Monday, May 2, 2022

The John Newton Story

Animated / Drama
2021 / 30 minutes
Rating: 7/10

We know John Newton (1725-1807) as the former slave ship captain who repented and then wrote the amazing hymn Amazing Grace. In this Torchlighters episode, we get to hear the rest of his life story from the man himself. When an anti-slavery bill is brought to the British Parliament, one of the members goes to Newton to ask him to speak out on the issue. In response, an old Newton starts to share his dark history.

It is a story of constant rebellion – this was a sailor so salty that the other sailors complained about the filth coming from Newton's mouth. It is also a story of a transformation wrought over many years: when Newton first became a Christian he stayed in the slave trade, going on to captain two slave ships for three voyages, transporting thousands of slaves in shameful conditions. This, it turns out, is why the Member of Parliament (MP) has come to Newton: since Newton captained slave ships as a Christian, the MP thinks he can convince Newton to speak out in favor of slavery. The MP has another reason to think Newton might help his cause: after attending the church that the older Newton now served as a pastor, the MP had never heard Newton preach against slavery.

Newton realizes that not only can he never speak for slavery, he must now, finally, begin to speak against it... no matter what it might cost him and his church. His congregation was made up of many who had ties to the slave industry.

Cautions

While the brightly-colored animation style might have parents thinking this is all-ages viewing, the topic matter means it is not so. The toughest scene is right at the start, where we're shown a happy African village, and then the slavers come to kill and steal. It's brief, lasting only a couple of minutes, serving as the visual background to a parliamentary speech given by Christian politician William Wilberforce on the evils of slavery. Man-stealing – a crime God punishes with death (Ex. 21:16) – is so brutal there's no way to entirely mute the wickedness of it, so parents will need to watch the first few minutes to best judge whether their children will be able to handle it. I wouldn't show this to my under tens.

There is one picture of Jesus briefly shown, in a book the Member of Parliament is reading.

I'll also note the video leaves viewers with the impression that a young Wilberforce and the older Newton both saw the end of slavery in Britain. They did, together, help end British involvement in the slave trade – that happened in 1807 – but it wasn't until 1833, many years after Newton's death, that the slaves in Britain were finally freed.

Conclusion

My favorite part was the William Wilberforce speech, which bookends the presentation, beginning and ending it. Would that we could one day hear a Christian politician give such an impassioned speech in Parliament in defense of the unborn! This is one to watch with the family, or with a class, and discuss how we can and must rise to the defense of the unborn, never being afraid to raise their plight in the public square.

You can watch The John Newton Story for free at RedeemTV.com though you will have to sign up for an account. Check out the trailer below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World

Documentary
55 minutes, 2009
Rating: 8/10

This must be the most expensive documentary ever made by creationists and it is certainly the best looking. Creation Ministries International (www.Creation.com) spent more than $1 million staging and filming key events in Darwin’s life, including his time on the HMS Beagle and his visit to the Galapagos Islands. The production values are simply astonishing: solid acting, slick computer graphics, gorgeous close-up shots of the Galapagos wildlife - and a narrator with the perfect classical British accent.

The producers wanted to make this as good as anything you might see on the Discovery Channel, or on a PBS or CBC documentary because they aimed to get it shown on public TV around the world. However, that aim also impacted how they presented the content. If they wanted to get it shown on a channel like CBC they certainly couldn’t make it explicitly Christian(!) so rather than being a defense of Biblical Creation, the documentary limits itself to critiquing Darwinian Evolution.

The end result, then, is a persuasive, gorgeous, tactful, hour-long takedown of Darwin – the lie is exposed. The downside is that there isn’t much here pointing people to the Truth. Some have criticized this as a job only half done. That might be, but the half that it does do, it does brilliantly. 

And you can watch it for free now, below.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Unitards

Family / Comedy
2010 / 107 minutes
Rating: 8/10

The producers bill this as "High School Musical meets Napoleon Dynamite" but I'll have to take their word for it, not having seen either. I do know it is laugh-out-loud, tears-in-your-eyes funny in parts.

