“Soul Surfer” and the idea of “faith-based films”

by Randal Rauser

Among the new crop of movies this weekend is “Soul Surfer”. It tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer and a young woman of deep Christian faith who lost an arm surfing when she was thirteen due to a shark attack. Incredibly, she was back on her surfboard a month later and has since won several surfing championships. (I first came across her story when I bought my daughter a like-new Bethany Hamilton surfer girl NIV Bible a year ago at the Goodwill for a buck. I don’t know if my daughter read much of the text of scripture, but she read all the Bethany Hamilton bio-bits.)The critical response to the film has been mixed. But Roger Moore’s comment caught my eye, for he refers to “Soul Surfer” as “The best faith-based film ever made….” The quote starts out promising. “The best…” But then it goes south: “faith-based film.” In case you didn’t know, there is a pall over that term in the industry. It is akin to holding up a CD and saying “This is the best … Polka album ever made.” Oh, polka. Gotcha. Oh, faith-based. Guess I’ll check out “Rango”.

But hold on. Just what is a “faith-based film” anyways? How is this term being used?

First off, it doesn’t take a genius to guess that “faith” here is synonymous with “Christian”. (One reason: just consider the many brilliant films that have been made by Iranian directors, many of them of deep Muslim faith. Surely Moore isn’t stating categorically that “Soul Surfer” is greater than all these films.)

But what about “Chariots of Fire”” Is that a faith-based film?

How about “Bella”? That was a film intentionally made by a director intending to promote his Christian convictions through high art, and “Bella” is, at least very capable if not great. (Is “Soul Surfer” better than “Bella”? Don’t know since I haven’t seen “Soul Surfer”.)

And what about “The Passion of the Christ”? I remember Lucy from The Charlie Brown Christmas Special admitting that “Charlie Brown may be a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree.” Likewise, Mel Gibson may be a blockhead, but he did make a great film. I’m also pretty sure it was better than “Soul Surfer”. And surely it qualifies as faith-based if any film does.

I’m not done. Director Brad Bird is a Christian and his film “The Iron Giant” is one of the most outstanding pieces of animation in the last twenty years. If you don’t burst into tears when the Iron Giant resolutely states “I am not a gun” then you’re the one made of iron. Among its many themes “The Iron Giant” includes human depravity, a Christ figure’s sacrifice and even his triumphant resurrection. (Just thinking about it brings chills to me even now.) This is a faith-based film if any film is.

But wait. What about “Gran Torino”? Sure Clint Eastwood is not a Christian, but this film presents one of the most memorable Christ-figures in cinematic history. So can we let it in the backdoor?

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