Ten years ago, Passion of the Christ blindsided the movie industry with a gory, intense, controversial film that became a huge success. Then there was The Nativity Story in 2006, which fared decently. And now, after The Bible miniseries broke DVD and Blu-Ray records last year, the “Bible movie” is back with a vengeance – Son of God came out this month, Noah came out today, and – whaddya know – Christian Bale is going to star in a movie about Moses that’s coming out near the end of the year.
Before you all lift your hands to either point a finger denouncing Hollywood for desecrating the Scripture or to praise Jesus that “all them Californians are getting saved”, I’d like to offer a few comments – as both an aspiring filmmaker and one who, shall we say, also has an investment in Jesus.
Here’s a little something I’ve learned about the movie business: it’s a business. What is the business of business? Generally speaking, MAKING MONEY. Is that wrong? If so, please quit your job, because you’re obviously not living by faith. And what do businesses need in order to make money? CUSTOMERS. (This is business according to a theater major. Hope you can follow.)
Passion of the Christ was produced for $30 million (might I add, Mel Gibson financed the whole thing himself). It hit over $600 million at the box office. So, was this a move of God? Or a great business venture? Depending on who you ask, you might get very different answers. Or you could decide that it’s both.
Look, for the most part, Hollywood doesn’t care if something is true or not – unless the audience cares. Traditionally, Christians definitely care about how the Bible is portrayed in popular culture, which I think is why Hollywood has strayed from doing Bible stuff. But since Passion proved there’s a huge untapped faith-based market, Hollywood’s been interested. So whatever we have an appetite for, they’ll feed us. Rom-coms, flying spaceships, elves and dwarves, Will Ferrell with his pants down, they’ll make it – it all comes down to WHAT WE WANT.
So basically, the idea of Hollywood making Biblical films is more up to us than to them. It can be great. Or it can be terrible. Or, it could not mean that much. Which is kind of the boat I’m on (Noah pun intended. …Oh dear).
See, I think the bigger issue here is not so much what Hollywood is making as much as where exactly we are putting our faith. Look, if we as a culture are basing our belief system on something that can only be (legally) accessed through monetary payment, we don’t understand the Gospel. The Gospel is free. And the Gospel is an actual relationship. Movies can invite us into a relationship, but they should never be a substitute for it.
I’ve had wonderful spiritual experiences watching movies. My favorite kind (and what I desire to produce the most) is narrative films that have some basis in history – The King’s Speech, Ned Kelly, Brother Sun Sister Moon, Machine Gun Preacher, Kingdom of Heaven. But I understand that they are just films. After I watch them, I do research on what I saw. I think about it. I pray about it. I believe that movies, like plays, shouldn’t tell you what to think. They should, as one of my theater professors says, “Give you something to talk about at the bar afterwards.” They’re a starting point.
So what I’m really saying is, if people have issues with Hollywood capitalizing on a Christian market, I say it’s not all Hollywood’s fault. They’re just doing their job. If Hollywood twists messages from the Bible and leads people astray, I say that’s OUR fault. Because we’ve bought into a belief system that founds itself on re-creations and interpretation of stories rather than real encounters with the Real Thing. Maybe before condemning a bunch of people whom you don’t know and who probably mostly never claimed to be Christians, we should stop using movies as our Holy Spirit and actually cultivate a relationship with God so that we can change the world with love that has no admission fee.