Note: The following commentary includes details from the movie 3:10 to Yuma. Do not read on if you prefer not to read about the film before viewing it.
The first image in the film 3:10 to Yuma shows a teenage boy in bed, reading a dime novel called The Deadly Outlaw. As this remake of a classic western progresses, we see that the boy, William, has largely adopted the worldview of his favorite books.
When captured outlaw Ben Wade is held temporarily at William's home before being sent off to prison, William romanticizes the outlaw, who seems to be everything his own crippled father is not: strong, bold, well-off. Even William's mother seems fascinated by the charming outlaw. The allure of sin is just one of several powerful themes in 3:10 to Yuma.
The main storyline focuses on William's father, Dan. In order to collect the reward money placed on the outlaw Ben Wade, Dan has to escort Wade to a train bound for Yuma, where Wade will be hanged. It is a classic retelling of the confrontation between good and evil, and 3:10 to Yuma portrays that conflict very well indeed (although I ought to warn you that the film won an R rating for violence). But dealing with the romanticizing of evil takes the film to a whole other level. It prompts us to look at our own tendencies to glamorize evildoers and to brush off goodness and integrity as boring. Our culture does it so often—through films, television, music, books, and every other possible avenue—that we can easily find this attitude creeping into our own hearts. In fact, you could even call 3:10 to Yuma Hollywood's own commentary on itself.
Both father and son learn something as the story unfolds. The boy sees his father's integrity when the father refuses to let Wade escape, even though the outlaw offers him more than the reward money. As William compares his father's attitude with Wade's callous disregard for human life, the boy's own heart begins to change. He begins to understand how strong and wise his father is, and he wants to be like him. Ironically, at the same time, the father is beginning to see the outlaw as a human being and to treat him accordingly.
Only a complex and well-done film can pull this off, and 3:10 to Yuma is just that. But to understand what the film is saying, you need to have your thinking cap on.
It is important to learn to watch films through the lens of a Christian worldview. First, you've got to identify the questions the film is raising. 3:10 to Yuma, for example, brings up many of the big questions integral to our faith: How can human beings have a capacity for goodness and evil at the same time? Is there goodness inside everyone? Why does evil seem to be rewarded and goodness punished? How filmmakers answer those questions will tell you much about their worldview.
Then, we who are already Christians can use these themes to help make sense of the story that a film is trying to tell. We can also help explain these themes to nonbelievers who may find themselves asking some of these questions for the first time and realizing that they do not have good answers. This is how we can use popular culture to introduce them to a Christian worldview.
From films and books we see how powerful a good and well-told story can be, how comprehensive the Christian worldview is—which give us answers to all the questions that people are asking. And we learn to find reflections of our faith everywhere—even in Hollywood.
From BreakPoint®, October 26, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship