I saw two Bible movies this week. Son of God Thursday, and Noah yesterday… What an interesting contrast. Son of God was made my Christians, Noah was made by a Jewish atheist. The first paid careful attention to getting the story Biblically accurate. The second showed no concern to reproduce the Bible’s story faithfully.
But here’s the thing: I like the second movie, Noah, better. Partly it was because of bigger budget, and as a fan of movies it always pains me to see Christians trying to make great art with no money. But I think the problem with Christian movies runs deeper than that.
In the past, I’ve tried to articulate just what those problems are, but I think I’m begging to zero in on it. Number one problem: Christian movies always have to be SAFE. But this is often at cross purposes with great, compelling, successful, art. Successful art is above all things, honest. As such it honestly imitates life. But life is full of ugliness and pain and sin. How can you depict this without either showing pain and horror, or encouraging sin?
Thus far, Christian producers and directors have answered the question with, “you can’t” and so have opted for dishonest film making, in my opinion.
Take Son of God. In it, Jesus accurately knocks over the money changing tables. Super, score one for biblical fidelity. But this is about as disturbing to watch as a knitting bee. This good looking Jesus (and why is he so good looking? Can’t he be more rugged? Can’t he look less European and more like a 1st century Semite? Can’t he look like a carpenter’s son and not a GQ model?) gently knocks over the tables and in slightly irritated tone calmly and almost in tears, delivers the line (accurately!) “my Father’s house will be a house of prayer.”
Most scholars will tell you that this one act (done twice in his ministry) was the tipping point that lead to his arrest and execution. Likely, then, this is not a minor incident. Likely, Jesus RAGED through the Temple that day. Likely, Jesus yelled ferociously, “you have made it a den of thieves!” But lest we disturb the little ones, our gentle air brushed Jesus must not offend. So we tone it down.
“Fireproof” has a couple of great out-of-pattern moments in this regard. The best part of the film for me was Kirk Cameron’s blow up at his wife that almost lead to violence. It was careful to stay just this side of PG material (no swears!), but for about 2 seconds I believed this was a real couple melting down. Also, when he went to his wife’s would-be paramour, and made a veiled threat to knock his teeth out, I thought, “I like this guy.” Not a very Christian thing to say, but a very honest thing that might happen.
See, Aronofsky didn’t care about sticking to Genesis, but he understood one thing better than Christian directors do: if you’re going to do a Biblical epic, it can’t be perfectly “safe”. Not much of the Bible is PG material. And what’s great about depicting that that is that it’s INTERESTING, because it’s REAL, and it CHALLENGES me too. Am I prepared to see God in the angry Son? Not sort-of angry/gently disturbed, but a ragingly angry, strong, Carpenter-man zealous for pure worship and wrathful against anything that would hinder it?
Such a depiction would create more questions, it would create more controversy (“*my* Jesus would never do that!”), and it would create more entertainment (oh, and it would make more money) while being more accurate to Scripture. Art is show, not tell. It doesn’t have to answer all the questions. It doesn’t have be a theology class. It doesn’t have to be PREscription, it has to be DEscription.
I wish in the future, some Christian film makers could show us the synthesis I believe is possible, between the grit and daring of Noah, and the commitment to Biblical fidelity of Son of God. Here’s an article that says it really well: What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking?