Footloose – Movie Review
Review by Stacey Tuttle
So, our conversation went something like this.
36 year old me: “Oh – you saw Footloose? What did you think about it?”
19 year old friend: “It was good, but not as good as the original.”
Me: “Oh, I didn’t really like the original.”
19 year old friend replies with shock: “What?! You didn’t like the original???”
Me: “Well, I wasn’t allowed to see it when it first came out. And when I did finally see it in college, I understood why I wasn’t allowed to see it …and I really don’t remember too much about it.”
19 year old: “You weren’t allowed to see it?!?! Why NOT? What was wrong with it???”
Me, somewhat dumbstruck that she didn’t see what I felt should be obvious: “I was in SIXTH GRADE when it came out (at least – on VHS, I may have been in 5th grade when it hit the theaters). SIXTH grade. I don’t really think it was appropriate for a sixth grader!
I thought pointing out my age again would clarify what was wrong with it. But it didn’t. (Which kind of shocks me still how differently she and I view what is appropriate for a sixth grader. But then again, I know 12 year olds who watch Pretty Little Liars, what is Footloose compared to that?! Times are a changin’, I tell ya.) Anyway, I briefly mentioned the themes of rebellion and so forth that I felt were in the movie and she conceded that, OK, maybe it was a little mature for a sixth grade audience. What we didn’t discuss though is why I remember so potently that it was the SIXTH grade when that movie was out on VHS. And I’ll mention it here because it may encourage some parents and because I think it explains a little the lenses with which I viewed that movie when I did watch the original, and probably the lenses I still have as I watch the remake.
I was at a slumber party. It was Holly’s birthday party and I believe this is the same party that we had all gone to Southfork Ranch (where they filmed Dallas-any readers out there remember that TV show?!)…in a limo. We drove right in through the front gates (all guests went through another entrance, generally). So – other visitors just knew someone famous had shown up as a limo just arrived via the front, gated entrance. Imagine their disappointment, when, lined up with cameras in hand, pointed and ready to shoot, at least a dozen or so giggly sixth grade girls’ heads popped out of the sunroof and the windows! We thought we were SO cool! And I’m sure everyone else just thought we were SO annoying.
Anyway – I digress. That night the girls wanted to watch a movie, and Holly had Footloose – which was all the rage at that time. Girls were literally squealing with delight – SO excited to watch it! All kinds of buzz was in the air. Some girls were raving about how it was their favorite movie and they couldn’t wait to see it again. The other girls had been dying to see it and were excited to finally get their big chance. Not one girl said they weren’t allowed to see it.
Not one girl, but me. Some of you who know me will be excited to find proof positive that, yes, I have always been a both a goody-two-shoes and a party pooper….and probably a little holier-than-thou, depending on your position. But nevertheless, I had not been allowed to see Footloose, and I have always thrived on a clean conscience. However, I am also very much a pleaser and did not want to disappoint the other girls by causing a row about it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s good time, but I didn’t want to do something I shouldn’t either. Funny, I don’t remember really caring about the movie itself – I wasn’t longing to see the movie, the dilemma was really for me more about pleasing my parents and pleasing my friends.
One sweet girl (who I didn’t even know – she was Holly’s friend from another school, if I remember correctly) had seen it, but could see my struggle and was quick to offer to skip it with me and play in another room with me so I wouldn’t be alone. I have never forgotten that sweet offer, or her support and encouragement to me to do the “right thing” – whatever I felt that was.
I finally decided to simply call home and ask them what they wanted me to do. No problem. My parents were great. They agreed I could watch it with the other girls as long as I would come home and discuss it with them.
So we all watched the movie…
No, that’s not what happened. I was now free to watch it. But, my courage to admit that I should at least call home and get permission started an avalanche of other conscience-stricken calls home. All these girls who before had been gushing about this wonderful movie and how they couldn’t wait to see it…were suddenly guilt ridden with the fact that they weren’t allowed to see it either. And, if I called home to get permission, maybe they should too. (And I’m sure the fact that my parents actually agreed did a lot to give them hope that they could have a win-win scenario if they called home too! They could both see the movie and have a clean conscience – that was worth a phone call!)
Well, when Holly’s mom realized how many girls needed to call home, she wisely decided we should opt for another movie rather than put so many parents (and their daughters) on the spot. I think most of us girls were really relieved. In sixth grade, I think the desire to please your parents is still pretty strong—especially for a group of kids from a private school that taught you an awful lot about God and respect and honoring your parents and such. All in all, I think the only person upset about the whole thing was Holly—it was her birthday after all, and that was her favorite movie…but years later Holly told me how much she respected me (not just for that, but in general) and how being around me made her want to be a better person, so I’m pretty sure we got over that little birthday movie incident. (Incidentally, Holly – if you are reading this…you ARE a better person! I love you so!)
All that to say – well, that’s to say a lot of things, about teaching your kids to call them when they have questions, to stand up for what’s right because they don’t know how many other people will be blessed by that decision. It should encourage you to realize that you can have a say in what your kids see and the influences they absorb from Hollywood. And, had I seen it, it would have been a very teachable moment later for mom and dad and I to discuss things about how adults, authority and religion are portrayed, civil disobedience, dealing with grief and loss, judging people, etc.
All those things being said though, I was really going to say that I went ahead and saw the new Footloose. I don’t remember the original very clearly. I can tell you that, when I remember it, I felt like it was celebrating and honoring rebellion and breaking the rules and wildness. I remember that opening scene where Ariel climbs between the cars barreling down the road—wild and reckless. And I essentially remember that in the end, they get what they want and have the dance. The grownups realize that they are being overbearing and relent and the kids get their dance. So, the message I felt the movie was emphasizing was that authority is unreasonable and overbearing, and in the end recklessness and rebellion pay off. Kids rule. I am sure you can understand that if that was the message I saw portrayed, it was no wonder that I didn’t really have warm fuzzies about the original.
Watching the remake I can still see that, in a large way, my assessment of the original applied to this one. However, that is perhaps a simplistic take on it. I think it’s a little deeper and more complex than that – if you are mature enough to really process all the complex dynamics and motivations. (I still contend that my parents were right then, and would be right today to protect a young sixth grader from watching either version…both in light of the mature themes, and in light of the base content, language, innuendos, sexuality, etc..) It’s actually a fairly complex movie if you look into the motivations and dynamics of the various characters.
I think the movie really challenges our prejudices and judgments of each other. It shows actions, but then lifts up the curtain a little so you can see the reason behind those actions – and suddenly we feel more empathetic to why people do what they do. Here are a few of the more complicated characters:
- Ren just lost his mother and moves to a new town. People assume he is rebellious, when really he just wasn’t raised in the same “box” and questions why certain rules are there. He’s actually more respectful of authority than most the kids once people get to know him. The problem is, he is also sarcastic and hates when adults presume to know and understand him. Often he is right—often the adults are in the wrong, but his response to that is wrong too and exacerbates the situation. Frankly, he judges the adults about as much as they judge him.
- For much of the movie, you believe Ariel is, well…slutty, to be frank. She is wild and rebellious, throwing herself in the face of men and danger with equal temptation and abandon. She certainly acts slutty, but then you begin to see that the actions are just a smoke screen for the pain inside. She is aching over her brother’s death, her busted home, her broken relationship with her father…. She is absolutely dying for him to notice her. She isn’t trying to get the attention of men so much as she is trying to get the attention of a man – her father. She doesn’t really want to die, but she does want the pain to end. Her actions don’t come from a slutty heart, but a desperate heart.
- Rev. Moore appears to be controlling, unreasonable and legalistic. However, he really has a heart that cares and wants to protect others. He feels responsible to the community to lead them and protect them and he has an idea of how to do it. Frankly, he needed something to blame for the death of his son and the four others in that car…and it appeared he had two options: blame his son who was driving the car when it crashed, or blame the things his son was doing which led to the accident. He decided to blame the “things”…and when he started blaming things he kept trying to get to the real root “thing” – which for him became dancing. Dancing leads to sex and drinking and partying, etc.
It is an easy thing to blame “things”. If I can blame alcohol for being addictive, I don’t have to look at my heart and why it is prone to addiction. If I blame dancing for causing sensual behavior, I don’t have to look at why I have a need for that kind of attention from men. Need I go on? The problem is – blaming things never gets to the real problem. Things are not the root of the problem – no matter how deep you think you’ve gone to the real core, the real root – if you are blaming things, you have missed the mark. The real problem is the heart of man.
Jesus pointed out this very thing to his disciples, “’Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.’” (Matthew 15:17-20, emphasis added). He basically says that the real problem is the heart. It’s in the heart that we are defiled. The heart is where bad things come from. If you are wanting to blame “things”, (for them, at that moment, the issue was eating food with hands that weren’t washed and clean physically or ceremonially), the “things” aren’t the real issue.
