There are a few things people all over the world do regardless of age, gender, race and religion. Things such as eating, drinking breathing usually come to mind but there is also one form of entertainment that people all around the world enjoy at one point or another in their lives: watching a movie. From the short YouTube clip posted by a local aspiring director to the massive Lord of the Rings trilogy, movies come in many forms and can affect us in many ways - positive and negative - whether we are aware of it or not. This is dependent on the type of movie we watch and the message, if any, it is trying to convey. As our Imams (peace be upon them all) teach us, there is a lesson in everything we see. Applying this to all aspects of life can make simple things such as watching a movie an opportunity to improve ourselves.
To clarify, we are not speaking of movies with blatant sinful acts such nudity, profanity etc. While any movie can have a good positive message, if it contains anything that is forbidden for us to see or listen to, watching it is completely out of the question. As always, when in doubt, refer to the rulings of your Marja Taqleed (Religious Authority).
The focus of this discussion is on how we can use an everyday thing such as watching a movie to improve ourselves. Many times people watch movies just to kill time or to unwind from a tough day. While this is not necessarily forbidden, it is also not the best way to spend our time. As followers of the Ahlul Bayt, we should always be looking for the best way to do things and utilize our time, and to make sure we are doing things for the sake of Allah. The best way to do that is through an act that is becoming increasingly rare in our present day and age: pondering.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has said that pondering on a subject for an hour is superior than an entire year's worth of worship. If watching a movie can bring about positive pondering, could it not be said that doing so had a role in improving yourself? Let us take an example of a movie that almost everybody has seen by now, The Lord of the Rings. A main aspect of the movie is Frodo's internal battle with the ring and trying to prevent it from taking him over. Thinking and pondering over this idea can bring one to reflect upon the constant internal battle we have with our lower selves and with Shaytan. This is the Greater Jihad (Jihad al-Akbar) that the Prophet referred to and the victor of this battle will truly be a successful individual. Although everyone thinks differently and has their own stream of thoughts, this example shows how it can be possible to improve one's character by simply pondering on a theme they come across in a movie.
Another way to make sure we are getting the most out of a movie is to have the right intention before watching it. Almost anything can be done for the sake of Allah provided it is not a sin, and this includes watching a movie. One person can watch the famous movie Avatar and can come away with nothing but awe at its special effects and visuals. At the same time another person can watch the same movie and not help but ponder about the effects of greed and oppression and think about ways of reducing those in the world. A person should have the intention of wanting to learn and ponder before watching a certain movie. Having the right intention before we do anything is a concept that can and should be applied to everything we do.
As many of us watch movies, we must be particular with which ones we choose to watch and how we watch them. What we take in through our sight and hearing will become a reflection of us, so we should be especially careful in this regard, and supplicate to the Almighty as we do on Thursday nights: "Make me derive advantage from the power of hearing and seeing (discernment and perception of truth)…"
There are great Islamic movies out there as well which we can benefit from. We should do our best to support these ventures as they directly promote Islamic values and denounce sin. Having such movies spread on a large scale should be our goal because this would be another way to spread Islam in our day and age. As always, we should always stay away from those things forbidden to our eyes and ears, and have a pure intention before we do anything. God-willing, we will do all of our actions purely for the sake of Allah.