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The Impact of Shenandoah

I finally did it – a couple of nights ago, I watched the 1965 American Civil War film, Shenandoah for the second time. I know this doesn’t sound like a significant accomplishment but it certainly triggered some deeply engrained memories. This is a movie that had a profound effect on my psyche when I first watched it as a ten-year-old child.

Let me explain. There’s a scene in this movie when James, one of Charlie Anderson’s six sons, is violently stabbed by a stranger, who has come onto his farm property and asked for some water from the well. Jame’s wife is also murdered, leaving their little baby in the house alone.

By today’s standards, this would be considered minimal violence but that scene haunted me for years. In fact, I can remember the details as if I saw it yesterday but in actuality, it was forty six years ago.  My mom told me that I was visually shaken and that I broke into tears when I realized that both James and his wife were killed so violently. To this day, I seriously do not like when someone sneaks up and scares me. It’s NOT funny.

The Payne Fund studies (1998) were developed by the Motion Picture Research Council and results showed the following:

1. Eight-year-old children will catch three out of every five things that the parents see.  For example, if there are twenty murder scenes in a movie, then the child will remember twelve of them.

2. Eight-year-old children will remember 90% of what they saw in the movie six weeks after they saw it, and three months later, they still remember the same amount.

3. Children of all ages tend to accept as true the things that they see in movies.

4. The scenes that children remember the most from a movie are action scenes, especially violence.

I’m always amazed at what parents allow their children to watch, particularly when it comes to violence and scary movies. I don’t get it. Once this stuff is imprinted in a child’s mind, it does something to their trust, innocence and perspective on life.

I really appreciate this quote from a film critic, who works for the Focus on the Family ministry.

We really do believe films can harm us—not like an arrow to the knee would, but more like mold in the basement. 

What we see affects us tremendously. Matthew 6.22 says that “the eye is the lamp of the body.”  Our eyes are like a gateway – what we allow “in” truly affects our whole being. For me, that gruesome scene at the well on the Anderson farm was “like an arrow to the knee” but generally speaking, there seems to be an accumulative affect in children – “like mold in the basement.”  

Be careful little eyes what you see.



  1. Well said and important, Diane.

    • Diane (Author)

      Yes, I particularly appreciate the “mould in the basement” analogy. Thanks, Cynthia.

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