5 Unexpected Movies that Profoundly Impacted my Faith

5 Unexpected Movies that Profoundly Impacted my Faith
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There are a few universal truths I’ve learned from my years of going to see movies:

  • ONE: It is ludicrous to pay $21 for a bucket of popcorn, a box of candy, and a drink, yet, at each new movie release, I find myself doling out hard earned cash so I can once again butter up those blasted kernels, befriend that box of chocolate Milk Duds, and quench my thirst with that large drink!
  • TWO: However subtly, each movie reflects a piece of truth about the state of affairs in our culture, even if it means someone has to get throat punched before being thrown out of an exploding airplane.
  • THREE: God looks for any and every means to convey profound life-impacting lessons to the viewer, sometimes through a pivotal scene in a movie that clearly lacks any God-theme, or sometimes through the whole movie-narrative itself.

Here are 5 weighty movies I've watched over the years, movies that I didn't expect God to show up in. Yet, in each one, I found a redemptive narrative that God used to profoundly influence my faith as a Christian. (DISCLAIMER: Some of the movies listed here are rated R for strong violence, language, and sexual content. While they were spiritually instrumental in shaping my faith, I strongly urge each viewer to use Biblical discernment in their movie-viewing choices).

1. HOTEL RWANDA

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A complicated history of violence between two people groups (Hutus & Tutsis) in the small country of Rwanda precedes this story. Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) is a Hutu and a manager of one of the most prominent hotels in the country, Hôtel des Mille Collines. Though widely respected, he’s married to a Tutsi, which causes great friction between him and Hutu extremists. When the Rwandan president (a Hutu) is assassinated, all hell breaks loose and genocide commences. Tutsis are massacred by the hundreds of thousands daily. Paul’s hotel is the only safe haven in the whole country. He shows great courage in the face of imminent threats, and in the process, saves thousands of lives. True story.

HOW IT IMPACTED MY FAITH: In one key scene in the movie, all the foreign nationals (mostly whites) are evacuated out of the country by their respective embassies. The Africans are essentially told, “you cannot come on the bus with us, you have to stay here and figure out your African problems yourself.” The scene wraps up with the foreign nationals being bussed away to a safe-zone, and the dejected battle-weary Rwandans standing in the rain, waiting for their inevitable massacre.

It hurt like crazy to watch that scene, mostly because I’m a human with a heart, but especially because in my weaker moments of faith, I’ve secretly wondered if God (like the foreign nationals in that scene) has abandoned my dark continent. This of course, is not true. The body of Christian believers in Africa today is more spiritually-alive than it’s ever been. In fact, scholars have observed that the epicenter of Christianity has shifted from the Western world to the “global south” (Africa, much of Asia, and Central and Latin America). Ever met an African who owns significantly less than you do, yet oozes the celebratory spirit of an unbreakable people?

When I watch Hotel Rwanda (or catch the nightly news accounts of similar events presently taking place in Africa), I get sad. But then I stop being sad and remind myself that the light of Jesus Christ still shines on my father's land. Though the darkness be great, I remind myself that God is a God of nations and the darkness has not, can not, and WILL NOT overcome the light of His glory among my people. So Hotel Rwanda reminds me that God is still at work in Africa. 

2. ALEXANDER

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A young Macedonian prince named Alexander, (played by Colin Farrel) has been blessed with a great destiny. In a relatively short time span, he proves his military genius by leading his army in conquering much of the known world. Throughout the movie he wrestles emotionally with his scheming mother, Olympia (played by Angelina Jolie) and his rugged unpredictable father, Philip II of Macedon (played by Val Kilmer). In his last battle in India, he dies from a mysterious disease. He’s lovingly remembered by his generals as Alexander, the Great.

HOW IT IMPACTED MY FAITH:  I saw this movie during a season of life where I felt a little lost in my faith. I had plans and dreams I’d entrusted to God, but He seemed disinterested and detached. My most intimate prayers seemed like they were repeatedly met with silence. I secretly began to wonder if God really knew what He was doing with my life. At the time, I was studying through the Old Testament book of Daniel; a book, which by the way predicts in amazing detail the rise and fall of history's Alexander. (He’s the shaggy goat kicking some serious butt in Daniel 8:5-8 and the bronze belly and thigh in Daniel 2:32).

Watching this prophetic narrative play out on the big screen stirred in me a renewed confidence in God’s timing and planning.  The message was clear. Alexander was mighty in battle only as long as God predetermined him to. When it was time for God to usher in the next kingdom, Alexander’s number was up, hence the strange illness that befell him in India. (Smile on Calvisinists! Your Arminian friends are losing their minds right now!) I recall walking out of the theater and explaining to my date at the time how encouraged I was by what we just watched. It was simple. God not only had a plan, but He had a schedule. If the things I was imploring Him to do weren’t happening as quickly as I wanted them to, I could rest in the fact that they were still on His agenda and He was in the best position possible to determine when those things would arrive in my life. As it turns out (looking back 11 years later), His timing was always impeccable!

