What Would You Rather Do? See a Great Foreign Film, or Jump In a Volcano?

Will any conservative Christians go see 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days?

Jeffrey Wells doesn’t think so. Here’s a clip from his blog (Wednesday) on an internationally celebrated film that has yet to show up on the radar of most Christian media sites.

Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days “manages to deal with abortion without advocating any stance other than compassion,” writes Times Online critic Kevin Maher. “It illustrates what happens when a woman’s right to choose her biological destiny is removed, and yet it also shows a picture of abortion that would please the most adamant pro-lifer.”

And yet, as I wrote last summer, the likelihood of any American right-to-lifers seeing this movie is next to nil. Their commitment to stopping abortion is sincere, but it pales next to their xenophobia. I suspect that most conservative Americans would rather jump into a raging volcano than see 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.

Now, granted, he doesn’t single out Christians… he just says “conservative Americans.” But still, I wonder…

Once in a while, we’re fortunate enough to see a great work of art on the big screen. Once in a while, we get the opportunity to explore and discuss timely questions about morality and spirituality in the light of an illuminating film.

But, more often than not, when I see this happen… either on a national or international stage… I find very little discussion at all amongst Christians. Christians don’t tend to show up at that table very often. It’s discouraging, because if something that offends us shows up, boy howdy… we come running to the table with our protests. But otherwise, we seem to have largely abandoned the world of art to “the secular culture,” and keep on praising the “classic” works by Christian artists… works that were produced during periods of history when the church appreciated the purpose and power of art.

The Christian moviegoers I correspond with regularly, such as those at ArtsandFaith.com, have been champing at the bit to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days for quite a while now. A few already have. It’s an exciting community of folks for whom the exploration of art is a crucial part of their spiritual growth.

But in my years of learning and growing in relationships at ArtsandFaith.com, I’ve found that most of the art enthusiasts there feel like aliens in their own church community. And that’s just sad.

I hope I live long enough to see this change dramatically.

But alas, in my experience with community churches, there’s very little interest in, or talk about, the arts. Instead, most folks seem content with shallow and derivative fare… the stuff designed by studio committees to make big box office bucks, not movies that actually challenge us to reflect and grow.

Frankly, I’m not terribly fond of hearing movie illustrations used in sermons. Most Sunday-morning pop-culture references from the pulpit are employed to wake up the congregation and hold their attention. They rarely contribute any profound illumination of the scripture in question.

But if illustrations from movies must be employed… why not remind people about the power of art, rather than wade around in the shallow end of commercial entertainment?

I would dare to suggest that if churchgoers and pastors were more educated in the arts, they might recognize which works of art really do have a great deal to contribute to our spiritual exploration. They might find inspiration for better sermons.

Which would you rather hear… contemplation on the spiritual implications of Shakespeare, or an episode of “Prison Break”? Which would you guess to be the more rewarding discussion fodder — a film by Ingmar Bergman, or a movie by Michael Bay? I think I might just leap to my feet in astonishment if I heard 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days mentioned from the pulpit. Or even the much more accessible Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, one of the greatest films ever made about a Christian, which remains almost unseen by Christians in America.

But I suspect I’m doomed to hearing only descriptions of scenes from action-hero blockbusters. (I would be a rich man if I had a dime for every sermon illustration I’ve heard regarding Braveheart or The Matrix.)  It makes me want to get up and start throwing hymnals.

I fear I’m stuck in a country where Christians are silent when something beautiful arrives, because they haven’t taken an interest in artistic beauty, and thus they don’t know what it looks like. But they’re quick to panic and protest something that offends them, like The Golden Compass (and they do this twelve years after the book becomes a bestseller, because most American Christians don’t notice art until it plays on a big screen at the local shopping mall).

I fear I’m going to live out my life in a culture where Christians won’t consider, much less celebrate, a masterpiece of faith-affirming artistry, primarily because they can’t be bothered to go see movies that have subtitles.*

Personally, I can’t wait to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. As soon as I have time to go to the movies again, this will be at the top of my list of must-see list.

Wouldn’t it be nice to find a great work of contemporary art celebrated and discussed on Christian radio?

Wouldn’t it be even more exciting if that art came from (gasp) a foreign country?

Or do we only talk about art on Christian radio when we’re protesting its athiestic agenda, or worrying about what it’ll do to our kids?

Should I go on and talk about how tough it is to find Christians who are willing to sit down and watch one of the three films that have had the most profound, transforming influence on my faith: Wings of Desire, Three Colors: Blue, and The New World?

What would you rather do: See 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days… or jump into a volcano?

I’m just asking.

*Note: Yes, I’m overstating things slightly. But it’s my blog. I have permission to get a little emotional.

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • solshine7

    Jeffrey, I watch foreign films quite often. I’ve been a big fan of Bollywood (Indian cinema) since I was in high school. Lagaan and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham are a couple of my favorites. And not too long ago I saw Saawariya in theaters.

    Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) is one of the best directors of our time, his style is stunning. When you get a chance watch “The Road Home” with Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha) it’s beautiful storytelling!

    Like you, I wish more Christians shared my interest in foreign films and foreign culture. They’re really missing out on some beauty works of art.

    Great post!

  • judg

    Umm, can I confess I’m not much of a movie-goer? But recast this in terms of books and I’m listening. ;o)

  • cland13

    I like foreign films, good films, etc., but I have a hard time finding them due to time and $$$ constraints. I paid $30 a pop for Au Hazard Balthazzar and an Ingmar Bergman film (can’t remember the name right now) because they were supposed to be good (they had some good moments).

    I thought Hero was beautiful. The Seven Samurai was a great story. Zatoichi was good on some level. Run Lola Run was interesting. I loved Life is Beautiful. My problem is, I don’t know where to look. Why don’t you do a list of top foreign films to see for Dummies.

    On another note, did you ever review the movie All the Pretty Horses? I watched it recently and was really moved. I’d be interested to see what you thought.

  • aslanfrodo

    I would rather see the movie! Any leads on tickets?

  • bobbinthreadbare

    The problems is that films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days… are much harder to see, lack the Hollywood stars that people are comfortable with, and, even worse for many American movie-goers, is in another language besides english.

    However, it doesn’t even have a semi-wide release until later this month in the US, so give people a break if they haven’t heard of it yet.

    And maybe someone should write a response to shallow books like “Wild At Heart,” write a new book that DOES use films other than Braveheart and The Matrix as illustrations.

  • http://thomwade.wordpress.com/ thomwade

    I have to go with the volcano…it is just to hardto read movies. :)

  • http://www.alissawilkinson.com alissamwilkinson

    Well, we saw it a few weeks ago, and it’s great.


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