21 October 2008

Christianese Cheese

Daniel Radosh on the new Christian film Fireproof, starring evangelical superstar Kirk Cameron:
Cheesy? Heavy-handed? Yes, and intentionally so. In films like this, an evangelistic and ministerial mission do much more than a good script to assure commercial success. Not only has Fireproof made a handsome profit, but The Love Dare, a book which did not even exist until it was created as tie-in to the movie, is now at the top of The New York Times bestseller list. A Fireproof Your Marriage study kit and other products are also selling briskly.

But in making evangelism—-and acceptability to the most insular Christian audiences—-a priority, Christianese films all but guarantee artistic failure. Art demands an honesty that the evangelical bubble would find intolerable. Committed to promoting an unambiguous message that God solves all problems, Fireproof never portrays Christians doing anything untoward, or even experiencing any sorrow. Caleb’s parents’ marital struggles pre-dated their Christianity. When Caleb’s best friend reveals that he divorced his first wife, he not only says it was before he found the Lord, but adds that after he did, he would have gotten back together with his ex had she not already remarried. In the perfect world of Fireproof, good Christians do not have bad marriages, any more than they drink, gamble or swear.
Radosh puts his finger on why so many Christian films end up feeling hollow and lacking in depth; there seems to be a fear of probing evil and acknowledging the lifelong struggle against sin. Such films indicate a lack of faith, as if there is the fear that Christ's truth might be shown false if Christians, after being "saved", continue to stumble in serious ways. I haven't seen the film, and one always appreciates the good intentions of such filmmakers; if only they weren't afraid to be more genuine, they would reach a far wider audience and in a more powerful way.

One Christian film I saw recently that was a pleasant surprise was Midnight Clear, with Stephen Baldwin. The evangelical slant, though present, is subtle enough, and the film wrestles grittily with questions of life's meaning and purpose, without wrapping up neatly or tidily in the end (but still leaving one with a sense of hope).