Friday, October 22, 2010

and i'll be on the sidelines with my hands tied.

I don't know when Christian companies are going to realize that their movies suck. Separating themselves from Hollywood might be a nice idea, but, um, that's where the movies are made, guys. That's where the talent is. If you're trying to get a message out, the best way is the way that any other filmmaker tries to send a message, through a well-constructed film. I don't know why Christian filmmakers can't wrap their mind around that, or why they completely lack subtlety, why every Christian film I've glimpsed beats you over the head with the "moral" rather than letting the themes speak for themselves. Of course, much poorly conceived literature and film does this, but Christian filmmakers are the worst. They tell you 50000 times what their movie is about, literally, committing the ultimate film-sin. Also, Christian movies aren't cool. Nobody is going to watch them, except for Christians. Lame Christians.

They chose to make these movies for two reasons: conversion tools and moral alternatives to mainstream films. As for the latter, this is the problem with all things mainstream Christian. By offering what they think of as a healthy "counter" they continue to perpetuate this WEIRD counter-culture that attempts to dress up and commercialize Christianity-- selling it, basically, by wrapping it up in a bow that's supposed to inform us that it's just as cool as that other mainstream thing, only Christian. This is achieved on some level, and only subtracts from the overall quality of "art" in the mainstream. If you counter Transformers with Transfigurations or something, in the end, it's just more clutter. I feel the same way about most praise music. It's only a little bit lamer than the mainstream because it's trying so hard to be like the mainstream. Why dress it up? Why market Christianity? We're not meant to market faith, for God's sake! (....haha) Also, so far as the former, using such things as a conversion tool..... if that works, I guess that's cool, and I believe God can use anything, but still. Movies like Fireproof or Left Behind are pretty shallow introductions to a very expansive, powerful concept.

From my perspective, if you want to say something about Christ, morality, or redemption, you must explore those themes through powerful and proper storytelling, just like the best of Hollywood. If that means going indie, then go indie, like so many other storytellers. Mel Gibson, crazy man that he is and it's not like I approve of his life choices etc, did it, and did a fantastic job. He made a movie on his own about Christ, literally, with fine production value and explored the pain of Christ's final hours as a human man, making more of a point about the suffering of man (and Christ's subjecting himself to that, much like Last Temptation of Christ which everyone hates on but which I like quite a bit). Of course, I agree that his choice of subject isn't subtle, but you have to admit that it's no TV-Jesus movie. Otherwise, there are so many solid films with beautiful, uplifting themes that I think reach people in much more powerful ways than those obvious movies ever could. The redemption in Magnolia and Crash and The Royal Tenenbaums, the search for something higher in Blade Runner (and pretty much any sci-fi film)? The spirituality in Signs, The Sixth Sense, The Exorcist? The sanctity of life, explored with logic and without condemnation in Juno (written by an ex-stripper, btw), Knocked Up, and Waitress? The identification of evil in countless (good) films (like No Country for Old Men, which is NOT fatalistic, btw)? The exploration of relationships (what is real? also, a strong relationship between man and wife is meant to mirror God's relationship to the church)? Even films that Christians brand as encouraging the homosexual lifestyle, like Brokeback & A Single Man I think should be viewed to help us view oneanother as real people with real pain. The fact is, unless a certain person is primed to run to Christ, it's not going to happen because they saw a Christian movie, but if we prompt someone to think about morality, mortality, redemption, and most of all, hope, I think that opens the viewer's mind to important questions.

On a side note, I would definitely enjoy the promotion of a healthier, less scary and stereotypical Christian in non-Christian film. In Hollywood film, apparently everyone is agnostic or a scary born-again. I get that "Christians" have persecuted people, but ah, they're persecuted too. I suppose that's one nice thing about television, in shows like House MD etc-- we can discover the religious leanings of characters without them having to verbalize such things the moment we meet them, giving room for more fully rounded character development.

But that's just me.


Sonja said...

That was pretty much my only problem with Easy A: Scary Christian out to get everyone who didn't conform. (Although, sadly, the snippet of classroom conversation where one of the crazy Christian minions called Hester something derogatory happened too many times in my English classes and I wish I was over exaggerating but I'm not...women in lit with non-conformative sexual mores were continuously called slut or whore by several of my classmates).

I know you already said this but Christian stuff would probably be better and more palatable if they created their own literature instead of copying everybody else's style (says the atheist who is still head over heels in love with Narnia).

"the search for something higher in Blade Runner (and pretty much any sci-fi film)? "

But the book was better (and the title is seriously cooler too)! It's interesting that you say this as I've always been thinking about science fiction for some time -- particularly what role religion plays in it and how science fiction as a genre participates in the cultural (spiritual?) conversation/context of religion. Unfortunately, in order to fully answer it in an intelligently honest way, I feel like I need to become more familiar with it as a genre (nuts and bolts, history, etc) and read/watch much more of it (literature). However, just on gut instinct and foggy memory, I usually lean towards the conclusion that science fiction offers an alternative perspective to the religious/spiritual (for example, I had always considered that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- I choose the book as I remember it only slightly better than the movie -- as an exploration of personhood, searching inwards rather than outwards -- but again, I read it simply for pleasure and wasn't really reading it in order to answer the question that's slowly been developing, so I'm probably mistaken).

