Christian Movies Touch Virgin Territory

Are Persecuted and The Virgins at least worthy evangelical attempts to break into new film genres?
E. Stephen Burnett | Jul 18, 2014 | 9 comments |
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It actually released July 18.

Are more Christian movies at least moving away from what critics would call the usual altar-call-driven “inspirational” fare?

Last night I read a review of the new film Persecuted, which for some reason I assumed was a documentary (wrap that in scare quotes if you wish) based on the 2003 nonfiction book by David Limbaugh. Not a chance. Folks, this is a evangelical-flavored suspense thriller. And I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Sen. Donald Harrison has introduced a bill—the Faith and Fairness Act—that would make it a requirement for religious leaders to express their beliefs in a way that “permits equal time and respect to other systems of faith. […]

John Luther, though, isn’t evolving. John’s the leader of Truth, the largest Christian organization in the country, and a critic of the Faith and Fairness Act. […]

Clearly, the guy’s a serious troublemaker. So despite years of friendship, Don hatches a detailed plan to jettison John and squelch his salvation sermons.

Step 1: Have John pose for a couple of post-sermon selfies with an admiring 16-year-old girl.

Step 2: Kidnap John.

Step 3: Drug John.

Step 4: Stick John in a car with the girl.

Step 5: Take pictures of the girl getting physical with the passed-out John.

Step 6: Kill the girl.

It’s hard to have much spiritual authority or political clout when you’re in prison for rape and murder.1

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A subversion of the usual “big red letters means it’s Funny™” comedy-movie cliche?

If this were another Liam Neeson thriller, that stuff wouldn’t be new. But surely we must grade on a fair curve because it’s Christians.

And then there’s The Virgins, a direct-to-streaming independent film that dares to be a Christian sex comedy2 And it works? And by laughing at the expense of the evangelical Sex Prosperity Gospel — that is, the meme that if single Christians simply Wait Patiently on God’s Chosen One For You then your future married sex life will be stigma-free and mind-blowingly perfect forever? Yes, according to Christ and Pop Culture writer Wade Bearden:

Mary is a graceful Christian girl with an overprotective father. Because the couple waited to have sex, they’re planning a wedding night for the ages. The stakes get even higher when the audience finds out that Nick is being shipped off to Afghanistan the following morning. After an ill-timed prank by Nick’s brother Toad (Conner Marx) creates a domino effect that leaves the couple running around town looking for a place to consummate their marriage, it seems like the universe (and maybe even God) just might be against them having sex. Nick’s perfect night, the night he dreamed about his entire life, is on the verge of unraveling right before his eyes.

All of these points converge to make The Virgins a very funny film. Though, given the religious nature of the story, it’s probably not the type of funny you’d expect. And that’s okay. The characters talk about sex. A lot. There are jokes about foreplay and intercourse—especially from Nick’s crass but deftly amusing grandpa. But the humor never comes across in a way that degrades or cheapens the meaning of intimacy. In turn, it actually serves to nudge at our ideas and sensibilities. This makes The Virgins very different from most traditionally defined faith-based films—though their characters never seem to be having sex, either.3

Other than end-times retreads, evangelicals don’t make thrillers. And other than a recent apparent “ha ha, silly husbands can’t manage households because the woman’s place alone is in the home”-themed film, we also don’t do comedies.

Persecuted and The Virgins appear at least to be worthy attempts to break those barriers.

Now if we can just do something about that whole dearth of decent, imaginative, groundbreaking fantasy and sci-fi films … or with all the fantastical films available these days, do Christians even need to try?

  1. From the Plugged In review of Persecuted by Paul Asay, July 18, 2014.
  2. I’d ignorantly assumed this also was a documentary (wrap in another set of scare quotes if you wish).
  3. Sex, Marriage, and the Prosperity Sex Gospel: A Review of The Virgins, Wade Bearden, Christ and Pop Culture, July 18, 2014.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor of a nonfiction book about parenting and popular culture (title TBA), to release spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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D. M. Dutcher
Member

I hope they do well. It’s good to take chances, even mild ones.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Persecution? Nope. We do not need something else that feeds into the melodramatic evangelical persecution complex. I don’t need my dad getting any more paranoid about the libruls, thankyouverymuch. Having one movie based on a conspiracy-theoristic chain email is enough (God’s Not Dead), arigato gozaimasu.

But The Virgins sounds like something worth throwing money at. The conservative Christian attitude about sex could use some lightening up. And maybe they’ll debunk that abstinence-only myth that the first married time is magical-unicorns-bedframe-cracking perfection, unlike heathen unmarried first time, even though it might very well include the exact same people, genitals, emotional attachment, and awkward beginner skill level.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Update: By now I’ve watched ~2/3rds of The Virgins trailer…..and I’m not that optimistic anymore. The writing/acting doesn’t seem good enough or superbly awful enough to be funny. It looks pretty blah.

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

Good article. I must take issue with your “ha ha” comment, however. I do notice that you wrote “apparent” so I’ll cut you some slack. You “apparently” haven’t seen Mom’s Night Out, based on your comment. Then again, neither have I. But I do take issue with comments that embrace the bias of reviewers who went into the movie believing it was about a stupid Christian belief, and then wrote their reviews about that, regardless of the actual movie.

 

You see… my wife saw the movie. And loved it. (And she generally HATES “Christian” movies, like Fireproof, et al.) As a mom, she identified with the characters in the movie more than any other movie she’s seen in years. Sean Astin’s character, one of the dads, was shown as perfectly competent to take care of his kids, whereas one of the other dads was not. Wow. Just like real life. And each one of the moms were different, as well.

 

It’s almost like… it’s NOT what the biased reviewers claimed it was about…