By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
While spending last year writing a series on the purpose of art for The Lookout, I missed opportunities to talk about several movies, especially those featuring Christian themes. I’ve said before that the trend took off with The Passion of the Christ, and I’m happy to see that it will likely continue.
Somewhat and Very
Five movies and a couple of TV shows over the last year and a half stand out to me as examples of Hollywood’s willingness to deal with Christian or at least religious themes. Let’s start with a movie I hesitantly recommend: Devil was produced and based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan who gave us The Sixth Sense, Signs, Lady in the Water, and other films. Shyamalan usually writes and directs horror films, though with restraint, artistry, and thematic depth. Devil is scary at times and is about the devil. But it’s also about faith and the need for confession and forgiveness. Its theology is more suppositional then biblical. But it’s well made and would generate some great discussion among believers watching it together (without young children and perhaps in the daytime).
The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides, contains a subplot involving a Christian missionary. Usually such characters are dismissed in Hollywood films, but Philip, along with his Christian faith, are treated seriously. The Adjustment Bureau is not a Christian film. If you watched it for its theology you’d be rightly disappointed, but if you consider how its themes echo Christian beliefs, you’ll find connections worth exploring. At a recent movie night at my house, this film allowed about 20 students and me to consider how God’s sovereignty works in relation to free will.
The Tree of Life is a good movie most people will find too slow to be interesting. But it does a solid job of setting a Job-like parable in 20th-century America. Some of its images and characters are stunningly beautiful. You will probably find things to disagree with in this film, but its vision of God’s presence in the world makes up for such things and for a rather disjointed ending. Soul Surfer is overtly Christian. It’s based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. Her physical recovery and spiritual growth throughout the film are inspiring. I was impressed with the filmmakers’ sensitivity to a Christian audience regarding the numerous bathing suit shots. Bikinis are not particularly modest attire, but they’re what surfer girls wear; and the director did a good job of setting up the camera to avoid sexualizing women in the movie.
Christian themes are popping up in television as well. There may be more, but I noticed the trend in two shows last year. Survivor, the father of reality TV, has become more open to allowing Christian participants to talk about their faith, and the brief summer series Falling Skies featured a prominent, faith-filled Christian girl.
What’s Out There and What’s Coming
Although I hesitate to rec-ommend films I haven’t seen, I want to bring the following to your attention. Machine Gun Preacher is a silly title, but the film is serious and based on a true story. It has been given an R rating, but takes the Christianity of the main character (played by Gerard Butler) seriously. The Way stars Martin Sheen and is directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. It’s about a lapsed Catholic who goes to Spain to complete a pilgrimage his son was taking but didn’t complete after being killed in an accident. Courageous is the third movie by the production team from Sherwood Baptist Church (producers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof). According to a review I read, the filmmakers are getting better, but the movie still suffers from its use of amateur actors and overall low budget. It is, nevertheless, a clear morality tale about the importance of fatherhood and is unashamedly Christian in its themes and content. Finally, consider seeing a movie called Alleged, starring Fred Thompson and Brian Dennehy. The screenplay was co-written by Brian Godawa who wrote To End All Wars, one of my favorite Christian-themed films. Perhaps you’re familiar with Inherit the Wind, a movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial that paints Christians as absolute idiots. Alleged revisits what happened in that trial more honestly. Again, I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s on my radar and I suggest you put it on yours.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.