“The Song” Struggles to Stay on Pitch
The Song is the latest in a number of faith-based films that are not only trying to reach Christian audiences but also trying to appeal to those who never darken the doors of church buildings. The film uses the story of a successful country music star as a rough analogy to the life of King Solomon and aims to teach lessons on faith, fidelity, and fame – I think.
The Song, which far exceeds the cinematography, acting, and production values of most Christian-produced movies, is exceptional in that it depicts sin in a realistic, graphic way that will make some believers squirm in their seats (for example, one character commits suicide, another gets on a bad drug trip and claws at his skin until it bleeds). And I think it deserves credit for that – sin is messy, and when we try to sugarcoat it, it doesn’t resonate with real life. As the story unfolds, it is very clear that a life of sin will take you to hell and back; and fame and fortune will prove to be “meaningless, meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The problem is that after we see all this mayhem and the film is over, we’re left with a big why.
I’m guessing that the movie is trying to teach us something, I just can’t figure out what it is. If it’s trying to teach us how to build strong marriages, it misses the boat; because the only thing the film does is teach us how to ruin one. Moreover, perhaps the greatest failure of the film is what it communicates to women in abusive, adulterous marriages: that is, your husband can mistreat you in a variety of ways over a long period of time, but if he suddenly apologizes to you, taking him back is the right thing to do (even when the sincerity of his apology is depicted as being somewhat questionable). I mean, I’m all about healthy reconciliation; but what this movie gives us is a woman who gets verbally and emotionally knocked around, and in the end, we’re supposed to be deeply touched by an impulsive “Baby-I’m-sorry-I-love-you-baby” apology.
Speaking of repentance, it is entirely unclear what repentance even means in this film. The main character’s wife complains that she can’t be with a man who doesn’t believe in something greater than himself. And it looks like that “something” is probably supposed to be Jesus, but it’s not quite clear – based on what we see in the film, the guy would have done just as well to become a nice humanist. It begs the question why believers can’t seem to figure out how to make movies that communicate the truth of coming to Jesus without either (a) doing the equivalent of an awkward, unnatural, cinematic altar call; or (b) making things so opaque that any theology in the film is on par with something you’d find at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
This isn’t the only twisted message about marriage either. In an early scene in the film, a woman who’s having an affair gets pregnant, has an abortion, and after her husband finds out about her affair, he hangs himself. Her lover, David, is thereafter devastated when his wife learns of the affair and drives away with their kids in the back seat of her car. But then the movie depicts the two lovers getting married as a voiceover reads the scripture, “But the one who confesses and renounces sin finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13). Life goes on, they have new kids, they dance on the deck of their home together – the old wife and old kids are apparently old news. To be fair, I understand that The Song is trying to draw a parallel to the Old Testament story of King David’s act of adultery. But the problem is, in the case of both marriages depicted, The Song communicates that repentance means just starting over, when New Testament repentance actually calls us to make things right (Luke 19:1-10). That isn’t readily evident in either case.
Don’t get me wrong – this movie does have a lot of redemptive themes; and it’s particularly noteworthy how it works so many scripture verses into the script in a way that seems natural and artistic. In fact, I heard that at one of the screenings, a young woman who isn’t a believer wanted to know where all the beautiful poetry came from. Along those lines, some of the Scripture-inspired songs are actually quite good, and although I haven’t heard it, I’m sure the soundtrack is worth buying.
Unfortunately though, good music and Bible verses aren’t enough to rescue a movie that, although it has a lot of potential, sends some troubling and unhealthy messages about marriage. And that’s why, in the end, I’m afraid The Song is a good idea that’s missing the moral backbone it needed to keep it from falling flat.