Does every “Christian” movie have to have a happy ending, with all the characters prayers to God answered and the meaning of life revealed?
Such was my criticism of Facing the Giants, a movie made by a Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia a few years back. Sherwood Pictures films are low budget films made with mostly volunteer cast and crew (and you can tell). But it seemed many people liked the feel-good story of Facing the Giants. Sony Pictures picked it up for national distribution and it earned $10 million in ticket sales.
Now Sherwood Pictures has released Fireproof (starring Kirk Cameron from "Growing Pains") about a firefighter who has to rescue his own marriage, and it has earned about $20 million in 4 weeks in the theaters. I have not seen it, but there has been a lot of talk about how every couple should see it. Along with the movie, there’s a book The Love Dare that’s hit #1 on the NYT advice book list, and a website, fireproofmymarriage.com.
Still, Daniel Radosh, author of Rapture Ready!, a book on Christian pop culture, says it suffers the same problem of being an idealized story in which Jesus saves. His last line is really funny and probably spot on (the main character suffers from pornography addiction): “Fireproof is a pornographic version of Christianity—a ludicrously contorted, heavily airbrushed fantasy of the real thing, and ultimately every bit as unsatisfying.”
Another interesting observation that Radosh makes is that these movies, despite being “evangelical,” are really only made for Christians. This perhaps is the downfall of a decent Christian movie sent to me: Saving God.
It stars real actors who have been in real movies (sorry Kirk Cameron): Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible, Pulp Fiction) and Ricardo Chavira (Carlos on Desperate Housewives) are the biggest names. Set in the inner city, Ving Rhames plays a murderer-turned-pastor who tries to save a small-time drug dealer and a small-time church.
I watched it this weekend and the movie does suffer from idealizing the world somewhat (one small example, no guns show up in the inner city until the end and they are never used). But finding Jesus doesn’t save us from all our worldly problems and not all prayers are answered in a way we’d hope. The ending is more bittersweet than happy. The acting is professional and characters are complex—pastors are not without fault and drug dealers are not without virtues.
There are still moments in Saving God that make you feel like you are getting preached at and that, I think, is what holds it back the most. Non-Christians go to the movies to be entertained, not to hear a sermon.
It’s a great idea to “evangelize the culture,” but if this is our goal, I think Catholic and Christian filmmakers need to go a little deeper with their stories. Has anybody seen these movies? What do you think?