Today in my film class after watching three months worth of Hollywood films we turned to a film put out by a Christian movie company. To say the least, it perfectly fit the stereotype of the substandard Christian version of whatever is popular in mainstream culture. The acting was weak, the dialogue was laughable, and the plot was mediocre at best. For what it was the actual filming and editing was decent. It had the look of a made-for-TV movie.
But there were certain parts of it I just couldn’t quite handle. One part involved a chapel meeting where a preacher was sharing the gospel and giving an alter call. In all seriousness and respect the gospel was there, whole and complete. But the scene certainly didn’t work. It gave me the feeling of being an outsider looking in on this group of Christians. I couldn’t help but ask myself if that’s how we actually sound. It sounded so canned and fake. Is that all this faith is to us?
My professors raised an interesting point that the filmmaker obviously wrestled with. How do you visualize salvation? How do you show repentance? How do you film grace? These are horribly difficult questions, yet questions that we need to be able to at least address. This particular filmmaker chose to answer those questions with a lot of words. The preacher spoke the entire plan of salvation. The protagonist whispered his confession to the wind and we saw his repentance in his words. But perhaps the biggest reason why it didn’t work is what they’ve been telling me in every writing class I’ve ever taken: show, don’t tell. And that’s why making an effective Christian film is so difficult.
Tonight for my film class we watched another Hollywood film, although this one actually dealt with faith. It took on the same challenge as the Christian film we watched this afternoon, except this one was actually from Hollywood. It starred Robert Duvall, and this is the second movie I’ve seen him in that grapples with the Christian faith. It was called Tender Mercies, and while you couldn’t walk away with an outline of what you must do to be saved, it certainly presented real humans dealing with real faith. In the end the drifter found grace, and it wasn’t hokey, and it wasn’t forced.
As Christians we need to step up to the challenge. We whine and complain about the movies Hollywood puts out, yet we watch them anyway. A few Christians try to produce films outside of Hollywood, and not every result of that venture–although every one I’ve ever seen–has fallen far short. It rarely happens, but occasionally a film does come from Hollywood that grapples with faith. As Christians we need to stop complaining and start doing something about it. If Hollywood puts out trash, we need to make something better. If the Christian films are sappy and forced, we can make something better. Christ called us to so much more. If we’re going to communicate the gospel to this generation, we need to do it right.