96 minutes; 2010
In the summer of 1970 three boys develop a friendship with an elderly man, Jonathan Sperry, who teaches them about the necessity of living out, and spreading God’s Word.
The first time I watched The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry I stopped about ten minutes in – the three principal child actors weren’t very good. Not horrible, but awkward enough to get in the way of the story.
But when I shared my thoughts with a friend, he encouraged me to watch the whole thing, and instead of focusing on the acting, look at what else the film had to offer. And it does have a lot to offer - this is a “message film” that uses storytelling to teach Christian morals. The lessons the three boys learn from Mr. Sperry include how:
- important it is to share the Bible with everyone we know
- we should look to older godly people to mentor us
- we should respond to bullies by using Matt. 5:38-42: “If your enemy takes a piece of your pizza, offer him two.”
In a particularly illuminating conversation, Mr. Sperry teaches the boys that God’s love is evidenced in the Bible’s laws and restrictions.
Mark: “The Lord is interested in the girls we like?
Mr. Sperry: “Absolutely The Lord is interested in everything in our lives!”
Albert: “Yeah, I know the Bible is always saying, don’t do this, don’t do that”
Mr. Sperry: “I never look at it that way. Now the bible says not to steal. Would you like anyone stealing from you Mark?
Mr. Sperry: “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it?”
There is a value to these sorts of "message" films, especially when we take them as such. This isn't a great film, acting-wise, but is pretty impressive as a means of teaching a moral lesson - a pleasant way of getting a conversation started with our kids about the importance of sharing God's Word.
But let’s dwell on the acting for a moment. Christian films often have problems when it comes to “believability” – the storyline and acting often don’t ring true. But as Jonathan Sperry concluded I became quite a bit less critical, because the closing credits told us what happened to the boys after they grew up – one became a pastor, another a radio station owner and another a police officer. This must have been based on real events and I have a lot more leeway then. If a film story seems a bit too easy, or too good to be true – say, the baseball team that is made up of losers that wins it all – but I know it is based on a real story, then I just go with it, and turn off my inner critic. After all, it really happened! So sure, Mr. Sperry seems too nice to be authentic, and the bully in this story has a change of heart that happens a bit too quickly, but if this was based on real events, who am I to say this is unrealistic?
However, the film's closing, by giving the impression that these were real people, is misleading. The opening of the film actually states that these are entirely fictional events. And as a fictional piece, my criticisms pop up again. Like the fictional baseball team of losers that just wins, wins and wins, the fictional wonderful Christian man that does everything right is more than a bit unrealistic. This is a flaw common to many Christian films – Christians who are too perfect. We make ourselves look too good, and we need to work on that.