Disclaimer #2: This kind of ended up being a rant. Sorry about that.
I'll take a case in point--the recently released and independently produced film Beyond the Mask. The directing was good, the special effects were impressive, and the acting wasn't horrible (although the cheesy British accents were). But although the movie was fun to watch it was completely uninspiring because the story was weak and unbelievable.
A weak story line, unfortunately, is what ruins almost every Christian movie--the story may be interesting, but it doesn't feel like it really matters. The sad thing is that secular movie makers are way better at making movies that matter than Christian movie makers. Movies like The Avengers, The Lord of the Rings, or even Star Wars, although they're completely fictional, somehow make you feel as if the world really needed someone to save it, and that if he didn't save it, everything would be horrible.
The reason this is so sad is because Christians are the ones who are supposed to know what it is that really matters--not non-Christians; particularly not the non-Christians who crank out the junk that comes out of Hollywood. Why is this happening?
Most of the Christian movies I've seen (Beyond the Mask was an exception but some of the principles still apply to it) follow this formula: dude has issues with his job, his marriage, his kids, his health, etc. etc. He meets Jesus and, after a period of resistance, gets saved, after which all the problems in his life straighten out and everything is great. There are several issues with this set-up--namely, a) it's boring, b) it's not true to life, and c) it doesn't feel like it really matters to the rest of us.
Life isn't about your problems going away; it's about you overcoming them.
"There being some good left in this world, and that it's worth fighting for."
In the same way your story isn't about everything being easy for you. It's about you following Jesus even when it isn't easy.
The fatal flaw in the reasoning behind most Christian movies is that God is an asset that will help you get what you want. The film Grace Unplugged is about a girl who wants to be a rock star and pursues her dream until she realises that fame and acclaim isn't all it's made out to be. She discovers that all she really needs is Jesus, but what happens after she gets saved? She becomes a Christian rock star. Woohoo! Now she's bringing glory to God through her music. However, when she walks out on stage at the end of the movie the audience isn't jumping up and down and screaming for God--they're screaming for her. You're left with the feeling that fame and acclaim are still the goal after all.
Facing the Giants, Flywheel, Fireproof, and Courageous all have a similar focus: God will fix your team/life/marriage/family if you just follow the principles He lays down in the Bible. To an extent that's true; God honours those who honour him and following his commands will bring you success. But what is true success? It's not just "things working out for you" or why would movies with this as a goal feel so shallow and empty of true purpose?
It may seem dumb that a group of superheroes saving New York City should feel more important than a guy getting saved and getting his life in order, but it's a fact of life that it does. I don't believe this is simply a personal preference--although it might be (I admit I would personally prefer being a superhero to living the American dream)--I think everyone deep down wants something more than just a problem-free existence.
I'm not saying that every Christian movie has to be full of guts and glory. I am saying that every movie needs to have a hero who sacrifices something terribly important to him for the sake of something that's even more important; a man who finds a pearl of great price and sells all he has in order to buy it; someone who's willing to die (and maybe does) because he finds something worth dying for.
And I'm not saying every Christian movie has to be about martyrs. In fact, I know of several great Christian movies that meet those qualifications and aren't about martyrs, missionaries, or even pastors--just normal people who found something more important than a career, fame, or life itself. The next post will be about three of these movies, so stay tuned!
Am I the only one who is disappointed by Christian movies? I'd feel vastly better if any other malcontents joined my rant by leaving a comment. Or are you a Christian-film-lover? That's fine too. Write me a nice defence of them.