As a rule, I’m not much for spiritual movies. No, not spiritually rich films by any means, because that’s the bread and butter to our praise factor here at Cross Culture. No, we’re not talking about in themes, but rather in brand. Growing up the likes of Facing the Giants and their kind made me cringe to no end (as I’ve proclaimed from the mountain top no less than 50 times). The message and production in equal levels left much to be desired, and that’s even being rather conservative on the matter. But it seems that every once in a while, a film comes along that shows glimmers of hope to this spotty industry. Paul, Apostle of Christ is one such film, and it is a heartily warm welcome for these sore eyes.
Sure, on a complete cinematic experience, this might be considered an over the top acclaim. Is this the most polished cinematography to date? No, and it knows it too. It does an interesting job of knowing it’s limitations, and trying to go for a more real life approach (which admittedly only kind of works). Some of the acting and direction leaves much to be desired, sure, but even those fields are eons ahead of similar entertainment. What Paul, Apostle of Christ does so splendidly (that I’ve personally never seen in a semi well-funded film) is the enormous respect given for the Biblical accounts, history, and assumed tradition (in a good sense). What is common however? Hollywood seems to throw darn good money at projects that make a laughing stock of such accounts (I’m looking at you, year of 2014). I mean, seriously. It’s a frustration of mine (if you can’t already guess).
Not that I think nor believe that individuals in Hollywood ought to believe the same as I (only a smidgen in the world actually do). But why waste your own and my good time by making a film like Exodus: Gods and Kings, where you can just feel Ridley Scott’s vendetta and hatred for the story and characters seep from the screen? No, you don’t have to agree with me, but don’t go out of your way to make something that’ll frustrate the both of us (*inhales as calmly as possible*). In this film, however (with most material dealing with only vaguely understood traditions, and not direct scripture even), you could tell nearly every detail was passed through historians and Biblical scholars before hitting the script. The setting of the persecution (while at time feeling slightly smaller than I assumed); gut wrenching. The understood historical setting of the early church/gathering; beautiful. Aquilla and Priscilla’s love, passion, and teamwork on display; goose-bump inducing.
While this might be in the realm of qualms with the film, I’d like to make mention of the story on display. It is here that I felt a lot more direction and careful juggling of the material and themes would have been useful (not that there are any major complaints). I guess the problem is this, I felt like a film such as this ought to be (and surprisingly enough, even was) benefited from looking at films in similar fashion, such as Lincoln. A film that deals with an icon of historical proportions, juggles the elements of his life in stellar fashion, yet pinpoints and brings to fruition the biggest significant aspects in his final days. That in a nutshell is what I even in years passed had dreamed of for a Paul film (though in my head it would focus more on his relationship with Timothy, but I can get over my own perception well enough).
Awesomely enough, this film attempts and largely succeeds in that respect. Yet still, it loses sight in the third act when it tries to make a beautiful point of reaching the lost and heathen world, by making a Roman Guard a main character. While the point and message were equally sublime, the execution and quality time took away from Luke and Paul’s relationship (very emotionally vital in that last act) and resulted in one of the downsides of the film. Still though, this works splendidly as a small, intimate, and fare-well event to this monumental man of the church. This film projects a man nearing the end of his life, and living with both the demons, the years of pain, and of course, the faith that was with him the entire time. And by so doing, perfectly captures (also in thanks to James Faulkner’s respectable performance) a splendid picture of tired and worthwhile victory, in my humble opinion.
To conclude, while it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint a single area of faith and culture from such a rich film to zone in on, there was one place I found rather poignant for today. It’s easy in a freedom laced country to lose sight of persecution and suffering for Christ. I mean, I haven’t had my life on the line for Him, have you? It seems to be something we’ve lost, and by so doing, put other matters such as particular rights and freedoms in place of life itself. And we vow to tear down or fight for every entitled right and deserved comfort we have. Yet, this film shows us that some of the main protagonists of the film are those who, after seeing loved ones and family die horrendously, decided to respond with acts violence. These young men are those who have seen the disservice and injustice to those they love, and want nothing more than retaliation. Yet in an important moment, Paul addresses such men as not serving God, but only their blood lust.
If you read history, and not to mention Christ’s words and 1 Peter, you’ll notice that our call as Christians has never been to respond to violence with violence, hatred with hatred, nor injustice with vengeance, rather merely all things in love. In fact, it wasn’t till the likes of overt freedom came about the Christianity than maligned itself in vengeful controversy (as suppose today, perhaps?). It is an overly preaching message displayed for sure, but Jesus and His followers never minced words nor examples either. In a society engulfed in disunity, division, discrimination (even within God’s people perhaps), isn’t selflessness and humble love the very thing we need to get back to? Isn’t that the only way to show His character? Isn’t that the only way to win people to Christ? If you ask Paul, and this beautiful tale, it’d be yes. Not a film for the youngsters, but one all Christians should feel encouraged to see.