Friday, July 08, 2005

More on Christian media/fiction

David's latest post at JollyBlogger was timely and topical for me. He quotes from a speech given by Steve Garber at the Jonathan Edwards Institute about Hollywood director Tom Shadyac.

I know a little about Shadyac and his traditional Catholic background. Now I don't agree with Shadyac and his Catholic theology, and I think some of the movie was a little too Catholic for me. However, I was stunned by the subject matter of Bruce Almighty, in which the main character, played by Jim Carrey, lives out a very literal interpretation of God's irresistible will. It also portrays salvation beginning at total surrender. I loved the movie. In the midst of an absurd (and potentially blasphemous) storyline, it actually preached a message of humility and servitude. It takes awhile to get there, but it's worth watching the whole movie.

Shadyac was actually persecuted a little for some of the content with this movie. For example, the couple in the movie was not married. In an interview with Christian Spotlight, Shadyac responds:

Well, Bruce wasn't really grown up. You know, we don't start perfect people in movies, we start with imperfect people and then they have to go on a journey. I mean, let's pick up our Bibles and find out how many people cohabitated and did imperfect things. There is shadow in the movie that helps the light be more light.

And we're not espousing any lifestyle, we're not trying to tell people how to live outright, we're telling a story. Bruce wasn't grown up enough to appreciate anything in his life. I think when you get married you have to appreciate your life and the partner that you're with. Bruce wasn't mature enough for that yet. It was a big step for him and that's why the movie ended up where it ended up. You can't have the end of the story without the beginning. [Laughing] Do you forgive me?

This was my point in my post yesterday: As Christians writing in a secular world, you can have characters entertaining bad lifestyles without endorsing them -- as long as you bring them around to God's way of thinking. I see this throughout the Bible. Clearly, Samson was defiantly disobedient in taking up with Delilah, and it led him into further sin. The Bible doesn't apologize for him, it simply tells his story in which he was ultimately redeemed.

Another complaint about Bruce Almighty was Bruce's rage against God, his many tirades which were seen as blasphemous. Shadyac surprises me, again, with his innate understanding of the Word:

Well, I answer with Elijah, Jonah, and Job. And I answer it with my understanding of what God seeks with all of us, which is relationship. Relationship demands honesty. And while I don't think we're ever to live in our anger and our rage, to express it is to express a step along the journey.

Bruce raged at God, and a few weeks later he got a chance to see how silly and self-indulgent that was. But had he not raged, had he not been honest, who knows whether he could have take the steps that he did.

Again, I think this is proper use of human fallibility in a movie that is ultimately about redemption. While raging against God is not advisable (I'd be looking for thunderbolts from heaven), it is a common response to people who have unreasonable expectations from God. In fact, it's very common in our capitalist culture in which we are told God has blessed America and His blessing is revealed in the stuff and personal accomplishments we acquire.

I would probably write the screenplay for a movie like Bruce Almighty differently. Mine would be much more evangelical and I would not shy away from the "dogma" of Jesus and the cross. But in terms of a Biblical message delivered to a secular world, Bruce Almighty is a mighty leap forwards. It's the kind of message of sacrifice and surrender and humility I would hope to relate in my own works of fiction.

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