Beautiful Creatures and the Books They Love

Review of Beautiful Creatures, Directed by Richard LaGravenese


Both Ethan and Lena want to escape—Ethan wants to get out of his backwoods South Carolina town (I forget the name, but does it really matter?), while Lena wants to escape being forced to be a “Caster” for the side of either good or evil. Sounds like two completely different problems, right? Wrong. So very, very, wrong. In fact, the similarity between the two sets of circumstances draws Ethan and Lena together and gives them the strength to overcome the challenges that face a redneck and a witch. (Technically, we’re not supposed to call her a “witch”—that’s just negative stereotype promoted by the anti-witch military-industrial complex.)

I’ll go ahead and give this movie the highest words of praise that can be spoken about a film: it made me want to read the book. I confess I went into it expecting some kind of Twilight knock-off attempting to capitalize on the disposable income of teenagers and their willingness to spend that income seeing their angst projected on the big screen. (That’s what Twilight is, right? I’ve never read it.) And to be fair, there was certainly some of that. But to be even fairer, there wasn’t nearly as much as I feared there would be. Beautiful Creatures was a pleasant surprise in that it was quite well done. There was, of course, the requisite self-pity as characters bewailed the world’s inability to understand the young, but these things were not allowed to dominate the plot. In fact, the setting (the film was apparently shot mostly in the South), dialogue, and acting were all enjoyable and engaging. Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and, surprisingly, relative-nobody Alden Ehrenreich were all a delight to watch on screen—even if Irons’ attempts at a Southern accent were occasionally wince-inducing. Even the plot itself was interesting (I am not familiar with the book, so don’t stone me if it was too far off the mark) and kept me engaged for most of the admittedly long-ish film (just over 2 hours).

Even better, there is much in this movie worthy of reflection for Christians. Just a few examples:

  • The perception of intolerance, fundamentalism, and stereotypical hatred by Christians. Of course, this is done by Hollywood so much that it has pretty much become a caricature of itself—I admittedly tuned out a bit whenever this was brought up.
  • The inability of human nature to be neutral. We are either good or evil—there is no middle ground.
  • The inability of human nature to control itself. We are either good or evil, and we don’t have a say in the matter. The film both recognizes the difficulties with this view, and, at the same time, embraces it in a way that is surprisingly nuanced.
  • The necessity of sacrifice to rescue us from our own nature. I can’t discuss this without giving spoilers, but there is a good Gospel picture in the movie.
  • The triumph of love over human nature and the ability of the freely-given love of another to rescue us from sin.

These are all subjects dealt with by the film, but the one that I found most intriguing—if only because it is so rarely engaged in this medium—was the idea of the dominance and power of the written word. The first point of connection between the two main characters is their love of reading. And not just reading schlock—we first see Ethan with a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five and Lena with a book by Charles Bukowski. Repeatedly through the movie the two find in the written word common ground, strength, knowledge, and ultimately what they were looking for in the first place—escape from their old lives. This is a wonderful picture of the Christian view of Scripture. As Christians, we believe that the primary point of God’s interaction with the world is through the written Word. While we can of course learn generalities from other aspects of creation (nature, for example), only through God’s Word do we learn about God’s personal attributes, the true nature of man, the salvation wrought on the cross by Jesus, and God’s plan for our individual lives. We do not look to our own strength, feelings, or reason, but rather trust to the written communication God has given us—communication so reliable that God describes Himself as “the Word.”

As a result of this doctrine, Christians should always have a high view of reading and writing, even beyond our view of Scripture. We should engage in regular reading (in addition to devotional reading) and encourage others to do so as well. A good place to start is an excellent book on reading by Tony Reinke called Lit!. And of course, you’re always welcome to read books recommended by Schaeffer’s Ghost bloggers.

So, long review short: go see Beautiful Creatures. It is worth your time despite being occasionally a bit more “young adult” than really fits my theatrical tastes.

Dr. Coyle Neal lives in Washington, DC, where he has experienced firsthand the romantic-literary bond between a redneck and a witch. 

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