Joel and I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Peter Kreeft on how to raise kids in the faith. One of Kreeft’s many strategies was to “Give them good books. Leave a lot of good books around the house. And movies and videos.”
Then he continued with a thought that resonated very deeply. He said, and I paraphrase, that movies can be implicit or explicit in terms of their Christian message. He referenced The Lord of the Rings as a brilliantly implicit Christian film as it “baptizes the imagination” without forcing any blatant Christian message upon viewers.
That thought resonated because I’ve been struggling with writing a review of Courageous, the latest and fourth film by Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking arm of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. The movie is both implicit and explicit with its Christian message, and it’s explicitness is where I have the most concerns – but more about that in a moment.
The Plot: The film is about a group of men facing a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood. While consistently giving their best in their careers, “good enough” seems to be all they can muster as dads. And when tragedy hits within one of the father’s homes, the men quickly discover their good enough misses the mark. Each man journeys to his unique epiphany and begins to understand what it truly means to be the “spiritual head of his household.”
It is a well-done, inspiring movie about the challenges of fatherhood in today’s world. The acting was great, writing was good, and the action shots were well done. You grew fond of the main characters immediately. During the screening I viewed, the theater was packed and we all laughed hysterically and choked back tears of sorrow as the plot developed. During the first hour or so, the Christian message was implicit – the writing creatively sold the Christian message. The story was allowed to its job.
Then came the last 45 minutes, and the film became very explicit, both in its Christian message and marketing of all the study guides and paraphernalia accompanying the wide-release of the film. This is where I’m most concerned with the film. Whereas in the first half of the movie, the Christian message was more naturally integrated into the development of characters and storyline. During the latter it became more Jesus-pitch than story. I found that to be unfortunate as the writing was good and could have sold the message on its own with more creativity. Please, let the story do it’s job and allow our imaginations to be baptized.
I’m confident the movie will do great in Christian circles, in places where it’s comfortable to talk about Jesus, where it’s safe to talk about men needing to be the spiritual leader of his family. I’m concerned about the larger appeal to a secular audience especially because of the sharp evangelical turn of the movie. Granted, while men within the pews can and will stand to benefit from the film, it’s critical that men outside the pews be introduced to this message. I fear the hard hitting Jesus-speak will lose this audience. I pray to be wrong – the message is awesome. If every man and father lived it out, our country and world would be a better place.
That said, both my husband and I truly enjoyed the movie. It was genuinely entertaining; I haven’t cried that much in a very long time, and I also busted out in a good deep belly laugh several times, too. Finally and maybe the most important thought for me: it dawned on me that the wide release date of Courageous is September 30. This also marks the second anniversary of my father’s death. The film is targeted at helping men become better fathers; my Dad was the kind of father every kid should have. If this film helps one man become a great father like the one I was blessed to have, then the film has done it’s job, and the minor criticism I have of the film can be thrown out the window.