Category Archives: Movies

On the Importance of Analyzing Culture

Those of us in the Western world are living in a time & culture which would be easy to analyze, answer, and shape. Most of us aren’t concerned about mere existence and survival.

Yet we often choose to consume culture & let our lives be overtaken with its worries.

It’s important to be aware of the context of culture: ideas, worldviews, philosophies, morals, and the physical outworking of those things. People do not change their morals or worldview merely by single contacts with those different from their own, but rather through prolonged and consistent experiences that confirm each other over time.

That’s why media is powerful. Media is both a reflection of culture, and a catalyst. That makes it both one of the most easy and the most difficult parts of culture to analyze.

What Analysis Is

We can examine things like art on a deeper level than simply seeing whether Scripture speaks to it or not. We can ask of media: Is this good or bad art, and why? We can compare it to the nature of God and Truth. By analyzing an aspect or product of culture and its context and worldview, we can understand why Jazz is confusing, Picasso is bizzare, and villians are glorified in certain films.

To analyze art and media, I think, is simply to examine the story being told on a deeper level, being aware of the philosophies that drive it.

Reasons for Analyzing Culture

  1. It prevents you from mindlessly consuming and accepting whatever ideas come your way.
  2. It makes you more aware that every person has a worldview which comes out in all he touches — especially art.
  3. It allows you to understand the context of a culture, and compare it to absolutes.
  4. It allows you to understand the ways a particular piece of art not only reflects but influences culture, and possibly why the art can be labeled as either good or bad craftsmanship in itself .
  5. It lets you understand the shifting waves of culture around you compared to the foundation of Christ on which you stand.
  6. It gives you the ability to speak to the context of the culture, and adapt your life and methods to best answer the difficult issues of it — while not falling into the same ideaological traps (whether philisophically or artistically).
  7. It helps put aspects of life, particularly art, in context and helps sharpen the understanding of what is good art and how to make it.

The Un-Reasons to Analyze Culture

These are not good reasons for analyzing the art & media of a culture:

  1. To be contrary — to criticize anything & everything that might come out of culture or be widely accepted by it.
  2. As an excuse for consuming culture.
  3. To construct conspiracy theories.

Should We Merely Analyze?

Art can be enjoyed, as with any other aspect of culture — like food, holidays, etc.

Analysis is great for building an awareness of and ability to answer a culture, but does it contribute anything useful?

I would say that reviewing/analyzing culture is not equal to active/proactive contributions to it. Reviewing is merely reactive commenting, which is much easier to do, but makes little to no impact.

Analysis is a tool to discover and ponder ideas contained by culture & media, and the most powerful way to practically utilize it is to help us discern the direction of a society and purposefully move ahead of trends. It is useful for calling attention to danger, but that is not its primary use if we are to have a positive and definite influence.

We must shape culture, not merely react to it.

So should we listen to those who merely analyze culture, but don’t show an inclination to actually shape it?

Final Thought: A Renewed Mind

A while back, I saw Romans 12:2 in a new light.

“Do not be conformed to this world…”

After noticing a particular word choice in a German translation, I dug a little deeper. Often we think of this phrase to mean “don’t act in the same way as the sinners around you.”

The Luther translation reads: “Und stellt euch nicht dieser Welt gleich…” or, “And have not the same mind as this world…”

The Greek word here for “world” is αἰών, which carries the meaning of “age” (as in the “spirit of the age” — or zeitgeist).

Thus: instead of having the same mind & living out the ideas of the culture & age in which we live, we are to be renewed in mind by the Spirit.

This renewed mind allows us to look around at the culture and its facets, aware of its philosophies — while never being shaken or moved from the foundations of absolutes and Truth.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: the Story Structure

Lately when we’ve watched a movie, I’ve been paying particular attention to story structure. This is probably due to my focusing on screenwriting and how to construct a great story, which I’ve found to be quite fascinating. It’s something that, through learning and practicing, I feel like I’m getting a bit better at it, though I still have a long road of learning ahead of me…. I still need years and decades of learning and experience!

