I see a lot of movies, and at the same time a lot of movies come my way. So, of course, I miss a movie now and then. But over time I try and catch up. Welcome to my regular series “Catching Up” in which I take a look at a movie that, for one reason or another, I just missed the first time around.
Just the other day an elderly woman asked me if I had seen the Christian drama War Room. “No, I haven’t,” I said. The woman placed a motherly hand on my shoulder, looked me dead in the eye and said “You owe it to yourself. This movie will change your life.” What this woman didn’t know is that I had already heard a great deal about War Room – and none of it good. I’ve heard from faithful Christians that it is changing lives, yes, but I also heard the same noise about God’s Not Dead and I declared that movie the worst of 2014.
Having now seen War Room, I can report that it hasn’t changed my life but I can freely admit that it exudes a message that seriously concerns me. If I understood the film correctly, the filmmakers Alex and Steven Kenrick (the same team behind Fireproof and Courageous) want to use this story to sell us on the idea of absolute blind religious faith that omits of the luxury of common sense – whatever comes your way, take it to God and your problems will magically disappear. If your marriage is in trouble, forget therapy and open lines of communication because God can fix everything. He’s standing by waiting for your call.
That’s a wrong-headed message that War Room persists on shoving your way. So too is the smaller message that if you are attacked by a mugger, the best course of action is to invoke the name of Jesus and the mugger will run away. That’s a dangerous message. Movies like this have a way of breeding a sheep mentality among the faithful who are likely to take every scene at face value. Ideas like that are not only unhealthy, they’re irresponsible.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to the story. Our protagonist is Liz Jordan (Priscilla C. Shirer), a disturbingly milquetoast real estate agent who is apparently successful at her job only because her clients can walk into a house and say “We’ll take it” without looking the place over. At home she has endured sixteen loveless years with Anthony (T.C. Stalling) a hateful, reprehensible monster who belittles her unmercifully and then goes to work where he flirts with other women and steals from the company. This unholy alliance has produced a daughter named Danielle.
The trajectory of Liz’s path to righteousness comes from one of her clients, Mrs. Clara Williams (Karen Abercrombie) a hard-line dyed-in-the-wool Christian who can apparently spot domestic distress with no evidence at all. Left alone after her first encounter with Liz, Miss Clara watches the young woman walk away and imparts a knowing “Mmm-hmm.” She knows how it is, you see. This, despite the fact that Miss Clara never once meets the husband or sets foot inside Liz’s house.
Over several days, Liz and Miss Clara build a friendship – the troubled young professional coupled with the wise old sage who’s been around. Miss Clara, having blindly spotted the trouble in Liz’s marriage, offers life-changing advice to her in the form of seclusion and prayer. She shows her the War Room, an empty closet wherein she tacks prayers on the wall and prays all of her earthly problems away. She encourages Liz to do that same because this and only this will iron our the strife in her relationship.
Right there! Right there! That’s where the movie loses me. The advice of Miss Clara seems to be for Liz to close herself off from all things and pray for God’s intervention. Nowhere does she impart that Liz should talk to her husband, seek counseling or even ask God for guidance in helping her through her marital crisis. NO! Pray Pray Pray and it will magically work itself out. The movie is asking Liz to be pathological doormat until God parts the seas and makes Anthony see the light.
Maybe I wouldn’t be so pressing on this issue if I felt that Liz had exhausted all other options. That’s not the case here. She has apparently done nothing to try and save this marriage. Worse, there is never any indication that Liz’s marriage is worth saving. There is never any indication that Anthony loves his wife or that she even loves him. The two never have a conversation that isn’t a conflict and his approach to her is on the level of a dog that just pooped on the rug. When he finally (SPOILERS) sees the light, it takes near-infidelity that is interrupted by food poisoning.
The message bred from this film is disturbing. Liz and Anthony have problems but it never imparts that the wisdom of common sense or that the secrets to success in a marriage are worked through communication. This movie sees marital strife through communication with God, the result of which will come solutions bred from magical realism. Where are the questions? Where are the challenges? Where’s the approach to real life? Where are the tactics for dealing with the hard knocks? Communication with God is food for the soul but it can’t be a replacement for laziness. That’s a message that the makers of the this movie would be happy to gloss over.
War Room is not as hateful as God’s Not Dead but I can say that it is just as hypocritical. Both sell a message based on ignorance and intolerance wrapped up in a doctrine that preaches to the choir. What non-Christians are going to watch this movie? More than that, what non-Christians would be sold on its message that blind faith is the path to all things? Movies like this have to step outside of the comforts of their target audience and speak on grounds that are challenging and far-reaching.
There is a sermonizing technique here that seems retroactive. Miss Clara makes a rousing speech at the end of the movie, a call to arms to raise a generation who are not afraid to declare themselves Christians. Fine. But how about raising a generation that is understanding, patient and non-judgmental. How about raising a generation that operates on common sense rather than on a pathological doctrine of ignorance? These movies need to acknowledge that life is not as black and white as they portray it. Look at and acknowledge the world you live in before you call out for the kind of world that you want.