What do we even mean by saying something is a “Christian film”? In a thought-provoking piece called “Moving Beyond ‘Christian Films,’” Brett McCracken discusses the recent film Blue Like Jazz, with particular attention to the way it relates to the limitations of the Christian-movie ghetto. McCracken argues that Blue Like Jazz undercuts itself in its very attempt to be a Christian movie that doesn’t fit into “Christian movie” stereotypes. I haven’t seen the film myself, so I can’t speak to his assessment of BLJ, but I most certainly agree with what he says here:
I long for the day when we will have moved on from “Christian film” as a category. I long for the day when evangelicals will make excellent films that are beautiful, lasting, complex and true. I long for the day when Christian moviegoers will appreciate truly great films and encounter God through them, regardless of if they are made by Christians or pagans.
It’s easy to bemoan a cultural wasteland. Often when we do so, we’re speaking the truth. But in this case, are we overlooking signs of growth and life outside the boundaries of “Christian Film”?
Brett McCracken also has an interesting piece to complement his take on Blue Like Jazz: “33 Films that Take Faith Seriously.” As I read through the list, I realized that many of these films are ones that I simply considered great films… not great Christian-themed films, but great films.
Perhaps one test of a great Christian film is whether it is considered great by believers and unbelievers alike. Even when I was still an atheist, I loved Amadeus, Chariots of Fire, and The Mission. I didn’t understand or sympathize with all elements of the films, but they moved me deeply (and still do). Yet as an atheist, I would never have bothered seeing the equivalent of Soul Surfer or Fireproof or Courageous. I say this, not having seen any of those movies as a Christian, either… for pretty much the same reasons.
But most important, I think, is that a film must show the truth about human experience. I think that the reason I find most of the films labeled “Christian” to be so unsatisfactory (and unsatisfying) is that they are so eager to present the light of Christ that they ignore the darkness of human pain.
If we don’t acknowledge the darkness, we will not have credibility when we speak about the light. Yet we must also fight fiercely against the idea that the bleak meaninglessness of naturalism and atheism is ‘the way life is.’ Pain and death are not the end of the story.
Malcolm Guite puts it quite well (in an interview by Lancia Smith: you should read the whole thing). He is speaking specifically about poetry, but his words ring true for film as well:
…there is a proper place for the depiction of suffering and the expression of bitterness in Art as in life. We don’t need some anodyne sugary literature saying peace, peace, when there is none. But it is also true that the agony in the Garden and Good Friday are not the end of the story. ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green’, and Love has the last word. If a poem is to be true it must somehow be adequate to both these dimensions…
What are some other examples of films that get things right?
Consider the film Amazing Grace, which tells the story of William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery in Britain. Or Gran Torino, Spitfire Grill, I Am David, or Charlie Brown’s Christmas, to toss in a few titles pointed out by Hieropraxis readers.
And, now that you’re thinking about films, here is an film review site that’s worth checking out: Looking Closer (hat tip to Mary Mueller).
So: readers, what other films ought we to notice?