Jesus Revolution (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
It’s been the quite a run for Jesus at the movies. Several recent faith-based stories (Father Stu, The Chosen, etc.) have become surprise breakout hits. Jesus Revolution has all the makings of joining the ranks as another faith-based film success story.
The film is based on the true events of how spiritual revival ignited in the hippie communities of the early 1970s and spread across the country. Despite the historical backdrop, the story has a timely message, releasing at a moment when revival is currently spreading across several university campuses. There is a lot to like about this film. It has a message that will surely inspire many Christians. It’s an “important” film. Evaluating whether it’s a “good” film, however, is a bit trickier.
Jesus Revolution is largely a one-note story, but it plays that note well. As with many faith-based films, it straddles the line between sermon and movie, and it is sometimes hard to disentangle the two. For example, during one “preaching” moment, several moviegoers in my theater audibly shouted “amen!” I also affirmed the powerful Gospel truth being proclaimed, but the scene itself felt contrived and unearned. It is perhaps easiest to consider the message and the medium separately; affirming the power of the message (explored more in the “themes” section below), while also being honest that the cinematic delivery of that message is flawed.
Without question, this is very much a “message” film. Family sitcoms from the 90s (see Full House) had a cheesy trope where emotional music would swell, and the audience knew a “teachable” moment was about to unfold. In many ways, Jesus Revolution is two hours of those moments. It is packed full of swelling music and didactic spiritual truths being proclaimed, seemingly as much to the audience in the theater as to the characters in the narrative. Some of the “preaching” is unavoidable given the subject matter of a church and a pastor. Even so, by the end of the runtime, this one repetitive beat feels overdone and begins to lose its effectiveness.
Even so, Jesus Revolution is not without its strengths. There are some moments of inspiration when the story and visuals are trusted to communicate without the crutch of having characters blatantly explain it. One such standout moment is a baptism scene that is effectively framed as a sort of visual metaphor. Likewise, the acting is good across the board. In fact, most of the best moments are the ones between the “message” moments, when characters are allowed to interact and breathe a bit in a more authentic way.
Overall, Jesus Revolution has an inspirational and powerful message, delivered in a passable—but one-dimensional—story. It’s a movie that ironically feels a bit too “square” for its subject matter; a story about the messiness of life and of people that is itself very clean and sanitized, offering little tension and a predictably clean ending (although there are some plot developments in the later part of the story that begin to add some depth and nuance to the story). Jesus Revolution is a quality faith-based film that many Christians will enjoy, even if its heavy-handed approach prevents it from transcending beyond the faith-based film genre.
Engage The Film
At the beginning of the film, a character explains that the Jesus movement is “not something you describe. It’s something you experience.” Throughout the film, various characters search for that indescribable experience. Rather than present the wayward searching as an evil or vice, the film presents it as a positive, that the younger generation—those dismissed and given up on by many within the established church—are merely “sheep without a shepherd,” seeking after God in the wrong places.
The movie takes clear inspiration from Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” There is a repeated theme that the church doors are to remain open (both in a literal sense in the film, but also presumably in a metaphorical sense). Rather than condemn those still seeking; the church is to shepherd them toward the truth.
The Family of God
There is a repeated refrain that “everyone leaves, eventually.” Many of the characters feel abandoned or outcasted. The two words used most often to describe the “Jesus revolution” movement are “acceptance” and “family.” In an early scene, a pastor and a hippie talk about “your people” and “my people” as two distinct groups. Later, in one of the movie’s best scenes, an older man in the church steps across the aisle to sit among the hippies, visualizing that they are no longer divided, but in Christ, they are one (Galatians 3:28).
It should be noted that while the “family” of God is central, God himself is largely absent. The focus is more about the church/movement than about God, a message on acceptance rather than repentance. Characters talk about the “experience” of the truth, but that experience appears to be more about finding belonging in a community, rather than in a relationship with God himself. Near the end, the movie does address this with some plot developments that explore the dangers of allowing the movement itself to become the focus, rather than Jesus. Still, in a movie about the “Jesus movement,” the scales are often weighted far more on the side of the “movement” part rather than the “Jesus” part.