The recent influx of faith-based films at the box office has met with its fair share of controversy. Daren Aronofsky’s Noah, which roundly polarized critics and audiences alike, is an obvious example. The now-familiar proliferation of strong opinions on blogs and social networking sites ensued, and in the end most of the talk regarding Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Noah, Heaven Is for Real et al is pretty much exhausted. Needless to say, I have nothing to add on this front.
My aim here is proactive. Ridley Scott’s latest offering, Exodus: Gods and Kings, will hit theaters on December 12 of this year. Scott, who abandoned his atheism for agnosticism some years ago, will, no doubt, bring a unique perspective to the biblical source material. In other words, if you’re preparing to take offense at any creative liberties Scott and his team of writers employ with the Exodus story, you won’t be disappointed. But I think there are more constructive ways to respond to a Hollywood treatment of a biblical story, and I want to offer 5 modest suggestions as we approach the release date of Exodus: Gods and Kings.
- Know the Source Material- Simply put, reread Exodus; it’s what the scriptwriters read, and knowing the material they’re drawing from will sharpen your own insights into the picture. More importantly, the film offers us a chance to enter back into the biblical narrative, and to anticipate widespread interest in a story we already hold dear.
- Modify Your Expectations- Don’t expect the writers to treat the bible as authoritative. Rather, enter into the film with the same frame of mind as you would any other Hollywood movie, and look for the deeper themes that emerge (if we did this more with non-biblical Hollywood movies we’d see how consistently thirsty Hollywood is for transcendence). Dismissiveness and disdain rarely yield valid critical insights. Curiosity, open-mindedness, and discernment are a much more winning combination, and they will serve you well when it comes to this film.
- Get to Know the Director- A great deal of confusion can be avoided by familiarizing yourself with a film’s director. Over the course of his lengthy career, Ridley Scott has assembled a highly distinctive body of work that will certainly shed light on his upcoming film. As I’ve already mentioned, he is an avowed agnostic, and does not view the bible as authoritative. Scott is not an isolated case; directors are frequently vocal about their worldview, and this helps us to anticipate some of the factors that enter into their creative approach. When in doubt about a particular film, viewers would do well to get to know the person at the helm.
- Meet the Film on Its Own Terms- It’s unfair to expect a filmmaker to make the film you would have made, or even the film you want to see made. Rather than throwing your hands in the air at the degree of creative license being taken onscreen, briefly submit to the director’s vision, and see if he succeeds on his own terms. This will help you to reach a critical evaluation that is balanced, informed, and fair.
- It’s Okay if You Think It’s a Well-Made Film- Rarely will a Hollywood movie be anything more or less than a Hollywood movie. It’s alright to enjoy the film even if it doesn’t display the kind of reverence to scripture that you see among committed Christians; the film wasn’t made by committed Christians. Ridley Scott may not believe in his source material in the same way that Christians do, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a superb film.
Finally, I want to offer 3 helpful Christian resources that consistently navigate the Hollywood landscape with a great deal of perception and clarity:
- Jeffrey Overstreet– Overstreet’s reviews are never less than thoughtful, balanced, and fair. I don’t always agree with him, but he always gives me something to think about.
- Brett McCracken– McCracken brings an extensive knowledge of cinema to bear on his reviews, and I highly value his insights. Simply put, there is very little in the world of movies that’s outside his field of expertise.
- Christ and Pop Culture– This site brings together a stellar team of writers who consistently offer careful and irenic examinations of Hollywood’s conflicted output. I try to visit them every day.