Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle Of Christ

There's a new tradition in Hollywood - the annual onslaught of Easter Christian movies!

It's brought mixed results artistically speaking, but as a person of faith, it's great to see movie studios recognizing the market potential for such films. In times as divisive and disturbing as these, we need as many stories of hope as we can get.

And that leads to a film opening this weekend: 

Paul, Apostle Of Christ

The story opens in dark and dangerous Rome. Nero has watched the city burn, and blames the Christians for the destruction. It's a precarious time to be a follower of Jesus. To add to the tension, Nero has arrested Paul, leader of the Christian community, and sentenced him to death. His friend, Luke the Physician, has come to Rome to help.

The film is weighted with some great and recognizable talent with James Faulkner (Downton Abbey and Game Of Thrones) as Paul and Jim Caviezel (The Passion Of The Christ) as Luke. The look of the film is beautiful, even when dark, and the locations feel visceral and grounded.

It would be easy for a story like this to fall into the trap of melodrama. And let's be honest, it's what we associate with the worst of Christian movies - the overwrought wailing and gnashing of teeth as actors in old bathrobes play out a timeworn drama.

The filmmakers instead have chosen a more subtle way of telling this story - 
through friendships. 

There's the deep brotherhood of Paul and Luke, two men who have forged a bond through years of protecting each other and growing in faith. There's the loving couple Aquila and Priscilla, who have a shared purpose, but very different ideas on how to live it out. And then there's the unlikely connection between Paul and his captor, Mauritius.

Perhaps most interesting is the relationship between Paul, the imprisoned Christ-loving martyr, and Saul, his former Christian-killing self. Paul is haunted by his past - experienced by recurring dreams and visions - and desperately seeks the forgiveness and peace promised by Jesus.

One of my favourite themes in the film is the counter-cultural nature of the early Christians. Jesus had called them to take a path of peace and forgiveness. This is a city where Christians are openly and brutally persecuted. Any day might be their last. There is no grace or justice for followers of The Way (the early name for the Christian path). As humans, their instincts tell them to respond with more violence, but as followers of Christ, they're called to turn the other cheek and love their neighbour. As Paul is in prison and life for the followers gets more dangerous, we see this struggle playing out and threatening to divide the group.

I can't think of a more pertinent theme for this day and age. As Christians in North America, we are constantly being drawn into the public debate. Are we seen as counter-cultural, or just another group with our screaming, signs, and slogans?

And so the question remains for us today: 
As we gather in the public square - be it real or online - 
will we meet violence with violence or will we respond with forgiveness and grace? 
Will they know we are Christians by our love?

If anything, I think this theme could have been explored even further and more explicitly in the firm. It's really a debate we need to be having in our churches and faith communities.

When I watch an overtly Christian film, I always ask myself two questions: 
How will Christians respond? 
How will non-Christians respond? 

I don't know how much this would resonate with a non-Christian? The film lacks obvious tension and drama; it's really more of a character piece. I feel like you need to have some sense of the story to really understand the weight of what's happening.

However, I think a person who knows the story will be deeply moved by the portrayal of Paul and his journey. Paul was subject to years of pain and suffering for his faith, yet his responses are always generous, patient, and loving.

If that's not an Easter challenge, I don't know what is...

There is also a novelization of the film, written by Angela Hunt.
I'll be reviewing this in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

"Film has been provided courtesy of Sony Entertainment Releasing Canada (Affirm Films) and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc." 


Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the movie, but your review has prompted me to see it. It was advertised today in the Toronto Star, but had not yet been reviewed by their critics.

Allison Lynn said...

Definitely a good choice for this season!