Most of us have seen films made in Hollywoodland or by faith-based production companies that caused us to draw closer to our Creator. What was the factor in those movies that gave us a sense of spiritual awareness? Was it due to a big budget? Great acting? A formidable director with a thought-provoking script?
Generally, movies with a spiritual punch share all of those elements. There is, however, one other component to be considered when examining a successful faith-based film: subtlety or, if you will, that gentle suggestion.
Lasting impressions stem from imagery and dialogue that respectfully suggest the need for and the existence of spirituality.
Although Hollywood films seem nearly bereft of Christian symbolism nowadays, Christian imagery has played an enormous role in entertainment. Most notably, such imagery was seen in Hollywood’s Golden Age, the 1930s to the 1950s, with many religious epics also produced in the early and mid-1960s.
One such example is found in 20th Century Fox’s “The Robe.” The epic religious drama has a Roman centurion played by Richard Burton haunted by his participation in the execution of Christ. A significant scene has the Roman giving a donkey to a Hebrew boy. It is probably the finest gift, if not the only one, the child has ever received; yet, the next day the child has given the animal to another peasant boy. With little dialogue, the visual signifies, “It is better to give than to receive,” startling the soldier into an awareness that there is something to this “new” religion.
Such a lasting tableau suggests rather than sermonizes.
What does it suggest? That man is more than a physical and mental being. A soul affects the whole man. If his soul is fed, he will find peace, contentment and purpose. And by suggesting these truths, the power of an image often lasts far longer than a thousand words.
But there is another element as important as theatrical suggestion that can only be described as the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who got their moviemaking start at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., are open to the Holy Spirit. While the two have learned the importance of the rules of filmmaking, it is obvious in their work that the message of the need for Christ is paramount (no pun intended) in their screen efforts.
Years ago I was sent a screener of one of the Kendricks’ films, “Facing the Giants.” Financed on a shoestring budget, the brothers acted as an artistic and technical two-man army, the issues of faith and fear being addressed in their heartfelt sports drama. There were the usual filmic shortcomings associated with well-meaning religious storytelling, but within minutes something special began to happen. The involving narrative kicked in, providing positive answers to nagging spiritual questions. Then, I suddenly felt the Holy Spirit’s presence.
It was as if He were showering spiritual knowledge and blessing upon the project, and upon this viewer. The film took on a sincere life, one that seemed to comfort while extolling biblical principles.
The gospel, as it deals with the ethereal “things not seen,” may be the most difficult subject to bring to the screen. But spiritual matters generally ring true when included in realistic, believable storylines germane to everyday life. And if openness to the Holy Spirit’s leading has been sought, the project will point to the Way.
On Easter Sunday in the year 2000, ABC presented a family-aimed, animated retelling of the story of Christ. As a sick little girl encounters Jesus through different stages of His life, a remarkably accurate retelling of Christ’s ministry unfolds through Claymation and graphically striking two-dimensional animation.
For some inexplicable reason, an executive at ABC in charge of the production asked me to see a prescreening, and miracles began to unfold.
First miracle, she was a Christian. Second miracle, I was the only one sitting in the screening room watching this upcoming Christ-themed TV event. Why me? Third miracle, when the centurion acknowledges who Jesus is as He died on the cross, it’s not quite right. The centurion says, “Truly this was a son of God.” While I’m no theologian, I caught the subtle change in the line found in Matthew 27:54, which reads: “Truly this was the son of God.” There’s a huge suggested difference between the grammatical articles used.
Fourth miracle, the executive took time to hear my opinion. I brought the “a” versus “the” contrast to her attention, though I couldn’t imagine how it could be fixed. The production was completed and I was all but sure that those in charge of budget at the TV network weren’t going to rehire an actor to re-voice one brief line. I didn’t think for a minute that my observation would make a difference. But the Holy Spirit knew better.
In the editing room, the infraction was easily changed. The video editor copied a “the” the actor had previously spoken and dubbed it over the “a,” allowing for the line to have its correct meaning. And that’s how it aired that Easter Sunday.
I was proud to have been involved, but you miss the point if you think I was the one at work that day.
For those of us who don’t make movies, this is still a reminder to do whatever you do for the Lord, and with the Lord. Our work is better when He’s involved.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright, in addition to writing for Baptist Press, reviews films at moviereporter.com and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)