When the vice principal charges Lewis Grady with building up school spirit, he decides to start a guys-only dance...thing (he isn't quite sure what it is, but he knows it isn't a dance team because that's what girls do). His two quirky friends are happy to help, even if they've got some misgivings about dancing in front of the whole student body. The three buddies bribe, beg, and bargain their way through the recruitment process, ending up with a group of a dozen or more. But it's one thing to get a group together, and another to get that group dancing together, especially when the guys have more than their share of left feet. But with a little help from mom and some friends on the school's award-winning girls' dance team, they start figuring things out.

Right before their first public performance, Lewis rallies the troops with an inspirational speech that is comic gold. He reminds them of the dream most every student has had, of showing up to school in nothing but your underwear. "This is that day," he tells them: "The majority of the kids out there feel like they're showing up to school half-naked every day. Today is for the nobodies, for the average, I-don't-even-matter kids." Lewis wants his group to be an inspiration to the ordinary guys and girls out there in the audience, showing them you don't have to be awesome at something to do it, you just have to be willing to ignore the peer pressure and embrace the joy.

The villain of the piece is the teacher who runs the girls' dance team. She thinks the boys are making a mockery of dance, and she wants them shut down, and she's used to getting her way. While that adds some drama to the story, this is mostly just goofy dance numbers, and quirky friends, showing how fun can be had when you ignore the mockers and set out to be encouragers.

Cautions

The biggest caution would just be the film's name. Unitards are a one-piece garment that dancers (especially ballet) often wear, but there is also an implicit, never made explicit, reference here to "tard," short for retard, with the joke being that any boys in a dance group are sure to have that word directed their way. It's in bad taste, but that it isn't made explicit makes it easier to overlook.

While the dancing is modest by worldly standards, there is a lot of it, and it isn't the formal sort you might see in a "Pride and Prejudice" film. This is more the jump and bounce and shake and wiggle type of dancing toddlers through teens do. That includes some butt-wiggling moves that are a brief part of one or two of the dance productions. It's slightly sexually suggestive, but incidentally, rather than provocatively so. And when paired with the students' generally modest dress, it is quite tame.

Conclusion

Director Scott Featherstone combined elements of his own school experience with what his son Sam (who plays Lewis Grady) and friends were experiencing to come up with the script. Then he held auditions at his son's school to get all the actors. That's why the acting is solid enough, even though these are not professional actors. What they are is high school students playing high school students so it's not a stretch. And because the director and scriptwriter was a parent who knew the actors, some of these kids are almost certainly playing versions of themselves.

What makes this worth watching is just how sweet it is. High school can be a tough time for many, and what we have here is a prescription for how your kids can make it better for others, and maybe themselves. Lewis Grady's friends poke fun, but they don't tear down. The guys do look goofy dancing, but they're also being brave, and some of the school's girls are smart enough to appreciate and encourage that bravery. This is high school as we wish it could have been, and would still like it to be for our kids: full of challenges, yes, but not full of naysayers, mockers, and killjoys.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

PAW Patrol: the Movie

Animated / Children / Family
2021 / 86 min
Rating: 8/10

While our kids had never seen the TV series this is based on, we'd all seen enough of the PAW Patrol lunchboxes, toys, and commercials, to understand the premise: talking puppies, each with their own expertise, team up to help wherever there's a need. Puppies ensured they had cute covered and our daughters hooked, but was this going to be good enough to keep the parentals awake?

It turned out, yes – there was more than enough action and intrigue to keep me bright-eyed the whole way through. It even opened with a bang (and a screeeeeeeech, and an "oh no!"): a semi-truck driver narrowly misses a baby turtle crossing the road, but his emergency maneuvers have him veering all over the road and crashing right over the edge of a bridge, leaving driver and truck dangling precariously over the bay hundreds of meters below. It's as tense as a G-rated film can be, and had our daughters on the edge of their seats waiting for the rescue pups to spring into action.