We watched the well-known film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington last Friday night, so I decided that I would chart the Story Structure on a Paradigm. I’ve already done this with a couple of films (the Toy Story movies, to be exact), but only within the context of three acts. There’s a whole lot more to the Three-Act Story Structure than I had thought about three or four months ago. Hence, I used Syd Field’s Paradigm method of structure, which goes into the smaller details of the three-act structure.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: the Story Structure

ACT I

The setup: Congressman dies and a new one is needed; inklings of the sinister “Machine,” Jefferson Smith’s introduction and character development as a normal U.S. citizen who loves his country and fellow citizens.

Plot Point I: Jeff Smith reveals his desire to build a boy’s camp in his state.

ACT II

Dramatic Context (first half of Act II): Smith starts his Senate job, begins working.

Pinch I: Run in with the press, discussion about Truth.

Midpoint: Smith proposes his bill (for the building of the camp) in the senate.

Dramatic Context (second half of Act II): The Machine (political corruption vs. truth)

Pinch II: Paine’s pushing Smith to compromise truth, attacks Smith’s character.

Plot Point II: Smith is accused of corruption, deceit, etc., by Paine and the Machine.

ACT III

Dramatic Context: The last battle for truth

Resolution: Paine confesses to corruption, Smith wins the victory.

So that, in a nutshell, is the story structure of the film. What do you think? I might be wrong about my identification of some of the elements (I’m not totally sure about the two Pinches in Act II…); feel free to discuss this in the comment section below!

As far as some of the other elements of the story goes:

Protagonists: Jeff Smith, Clarissa Saunders

Antagonists: The Machine, the Press, Senator Paine

Jeff Smith stands strong in his principles, Senator Paine finally changes in the last five minutes, Clarissa Saunders changes from helping the Machine in the first half (up until the midpoint of Act II) to helping Smith in the last half, some of the Press changes, the Machine never changes (it remains corrupt and evil).

The MacGuffin: Smith’s Senate Bill

Pretty interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Toy Story: An Analysis of the Story Structure

The other night whilst my dear mother was enjoying some sort of “Snowman Party,” us guys (Dad, Tyler, an I) were at home (boys night in!). I was elated that a couple XLR cables had arrived that day, and after doing a test with my shotgun mic (which, before this, I had been unable to use due to my lack of a cable) which went extremely well, Tyler suggested that we do a “Toy Story” marathon. That means watching Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to back.

Though I wasn’t particularly excited at the chance to sit in front of a TV for four hours doing practically nothing, I did. But just before we started, I had an idea.

So I got my trusty pad of paper and a pen, and sat poised and ready to write as the first movie began.

Instead of a wasted four hours, it was perhaps a little beneficial, as I was learning about story structure by taking notes (and watching camera moves… BTW, did you ever notice that there’s absolutely no depth-of-field in the first movie, except for where there’s a matte painting behind the 3D animation?) on it.

I thought that I would share my findings with you. So here they are:

Toy Story


Story Structure
ACT I
— Inciting Event — “Bank Robbery” introduces the setting, main toys (characters), Andy, Andy’s room.
— Introduction of Settings

  • Toys are organized
  • Use of dutch angles to create confusion (okay, so that doesn’t have anything to do with the story…)
  • Toy “hierarchy”
  • Introduction of new character “Buzz,” conflict
  • Conflict deepened, introduction of the “Sid” plot
  • ACT II
    Main Plot

  • Woody’ conspiracy against Buzz
  • The two are lost
  • Enter Sid’s house
  • Buzz discovers the truth about himself
  • Hope rises for escape, is dashed, mistrust in Andy’s room at it’s height
  • ACT III

  • Buzz loses all hope
  • Conflict heightens
  • Victory, but then complications
  • Buzz is lost
  • Conflict from dog, traffic, other toys
  • Small bit of relief
  • All hope is gone
  • Hope rises, problems are overcome (“Wait a minute… I just lit a rocket, and rockets explode!”)
  • Conflict is resolved!
  • Toy Story 2


    Story Structure
    NOTE: It’s kinda hard to tell whether or not this movie is in a standard 3-act story structure, or a 5-act. The conflict is different from that which is in the first movie, and there are several “false fronts” that lead into the actual plot. For the sake of simplicity and not exploding or imploding my own brain, I’ve organized this into the 3-act story structure.

