Let me just start out by saying that I am excited about this burgeoning market in Christian film. Really excited. Excited enough to lay down good money at the theater — and believe me, taking six kids out to a movie is a bit of good money — to support it.
I am willing to forgive a bit. I forgive some awkward acting, a bit of poor writing and a bit of a predictable storyline. It is, after all, a fairly young industry. But I am committed to doing what little I can to help them carry their message outside the pulpit and into the public square.
The part that is hard for me is the theology. Most of the “big” movies that have come out have the same basic thesis that if you pray long enough and believe hard enough, your prayers will be answered. (That’s taken almost word for word from Believe, by the way.) And while some character at some point does usually point out that the answer doesn’t always look like what we want it to look like, the movie still ends with the prayer in question being answered as desired.
And I get it. I really do. Most American movies hinge on some impossible series of events leading to an impossible conclusion that wraps it all up in the end and makes you kind of want to go back for the sequel. Secular film makers cover this with a lot of explosions, explicatives and a body count. When a Christian film maker does it, it really ends up making God look more like a magic genie waiting to do your bidding.
We all want a happy ending. But Christianity is different from the world. Our happy ending doesn’t look the same. Our faith gives us such a rich and deep well to draw from in our story telling and gives us so many ideas to explore. Also, Christianity is subtle. God’s hand moves on His people, but such that you might miss it if you aren’t watching for it. I would love to see more movies that challenge what it means to have a happy ending, even in film.
(Also, I’d like to see them kill fewer children. There has to be another way to invest your audience emotionally and tackle the big questions in life without killing a kid.)
I’d like to see more movies like A Midnight Clear (available free on Amazon Prime, even, but don’t watch it with the kids). Browsing through the movie selection, I thought, “Hmm. Christian movie. Free. Made by the people who did Left Behind . . . um . . . ” And I really wanted to go see if there were any British crime dramas I hadn’t already seen. Because Christian movies available free online are a dime a dozen and usually not worth much more than that.
But I am so glad I didn’t click away. Because this movie is so good. (A spoiler alert is customary here, but spoilers don’t spoil the story so I’m not that worried about it. Unless you are.)
It’s about five characters, which is actually a lot of character development for an American film, all struggling with loneliness and shattered dreams. There’s the lady whose husband was in an accident and brain damaged. The people at church don’t quite know what to say to her so they avoid her and she no longer goes. Then there’s the alcoholic petty thief that can’t see his kids until he gets some sort of stable living arrangement. Lying and avoidance are his first instincts. There’s a gas station owner who had big dreams that landed him in a dead end job with neither wealth nor appreciation. There’s the youth pastor who is somewhat disillusioned with his job. He wants to see faith and passion and people’s hearts changed, and he’s stuck taking kids caroling who don’t want to go. Also, he thinks the gifts they are handing out are a little cheesy and the $20 is a little insulting. And finally, there’s an elderly woman, widowed and estranged from her children contemplating suicide on Christmas eve.
Of course, the movie is about these broken lives and how, because of one act of obedience (it’s hardly even faith seeing how resistant the youth pastor was to going out), they all intersect.
The thing is, nothing really changes. The youth pastor only gets a small glimpse of what actually happened that night. There aren’t even any confessions of faith. Or Christmas miracles. But five lives were touched and it ends with a sense that perhaps this is the moment where they can start moving forward with their lives and hopefully closer to the God who brought them low so they could find a little of what they needed that night instead of just what they thought they wanted.
These are the issues I want to see explored in film because they are the issues I struggle with in life. It’s a theme I return to when I write. God isn’t silent in our struggles. But he rarely shouts.
If you enjoy this unexpected treasure as much as I did, I have a couple more I’ll share after Christmas. Subscribe for email updates (in sidebar) so you don’t miss it!