By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
Last time I told you that, earlier this year, Christian filmmaking crossed a milestone in that six Bible, Christian-themed, or Christian-made films had fairly wide releases. I told you about three of those movies last month: Son of God, God’s Not Dead, and Heaven Is for Real. Here we look at the other three.
Mom’s Night Out
Another point I previously made is that, if you haven’t seen a movie, either don’t talk about it or admit that you haven’t seen it. As I’m writing this article, I haven’t yet seen Mom’s Night Out.
Mom’s Night Out is a good example of a movie made by Christians, not a Christian movie. It’s a comedy written by Christians who live and work in Hollywood. They wanted to make a fun movie with a family friendly PG rating. Though its underlying message is a celebration of motherhood, its first job is to be funny. I look forward to seeing if it succeeded. The movie stars some well-known actors, including Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), and represents what Christians need to be doing more of: influencing our culture by making movies people want to see.
None of the six films got as much hype (and distribution dollars) as Noah, but many Christians who saw it were disappointed. They found the story unrecognizable. Writer and director Darren Aronofsky is a great filmmaker, but he’s not a Christian. So though I think he took the biblical text seriously, I don’t think he took it as sacred.
My thoughts on Noah are mixed. It had A-list actors (Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, and more) who gave amazing performances. It had top notch special effects. It took seriously the idea of the supernatural, in terms of miracles, angels, and God. It even showed a planet earth which was shaped according to the creationist idea of Pangea (all the continents being together in one great mass till they were split apart by the flood).
Some Christians thought it made God the bad guy. That’s not accurate. If you watch the film carefully, you see the evidence for God being the good guy in this story. But that evidence is so subtle and obscure, it’s easy to miss, and God is too silent. I appreciate artistic filmmaking. I appreciate sophistication. But I also appreciate moviemakers who keep in mind that, in dealing with the Bible, they’re dealing with a text which is sacred to millions of people.
Aronofsky made God the good guy in this story, but even I couldn’t get past the rock men. They came across as low-tech Transformers, alien to the biblical world. Still, there were times when the movie was breathtakingly beautiful.
Finally, what do you call a movie that contains smoking, drinking, and even a few cuss words? I call it the most profound Christian film I’ve seen in years. I was blown away by Ragamuffin. It may have gotten the least distribution among all these films, but I think it’s amazingly good. On the one hand, it’s overtly Christian. It doesn’t pretend to be secular. But on the other hand, there’s nothing preachy about it—when Christians can pull that off on a regular basis, we’ll be making movies that matter.
It’s completely possible that I’m prejudiced about this movie because it’s the story of Rich Mullins, a Christian singer/songwriter/
preacher whose music and words
had a profound impact on my life, but I don’t think so. This movie is honest, well made, uses good film technique, deals with themes we can all relate to, and presents the good news of the gospel that God loves us not because we are good but because he is. The fact that we are wounded and broken and desperately in need of him only increases his grace and love for us. Some great one-liners from the film include:
• “Closeness to God isn’t about feelings. Closeness to God is about obedience.”
• “Sometimes the Sunday school answers are exactly the right ones.”
• “Maybe we invented highlighters so we can highlight what we like in the Bible and ignore the rest.”
• “God’s love is a reckless, raging fury.”
But again, the real genius of this film is that, even with all these statements you might hear in Sunday school or a sermon, the movie never comes across as preachy or insincere. I can’t recommend it enough.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.