February 19, 2008

Christians in the Movies: 2005-2007

This was way too long to dump on Sharpton's comment section. That would be evil. Find the rest of the conversation here.

But what about in entertainment?

Well, you came to the right place. I should start with the very clear disclaimer that, as the savvy reviewers over at Christianity Today could tell you, it's a mistake to limit one's search for Truth and Love and Redemption in entertainment solely to films with Christian characters . . . but this is about how Christians themselves are portrayed, so we'll let it slide.

I should also note that, as you may already know, I firmly oppose the Michael Medved, "Hollywood vs. Religion" nonsense that posits some sort of intentional, strategic assault on our faith by the entertainment industry . . . as if it were ideologically homogenous enough to agree about anything beyond "I want my movie to make me a bundle of cash."

I decided arbitrarily to look at movies starting in 2005 . . . just to go back during the last few years. I've seen just over 200 movies produced from 2005 on, and here are some of the examples I nosed up of movies that portray Christians/Christianity, in no particular order:

Into Great Silence - A 160-minute glimpse into the spiritually full lives of the Carthusian monks in a monastery in the heart of the French Alps. Not only does it demonstrate the richness of a life devoted to the service of Christ, the film itself is a deeply spiritual experience in quiet meditation and contemplation of the Holy.

V for Vendetta - Features every anti-Christian cliche in the book, from the pedophiliac bishop to the ambitions we Christians clearly harbor for fascistic domination. Fortunately, its characters, like its source material, are pure cartoon.

Junebug - Prominently features a scene at a church potluck in a small southern town, with prayer and singing and general fellowship that feels so warm and genuine I'm still not convinced the filmmakers didn't just set up a camera during an actual church gathering and toss their actors into it. Little movie, lots of critical acclaim . . . launched the rapidly-ascending career of Amy Adams (Enchanted, Charlie Wilson's War).

Serenity - While I personally think there is more than one way to interpret Shepherd Book's statements like "I don't care what you believe, just believe," one could legitimately put it in your "wishy-washy" category. Book is, to me, a moving example of a principled and loving Christian, then again the faith he practices is an odd (and not very developed) futuristic brand . . . so maybe it shouldn't count as anything at all.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - In general, I'm steering well clear of movies that are merely symbolically linked to Christianity, but this particular story is so widely-known to have originated from within "our camp" that I feel I can legitimately toss it out there. Did a pretty tidy business at the box-office, and should allow for the production of all 6 sequels in the coming years.

Driving Lessons - The mother of the main character is a petty, vindictive, narrow-minded and extremely hypocritical caricature of a Christian (played by Laura Linney, who seems to relish such roles). The movie sucked in almost every way and was pretty much panned by audiences and critics alike.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Raises deep spiritual questions while casting a Catholic priest in a highly-sympathetic light as a compassionate man of faith and simultaneously featuring a Christian lawyer as a man whose faith is not based solely on blind, non-thinking acceptance.

The Da Vinci Code - My disdain for the book is no secret, and the film wasn't much better. The target of this film is clearly a fantasy version of the Catholic Church, which finds its sinister self at the center of the ultimate in ludicrous conspiracy theories.

Keeping Mum - A surprising and delightful dark British comedy which centers around the family of an Anglican minister played by none other than Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). My favorite moment is when the minister delivers a sermon on grace that he has spent the entire film working on, only to be suddenly struck in the middle of it by a powerful action of grace on his own life that he had failed to notice until just that moment.

Jesus Camp - Hard to call this a "portrayal" I guess, since it's a documentary. The slant of the portrayal is all in the viewer . . . many Christians could watch this and cheer. Me . . . not so much with the cheering. Notable for having caught footage of Ted Haggard preaching a sermon against homosexuality just a few months before that whole gay prostitute thing blew up in his face. Anyway, this is an unflinching look at what some of us are really like.

Joyeux Noel - Features perhaps the most moving celebration of mass you'll ever see, given by an Irish minister (elsewhere shown to be a courageous and compassionate Christian) to a gathering of mortal enemies in the midst of a WWI battlefield, brought together in the peace, joy and grace represented by the birth of Christ.

Deliver Us from Evil - Again with the documentaries and the "portrayals" . . . This one's about the Catholics again. Specifically, it's about a particular priest who was moved from parish to parish by his supervisor to avoid massive scandal from all the kids he kept molesting. Not really an indictment of Christians or Christianity, though.

Amazing Grace - The story of devout Christian William Wilberforce and his lifelong struggle to end slavery in England is brought to life in this film starring Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd). Wilberforce's faith is definitely not downplayed . . . very reminiscent of Paul Scofield's portrayal of Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons.

There Will Be Blood - Features a rather wild-eyed preacher who is 2 parts raving loon and 1 part slimy opportunist. While his church features baptism and a cross, it is clearly some kind of fringe cult . . . Never explicitly called Christian, I kept expecting them to pull out a bag of snakes. To the best of my memory, the name of Jesus is never even mentioned.

Lars and the Real Girl - At the center of this story is a tight-knit church community that surrounds its members with a safety net of love and support, even when they're acting really, really weird (as Lars is). (As they wonder how to deal with the Lars situation, the pastor simply asks "What would Jesus do?" and that settles the discussion.) The pastor offers relevant sermons straight from the Bible. Currently nominated for a screenplay Oscar.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - Nominated for Best Foreign Film a few years ago . . . tells the story of devout Christian Sophie Scholl and her courageous and principled stand against the evils of Nazi Germany which ultimately cost her her life.

Cinderella Man - The title character and his family are devout Catholics who value integrity. They are part of a church led by a priest very much invested in his congregation, which gathers about them as a family in prayer at various points.

Adam's Apples - A mean neo-Nazi gets more than he bargained for when he gets sent to Pastor Ivan for rehabilitation into society. Unable to take advantage of Ivan's trusting, happy nature, he sets out to destroy that sunny idealism instead, but will he prove to be any match for a genuine holy fool?

A lot of pastors and commentators and people who maybe go to the movies two or three times in a year like to warn us all about the evils of Hollywood and the anti-Christian agenda and God knows what. The implication being that you can't make a trip to the multiplex without running into an ad for the next blockbuster with a lousy Christian stereotype. But I'm out there, on the ground, watching that big screen like a hawk and I'm here to tell you it just ain't so. Films where Christians are bad are few and far between (far more rare than the real deal, unfortunately) and when they do show up, no one pays them much mind except the Christians waving picket signs out front.

Posted by Jared at February 19, 2008 02:32 AM | TrackBack