Sunday, March 2, 2008

What Makes a "Faith Film?"

Faith Films Not Flooding the Big Screen
Religion Section
Washington Post
March 2, 2008

First of all, apologies for the lull between postings. There are two main reasons for this. One, our DSL line at home seems to be going kaput more often than not. I have heard the issues about Verizon's signal being weak in some areas, and I guess we are among those lucky people. It once was just an occasional nuisance, but lately has blossomed into a royal pain. Cuts into my blogging opportunities.

Secondly, I have been working my way through Taylor Branch's Pillar of Fire, the second book of his incredibly detailed trilogy on the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 to 1968. It is a wonderful book, but not a quick read because it is so packed with information. I expect to post on it in a few days, but concentrating on that has eaten into my time for articles and other reading that I normally do.

However, this brief article in the Religion section of today's Post caught my eye. Essentially is says that the gazillions of dollars that The Passion of the Christ raked in prompted Hollywood studio execs to make intentional effort to tap into the movie going market of evangelical Christians. 20th Century Fox even started a division called "Fox Faith," to concentrate on this demographic. However, there have not been any more blockbusters that are explicitly faith-based since The Passion. Why is this?

As a movie buff, I have a couple of theories. One, the Christian market is vast, even when limited to those who call themselves "evangelicals." That is a word that means many different things in different ecclesiastical cultures. I'm guessing that Hollywood does not get this. As with any other demographic, one person's "family values" film is another person's unbelievable cheesefest. Secondly, if a film is made specifically for fundamentalist Christians (as distinct from evangelicals), there is tremendous potential for its "message" to be exclusionary or offensive to some group outside that group. For every Christian who buys a ticket to the movie, there are probably two Christians who do not (again, with the word meaning different things to different people), not to mention people of other faiths or no faith at all. Word gets around about these things. I think The Passion was the exception rather than the rule, and still am not sure I understand its phenomenal success at the box office.

True confession: I never saw The Passion, in spite of tremendous amounts of social pressure to do so. I just did not think I could deal with the scourging scene. Ultra-violent movies are not really my thing, even when it is the story of Jesus (at least a part of the story of Jesus). DID YOU SEE IT? WHY or WHY NOT?

Having said that, I would argue that there are theological themes in many, many current and recent movies. Part of the skill of making a good movie, in my opinion, is weaving the theology through the story in implicit ways, not hitting the audience in the face with it - kind of like in life and in our relationships. The theology emerges from the story instead of the other way around. It also depends on how we look at things - a person with no faith background is going to enjoy and interpret a movie differently from a Christian or Jew or Muslim or whatever. Who we are shapes our experience of a book, movie, piece of music, painting etc.

So, off the top of my head, here are some of my favorite "Faith Films." These are just a few - I know as soon as I hit the "publish post" button I will think of a zillion more.

Pieces of April (reconciliation, community, the power of narrative)
Sling Blade (self-sacrifice for the sake of another)
The Shawshank Redemption (although I have only seen it once because the prison violence wigs me out) (the value of life and the power of hope)
Schindler's List (worth of the individual, atonement)
The Spitfire Grill (redemption and community)
The Long Walk Home (creation, justice, and the importance of relationship)
Hotel Rwanda (justice)
Amistad (creation, relationship, value of human life)
Crash (there is not a "theological word" that I can think of that expresses it, but this movie made me seriously aware of the connectedness of all people and our potential at any moment to hurt or help one another)

More recently:
Atonement (forgiveness, and duh-atonement)
Juno (incarnation, sacrifice, and community)
Away from Her (the different kinds of love and how those different types can be woven throughout years and decades of a relationship. Also, incredible self-sacrifice for the happiness and health of another)

What are your favorite faith films? DISCUSS.

Reverent Reader


At 3/3/08, 1:50 AM , Blogger Lisa said...

"Pay it Forward" was a great spiritual movie because it showed how hope could transform a community and a young boy.

"Gattaga" is my all-time favorite sci-fi flick and it highlights the resiliency and creativity of humans in the face of hopelessness.

Great post, thanks for sharing!

At 3/3/08, 9:09 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Hi Lisa - I forgot about "Pay It Forward" - excellent choice. I'll have to rent Gattaca - I am not a big sci-fi person, but I remember the previews for that one looked intriguing. Thanks for contributing your favorites!

At 3/3/08, 6:23 PM , Blogger Ellen said...

Some of my favorite "faith films":
"Crash" which you listed. "Face/Off" violent, but thought provoking. And "Tsotsi", a South African film that has moments of horrible violence, paired with incredible growth of character. Truly, the most astonishing film I have seen recently. (I'm an avid Netflix member, and am watching ALL, eventually, the Oscar winners, with other interesting films sprinkled in... I have Pieces of April coming soon, have heard wonderful things about it.)

At 3/3/08, 7:22 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Ellen - Thanks for the reminder about "Tsotsi" - I have been meaning to rent that one for a long time. At some point I may have to break down and join Netflix! Face/Off - hmmmm, never have seen it but always thought it looked interesting. May have to get that as well.

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