I usually get a more spiritual vibe from fantasy. Though, I haven't really read a lot of fantasy (at least, not for a looooong time), so maybe that feeling is left over from Tolkien and Lewis? Something I should probably think about.

Anyway, I agree with you. Subtlety and nuance is key to all things. I feel that films that construct Straw Men Christians miss the point and end up beating their own audience over the heads with anti-Christian sentiments (which I feel is intellectually dishonest) while completely missing the irritates me.

Though perhaps I'm being hypocritical since, last fall, I was accused of jumping on the anti-Christian band wagon with one of my characters -- though that honestly hadn't been my intention at all. Maybe I still had some issues to work out.

Katrina said...

That's unfortunate about your classmates. Then again, not to perpetuate the Scary Christian Character, but you do live in Texas ;) hahahaha just kidding. kinda.

Christians DON'T create their own literature anymore!! THEY SUUUUUUCK unless they really are hiding in the mainstream/secular world somewhere. Narnia & LOTR were and are amazing books, with or without the Christian context. But do modern authors realize this!? NO. Because they SUCK. Actually... I guess in some way Meyer is doing that. Her books are mainstream and they're basically Mormon parables. Ugh. Sad thought.

See, that's what's cool about science fiction and art in general, all that meaning is debatable, so I actually take back that thought. I really need to read androids, but from what I remember of the movie there was a real sadness in the droids and they were searching for their maker, whatever that could mean. Not that that, or the outcome, is pro-Christianity, but it raises questions about spiritual/existential elements. Again, I think asking all kinds of questions is more important than providing pre-arranged solutions. Like Exorcism of Emily Rose, which seems rather like a pro-faith movie despite the fact that it's secular, also brings the true story to light, and in reality its highly debatable whether or not the real-life Emily had demons or merely seizures. It's hotly debated, in fact, thanks to the movie. Which I think is amazing.

Anyway, I always kind of felt like the bigness of Sci Fi and the condemnation of highly advanced technology, especially in my preferred dystopian sci fi was always very sad, appealing to reason and our/the characters' sense of humanity. Whether the solution is inwards, outwards, Upwards, etc, depended on the story, but again, no matter what direction, I feel it raises questions.

Then of course the Christ archetype is particularly popular in sci-fi and fantasy, but I don't really want to count that.

That's the bummer thing. Hollywood wants such a distance from the crazy christian that Christians in general are rarely portrayed as anything more than hideous in popular film. I saw the ads for Easy A and the Amanda Bynes character bummed me out. It's really unfair, does not do anything for the writing, and only makes it harder for Christians to exist in Hollywood. "Saved" which I really like overall, kind of tried to strike a balance there with the insane Many Moore character versus the nice Patrick Fugit character, but they ultimately failed too. I don't get why main characters in movies can't "happen" to be Christians... there are some normal, nice ones out there who don't attack people with Bibles.

anyway. hahaha. rant part II.

Sonja said...

Ha, I was actually thinking about the Christ archetype when I was typing up my response but decided not to mention it since you didn't. :p

I find it only recently extra fascinating (recently as in thursday) because in one of the books I read for my Caribbean Lit class -- Masters of the Dew -- the protagonist is a Christ figure -- he saves the village and is martyred for it, of course.

But throughout the entire thing -- the /entire/ thing -- the author has the protagonist being dismissive of religion in that he accepted it as part of their cultural identity but beyond that, it wasn't really relevant to their lives because it encouraged apathy.

And even in sci fi books that are almost anti-religion or, at the very least, challenge basic ideas of certain religions (like Slaughterhouse-Five and Stranger in a Strange Land) -- you have christ figures there as well.

It makes me wonder how far back this idea of a Self Sacrificing Savior goes -- like, was literature labeled with archetypes back in the day or was it too young (and too many uneducated) for people to have the opportunity we have today, that is, to look back and label ideas. But that sounds like way too much work to actually go back and check. :p

And, honestly, it is one of the archetypes that I find the most fascinating and it'll probably be playing an integral role in my Christmas story if it pans out like I think it will.

Writing my essay about Vonnegut (which I should be doing right now, but noooo you have to go and write a thought provoking blog) makes me re-review how I perceive religion and its function in the world -- actually in a more positive light, I think.

Love how you say this:

"Again, I think asking all kinds of questions is more important than providing pre-arranged solutions [. . .] whether the solution is inwards, outwards, Upwards, etc, depended on the story, but again, no matter what direction, I feel it raises questions."

Okay! Now I must go write my essay.