Can a PG-rated “faith-based” film ever crossover and find acceptance among the secular audiences that dominate the R-rated world we live in?
If Christians only make self-affirming films exclusively for Christian audiences, how will the Gospel message be brought to the masses of filmgoers who are not part of this community?
In January 2015, the world was aghast as video emerged of 27-year-old Royal Jordanian pilot Muath Safi Yousef Al-Kasasbeh, locked in a steel cage, doused with gasoline, and burned alive by the Radical Islamic terrorist group ISIS. The video was so horrific that most western media outlets refused to show it in its entirety, opting instead for stills and various selected edits.
Selective editing is not exclusive to secular media. It is a technique frequently used by the “faith-based” film industry to sterilize and sanitize the stories they bring to the screen – no bad words and no bad behavior allowed.
By this standard, most Old Testament stories of egregious and depraved behavior would never be translated to film. While the faith-based film industry steers clear of R-rated films, there was one major exception. In 2004, director Mel Gibson released his watershed film, “The Passion of the Christ.” To date, it has grossed over $600 million dollars in U.S. box office sales and remains the most profitable R-rated film in history.
In its wake, Hollywood discovered the value of “faith-based” films.
But why did the faith-based community embrace Gibson’s film while shunning other R-rated films that portray reality in all of its depravity and brokenness?
Well, sometimes it’s not what you say, but the way you say it. Storytelling is an art form that employs multiple platforms. Film is the most effective means of engaging all human sensory receptors. The content of horrific stories will affect people differently depending on the platform used to tell the tale. The same story in print may often appear less objectionable than the film version.
For example, it is one thing to write:
Then the girl’s husband pushed her out to them, and they abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, just at dawn, they let her go. She fell down at the door of the house and lay there until it was light. When her husband opened the door to be on his way, he found her there, fallen down in front of the door with her hands digging into the threshold. “Well, come on,” he said. “Let’s get going.” But there was no answer, for she was dead; so he threw her across the donkey’s back and took her home. When he got there he took a knife and cut her body into twelve parts and sent one piece to each tribe of Israel. (Judges 19:25-29 TLB).
On the other hand, it is quite another thing to experience this scene visually as an audience in a darkened theater, listen to the ominous score build as the scene reveals the terror in his wife’s eyes. Her face begins to contort in disbelief and fear. She raises her fists and strikes back at her pathetic, feckless husband who overpowers her, throws her through the doorway and into a dark night of sexual abuse where she is beaten, groped, and savagely raped.
The movie audience reacts viscerally as close up images of dirty hands pawing all over her body begin to tear off her clothes. She stands naked attempting to cover herself with her arms and hands but is struck down on the ground before being forcibly gang raped for hours by deviants whose face and appearance on screen would terrorize anyone and – that’s just the beginning, it only gets worse from there.
Both paragraphs above narrate the same storyline. However, one narrates the event using descriptive reporting words and the other with visual and emotional words.
Today, a new generation of Christian filmmaker is rising up. They recognize that we live in an R-rated world. They will tell stories of man’s wickedness with a kind of realism the secular world will embrace rather than shun. Their films will communicate objective truth in a postmodern world that has been convinced all truth is relative.
The Christian filmmaker is not afraid to deal with pain, suffering, betrayal, and darkness, but they are able to do from a perspective of truth and eternal hope.