Here’s a blog from my daughter Lucy on one of her and my favorite movies, Signs. A great discussion starter. Enjoy.
Let me go ahead and offend 95% of evangelical Christians: I do not like Christian movies.
I’ll let the evangelicals freak out for a moment…they’re saying I haven’t seen Fireproof. I have. They’re saying that I should be thankful that there are any Christian movies out there no matter the quality. Meh, perhaps. Now they’re saying they’re worried for my soul. They’ve settled down. Let us continue.
Now when I say “Christian movies” I am talking about the average Christian movie. Yes, there truly are some quality ones out there (Luther and Risen are two that come to mind immediately; Mom’s Night Out is also a fantastic comedy flic). I could get up on my soap box about Christian art but that is not the point of this blog. Nevertheless, to give you a bit of background, here are the bullet points of what I think about Christian movies that will help as we proceeded:
• God was the first artist, so I think Christians should be creating some of the most beautiful art and leading the way in creative, bold, and beautiful art. This is not happening.
• If you have to say, “It’s good for a Christian movie,” (which I have heard many times) that shows how Christian movies tend to be subpar and that whatever movie you’re talking about isn’t even good enough just to be labeled “good”. It’s like saying, “It’s good for a two-year old’s painting.” It’s not actually a good painting, you just have much lower standards for your two-year old. We should not have lower standards for Christians.
Now let’s get to the topic at hand. This past Halloween I wanted to watch a “halloweeny” movie. Since I do not watch horror films, my options were limited. I ended up watching Signs, directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan. I figured it’s suspenseful and has aliens. That’s pretty halloweeny in theme. It is a wonderful movie.
Let me recap for you: Graham, played by Mel Gibson, is a clergymen of some sort. His wife gets run over by car and dies, he leaves the church, and says there is no God or meaning to life’s events. Aliens come to Earth, and he must keep his family safe. By the end of the movie, Graham’s faith in God and His sovereignty is rekindled, and he returns to Christian ministry. The whole alien invasion story line is great (full of surprise endings, suspense, and tin foil hats) but really is not the main plot of the movie. The aliens drive the plot forward, but the film is really about Graham’s faith.
As I thought about this fantastic movie and its message, it hit me. Signs, this “secular” movie, does a much better job at delivering a Christian message than 90% of Christian movies I have seen! Why is this?
What is different that makes Signs a great movie with a great message while Christian movies (again we’re talking in generalities) are poor movies with great messages? Here is what I think are the differences:
1. Signs is quality moviemaking.
The acting in Signs is wonderful. The cinematography is great. The writing, which is what we will mostly be talking about, is phenomenal! In Christian movies the acting is not good (especially by supporting cast), the writing is subpar, and the cinematography is boring.
2. Signs is honest about the Christian life.
Most Christians in Christian movies I see are all nice and shiny (unless they’re the unsuspecting biker who found God while on his edgy motorcycle, but has sense cleaned up his life). Graham in Signs is our main character and his faith journey is portrayed as messy, brutal, and honest. We see him tell his brother that the hard things in life have no meaning and no redemptive purposes. He yells at his kids that prayer is a waste of time and it will not continue in their house. We see him slowly start to talk to God but his first words to Him are, “Don’t” and “I hate you.” He is not a nice poster boy Christian during this movie.
This is something that most people can identify with more than the church-going lady with perfect kids or kind-hearted dad who never loses his temper. Graham shows us a man who is broken, angry, bitter, and honest with God. This brutal honesty with God isn’t pretty, but it’s authentic and genuine.
3. Signs accounts for the bleed-over of spiritual and everyday life.
In Christian movies, pretty much all we see is the cliché spiritual journey: Going to church, bible reading, etc. While these are HUGE and essential in a spiritual journey, that is not all that God uses. The spiritual on earth is also there with the mundane and earthly things we go through and deal with, and God is in those.
Signs is not 100% about the “spiritual looking” things of Graham’s spiritual journey. The movie shows how everything aids in his spiritual journey. He deals with loss, being a single dad, kids with health concerns and idiosyncrasies, living with his brother, alien invasions, the normal things of life here on earth. Signs shows the bleed-over of the spiritual and earthly, and how they are intertwined in ways we do not always see.
4. Signs treats us as adults.
Christian movies will break down their message in about ten different ways to make sure you really understand! It will be spelled out and repeated. Signs does not spoon feed us its message. You fill in the gaps, you do the thinking. Signs treats us as moving-going adults who can figure out the message of a movie. There is one exception where I like my Christian media to spoon-feed me: VeggieTales, but that’s for my two-year old who needs things put a bit more bluntly.
5. Signs shows, not tells.
This goes along with the previous point. There is no eloquent sermon on how to be honest with God, no three-point message on how to run back to God after turning away. We see these things happen. We learn well with stories. Stories comprise most of the Bible. Many of these leave us to do the deciphering of what the message is and what we’re supposed to take from it (there is even a book of the Bible that does not mention God at all!). While Christian movies do a fair amount of showing not just telling, a lot of it is telling, a speech from the coach or a heartfelt dialogue from the Christian biker. In Signs, it simply shows, giving more authenticity.
6. Signs does not force feed us.
If we were literally fed movie messages, Signs would be a little sample tray at Costco, encouraging you to come and take a bite to see if it’s something you want to buy. A Christian movie would be someone force-feeding a toddler with a big spoon of broccoli while the toddler gags. Christian movies move along for a bit. Then the story grinds to a halt for a full presentation of the gospel or other message. Don’t get me wrong, I love the gospel. It is my reason for living, my hope and joy. I want all to hear the gospel, but by golly, do we have to be force-fed it by a terrible actor? Gospel presentations in movies always seem contrived, cheesy, unrealistic. I have never seen it done well.
I know what you’re saying evangelicals, “What? You don’t want them to share the gospel? Don’t you care about the lost? You heartless, liberal pagan.” I do want people to share the gospel! But I want PEOPLE to do it! Let us as Christians not put our hope in Hollywood to get the gospel to people. Let’s use film and art to be a springboard for deep conversations we have with the people in our own lives. “I love that ending scene where you can see all these bad things in his life be redeemed for good! It seemed really true to life, except for the aliens of course, haha! I know I’ve seen that in my own life…”
To sum up this long-winded blog, here is why I think Signs is better at delivering a Christian message than most Christian movies in one sentence:
Signs gives a Biblical message without contriving, with maturity, and in an artful way through an engaging story told with quality and excellence.
What do you think? Do you think the American Christian community has dropped the ball when it comes to the arts? What are Christian films you have seen that have been made with excellence?