Have you ever noticed that Christian cinema tends to revolve around trauma, tragedy, and miraculous near-death cataclysms?
The latest example, now in theaters: Father Stu.
Why this trend proves so popular is probably obvious: according to gospel, God graces the afflicted at their hour of greatest suffering-based need (Christianity’s chosen symbol represents a crucifixion; it’s a religion designed to comfort discomfort). If even the most downtrodden and lamentable among us can manage to keep the faith in the face of the absolute worst, then what’s our excuse?
The problem: from this agnostic’s POV, can’t these torturous conversion tales be explained away by PTSD and grief? Doesn’t it smell a little suspect that all these troubled souls not only find God, but literally experience his paranormal presence at the exact moment when their wits are rattled beyond belief, when their lives become incomprehensibly unmoored, when their normal systems of processing are being battered to no end?
Might God appear only to those in direst need of seeing him? Sure.
Or, their need is so overwhelmingly all-enveloping that it distorts the reality of their vision. Cue: hallucinations.
Stu’s apparition arrives in the immediate aftermath of a devastating car crash (near-death = closer to God, or can’t trust his perception?), and let’s not forget the religiosity he’s been surrounded by in the weeks — and hours! — leading up to the wreck. Does it stand to reason that these swirling thoughts could result in a stimuli manifestation?
There’s a reason that religion and reason are not a match made in heaven.
For the record, I’m not criticizing this formula. In fact, I appreciate how it leaves the door open for interpretative refutations below on-high. Which could be intentional (yay, benefit of the doubt); faith in the 21st century requires more of a leap of faith than ever, given the abundant evidence to the contrary seemingly on all sides. Nowadays, it’s easy to write off God’s involvement through non-diety means (AKA: my clinical theory above), which makes the conscious decision to commit to the alternative all the more meaningful.
Another source of appeal for these highest-stakes narratives: from the perspective of a movie, exceptional stories feel more fitting for the big screen than the ordinary.
But, like, what about how God’s light transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary for the devout? Where are the Christian movies that portray religion’s daily role in the lives of its flock?
Another new movie, hailing from an even older religion, shows the way:
As They Made Us cannot be defined as a Jewish movie, because it’s neither explicitly nor primarily about Judaism. However, throughout the movie, we watch the central family dabble in Jewish traditions and rituals to order their everyday chaos. Again, Judaism is not the front and center focus; its traces reside firmly in the firmament of the characters’ lives, an important part, but still only one component to consider, in relation to other attributes of their existence.
Why can the majority of movies involving Christianity be labeled as Christian movies? With their religious elements so heightened, so turned up? Where are the movies that feature Christianity, but are not predominantly about Christianity?
Why are we cinematically missing the universally-relatable slices of this age-old apple?