I think this is the tragedy of the movie. It shows the authorities, all of the authorities, family authorities, religious authorities, political authorities, civil authorities…all of them, are attempting to control behavior by controlling “things”. No dancing, no loud music, early curfew, no sex, no drinking, etc. When the reverend speaks in church, he makes a great point about how this one banker made everyone who came into his bank feel special by handing out bazooka gum and talking to his customers, etc. He pointed out that human touch cannot be replaced by an ATM machine – “I’ve yet to meet an ATM machine that gave me a piece of bazooka chewing gum, let alone make me feel special.”
His point is well-taken and spot-on. However, something was missing in the message…love. Had he gone on to inspire his congregation to really connect with others, to tune in to each other and try to make an impact on the world around them – that would have been great! He could have given more examples of people who made a difference in their community and talked about all the ways we can serve Jesus by serving our fellow man. He could have made his appeal for human touch so enticing that his audience would want to pay more attention to people and less attention to technology.
But, his message failed to take the high and inspiring road. He instead took the path of condemning technology and those who indulge in its conveniences. He focused on the evils of technology and ATM machines, etc., rather than on the benefits of connecting with people. ATM machines aren’t wrong and once he focused on the “things” he immediately lost the hearts of his listeners. He began to sound negative and controlling and irrelevant. If he’d focused on the hearts and what motivates a person’s heart to connect or disconnect from his fellow man…then he would have a message that was timeless and relevant and both inspiring and convicting. But he missed the mark.
At the end, the reverend finally gets more to the heart of things (his heart, his daughter’s heart, Ren’s heart, etc.)…and when he does, he realizes that dancing isn’t really the point. Let them dance; the dancing itself doesn’t cause all the evil that he was trying to prevent. If a heart is inclined toward trouble, it can find it with or without dancing. And if a heart is inclined toward holiness, then it can dance in a way that is pure, clean and fun.
I think, as I have pondered over the movie for a while now, the real point of it, ultimately, is actually a good one. I don’t think the movie is about dancing. Dancing is just the platform, the stage. It’s like the setting in a ring. The point of an engagement ring is the diamond; the setting is not the point – the setting is what shows you the point—it shows off the diamond. The movie isn’t really about being able to dance, or even about rebelling against authorities and ridiculous rules.
The movie is really about the dangers of trying to control the heart through controlling behavior. That’s putting the cart before the horse. When the heart is changed, behaviors follow suit. Behaviors are the result of the heart. They do not make the heart. It’s just that it is so much easier to judge behavior and to set up rules to try to control behavior. You can at best inspire and motivate a heart, but only God can change a heart. And God does that in His own divine time with his own sovereign methods…which isn’t very helpful or comforting if you are trying to get immediate results.
But if this is really the point of the movie, (and if so, it’s a decent point) then why didn’t I get that point when I first saw the original so many years ago? Maybe it was because the original didn’t make the same point. Admittedly, I am curious to see the original again and see for myself. Or maybe I wasn’t at a place in my life to understand the depths of that point. That could be. But, I have another thought about that.
I didn’t come away from the remake of Footloose with this great understanding of the real point of the movie…I actually mulled over it for days, wondering what I thought about it, wondering about the complexities and if I thought the message overall was positive or negative. I thought about the negative way almost all authority is portrayed. I thought about the general sense that rebellion is exalted. I thought about the unnecessary sexuality and lewd comments and how teenage life is portrayed. Maybe that really was your high school experience – but mine was nothing like that (it was so much cleaner and more innocent and pure)…and I fear that when we show teenagers acting so crass and base, we make it common and even celebrate it in a way that makes others fully expect their experience should be or must be like that too—when I can vouch for the fact that it doesn’t have to be and probably ought not to be.
So this brings me back to my question, if the actual point of the movie centers around controlling behaviors vs. changing the heart, why wasn’t it clear to me? Why did it take me so long to see it? Back to the engagement ring analogy, I think it’s because the setting overpowered the stone. There’s this beautiful diamond, but the setting itself is so elaborate and complex and heavy that the stone is lost in the setting. The setting is supposed to show the stone, but in this case it has buried the stone. Now whether that makes the stone something of a buried treasure is something for you to decide. I think there can be value in hiding a message and not making it so painstakingly obvious.
Jesus himself vacillated between these two techniques as he told his parables. Sometimes he used a parable like a ring setting—beautifully showing off the point of the story so it was plain and poignant to the most common listener. Other times the parable’s treasure wasn’t plain to anyone; it was hidden, buried deep and required listeners to truly dig and seek out the meaning. Even Jesus’ disciples often had to ask him to explain when the meaning wasn’t clear.
Myself, I’m undecided about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the movie’s message is hard to see. I guess my concern is that the good message may be missed and in its place, there are a lot of potentially bad messages that could be ingested. And even if the message is good, I still question why on earth so much crassness has to be a part of the journey. I feel that it only takes away from what could potentially be a great message.
