The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story in Noah, the movie.
The moral of Noah centres around God’s judgement of sin and His deliverance for those who trust and believe in Him.

THE most memorable stories contain a theme with a strong ethical or moral premise. A story proves the theme by tracking the conflict that ensues between the hero and his nemesis. Both characters represent opposing values. In simple terms, good guys win, or lose, depending on the outcome of that conflict. In so doing they ‘prove’ the theme.

But does this then mean that some stories are not ethical or moral? Is the nemesis’ winning of the fight, proof that unethical and immoral behaviour is rewarded? 

Biblical tales, for example, are clearly moral. NoahCleopatraThe Ten Commandments. As are modern stories, such as Braveheart,  The FirmGladiatorOblivionEdge of Tomorrow, and countless others. These tales have at their core a moral premise that states that if the hero does the right thing, he will eventually achieve the goal. He will carry the day, save the world, even if he sometimes has to sacrifice himself to do it.

“The story’s moral premise is the pilot of the ship, steering it towards its inevitable destination.”

But what about less obvious examples? SevenFight ClubInceptionOceans 11,12,13? In what sense do these stories espouse ethical or moral values? 

This bothered me quite a bit because, deep down, I felt that all great stories promote the best in us rather than the worst. Yet, something rang true about these latter stories. I felt a verisimilitude in them that I associated with great tales.

Then, during one of my classes on story-telling, it struck me. Most stories are indeed moral and ethical, with one proviso. In some, the moral or ethical judgment falls outside the world of the story itself—it is made by an audience or reader based on received cultural, social, and religious values.

Stories in which the villain gets away with it, spreading death and mayhem in his wake, may appear to show that malice, slyness, and cold-blooded determination lead to victory, but few of us would applaud his actions. 

A horror story, in which, let’s say, demons succeed in taking over the world, is not necessarily a celebration of evil overcoming good. Rather, it is a warning: If the hero fails to stop evil, this is the result – a horrific world overrun by demons. 

The characters within such a story may even celebrate this fact, but audiences, as a whole, won’t, since they bring their own moral and ethical systems to bare upon the tale. 

Paradoxically, then, good will always rise above evil even when it seems defeated.


Most stories invoke an ethical and moral foundation, even those that ostensibly seem not to.

One thought on “The Moral of the Story

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    This is a great article . One must not under estimate that these mega blockbusters ( mentioned in this article) are the products of studios that have all gone through the trouble of pre -screening there films to multiple target audiences before finalizing a finished cut. It all comes down to one law : Happy endings equal profits at the box office. Remember that these studios need to make back there hundred million dollar investments.

    Then again we get 2020’s front runner for Best Picture , being Joker. The film is extremely grim and even depressing but at the same time engaging as we are witnessing the raise of a mad man. The moral dilemma of a city’s working class embracing the mysterious clown figure responsible for the murder of corrupt stock brokers. Critics have labeled the film as potentially dangerous for young people to watch. The Joker gains the recognition he has craved all his life but not as a stand up comedian but rather as a symbol as a societies anger towards the highly elite . It’s worth mentioning that this movie made a billion dollars on a fifty million dollar budget.

    In short : Movies must challenge our morals. That’s why movies make us think.


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