What I most appreciated was when the story headed to Adventure City where a new cat-loving, dog-hating politician had just won the mayor's race... but only because the other contestant had to drop out. There's some political satire here, as the power-mad Mayor Humdinger tries to transform the city into his own vision of utopia, which, of course, goes disastrously. I don't know if the writers were purposely trying to mock big government but, regardless, they did a good job, as everything the arrogant mayor touches goes comically amuck.

A major subplot has PAW Patrol's top dog, Chase, struggling with a crisis of confidence after he makes a mistake during a rescue – that's the story's drama. Comic relief comes from all directions, maybe most notably in the form of a sassy new Patrol member, named Skye.

Caution

A heads up if you have an adopted child: Chase's struggles are due in large part to a traumatic experience in the city right before he was rescued and then adopted by Ryder, the team's only human member, so if your son or daughter had traumatic experiences before their adoption, this might hit them too close to home. I'll also note, this is an action-packed movie, which makes it exciting, but maybe also a bit much for some younger kids. Other than that, the only caution I caught would concern a "wedgie drone" as seen in the trailer below. It's just 15 seconds of questionable silliness, the end result leaving the mayor pantless, though wearing long boxers. There's nothing indecent in this scene, but the film could have been improved by its absence.

Conclusion

I was struck by just how much good old-fashioned fun this film was from beginning to end. I've read a review where this was said to come out of a "lightly Christian" worldview/morality, and I get why they would think so. I don't know if the producers were Christian, but they sure could have been. While this is just fluff – there's nothing all that deep here – there's also no poison pill mixed in with the cotton candy. It's just fun fluff all the way down.

I'd recommend this for the 8-11 crowd – it is a children's film. But for a first viewing, this could be one for the whole family. Older teen children won't like it nearly as much as their younger siblings, but even if the film doesn't grab them, they should get a kick out of all the little ones' giggles and gasps.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Sword and the Rose

Family / Drama
1953 / 92 minutes
Rating 7/10

When I first found this film and read in the description that the hero was Mary Tudor, that was too much for me. Mary Tudor was a Roman Catholic queen of England in the year 1553 to 1558 who gained her nickname, Bloody Mary, for her vicious persecution of the Protestant Church. This was the Hollywoodization of history gone too far, and I had no interest in watching a film about her romantic life.

But then I realized that this Mary Tudor wasn't that Mary Tudor. This film was about the sister of Henry VIII, rather his devilish daughter. And so I took a look.

Content

As the sister to the king, Mary has some gumption and is much admired by all the young men of the court. But as the sister to the king, her marriage prospects are tied up with her brother's political machinations, and there's no advantage to him, to marry her off to an Englishman. He wants her to marry the aged King of France.

She, however, is a very stubborn lady, so it's an open question as to whether she'll do as he says. It's only when she falls in love with the Captain of the Guard, and tries to sail off to the New World with him, that the king gains the upper hand. The couple is caught, and her knight in shining armor is going to be hung for treason... unless she submits to her brother's wishes and marries the French king.

There are some exciting twists and turns in the plot that I won't give away, but I will note there is, ultimately, a happy ending for all.

Cautions

The broad outlines of the story are based on history, and if that is how the film is enjoyed – as very loosely based on a true story – then it is quite a tale.

But for those who are more concerned with accuracy, they may object to Henry VIII being portrayed as a rascal more than a rogue, or to the unsympathetic portrayal of his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, who was later treated shamefully by him.

There are some sword fights, but this is an old-fashioned Disney film so there is no blood or gore.

Conclusion

Our whole family quite enjoyed it, though our youngest, at 7, needed the film to be paused at times, so we could explain the historical context of what was going on. (She didn't get how a brother could decide for a woman who she would marry.) This is a "Disneyfied" version of history, and that is both its strength and weakness, suitable for all ages, but kinder and gentler than the events really were.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Harriet Tubman Story

Animated / Family
2018 / 30 minutes
Rating: 7/10

This is an action-packed overview of Harriet Tubman's life (c. 1822-1913), an escaped former slave who helped other slaves flee the American South to live free in the Northern US and Canada. We get introduced to the "Underground Railroad" during Tubman's initial escape. No trains were involved; this railroad was simply a series of homeowners (or "conductors") along an established escape route, who were willing to hide fleeing slaves, and take or direct them to the next railroad "stop." Sometimes slaves would travel by horse and cart, hidden among the hay or goods on the back, and other times they would have to trek through the woods with a guide, or maybe on their own.

