Guest Post | Christopher Maloney
Chris is filmmaker whose credits include Cryptotrip, which airs on the Discovery Channel next year, and Dogwood, which is currently being submitted to film festivals around the country. He lives in Massachusetts with his family.
On Christian Movies
Standing in line to buy a ticket for Birdman (the new mind-bending Michael Keaton film), I looked up at the listed movie times and cringed. There, listed under Interstellar and St. Vincent, was a little sign showing a beaming Kirk Cameron, flying through the air amid a shower of presents while holding a giant candy cane. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, it said; the latest in what seems to be an endless stream of Christian movies. Oh boy.
The term “Christian movie” has always bothered me, both as a Christian and as a filmmaker. So-called Christian movies, as I have said before, are always all but unwatchable, which is a disturbing reality. The filmmakers, as Christians, should be concerned with bringing glory to the Creator of the universe with these movies, crafting the most awe-inspiring, beautiful films ever made. Instead, we get Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, a thin sermon that, in the words of Peter Sobcynnski of RogerEbert.com, “seems to flat-out endorse materialism, greed and outright gluttony.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, Christian movies often came in the form of Biblical epics, films like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and The Gospel According to St. Matthew. These were pretty straightforward interpretations of the Scriptures and were, production-wise, very well made. In the 1970s, we started getting cheaply produced End Times movies, which were made basically to scare people into “getting saved.” Then we entered the current phase of Christian movies, a phase begun by 2000’s Left Behind (Kirk Cameron again) and continued by Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. These are, in my opinion, just awful. We call them Christian movies, but they barely meet the criteria of either of those terms, let alone both. Christ was and is inviting and inclusive – these films are polarizing and exclusive. Who besides churchgoing conservative Christians would sit through these movies? The acting and direction is poor, the stories are contrived, and on the whole they do little more than pat fellow believers on the back as if to say, “Here’s something for us to watch, too.”
Many masterpieces have been made for the glory of God. We have Handel’s Messiah, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the written works of C.S. Lewis… Why have we fallen so short when it comes to the cinema? Well, we haven’t. Not really. It’s just that filmmakers who are not considered evangelical Christians usually make the most worshipful and Christ-honoring films. We just don’t call them Christian movies. And because they are secular and often rated R (!) many Christians won’t come near them.
A secular movie can be Christian because it displays love for humanity or exemplifies truth, just as an atheist can exhibit Christian behavior when he feeds the hungry or makes a sacrifice.
I have drawn closer to God because of certain things I have witnessed in films – secular films. Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World fills me with wonder at God’s creation more than any other work of art I have ever encountered, and Herzog is a humanist. Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple and Schindler’s List inspire deep sympathy and love for the downtrodden, and Spielberg is a Jew who doesn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, makes me want to reach a new level of kindness in my everyday life, even though its portrayal of a man reliving his day over and over until he gets it right is sort of a Buddhist idea.
So why aren’t Christians making movies like these? Is it because a great Christian filmmaker hasn’t yet emerged or because there are no great Christian filmmakers? I’m not sure. But until we figure it out, we’re left with Kirk Cameron.