Imagine an art gallery atop a mountain. What’s the most beautiful thing you could place on that gallery wall? Probably a window.
Is anything you or I create going to improve upon God’s amazing creation? Can our nature-inspired work improve upon nature? No. I will never create anything as beautiful as a window. So why create? Where is the value in creating something sub par?
That’s the basic question I’m hearing asked with the recently-released Son of God movie produced by Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser. And let me make it clear that I have not seen the movie. But apparently there are liberties taken, it’s not an exact retelling of Scripture, the purpose of the movie differs from the purpose of the biblical authors, and so on. There are flaws. There are problems. Rather than see the movie (it is said), why not open the Bible and read the accounts for yourself? The movie doesn’t improve upon the original writings. In fact it has blatant discrepancies. So why bother?
Try to remember one of the greatest sermons you’ve ever heard. What made it great? Was it convicting? Was it solidly based on God’s Word? Did it raise insights you had never considered? As great and as impacting of a sermon that may have been, it was not equivalent with Scripture. What you heard or read was somebody’s interpretation of Scripture. I’m not insisting there were flaws in this beloved message, but it was not the inspired Word of God no matter how much it was based on the inspired Word of God.
Now, you may be thinking that my sermon illustration is a far cry from a movie that DOES have obvious discrepancies. True. This is when we need to consider the topic of art.
Art is somebody’s expression of an action, object, idea, story, or feeling. That expression could stay very true to the original source, or it could be very loosely inspired by the source. In either case, it is not an exact duplicate. The artist has inserted himself into the mix. And I would submit that the more of himself he inserts, the more abstract the piece becomes. I’m not talking about the amount of effort being spent, but the amount of interpretation and blending of ideas and concepts.
Art does not separate itself from the artist. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not even a necessary evil. It’s what makes art interesting, mysterious, engaging, and seductive! And it’s why an artist can find fulfillment in creating art even when there is no audience. Ask any doodler! (This isn’t solely about serious fine artists.)
But back to movies. Evaluating a movie is just like evaluating any other work of art. You have the craft, quality, and execution on one hand. On the other hand are the purposes, goals and messages. One facet can be great, the other lousy. But it’s important to distinguish between the two.
Did I mention I haven’t seen the Son of God movie? I have not seen it. So I am not defending or criticizing it when I caution against putting down a movie because it differs from the book—yes, even when we’re talking about THE book. It’s a variant of the original source. It’s a work of art that involves the creativity and perspectives of its creators.
That’s not to say a director or producer has free reign. There IS such a thing as bad art and there IS such a thing as irresponsible art. And when dealing with the Word of God, I would say there IS an additional level of responsibility. But go into your experience without a mental checklist. Go beyond trying to catch every little discrepancy. Look deeper. If you require the painting of a tree to match the beauty and confounding complexity of the tree seen from an adjacent window, the potential joys of art will pass you by every time.