Michael Leary on “Redeeming Films”

Michael Leary of film-think links to CT Movies’ 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2008. And then he responds:

As a matter of fact, I also consider “redemption” to be a controlling critical factor in what I think of as “good” or “bad” cinema. But I would want to expand it, even redeem the term “redemptive” from the way it is so easily tossed about in evangelical cultural criticism. By now it is subject to Walker Percy’s condemnation of how generic Christian vocabulary has become: “The old words of grace are worn smooth as poker chips and a certain devaluation has occurred, like a poker chip after it is cashed in.”

If we want to use “redeeming” with all of its Christological force as a certain way of looking at films, then we will have to go far off the beaten track, see things we don’t want to see, and spend time and money on things that studios and publicists are telling us are worthless.

I’m curious: If I asked you to turn in your list of “the best films you saw in 2008” and “the most redeeming films you saw in 2008,” would your lists differ?

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  • Good question. Though it was a 2007 release, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN would make a good example. It was easily one of the best films I saw that year–well crafted, written, and acted. But redeeming? No. The dominant thrust of the film is nihilistic, and while it does a wonderful job of showing the destruction of that kind of worldview, the protagonist (Tommy Lee Jones) is left, I thought, nearly broken by the end. We’re left with a resounding feeling of inevitability–Chigurh is coming for you. Not a note of redemption. But a superb film.