And, while we’re at it, I have one final bone to pick about muddled messages. When Ren has his great moment to present his case and defend dancing, he turns to the Bible for support. That makes good sense since the Reverend was the one who started the notion against dancing and used the Bible to support the ban. But did anyone else notice how ridiculously flawed his argument was? First off, when you use the Bible to defend your “rights”, you’re just on shaky ground. The Bible indicates that we should lay down our rights, willingly give them up, to serve each other. But that aside, Ren pointed out how David danced before the Lord, and he quoted the Psalms which command people to sing, make music in your hearts and dance before the Lord. If he had stopped there and simply pointed out that the Bible does endorse dancing – at least in some form, that would have been a perfectly honest argument. However, he doesn’t stop there. He concludes with, “That’s all we’re doing here.”
That’s all we’re doing here. Really, Ren? I’m sorry, but I have to call his bluff on that one. I don’t think anyone would argue that throughout the movie the characters were just wanting to “dance before the Lord.” I don’t believe that is the freedom they were fighting for.
In the opening scene, Ren stops dancing with Ariel because she is clearly dancing before Chuck. He basically tells her that if she wants to dance for Chuck to make him jealous for her, then she can do it without him (without Ren). Ariel’s opening dance scene is actually a pole dance. I’m just not so sure that that’s the kind of dancing David was doing when he danced before the Lord, or that the Psalmist was endorsing. Admittedly, not that ALL the dancing in the movie was that sexy—the line dancing was generally just good clean fun more or less. But even that dancing, that good, clean, fun kind of dancing, was muddled and complicated. They weren’t just line dancing. They were drinking beer (they are minors, in case you forgot) and getting into first fights over girls, etc. I just have a hard time with the fact that Ren’s argument is that they have a Biblical right to dance before the Lord, ergo, prom should be allowed.
They do have a “right” to dance before the Lord (although I cringe to call that a “right”, a privilege would be nearer the truth) and the church ought to be encouraging that. But that’s not the kind of dancing they were fighting for. I’m not saying their dancing was always bad. I do think there is a time for dancing and having fun, even if it’s just dancing and not “holy” dancing. But I struggle with using the Bible so grossly out of context to defend an argument that is so obviously faulty.
The Bible has something to say about dancing, but it also has a few things to say about some of the kinds of behavior that we see in the movie.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
2 Timothy 3: 1-5
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
I don’t really want to expostulate on this further. I prefer to let the Word of God speak for itself in this. But you might ask yourself, what do you think about these verses? How do they apply to the characters in the movie? Does it affect how you think about who is heroic and who is not? Are there things in those lists which seem out of place? Are there qualities which you think maybe God takes more seriously than we generally do?
It’s something to think about anyway.
Footloose is kind of a loaded canon. And like any loaded weapon, if it explodes in the wrong hands, it can do a lot of damage. However, in the right hands, it can be a tool for great victory and can demolish the enemy and his strongholds. It’s there. But someone has to take hold and aim the canon. Someone has to actively engage the canon and choose to fire it if it is going to do ANY good at all. The question is which side is going to gain control of the canon? I’m afraid that if Christians don’t get control of the discussions and aim the canon, unsuspecting civilians are going to be caught in the explosion and walk away with a lot of shrapnel in their minds and emotions – all because they missed the positive messages and instead took away a lot of bad ones.
Questions for Discussion:
- What do you think about the appropriateness of the movie? What makes it appropriate or inappropriate, and for whom?
- What do you think is the main message? Is it a clear message or is it muddled?
- Is hiding a message a good thing or a bad thing?
- What do you think about the main characters? Ren, Ariel, Rev. Moore, Wes, Willard… What are their positives and negatives? What are their motivations? Did your opinion of them change throughout the movie?
- Do you understand why the town responded like it did to the accident? Have you seen people respond to tragedies (of varying degrees) similarly in real life?
- Do you run into legalism and rules in your own life? Why do you think those rules are there? At what point do those rules cross the line between being helpful boundaries and oppressive control?
- Do you tend toward rebellion or legalism in your own life? Which appeals more to you – rules or anarchy?
- Do you know of anyone who is like Ariel—acting wild and reckless in a desperate attempt to get their parents’ attention? Have you ever felt like that?
- Do you think that the churches you know focus more on changing hearts or controlling behaviors? What about other authorities in your life, like parents, coaches, teachers, etc.?
- What qualities in those verses stood out to you as being applicable to the movie? Which ones applied to your own life and/or your friends?