Friday, August 28, 2015
War Room 
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
War Room  [IMDb] [CFDb] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Alex Kendrick [IMDb] [CFDb] along with Stephen Kendrick [IMDb] [CFDb]) is a Christian based family drama made by the same people who made Fireproof  [IMDb] [CFDb] and Courageous  [FrDatM] [IMDb] [CFDb].
To be honest, I found aspects of it quite disappointing. I do understand a fair number of difficulties faced by contemporary Christian film makers, beginning with the reality that even today 83% of the population in the United States would self-identify themselves as Christians. That would include a vast number of people (again, even in the United States alone) of a vast number of ages, races, ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences -- "After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands." (Rev 7:9) -- So to make _any_ Christian film that would work for all / most of them would be a challenge (though not an impossible one, witness the general acclaim given to the History Channel's recent The Bible  series / Son of God  film, and to very nice / clever recent Christian films like The Song  and even the current film makers' Courageous )
Still I do believe that some of the particular choices made by the film-makers here needlessly pose obstacles (Acts 15:22ff) to a fair number otherwise Christians today.
The film is ostensibly about an African American couple, Tony (played by T.C. Stallings [IMDb] [CFDb]) and Elizabeth Jordan (played by Priscilla C. Shirer [IMDb] [CFDb]) who along with their cute as a button 10 y.o. daughter Danielle (played by Alena Pitts [IMDb] [CFDb]) are (at least on the surface) "living the [American] dream." They they have a big house in the suburbs with lots of stuff paid for by two high paying jobs -- his as a pharmaceutical salesman still paying 4x as much as hers as a real estate agent, but hers no longer insignificant either. They have all the things that they could ever want, but at the beginning of the story find themselves tired, distant and unhappy.
Great entre ... what could go wrong with the story? Well, the two, Tony and Elizabeth find themselves fighting a lot. Thus Elizabeth confesses to a new friend / client, an older woman, Miss Clara (played by Karen Abercrombie [IMDb] [CFDb]), also African American, that: "It's hard to submit to a man like that" (cf. Eph 5:21ff) Say what?
Now let's understand Miss Clara is presented as an old-time Christian grandmotherly figure. Perhaps even here _some_ may complain that her portrayal strays too close-for-comfort to the "Aunt Jemima" African American stereotype. However, I _don't_ have issue with her character because I'VE KNOWN a fair number of Miss Clara-like parishioners over the course of my life / ministry / work, as probably MANY Readers here.
However, I simply find Elizabeth's line using the word "submit" as NEEDLESSLY crossing a significant line from credibility to right-wing ideology that puts the credibility of the whole film in jeopardy. More than a few GOOD CHRISTIAN WOMEN will hear that line and say: "Ah huh," and KNOW EXACTLY THE INTENT OF THOSE WORDS (as an attempt to _re-impose_ a particular view of Christian marriage -- the Man on top, the Woman as his servant -- that has been roundly rejected and CERTAINLY QUALIFIED by Christian theologians of pretty much all stripes, let alone ROUNDLY REJECTED IN PRACTICE) and STOP LISTENING TO THE FILM RIGHT THEN AND THERE. And that _would be a shame_ because there are some very good points made in the story. BUT that's the NEEDLESSLY TENDENTIOUS / STUPID RISK taken by the film makers here.
Then there's an (initially) _odd_ focus on the mother, Elizabeth's, feet (!?) through much of the story: As a real estate agent, presumably standing on her feet a lot, in the Southern U.S., where presumably it's very hot, she (and her daughter) complain about her (Elizabeth's) feet, that they hurt and THEY SMELL. I can't imagine ANY WHITE ACTRESS OF ANY CALIBER FINDING IT ACCEPTABLE TO HAVE SO MUCH REFERENCE _TO HER FEET_ (and then HER FEET SMELLING (!!!)) as the African American actress playing Elizabeth's role had to accept in playing it.
NOW THERE'S A PURPOSE TO THE REFERENCES TO ELIZABETH'S ACHING (and unfortunately "smelly") FEET: Near the end of the movie, when Elizabeth's and Tony's relationship has improved, TONY has Elizabeth sit down on the couch one day after work, gives her an ice cream sundae that he prepared for her and then PROCEEDS TO WASH HER FEET / GIVE HER A FOOT MASSAGE. That scene's actually _a lovely interpretation_ of Jesus washing of the feet of his disciples in John's Gospel (John 13:1ff) something that we Catholic's remember each year on Holy Thursday (on the Feast of the Last Supper), the First Night of the Easter Triduum, the night before we commemorate Christ's Passion and Death on Good Friday. However was there REALLY NEED to focus on Elizabeth's feet "smelling" and, once again WOULD THERE BE A WHITE ACTRESS ANYWHERE WHO WOULD ACCEPT HER FEET BEING PRESENTED AS "SMELLING BAD"? I simply _can not_ imagine that ...
