Dead has taken cable TV by storm. It’s one of the most gruesome shows, but it’s also one of the most thought-provoking. Who knew a zombie apocalypse could provide so many opportunities to discuss morality, politics, religion, loyalty, evil, hope and love? Click on this link for an overview of the series as well as links to more articles.
2) George R. R. Martin did his homework in the medieval era before writing Game of Thrones. His realistic portrayal of human nature in a world where life, death and thrones are all a game is unrivaled in popular fiction. However, I’m being kind if I say it offers a pretty grim view of the world in which the brutal reality of evil leaves no one unscarred. Martin’s books didn’t look away from the sins of the world; HBO’s series often revels in it. For some insight into the worldview issues covered in the story, check out a series of articles based on the essays found in Game of Thrones and Philosophy.
3) Season One of HBO’s True Detective was one of the most brilliantly acted shows I have seen and one of the most highly rated shows in HBO’s history. It’s also one of the most vulgar, so don’t read that first comment as a recommendation. In spite of that, True Detective’s Season One offered an honest look into the heart of nihilism. If you are a fan of seeing what it looks like to take a philosophy and live it, you will be mesmerized as Rust embraces the void in which he so earnestly believes. After all, how does one fight evil if the world is really that meaningless? This series offers a great conversation starter between people of different worldviews who want to wrestle with topics of good, evil, morality, and God.
6 MOVIES FROM 2014 WORTH WATCHING AT LEAST ONCE
1) Marvel can seemingly do no wrong right now. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy three times in the theater, and it got better each time. If you want to know why the superhero genre is flourishing, Guardians is as good a place to start as any.
2) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great film, maybe better than its predecessor. I spent days yelling “Apes!” randomly, which may or may not be a good sign. Entertainment value aside, Dawn offers a serious story that felt ripped from current headlines in the Middle East.
3) If you think Disney’s earlier portrayal of an evil Maleficent should be set in stone, this movie will feel like an attempt to make evil look good. If you see fairy tales are a flexible vehicle for insight into the human condition, you may like how this movie offers a second chance for even those who seem irrep lost. It’s not a perfect story, but it offers a surprisingly moving narrative on honor, love and hope that intersects with real life more than you might expect.
4) An older Xavier tells his younger self in X-Men:Days of Future Past, “Just because someone stumbles, loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.” It’s easy to believe that the brokenness within us will inevitably result in devastation around us. Days of Future Past reminds us that it’s never too late to turn around. Oh, and it’s a superhero movie. Surprise.
5) I never saw The Equalizer on TV, so I don’t know how the movie compares. If you like Jack Reacher, Liam “Special Set of Skills” Neeson or Joe Ledger, you will probably like the movie version of The Equalizer. Denzel Washington is Robert, an honorable man who can’t sit by and watch evil unfold when he can do something about it, particularly when the honor and integrity of women is in question. It’s interesting that, in a world of increasing moral relativism, you can still find popular stories that declare some things worthy of judgment. (Note: it definitely earned its R rating.)
6) The Hunger Games saga continues to unfold on the big screen. The third installment felt like a placeholder to many; it will be interesting to see if the final movie stays true to the book. You can read several reviews on this site for a broader look at the entire story arc (see “Deep Hunger and Dark Games,” and “The Atheist’s Utopia Revealed.“)
Obviously, I am only scratching the surface. For more great insight into worldviews and entertainment, check out Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, J.W. Wartick’s Always Have a Reason, Austin Gravely’s Another Ascending Lark, and James Harleman’s Cinemagogue.
The article was originally posted at Empires and Mangers