How Christian Fiction and Hollywood Are Alike

I just heard that the latest anti-war movie, Lions for Lambs, bombed at the box office this past weekend, only pulling in about $7 million. That’s an opening weekend. With three mega-stars at the helm (Redford, Cruise, and Streep). (See, they’re so “mega” I didn’t have to include first names for you to know who I mean.)So, why is the movie struggling?

One critic’s assessment: “Lions for Lambs simply isn’t fresh or courageous enough to make an impact let alone a difference.”

Really?  Is that the problem?  More importantly, is that the goal: to make an “impact,” or a “difference?”  I thought the goal was to make great movies.  Granted, there are lots of different types of movies, and different reasons for making them.  There are movies for kids; movies for pure entertainment; movies that move us and make us think.  And then there are movies like Lions for Lambs, otherwise known as “message movies.” (Note: a message movie is not the same as a movie that makes us think.  A message movie tells us what the makers think and expects us to quietly agree.)

Here is where my title comes in.  Message movies and most Christian fiction have the same problem: they place more importance on the message than they do on either providing entertainment or artistic merit.  As one speaker at a writers’ conference I attended put it:  “They present life as it should be, not as it is.”

When we present life as it should be rather than as it is, our work does not ring true.  Work that does not ring true has little chance of reaching the heart, or even the funnybone, of the consumer.   Message movies and message-centered Christian fiction are little more than fictionalized lectures, which have no hope of reaching the heart.

People are rejecting transparent message movies because they are smart enough to know that they only tell part of the story.  People know that soldiers are suffering and dying and innocent lives are being lost, all of which are the harsh realities of war.  But people also know that soldiers are volunteering to go back and fight in what they believe is a noble cause.  People know that soldiers are not blind fools who are only going because they’ve been duped and used by Republicans.  People know that soldiers are not that stupid.

In the same way, people know that Christians are not as benign and (dare I say) bland as they are often presented in Christian fiction.  Christian fiction often only tells half the story, with any indiscretions being presented as innocent mistakes or anomalies in the character of the pure, well-intentioned characters.  What impact would King David’s story have if we were not exposed to the evil that he was capable of in his adultery with Bathsheba and heartless murder of her honorable husband?

If Hollywood or the CBA has any hope of reaching people with their messages (clearly, I’m rooting for the CBA, and not for Hollywood), their best shot is to let the message grow naturally out of the truth of their story.  Not to let the message control the story until it is an unrecognizable mess with no truth in it at all.

Vote with your dollars

I just heard an interview with John Schneider (yes, that John Schneider):

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He’s promoting his new film, Hidden Secrets, which will be released in limited markets this Monday. I can’t endorse the movie yet, having not even been able to get the preview on the movie’s site to work. But the story sounds intriguing, so I’m going to check it out if it ever gets to a theater near me.

I hear people (including myself) complaining quite a bit about the selection of films out there. We like to blame the movie companies for not putting out anything decent. But, as Mr. Schneider pointed out this morning in his interview, movie companies are motivated purely by dollars (they have to be–they’re businesses). Do we truly want movie companies to make more films that we can enjoy and appreciate and even share with our kids without being ready to cover their little eyes in case we made a questionable choice? If that’s what we truly want, then we have to take a chance on little movies like One Night With the King (pretty good), Facing the Giants (not so much), and, now, Hidden Secrets.

If you like romantic comedies, you go out and see them when they’re advertised, even though you know you might not wind up loving the movie. Same goes for thrillers, dramas, etc. John Schneider also pointed out this morning that, although the film Dukes of Hazzard was widely panned by critics, fans, and especially all of those who were involved with the television show, it made something like $38 million. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel (heaven save us from sequels!). That’s how the movie industry works. When a movie pulls in lots of dollars, movie makers take note and try to make more movies just like it. (What else could possibly explain the plethora of remakes that plague the cineplexes?)

If I get a chance to see this film myself, I’ll add a review to this post. In the meantime, I hope you’ll get out there and vote with your dollars. And if you do, please share your review in the comments section.