After gaining her own freedom, Harriet went back more than a dozen times to help her family and others slaves also escape. She gained the nickname Moses because she was bringing her people to "the Promised Land." Her willingness to take these risks was because of her love for the Lord and trust in Him. In the going and coming she would constantly pray to the Lord, and the Lord kept her and her charges safe.

Cautions

This is a children's half-hour video, so there isn't time to have any sort of lengthy discussion about slavery. But I still think it problematic that there is no distinction made between US slavery and the slavery God allows in the Bible. That's a problem because I suspect most children watching this will leave with the impression that slavery is entirely condemned in the Bible... and then be unsettled when they discover otherwise.

Another theological concern happens when a fellow slave comments on Harriet's constant prayers, Harriet explains that she's just doing as the Good Book says, to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). She keeps praying because "I'm hoping [God] will just get tired of hearing me and set me free." One of my daughters compared her approach to that of the persistent widow of Luke 18:1-8 when faced with the unjust judge. But does God need to be worn down? There are problems with Harriet's understanding of God here, so parents should hit the pause button and discuss the reasons we are to ceaselessly pray.

Conclusion

While this animated production mutes the horror of slavery, the lesson would be lost if it did so entirely. So there's trauma to contend with, starting with the opening scene where an older Harriet is being chased and shot at as she helps her parents escape. More traumatic still is the next scene, where a juvenile Harriet witnesses the break up of a slave family – their master has sold two of the daughters, and the girls are being taken away while they cry out for their weeping mama.

That means that even as this is a powerful introduction to Harriet Tubman, it'll be too much for preschool children to handle, and others, even up to 10, may need to be guided through with a few timely uses of the remote's pause button. This would be best for a family movie night when your kids are a bit older.

You can watch The Harriet Tubman Story for free below.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Documentary
2003 / 67 minutes
Rating 8/10

This documentary is a couple of decades old now, and it's more important than ever. When it was released, it had cutting-edge computer graphics unveiling the inner workings of the cell, and it told the story of the origin of life research current to that time. Today, it also serves as a history of the early days of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, highlighting key figures in it like Phillip E. Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer, Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Dean Kenyon.

Kenyon had previously written a textbook in support of evolution, and Behe had also begun his career as an evolutionist before reassessing after he read Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. As he describes it, reading this book made him feel like he'd been cheated; he'd had years of scientific education, was on faculty at Lehigh University, and he'd never once heard of the many problems with evolutionary theory! We get to come along as Behe and Kenyon explain how their eyes were opened.

We also get presented key ID arguments like Irreducible Complexity, which proposes that some biological machines need all their pieces to work, and could never have been formed by evolution's step-by-step process. This is an issue being as hotly debated today as it was back then.

Other highlights include a look at the bacterial flagellum, which is effectively an outboard motor on a bacteria, propelling it as much as 100,000 rotations a minute. This is a marvel of engineering, evidencing the brilliant Designer behind it.

And we're shown how biological machines are needed to assemble biological machines, which make the question of how they could have first formed one that evolution seems incapable of answering. It's a chicken and egg problem: which came first, the Machine A, needed to assemble Machine B? Or was it Machine C, which was needed to assemble Machine A?

Cautions

The ID Movement looks at the origins debate from a philosophical and scientific, but not religious perspective. They argue that evidence outside the Bible makes it clear there is a Designer. On this point, the apostle Paul, writing in Romans 1:20, agrees. But the weakness with ID is that it doesn't give the glory that is His due specifically to the God of the Bible. ID has a "big tent" approach which includes other religions, and both those who believe in a young Earth and those who believe it is more than 4 billion years old. However, this documentary doesn't touch on old ages.

