On Christian Cinema

I’m not a huge movie buff. I like what I like and I don’t have time for the rest. I go to maybe two or three movies in the theater a year. To me, it’s just a waste of money…which I could spend on books. 🙂

But, odd as this may sound to people who know me, I don’t usually miss a Christian movie in the theater. In fact, the few that are released each year are among the few that I see. Why?

Well, one reason is, I don’t like most Hollywood movies, or Hollywood in general. To me, going to see a Christian film in the theater is a counter-cultural thing. It’s like living in LA and loving the Celtics. 😉

The second reason is, it helps me see what the average American Evangelical believes. The movies that make it to production in the Christian realm are pretty much a reflection of whatever’s popular in Evangelical thought.

The quality has improved over the years to the point where some of the films are almost Hollywood caliber (the good kind). That’s been interesting to observe. It’s good to see that Christians have begun to put their money where their mouths are. They’ve complained for eons about Hollywood but never wanted to truly do anything about it. Some people finally seem to be stepping up.

But, regardless the quality, Christian films have one thing in common with all Hollywood films, and this is the real reason I can’t stand most films that don’t fall under the category “action.” They are only two-hours in length.

No, I’m not asking for people to consider remaking Andy Warhol’s “Sleep,” but, when we examine film, whether Christian or non, we need to keep in mind that the creators have two hours to tell a complete story. As a writer, I find that mind-boggling. Two hours isn’t enough time, unless you are a very good writer, and, judging from the crud Hollywood puts out for millions of dollars, my bet is that a good film writer is a rare thing.

This is one of the reasons the Pure Flix films like “God’s Not Dead” end up falling on their faces, as opposed to, say, a Kendrick brothers’ film. In two hours, the writers try to tell a myriad of stories and so they cannot go in depth into any of them. They come off looking as if they can’t do more than scratch the surface of the human condition. Which is a problem in any film, but, to me, it is a bigger problem in a Christian film since, well, that’s what it’s supposed to be doing.

But, even when the writers go more in depth, they often make the problems of the human condition seem too easily solved. And this is going to happen because, well, they have only two hours in which to deal with things.

Now, I blame the American viewing public for this. Our need for all the loose strings to be tied up at the end and for a happy ending to every film is legendary. And this is where Christian cinema fails to see a problem.

Americans, in general, do not view cinema as a thoughtful occasion. We have traditionally viewed movies as strictly entertainment. It doesn’t help that Hollywood keeps insisting that their films are only for such, not doctrinal statements. So, when the average viewer goes to a movie, they don’t want a sad ending. Occasionally they don’t mind (Titanic…gag) so long as the rest of it plays to their already present mentality (Titanic…gag). But when it pushes them out of their comfort zone, confronts sensitivities they don’t want to deal with (racism, poverty, etc) it had better be a happy ending, or we just won’t like it.

Christian film writers either don’t know this, or they know it too well. Except the speaking positively about Jesus parts, and sometimes speaking out against sin, Christian films look no different from Hollywood films. The storylines are generally formulaic, and the conclusions are, in the case of far too many, trite to the point of absurdity. Just like Hollywood films.

And I don’t see anything changing anytime soon. Christians are eating this stuff up. The films don’t truly challenge people beyond their comfort zone, and they take the typical unrealistic “happily ever after” view that Christians already believe about Christianity.

Yes, some people die in the end of these movies. Yes, some people get caught in their sins and are punished. But the films never take on the truly hard stuff.

A friend of mine challenged me to write a realistic Christian film script. I’ve been working on that. But the truth of the matter is, Randy Houser is right. The song he wrote about growing up with an abusive alcoholic for a parent states:

Hollywood don’t make no movies
About a house up on wheels down a dirt road

Which is exactly why Christians need to be making these movies. Which is exactly why they won’t. Well, not exactly.

Christians won’t make these movies because we believe that Jesus makes everything better, just like a happy ending in a Hollywood movie.

I’ve toyed with rewriting all the endings of the Christian films I’ve seen to match up with reality. Because, as I like to say, Christianity isn’t like playing a country music song backwards. And sometimes, read: often, we don’t get a happily ever after. And, as I also say often, preaching that we do, that if we just come to Jesus and follow His “program,” we too can save our marriages, bring our kids out of drug addiction, etc, etc, etc, is lying to people. And it is a lie that will, ultimately, turn them away from Christ.

When it does, in my opinion, their lost souls are on our proverbial hands, because we lied to get them in, and we lied to hold them there. And when they found out the truth, that Jesus wasn’t going to save their marriage, because their spouse can choose to walk away/cheat/abuse if they want, that Jesus isn’t going to save their child, because their child has a will of their own and can choose to do whatever they want, we couldn’t help them, because all we had to offer was more lies.

The truth is that coming to Christ will only change the individual. And, yes, sometimes that change begins to change those around them. But the level of false hope we are giving them is not healthy. And when their hopes are dashed, we turn away from them, leaving them in their broken lives because what happened to them doesn’t match up with what we’ve imposed on the faith.

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