    ACT I
    Inciting incident (supposed)– Buzz in space, actually a video game
    Introduction:

  • Woody going to camp, lost hat
  • Theme of “belonging” introduced
  • “Al” introduced (in the TV ad)
  • Setup for plot:

  • Woody is broken, has to stay home, dream sequence
  • Finds “Wheezy”
  • The yard sale, goes to rescue Wheezy, complications
  • Inciting event (actual) — Woody is stolen (leads into the actual plot)

    ACT II

  • Toys trying to solve mystery
  • Al is the culprit, Woody is captive
  • Backstory to Woody’s value, introduction of the “Prospector,” “Jessy,” “Bulls-eye”
  • The plot to save Woody
  • More backstory for the “Roundup Gang,” museum plot
  • Woody loses his arm, delays Al
  • Failed attempt to get arm back
  • Toy’s victorious invasion of Al’s Toy Barn
  • Video game magazine element (tied back into the supposed inciting incident, tied to other future elements as well)
  • Introduce second “Buzz,” develop the conflict in Al’s Toy Barn
  • Theme of “belonging” further developed
  • Woody’s choice of staying or leaving
  • Toy’s failure to find Woody at Al’s Toy Barn
  • Zurg introduced, problems overcome, connection to video game magazine
  • Roundup Gang preparing to leave / toys getting closer to rescue
  • Rescue operation going amiss, conflict with the Buzzes, conflict with the Prospector, escape deterred by Al
  • Conflict with Zurg, exit the Buzz/Zurg/video game plot (these elements simply help the toys get on with the plot)
  • Problem overcome (“Pizza anyone?”)
  • ACT III

  • Airport conflict, confusion
  • Disappointment
  • Conflict with the Prospector (again…)
  • Rescue
  • Problems, attempted rescue by Woody,
  • Ingenuity/conflict
  • Resolution (Woody is fixed, the theme of “belonging” is completed)
  • McGuffins

    And now for a few thoughts on the McGuffins from each movie. If you don’t know what a McGuffin is, read about it here.

    Toy Story’s McGuffin
    What’s the first movie’s McGuffin? I believe that it’s RC. Yep, the little remote control car. Why?

    1) RC is used to enter the main plot in Act II with Woody’s conspiracy
    2) RC brings everyone back together again at the resolution (well, except for Mr. Potato Head, who ends up being spread all over the floor of the moving truck by RC)

    Toy Story 2’s McGuffin
    Woody. He’s the second movie’s McGuffin, at least, that’s what I think. Perhaps I’m wrong (the video game element could be it, but I tend to think of this element as a secondary McGuffin that simply helps the plot along a bit).

    But think about it: Woody is what’s stolen (and thus brings in the plot), he’s the one who is crucial to the Roundup Gang (without him, they go back into storage), and he’s crucial to the Andy’s Room toys as well (in their rescue operation, which is the main plot).

    Woody brings all the characters together (except for the second Buzz and Zurg; I tend to think that the video game element is a whole different side-story), tears them apart (not literally; only in that the Rounup Gang’s hopes and dreams are torn between Woody’s desire for Andy, and to keep the Gang together), and finally brings the movie to it’s climactic resolution (he rescues Jessie).

    So those are my thoughts on the movies. What do you think?

    I’ll also say that, for some reason (perhaps it being simply because it’s been so long since I’ve watched them, or perhaps because the Lord opened my eyes to it), there seemed to be a hint of mockery going on at Christianity. It was extremely subtle (and perhaps I’m wrong, don’t take my word for it), but I could see it there. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d have to watch it again and specifically take notes for that (I can’t remember exactly what the elements where at the moment)… So I’ll just leave it at that.

    So anyways, I feel like I learned a little bit from charting the story structure!