Now, I know some of you prefer your Christian movies to be the overt type- the bathrobes and beards type of movies, usually starring Chuck Heston or Anthony Quinn, or some of you like the recent spate of faith friendly movies that all seem to be about firemen.
A film need not be made by Mel Gibson or star Kirk Cameron (really, Kirk Cameron?) to convey something of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit is not the sole possession of the Church (or TBN); therefore, the profane can contain the sacred within it, as much if not more than the self-described religious fare. This has always been the case. Christians just seem to have forgotten it of late.
I qualify these as ‘Christian’ because none of them are explicitly religious nor, as far as I know, made by practicing Christians. This doesn’t prevent them, however, from resonating in powerful ways with aspects of our Christian confession.
Pan’s Labyrinth and Inglorious Bastards
As Walter Brueggemann argues, one of scripture’s chief attributes is how it puts forth a ‘sub-version’ to the dominant story of reality. Against the reality of empires and evil, scripture continually professes that what appears to be going on isn’t what’s really going on. By asserting this story, people of God laugh at evil and its power. This is what the prophets do. This is what Revelation is largely about.
I can think of no better film versions of this than Pan’s Labyrinth and Inglorious Bastards. One is a beautiful tale of a ‘sub-version’ of the Spanish Civil War. Another a profane, violent comedy about WWII in which Hitler is killed- what better way to spit in the eye of sin than to imagine a different fate for Hitler?
It’s almost an old movie now, but in it Clint Eastwood offers the best, most concise summary of original sin and justification. The young, aspiring assassin asks Eastwood’s gunslinger, after having killed several bad guys: ‘They had it coming to them, didn’t they?’ And Eastwood replies: ‘We’ve all got it coming to us, kid.’
A History of Violence
Most violent movies either glorify violence or trivialize it. This is the only movie I have ever seen that uses traditional action movie violence to articulate its maker’s non-violent message. Its violence is visceral, almost like ballet. You’re left realizing the cost, physical and emotional to all concerned, of what we do to each other. It’s also got a great ambiguous ending- does Vigo’s family forgive him? Or are they too numbed and accommodated to our culture of violence?
Children of Men
A science fiction dystopia that got lost in the euphoria over one of the hundred Harry Potter movies. Mystery writer PD James wrote the (inferior) novel. It tells of a near future in which women are no longer able to become pregnant. The last generation of youth born to women are violent nihilists and every one else vaguely goes about living out humanity’s last days. Then, an every man, played by Clive Owen, becomes the steward of the last woman on earth to become pregnant. Earth’s last hope rests on one woman’s baby. Sound like an advent movie? It is. If you want a sense of the longing, fear and anticipation of Jesus’ birth then don’t watch the Nativity. Watch this.
You Can Count on Me
It’s on Netflix so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t watch this. A single mother and her son’s life is interrupted by the arrival of her long estranged brother. It’s a warm, realistic movie. The scene where she fesses up to her (episcopal?) priest about her affair is not only the best example of pastoral care I’ve ever seen; it’s also spot-on what Christians mean by the word ‘grace.’
Days of Heaven
Even Richard Gere can make a good movis…of course this movie predates me. It’s a Terrance Mallick film that retells/reworks the story of Abraham and Sarah’s sojourn in Egypt in the 19th century American prairie. It’s the MOST BEAUTIFUL, and I mean visually, film I have ever seen. You’re left feeling that all the earth is charged with grace. Which, of course, it is.
Crimes and Misdemeanors
I know what a lot of you think about Woody Allen. Whatever, he’s a genius. Picasso was a freak too, no one quibbles about his art. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a Job-like meditation on whether God sees what we do in this life. The question is asked by Martin Landau, who’s done a few things that make him hope the answer is no. He asks the question to his eye doctor, a faithful practicing Jew. What’s the answer? Well, let’s just say the eye doctor (spoiler) is losing his eye sight.
Tree of Life
This movie took a lot of s$%^ last year when it came out. It’s by Terrance Malick too. Dinosaurs. Meditations on Nature vs Grace. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt. CGI Creation Story. Stunning Photography and Legit Philosophy. What’s not to like?
If the movie suffers or is imperfect it is so because of its ginormous ambition. When comparing it to, say, Superbad, just consider the degree of difficulty.