Caught two movies over the Lunar New Year holidays.
Ghost Rider was fun. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, it worked while his previous efforts (Daredevil, Elektra) failed because Ghost Rider doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Catch the Nicolas Cage character trying to sterilize a needle with hell fire.) I left the theatre feeling like I had read a comic on the screen. Cultural soda pop on a hot afternoon.
As is often the case in movies that feature the supernatural, God doesn’t make a direct appearance. And as is often the case, Christianity is portrayed as ineffectual and weak. Check out the priest, well meaning but helpless in the face of evil. I believe in a God who says that it is possible to move mountains even if you have faith the size of a mustard seed.
Still the plot presupposes a battle between good and evil with evil losing in the end. Here is the perennial human hope. The real contours of this battle are recorded in the bible not in popular celluloid and when we reach the book of Revelation we know the good guys do win in the end. But salvation comes not from heroism or romanticism but through the conquering love of Christ on the Cross.
Should Christians see this movie? Depends. If you are particularly vulnerable to images of supernatural evil then seeing them may give real evil a foothold to trouble you. You should give Ghost Rider and other movies that feature the demonic a miss. But if your faith is strong enough then go if you want to. But go with others if possible. And always go with discernment.
The other movie I saw recently was the Hong Kong production, Protege. Now here is a parade of images of real horror as the movie deals with the destructive power of heroin addiction. Directed by Tung-Shing Yee, Protege has promise but is let down by the unnecessary gore and slapstick that we sometimes find in movies from Hong Kong. (Did we really need to see the Customs officer’s hand bludgeoned off?) And at times the movie felt like a National Geographic documentary, documenting the decline of the heroin trade.
But the primary question raised by Protege is profound. Why do people take drugs to begin with? The answer could have come from the book of Ecclesiastes. People take drugs to escape the emptiness of life. The root problem is not drugs. The root problem is that life has no meaning. This was portrayed well by the two protagonists in the movie.
The drug lord, played by Andy Lau, has worked hard all his life in the drug trade. The onset of kidney failure causes him to realize that he ought to retire so that he can have time to tend to his health needs and to enjoy life. So he chooses a protege to take over his business. But his protege turns out to be an undercover narcotics agent who betrays him. The drug lord is caught before he can leave the country. He ends up taking his own life. All is meaningless.
The narcotics agent played by Daniel Wu, succeeds in what he set out to do. He gets to bring down the drug lord. But success is hollow. He gets a perfunctory clap on the back by the powers that be. He loses a girl he has come to care for. He is no longer capable of living a normal life. And he has to live with the guilt of having betrayed a man who had come to love him and trust him. All is meaningless.
As a movie Protege is uneven. Nevertheless it portrays well the central question of life. Does life have meaning? And if it does not why shouldn’t I lose myself in drugs? Or take my own life? What a great starting point for some good conversations with friends Christian and non-Christian.
I minister to many young adults and college students and I have long come to realize that the movies are a key feature of their lives. They are a key feature of my life. Therefore I hear Peter Fraser and Vernon Edwin Neal when they tell us in their book ReViewing the Movies that “…the time is at hand for Christians to engage our movie-made culture courageously, and this means we have to struggle with real issues and tell the truth.” (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000, p. 20) They go on to remind us:
“For too long we Christians have feared the corrosive influence of film and so avoided approaching it thoughtfully. We need to shift to the offensive and intentionally discuss film as a way to illustrate and apply the truth. And we need to appreciate film for its artistry and praise our Creator who gives such gifts to men.
It may be useful to recall that Jesus never reduced life to simple platitudes, and He never chose the safe, sanitized road. He embraced each person uniquely, and He got his sandals dirty. If films had existed in first-century Israel, it just might be that His tastes would have surprised people. His tastes in people seemed to surprise people, after all.” (p.22)
Fraser and Neal end their book with some guidelines for Christians and the movies. They include:
*Christians must get involved in all aspects of the film industry and find ways to use that medium to honor God and advance the Gospel.
*Individual Christians who watch film should find the means to educate themselves and their children about film.
*Films need to be evaluated according to the twin standards of artistic excellence and truthfulness.
*The popularity of certain kinds of film reveal as much about the longings of the human heart in general, as well as particular cultural and historical moments.
*The wide range of films produced in the past hundred years offers manifold opportunity for Christians to enter into dialogue with the larger culture.
(pp. 178 – 179)
If you haven’t seen Ghost Rider or Protege, well I think you can give Ghost Rider a miss unless you are an old time Marvel comic fan like me. You may want to see Protege but be warned. The true to life horror in Protege blows the cgi horror of Ghost Rider away any day.