Conclusion

While the computer graphics aren't as cutting edge, they are still amazing. We get a closeup look at the operation of micro machines we never knew about, but which are in our own cells! This is a must-see for high school science classes, and it could make for fascinating family viewing too with teens and parents.

Speaking of the classroom, Illustra Media has packaged this exact same material, in a slightly different order, in Where Does the Evidence Lead? (2003). There it comes in 6 distinct chapters, all around ten minutes long, making them easy to present one or two at a time in high school or university classrooms. Illustra Media has made that repackaged version available for free online, and you can watch it below.

Part 1 - Life: the Big Question (10 min)

We being with Darwin, his trip to the Gallipolis Islands, and how he developed his theory of Natural Selection.

Part 2 - What Darwin didn't know (8 min)

We're introduced to Michael Behe, who explains why he used to be an evolutionist: no one had ever previously presented him with any problems with evolutionary theory. But the more he learned about the cell, and how complex the simplest block of life is, the clearer it became that chance processes couldn't explain it. One example: the bacterial flagellum motor, which has been called "the most efficient machine in the universe."

Part 3 - Molecules and mousetraps (12 min)

In Part 3 we're introduced to the concept of "Irreducible Complexity" which proposes that in biological systems there are some machines that could never have come about by a step-by-step process – they would have to come together all at once. That is a powerful challenge to evolutionary theory, which precisely proposes everything can come about by small incremental steps. Michael Behe illustrates this point using a mousetrap as an example.

In answer, evolutionists have proposed their own theory of "co-option"... which has its own problems.

Part 4 – How did life begin? (11 min)

How did life begin in the first place? Darwin had very little to say on the subject. In recent years scientists have experimented with trying to get some form of "chemical evolution" started by mixing various chemicals together. But it isn't simply the chemicals that make life happen, but how the chemicals are arranged. Like letters in a sentence, we don't need just the right sort, but we also need them in the right order. The math here – the odds against even a single amino acid forming by chance – is fascinating!

Part 5 – Language of life (13 min)

Dean Kenyon wrote a best-selling textbook on the evolutionary origins of life. But then one of his students challenged him to explain how the first proteins could have been formed. Kenyon had originally proposed they would self-assemble, but what we were learning was that proteins are formed by other micro-machines, using instructions - there was no self-assembling. So Kenyon started to ask, what was the source of the instructions?

In this part, we also get to look into the cell to see how that information is put to use.

Part 6 – The Design Inference (14 min)

Design has been ruled out at the start – not by the evidence, but by mainstream Science's anti-Supernatural bias – as a legitimate answer to origins question.

But Man is fully capable of spotting and recognizing design. It is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Toy Story

Animated / Family
1995, 81 minutes
Rating: 8/10

Twenty-five years ago Toy Story was groundbreaking: it was the first feature film to be animated entirely by computer. Since then computer animation has greatly improved, so what's allowed Toy Story to continue on as a family favorite isn't the look – solid though no longer amazing by today's standard – but the story.

Woody is a toy, a Western sheriff with a pull string on his back that makes him say "Reach for the sky, pardner!" He and his fellow toys live in their owner Andy's room, and while they are limp and lifeless when people are around, they spring to life (as every child has always suspected) the moment we leave. As the story begins, the toys are nervous because it's Andy's birthday. That means new toys are on the way, which could mean that some of the old toys get relegated to the bottom of the toy box.

The brilliance of Toy Story is in the toy casts' very different personalities: we've got a timid Tyrannosaurus Rex, a wise-cracking Mr. Potato Head, a loyal Slinky-Dink Dog, and a flirtateous Little Bo Peep lamp. Shucks, even the Etch-a-Sketch is quite the character, trying regularly to "outdraw" Sheriff Woody.

The biggest personality of them all is the newest arrival. For his birthday, Andy has gotten a Buzz Lightyear – a spaceman action figure – that replaces Woody as his favorite. Woody is jealous, but what really drives him nuts is that Buzz doesn't even understand that he's a toy. Buzz thinks he's landed on an alien planet, and that the other toys are the friendly locals. Woody is normally a pretty stand-up toy, but in a bout of exasperated jealousy he gives Buzz a shove. He meant to bump Buzz off the bureau, where he'd get stuck (and maybe forgotten for a while) in the gap between the bureau and the wall. But instead, he sends Buzz right out the second-story window into the bushes below.

Woody, more concerned with what the other toys will think of him than actual concern for Buzz, tries to rescue the spaceman. But things just go from bad to worse and they end up in the next-door neighbor's house, in the clutches of Sid, a boy whose parents don't supervise him like they should. Why is it dangerous to be around Sid? Because he blows up his toys... and now Woody and Buzz maybe next!

Cautions

While there aren't major cautions,  there are a lot of little nits that could be picked. For example, when one toy talks about how much he trusts Woody, Mr. Potato Head takes off his lips and presses them to his butt – adults understand, though my kids missed it. A bunch of alien toys in one of those coin-operated toy dispensers view the claw that comes down as "our master" and speak of it in a worshipful manner. They're basically a cult, and make for a weird, if fortunately brief, addition.

There's also the overall tension throughout. This is intended as a kid's film, but there were parts where we had to hit the fast-forward button because it was just too much for our 8-year-old. Sid, in addition to blowing up his toys, also splices different toys together, so when Woody and Buzz are trapped in his bedroom, they get surrounded by his freaky creations, including the creepiest toy you'll ever see: a mute Mechano spider topped with a  shaved doll's head. Buzz and Woody discover that they're all friendly, but I think even adults could get the kreebles in this scene. Then there's Sid's toy destruction: he blows up one, and his dog tears another to bits. When you consider that toys are people in this film, that's quite something to include.

Conclusion

In 1995 I saw this in the theater with my college friends and we all loved it. But what I thought then was little kids' fare that adults could like too, is actually too scary for the very young. After watching it again with my family, I'd describe it as for 10 and up...though if you are willing to hit the fast-forward button here and there, younger kids can enjoy it too. It's basically G-rated, with some PG moments.

This is an odd couple/buddy film, and adults will realize from the start that Woody and Buzz are destined to become the best of friends by film's end. But even if the end is obvious, loads of humor and action make it a fun journey, and one your kids will likely share with their own kids a couple of decades from now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Phantom Tollbooth


Animated
1970 / 89 minutes
Rating: 7/10

This is a peculiar movie based on a peculiar book, and as such, will have only peculiar appeal – this is not for everyone.

Things begin in "live-action" with Milo, a boy bored by everything, returning home from school to discover a mysterious package in his bedroom. It's a tollbooth – a talking tollbooth! – that invites him on an adventure if he has the gumption to go. So Milo hops in a miniature car, and the moment he drives through the tollbooth, the whole film switches over into animation, taking him to a weird and wacky world that couldn't be depicted any other way.

Both the book and the film are a morality tale, but of a secular sentiment. The bored boy is going to learn that all those things he's being taught in school – numbers, and letters, addition and spelling, subtraction and writing – are far more interesting than he's ever realized. He'll make this discovery by visiting the kingdom of Digitopolis, where numbers rank at the top, and the kingdom of Dictionopolis where words are said to be supreme. But this is a topsy turvy world, where a watchdog actually has a watch inside him, and a spelling bee, is a bee that can spell!

Some of that craziness is the way this world has always been, but things got worse after the kings of Digitoplosis and Dictionoplois banished their sisters, Rhyme and Reason. As the kings should have known, without Rhyme and Reason, things can get too silly, too quickly! That's why they task Milo with rescuing the princesses, equipping him to contend with the demons of ignorance that he'll meet along the way. These demons include the Terrible Triviam, who tempts people to do unimportant tasks now, instead of the thing they really should get to. Then there's the Demon of Insincerity, the Hideos Two-Faced Hypocrite, the Over-bearing-Know-It-All, and the Threadbare Excuse, all able to derail industry and the search for Truth. But Milo is ready to fight!

