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Klavan On The Culture

This is the End: What Movie Would Jesus Watch?

October 14th, 2013 - 11:34 am

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.   But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

Because pompous judgmentalism feels good and loving forgiveness is difficult, it’s no surprise that some Christians come to sound suspiciously like the Pharisees. The guys who criticized Jesus for having dinners with sinners are alive and well, leveling charges of moral relativism at anyone who repeats the Christly injunction to judge not and has the bad manners to mean it. One trick to achieving the Pharisaical mindset is to take those portions of Scripture that condemn stuff and read them as broadly as possible, then take the lines calling for forgiveness and read them as narrowly as possible.  Thus if you can find a 6th century BC verse in Leviticus demanding the death penalty for homosexuals, then by gum Neil Patrick Harris must die! Whereas when Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek,” he only meant if you happened to get slapped by a Roman Centurion. “Love your neighbor but…” “Judge not but…” “Forgive your enemies but…” If such people would take their buts out of their heads, they would discover that the interior task assigned to Christians is so difficult that it leaves very little time for condemning other people. Damn it.

All of which I mention on the way to explaining why I so thoroughly enjoyed and admired the raunchy, drug-filled, scatological comedy This Is The End and why I wish openly Christian filmmakers made films more like it.

The plot: a group of raunchy comedy stars – Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill and so on – play themselves as shallow, backbiting, pot-smoking narcissists. They’re gathered at a party at Franco’s new mansion when the Apocalypse hits, complete with Rapture. At first, they can’t believe it because, if the good people are being taken up into Heaven, why would actors be left behind? They’re actors! They bring joy to people’s lives! But as things go from apocalyptic to worse, the sober truth begins to dawn.

“This means there’s a God,” says Rogan, in one of the movie’s best exchanges. “Who saw that coming?”

“Like…  95 percent of the world,” answers Baruchel.

The film is so good-natured and self-aware that even when the jokes were dopey it sometimes made me laugh out of pure pleasure. There’s plenty of vomit and urine-drinking and foul language but the underlying idea of having Hollywood confront the fact of the moral universe is so good and so well played out that a lot of the nonsense becomes almost as funny as the filmmakers think it is. And in the midst of it, there are genuine comic highlights, like Jonah Hill learning to pray, “It’s me, God. Jonah Hill. From Moneyball.“ As the guys discover what it really takes to get into Heaven, their bafflement increases hilariously. Franco’s last scene still makes me laugh just thinking about it. The whole thing, beginning to end, was everything a picture like this should be.

Which brings me back to my original point. I wonder how many so-called Christian filmmakers would make a movie like this — just as I often wonder how many Christian booksellers would carry a novel about an axe murderer who falls in love with a prostitute (ie. Crime and Punishment). Because, while squeaky clean Christian entertainment (you know what I mean) does serve the purpose of making good values look good and confirming believers in their faith, I can’t help feeling that a movie like This Is The End more effectively reaches out to people where they actually are.








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This is your first post I read here at PJM. I have delayed four days typing this comment since I hope you will consider it. I fear it will simply vanish as this column ages. That pain of that thought has made me delay typing this.

First, as to your column’s premise: if a movie prompts just one viewer to decide to serve Him, without causing those saved to turn against Him, then I am all for it. Even if I won’t watch it, let it fly and I am grateful. Apparently you have found such a movie.

Second, your column made me think how can those who serve Him help craft a movie which will inspire people to serve Him, which people will want to watch. I have sat on this for four days since this will hurt when you don’t consider it.

Part one – what kind of movie will people watch, and then watch again? Only one. It has to be funny. Unless I am odd and do not represent Americans, when we see Galaxy Quest, or Airplane, or Blazing Saddles, etc. we leave it on and watch it again. Why? Because we love the lines in the movie. And we love to laugh.

So this movie needs to be funny.

Part two – how can those who serve Him help craft a funny movie? A show I saw on Friends answers that. It said the actors kept revising the script to make it funnier, all the way up to final shooting. The more a funny script is revised, the funnier it will be.

So if some Americans decided to waive rights to working on a script meant to be funny, and the product was indeed funny, that movie might be watched and might lead some viewers to decide to serve Him. I envision four lines of dialogue being revised 100 times by several contributors who waive all rights to their work over to the producer. All done in the hope of helping craft this movie which will bring people to Him. It has to be so funny, everyone will watch it.

Can you set this up? You are the perfect person to assess whether this is feasible.

What of contributors angered that their contributions are changed? They need to accept that before participating. The goal is a well-crafted product He can use, not personal notoriety. Donors would have to accept that going in.

Why waive rights over to the producer? Since he is the one risking everything to do this thing. The one at risk gets rights to the product.