3. THE EXORCIST

  I have chosen not to include the  TRAILER  in my blog, because frankly, it's scary as hell! 

I have chosen not to include the TRAILER in my blog, because frankly, it's scary as hell! 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A wealthy actress and mother moves to Washington D.C with her sweet 12 year old daughter. Her daughter however, doesn’t stay sweet for very long.  Something in the attic is screwing up the spiritual mojo in the house. Turns out, it’s a wicked demon. The demon goes on to possess the 12-year-old girl, change her physically, and cause her to speak profanities while blaspheming God. The desperate mother seeks the help of two priests. One fails. The other has a dramatic showdown with the evil spirit.

HOW IT IMPACTED MY FAITH:  I can only imagine what you’re thinking, so let me explain. It was the mid-80s. My adult guardians had just purchased the first VHS player on the block, and ‘Excorcist’ was apparently the first video tape they could buy.  It was a Saturday block-party and all the kids in the neighborhood were invited for a noonday viewing (I’m not making this up!). Needless to say, when the little girl started dropping F-Bombs, rotating her evil-possesed head, and puking green stuff, the party came to an abrupt end!

It had a profound spiritual impact on me because it was the first time that I realized there were indeed spiritual entities that “Go Bump in the Night.” It was also the first time that I realized that the battle between Satan and God wasn’t a battle of equals. I couldn’t fully explain it at the time, but somehow I understood from the movie that Jesus Christ intimidated evil spirits. As I grew in my understanding of scripture, I came to understand that not only are demons created beings, thereby lesser than God, but they understand (Mark 3:11Colossians 1:15-17the Lordship of Jesus Christ over them and have to get permission from Him before they can carry out their activity (Job 1:6-12; Matthew 8:30-37). So at a very young age (in an African culture where evil literally lived next door in the form of a witch doctor/local shaman), I decided that I was going to side with Jesus and trust Him if/when spiritual battles broke out. Three decades later, He's still on my side proving daily that His Spirit within me is greater than the malevolent spirits operating in the spiritual realm of this world.  

4. INTERSTELLAR

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:  Earthlings are in trouble. Water and food are running out and there’s a daily sandstorm. NASA puts together a secret mission to find another habitable planet. A team of astronauts is assembled. Matthew McConaughey’s character leads it, Anne Hathaway’s character whines the whole way. {Spoiler Alert} Through a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum, they find an awesome black hole and time-travel to a few cool planets. They meet with unexpected consequences in each location, then navigate through the impossible to make it back to a completely different home, (I didn’t understand half of it, but it was amazing!)

HOW IT IMPACTED MY FAITH:  As soon as I left the theater, I wrote a blog entry about the profound impact this movie had on me. It was titled, "INTERSTELLAR Blew My Socks Off! Now I Want to Go to Heaven". Rather than rehash everything I wrote, I’ll just say this; the movie stirred in me a longing for a home to which I’ve never visited. Key scenes had me thinking about heaven and imagining what those first few moments would be like when I finally walk past the veil that separates this world from the next.  

5. 12 ANGRY MEN

  Watch movie  TRAILER  here.

Watch movie TRAILER here.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: An 18-year-old Latino male has been accused of murder, and his fate rests in the hands of a 12-man jury. What appears to be an open and shut case of murder gradually morphs into a mini drama and a study of the complex personalities of the jurors. One of them, (Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda) sets out to prove that nothing is at it seems and everything is to be questioned. He however, has to convince the intelligent juror, the unforgiving juror, the prejudiced juror, the sympathetic juror, the wise-sage juror, the arrogant juror, the unconcerned juror, the jokester juror, and a few more odd juror-characters, about the legitimacy of his case. The end is a real pleaser!

HOW IT IMPACTED MY FAITH: I was in a class on Public Speaking when I first saw this movie. At the time, I was entertaining, but not seriously considering the call to pastoral ministry. I don’t recall a definitive decision to head to seminary after seeing the movie, but I do remember thinking, “I really want to know the Bible more so I can present God’s word as compellingly as juror 8 did to his peers.” Henry Fonda’s character was humble, yet confident. He was persuasive without being pushy. Though he had every reason to believe the defendant was guilty, he was willing to put aside his personal prejudices in order to examine the facts. It sounds weird that I’d sense a call into ministry from a 1957 black and white film, but I left that classroom that evening thinking, “Lord, if I someday end up in ministry, grant me the ability to present your truth to people with that depth of conviction and compassion.” I’m still hopeful that that’s the kind of pastor and preacher God is shaping me into. 

And there you go. The Big 5!

What movie(s) has had the most (unexpected) impact on your life?