Time on Christians at the Movies; Collateral Cruises
The unearthly success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ helped movie execs recognize that fervent Christians, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books and music, are worth courting. Publicists hired by studios feed sermon ideas based on new movies to ministers. Meanwhile, Christians are increasingly borrowing from movies to drive home theological lessons. Clergy of all denominations have commandeered pulpits, publishing houses and especially websites to spread the gospel of cinevangelism.
(There's a sidebar to the article that offers excerpts from Christian press film reviews.)
While Corliss has highlighted an interesting trend, he chose to focus only on Christians' evangelistic and didactic summarizations of popular films. It is true that many ministers are exploiting movies in order to distill simple moral lessons, reducing each cinematic story to a didactic paraphrase.
But the truth is that many Christians are going much farther than that, achieving no less than an awakening to the power and purpose of art. Great art is not reducible to paraphrase. Nor is it useful only as a backdrop for a sermon. Jesus offered parables to his listeners and avoided interpreting them with direct applications; he said, "Those who have ears to hear, let them hear," and then usually let the listeners work out for themselves what it all meant.
This approach not only allowed listeners to have personal, complex, and intense explorations of good storytelling, but it emphasized that truth reveals itself when the observer makes an effort to apprehend it. Likewise, the best films lead us not to simple, practical answers, but to great questions that drive us to engage the world, other people, and ultimately the Creator, more fully. Christians are discovering and enjoying this pursuit—individually and in film discussion groups. (I chronicled an experience at the Flickerings Film Festival, the movie-discussion activity at the Cornerstone Festival, in the latest issue of Image.)
Reading Corliss's article, I'm reminded of the way that Eddie Izzard spoofed contemporary Christian tendencies to extrapolate spiritual lessons from popular culture. Doing an impression of a Church of England minister, Izzard quipped, "The sermon today is taken from a magazine … that I found in a hedge. Now, uh … lipstick colors this season are in the frosted pink area [with] nail colors to match. And, uh … this reminds me rather of our Lord Jesus! We will now sing hymn 405, 'Oh God, What on Earth is My Hairdo All About?'"
Sure, we can draw rewarding observations from popular films that resonate with scripture. But too much of this can give Christians the impression that this is the only proper way to encounter and interpret art. We don't need to find "a Christ figure" in order to find value in a work of art. We instead need to consider what the film reveals.
I'm interested in your responses to the article. Send your thoughts to LookingCloserRvw@aol.com. Your response may be excerpted in a follow-up article.
In Collateral, Tom Cruise plays a hit man who hijacks a taxi cab in L.A., forcing the driver to play chauffeur as he makes his murderous rounds. Jamie Foxx plays Max, the conflicted cabbie. The film, directed by macho-man-movie maestro Michael Mann (Manhunter, Heat, The Insider), rivals The Bourne Supremacy for the title of summer's best thriller.