Finally (with regards to the negatives to the story) the WHOLE film is premised with the view of considering Prayer to be "combat." Miss Clara has converted a closet in her house into a prayer room, which she calls a "war room" and invites Elizabeth to do so as well. MY OBJECTION IS NOT IN CREATING A PRAYER SPACE LIKE THIS. Indeed, decades ago, Catherine De Hueck Doherty a contemporary of Dorothy Day had written a lovely spiritual book called Poustinia [Amzn] which proposed to readers to create a similar space called in Russian Orthodox tradition a "Poustinia" (or "Desert Room") which would be simple, free of distractions, where one could pray. EVEN CONCEDING (though NOT WITHOUT RESERVATIONS) the metaphor of "Prayer as Spiritual Combat" (cf. Psalm 149, Eph 6:10ff) a metaphor that let's face it IS VERY CLOSE to Islam's Jihad..., MY OBJECTION IS, WHY DID THIS SPACE _NEED TO BE_ "MILITARIZED"? If the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX can call _the same space_ a Desert Space (ALSO an apt metaphor for a prayer space, free of distractions [Mt 4:1ff]) why can't we...? Then the military introduction (imagery from Vietnam) "may not sell particularly well outside the U.S." as _some_ of the civilians being napalmed by U.S. forces at the time would have actually been Catholic (Vietnam and especially the South having been, next to the Philippines, the most Catholic / Christian country in Asia at the time ... and most of us would have to admit that it _wouldn't_ exactly be "better" to napalm Buddhist or Communist civilians either ...).
ALL THIS SAID ... wow, how could one recommend the movie after all that? ... I AM DOING EXACTLY THAT... RECOMMENDING THE MOVIE TO READERS HERE ANYWAY. I do call the Baptist film makers to task on the film's sexism, racism and militarism (I honestly do believe they can do better next time -- because I do believe that they are sincere and that they too would understand/appreciate that the Gospel is _not_ about male superiority, white superiority or American superiority ... it is about JESUS, something that the character of "Miss Clara" already points to and simply recalling in one's mind the image of a nice smiling Haitian or Jamaican Christian woman can drive home completely). HOWEVER THERE ARE SOME TRULY EXCELLENT POINTS portrayed in the film as well:
First, the FUNDAMENTAL ADVICE THAT MISS CLARA GIVES ELIZABETH IS GOOD. Now Readers do understand that there was no violence involved in Tony and Elizabeth's household. The two just didn't see each other a lot / argued a lot. Clara tells Elizabeth to not bother arguing with Tony anymore but JUST PRAY FOR HIM. (THAT'S NOT BAD ADVICE because generally arguments _don't_ resolve much). Then creating the prayer space (EMPTYING a CLOSET ... PREVIOUSLY "FULL OF STUFF") is actually AGAIN a very interesting and POWERFUL _resetting_ of priorities: One's "inner room" becomes a space for Jesus, and NOT for stuff (which become our idols ...).
Then Elizabeth and Tony's 10-y.o. daughter Danielle and her BFF Jennifer (played by Jadin Harris [IMDb] [CFDb]), white, were joys. One of the nastier things that Danielle's father, Tony, does in the film is to initially make fun of Danielle still wanting to be part of a "jump roping squad." He tells her that she's getting "too old for that sort of thing" and that she should really take basketball (a real sport) more seriously. BUT ... Danielle and Jennifer just loved "jumping rope" ;-). And later in the movie, as Tony does progressively change, HE discovers that he, an athlete still capable of doing backflips, etc, "kinda likes it too" ;-). THIS IS A GREAT COUNTER-ACTION to the PRESSURE that parents often put on kids to "perform" in "real sports." But what is sport FUNDAMENTALLY FOR? To HAVE FUN. ANYTHING MORE begins to become a kind of idolatry again.
SOOO ... despite the critical reservations I give above -- I consider them serious, I don't want to see them again -- I do think that there are some very nice things in this film that need to be underlined as well. And I do think that many / most adult Christians in the U.S. will understand.
So basically good job folks. Just lets keep the focus on JESUS and keep away from ideology that can pose needless obstacles to the sensibilities of our time. If the Apostles could learn to not put "unnecessary burdens" on the Greek converts of their time (Acts 15:22ff), so can we in ours.
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