If prayer says post this, I will.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
With all due respect Mr. Klavan, the Pharisees get a bum rap in the Greek Bible (a/k/a New Testament). Of all the Jewish sects at the time, they were the most lenient in matters of Jewish Law. I suspect that underlying the negative portrayal of the Pharisees were some deep differences between them and the proto-Christian Jews who were followers of Jesus.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
So I watched the movie tonight.
Not enough chicks. Juvenile, though some of the consequences of freely chosen actions were interesting. Youth really is wasted on the young. The guys in the film looked to be in their late 20's or early 30's, and they acted like twelve year olds.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Since the Evangelicals have absolutely no sense of humor about their faith, and argue scripture by quoting yet more scripture, they would have no idea what you're talking about, Drew. Try to explain to them that PULP FICTION is the most religious film of the past 25 years and they look at you like you're Satan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You ought to check out Christianity Today reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet's book Through a Screen Darkly - it certainly explores some movies most Christian viewers would stay away from. I recently enjoyed Alfonzo Cuaron's R-rated Children of Men, thanks to that book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. K.
I do not disagree with the gist of what you are saying, which I understand goes to a need to “reach out” from Christendom through entertainment to the world at large in ways that the “world” can relate to. However, my contention with the tone of your case, if not the case itself, is that the respect to create and to view/read what one's conscience can tolerate must go both ways--particularly in the Body of Christ. Is it reasonable to make your case in conversation? Indubitably. You might even be inclined to persuade (which you do clearmindedly). However, I find it a strong inclination on the part of those who are arguing that my tolerance for violence/crudity/sexual explicitness is too restrictive to then be equally if not more "judgmental" and condescending than the, let's say, more restrictive camp.

Moreover, expressing aversion or even deeply held conviction in these realms is not necessarily equivalent to "judging" another. I’m not saying that judgmental, Phariseeism doesn’t exist, just that it is prevalent from many angles. The percentage of snarky, condescending, dismissive commentary that pervades the Christian circles I read and move in, pertaining to “squeaky clean” entertainment is wearyingly high. I have long-since learned to never speak about the books/movies/shows I actually enjoy, since being sneered at just got old.

So, why push at each other? Why is it not okay for certain “Christians” to make a certain kind of entertainment that appeals to those of us who have little to choose from already (after all the Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables and, YES! GASP! Sherwood Entertainment shows have been watched for the umpteenth time) without the eye rolling or soapboxing about “art”? I can respect that you have a degree of tolerance for things I could not partake in. (I even recommend your books that I know I could never read, sans nightmares .) If NO “Christian” filmmakers would produce a movie like This is the End, might it not be that the conscience and conviction is simply not there to do it and leave it at that? Even consider it a “weaker brother” issue, sir. But please don’t couch the discussion foundationally in terms of one-way judgmentalism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How many Christian film makers would make a movie like this? 0 is probably a pretty good guess. I've been a member of the Evangelical subculture for nearly 30 years, and while there are a lot of really fine, godly people, it is so insular, so like-minded, and so narrow in its worldview that most- scratch that- virtually ALL Evangelicals would walk out on movies like This Is The End. I got slightly irritated with the scene where one of the actors is supposed to be reading from an opened Bible and he says "Revelations" instead of "Revelation." (I respect the literate secularist who actually knows the proper title of the last book in the NT.) I happened to watch most of This is The End last week, and while I found some parts hilarious (my fave was the guy desperately trying to get into the house through the doggy door and promising to, well, let's just say "TF" one of the actors "so goood."), MAN it was a disgusting movie. Although I, too liked its poking gentle fun at totems like fame and fortune, I wished they would have dialed it back just a little. I got through 75% of it though, and may go back and see the rest on your say so Mr. K.

Just as a side note, I'm learning a lot about your faith through what you watch and read and write. I find your rather elastic Christianity quite interesting. I mean that in a mostly positive sense. I think you're absolutely right that Christians need to address the popular culture effectively and we don't generally do a very good job at this.

BTW, I'm reading Crazy Dangerous. Kudos, sir, for capturing the voice of a contemporary teen despite being a bit of an old fart.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who are these pharisee-like Christians? Church lady was a comedy skit, noit real life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I might suggest that a lot of people who grew up strongly religious are, at heart, nice people. They don't like being mean or nasty. (I know those words are somewhat cliched, but they're accurate). Christian books, music, and movies are made by and for these people.

Frankly, it takes some nastiness to read and write unpleasant material. Yet, much of the time it's that unpleasantness that makes a work seem like it happens in the real world. (To pick a random example by an author you probably never heard of, "Empire of Lies".)

It isn't that Christians are Pharisees (not all of them, anyway), it's that they're not used to wrestling with muck, and so their art doesn't reflect that. People who are Christian, but have wrestled with muck, can be powerful artists. Johnny Cash, to give a great example.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I originally wrote this movie off but now I must watch it. 'Reaching out' seems to be a bit of a weakness for both Christians and the political right. With both messages, you'd think it would be an easy sell. But then we go and get all caught up in the rules aspect and forget about the relational aspect whether with God or with people. The clean christian literature and movies seem very distant from the reality I see day to day so they tend to be less than satisfying. Maybe that just means I'm not a very good Christian, I do prefer boots, jeans and a leather jacket to sandals and robes after all. But this movie seems like it may be a refreshing look. Left Behind Uncut if you will.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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