When an atheist’s film is artistic and Christian

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Jillian Schroeder, Contributing Writer

 

There’s something fitting about the flood of controversy that has followed Darren Aronofsky’s new film, “Noah.” The Internet has experienced a deluge of reviews written by Beverly Hills critics and Bible Belt pastors. Two by two they have come, some raving over its stunning visuals, some bewailing its Biblical inaccuracies.

What struck me most about the film was that a self-proclaimed atheist could create something not simply spiritual, but deeply Christian at its core. The film follows Noah as he struggles to understand the mercy of God’s plan for the earth, and as he learns that man’s free choice is a crucial part of the salvation process. As he struggles to determine if man is inherently evil, he learns the sanctity of human life.

Amidst  a flood of cliché Christian movies, “Noah” is a work of art both spiritual and Christian that happens to have been made by an atheist. –Photo courtesy of thefederalist.com
Amidst a flood of cliché Christian movies, “Noah” is a work of art both spiritual and Christian that happens to have been made by an atheist.
–Photo courtesy of thefederalist.com

Judging from these themes, I wouldn’t have guessed in a hundred years that Aronofsky was an atheist.

Now let me take you back about a decade to the year 2002, when the hit thriller “Signs” came out. I experienced a similarly puzzling film fact, namely, that a non-Christian filmmaker had created one of the most deeply-moving, thought-provoking films of the year.

“Signs,” for anybody who hasn’t seen it, is about an alien invasion and the way in which it drives a father to reconnect with his children and to regain his faith in God.

When I look at the movies made by vocally Christian directors or production companies, however, I confess, I find the offerings very underwhelming. They nearly all tell a cliché tale with the same agenda and a similar scene of tearful repentance ten minutes before the movie ends.

The fact is, many of the most thoughtful spiritual films are made by the atheists, not the Christians, in Hollywood.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am advocating apostasy, hear me out.

What is it that empowers films like “Noah” and “Signs” with vitality and complexity, while self-proclaimed Christian films stifle their audiences, reusing the same characters and tropes ad nauseam?

The secret, I think, lies in one’s approach to the art itself. Once a great filmmaker, be it Shyamalan or Spielberg, commits himself to a project, he pursues the story’s natural progression with fierceness. He keeps digging away at his story in order to find the truest meaning and the most beautiful presentation.

This means, of course, that there are many failures. But the approach, success or failure, is the same. Open your eyes to reality, seek the truth there and share it. That’s true art.

Far too many Christian films are the exact opposite, i.e., glorified propaganda. And while these fluffy attempts at film may seem harmless, I think that their application debases the message of our Lord into an advertisement — a type of visual merchandising for Jesus. It is almost as if Christians believe that they should lay their agenda, like a veneer, over reality.

There is a way to break Christian films out of this repetitive cycle, but it requires courage. To pursue a story, with no idea where it will lead or how it will end, requires a type of sacrifice from the storyteller.

That kind of sacrifice is redemptive.

I think that this sacrifice is the missing element of Christian movies today. Perhaps if we let go of our preconceptions and have a little faith, we can create something that is not only Christian, but truly art as well.

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