Caution

One caution would concern the demons, which might be scary for children. But these aren't Satan's minions – these are personifications of temptations (like in Pilgrim's Progress) that are trying to ensnare and delay Milo.

The other caution concerns the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Logic is an outworking of God's character, but in this secular story, logic – Rhyme and Reason – are the "gods" of the film (though they aren't described as such) able to completely transform the kingdom and save the day. It will be worth pointing out to kids how logic is not itself foundational, but lies on the foundation of God Himself.

Conclusion

This will be of interest to any who've read the book. For those not already familiar with the story, the closest thing I can liken it to is Alice in Wonderland, not in plot, but – I'll say it again – peculiarity. If your family is the sort that would be up for the surreal Alice, then they may love this adventure too!

That said, this takes a bit to get into - you might need to watch half an hour before you get a feel for what sort of movie this is. And also note, this is a film to be paused and discussed to be properly appreciated, whether to explain the wordplay to kids, or to point out to them the lesson Milo is learning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

C.S. Lewis: the Most Reluctant Convert

Biographical drama
93 minutes / 2021
RATING: 9/10

If you already know Lewis you're going to love this film; if you don't, this will soon have you loving Lewis for the way he could put into words the wonder God works in his and our own hearts. This is the story of Lewis's conversion from ardent atheist to "the most reluctant convert," bowing his knee to God not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't do otherwise.

It's also a story superbly told. There are three different actors playing Lewis, one as a boy, another as Lewis in his twenties, and the third, portrayed by Max McLean, as Lewis in his fifties. McLean's Lewis, the Christian Lewis, is actually the film's narrator, "breaking the fourth wall" by talking directly to the audience and explaining the thoughts being thunk by the other younger still-kicking-against-the-goads Lewises. It's all shot on location, so we're able to walk along with the older Lewis through the halls of Oxford as he takes us, for example, to a pivotal discussion his younger self is about to have with J.R.R. Tolkien. What an absolute delight!

The showing I went to with my brother-in-law started with a 12-minute documentary, The Making of the Most Reluctant Convert. It was an odd way to begin, and a friend mentioned that this featurette was likely supposed to come afterward. But because the film itself has a non-stop intensity – not from car chases or explosions, but from the young Lewis's constant wrestlings with God – it was a help to have this slower introduction. Like the blurb on the back cover of a book, the featurette summed up what was to come, prepping us before we were launched right into it. Whether intentional or not, front-loading the featurette was brilliant, and if it doesn't come that way on the DVD, I'd recommend heading to the special features to begin with the documentary first.

Lewis fans will quickly notice that the dialogue is taken almost entirely from his books, all stitched together seamlessly by McLean himself. The dialogue is similar to the script he wrote for his one-man play C.S. Lewis Onstage which was the seed for this film version. But while the play is very good, the fully fleshed-out film is downright fantastic.

What makes this an amazing film is that the excellent acting, writing and craftsmanship are put in service to the more excellent work God did in Lewis's heart. God took a man angry at God and determined to run from Him, and transformed this rebel into the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century. And then He used that man as a spark for many thousands (millions?) more such transformations.

Cautions

The closest thing to a caution I can offer is that Lewis doesn't offer complete answers to the theological difficulties his atheist self raises. That might be disconcerting to some, even as it is also one of the film's strengths. The fact is, there is no completely satisfactory answer to, for example, the problem of pain, and the film doesn't pretend otherwise. God has given us reason to trust Him, but He hasn't told us all, so sometiemes we do indeed need to trust Him.

Conclusion

From the twist right at the start to a conclusion that left us wanting more, this was a story superbly told. Add in a subject worthy of this craft and creativity, and I can't imagine how this could have been better; it is certainly one of the best films I've ever seen. And, lest you think I'm getting all gushy, I'll add that my brother-in-law liked it even more.

Watch the trailer below, and check out the movie website here to see if and when it might be playing near you. Hopefully, it will be available to rent online very soon.