This past weekend a number of couples from the church took to the theaters to watch the critically acclaimed Les Miserables. We’d heard from a number of people how wonderful this film adaptation was. Now, in every one of those conversations I played the genuine skeptic, calling the film a “chick flick” and all. In every one of those conversation burly plaid-wearing men spoke passionately about how it wasn’t a “chick flick,” how it was moving and passionate and full of action, and about how many sermon illustrations and gospel themes ran through the movie.

Against the better judgment of my inner caveman, I went to the movie.

My very first thought in the opening moments of the very first scene was I hope they don’t sing the entire movie. Two nano-seconds later, the singing started… and never ended! I suppose there were ten spoken words in the entire flick. Immediately following the movie I received a much-needed lesson in culture. I’m gonna pass it on to you for free. You ready? There’s a great difference between a musical and an opera. Some of you knew that. Some of you didn’t. You see a musical–take a classic like Grease–has spoken parts punctuated by songs. An opera has every word sung. Every word. Les Mis is an opera. Check that–a pop opera, I’m told. If my wife had told me we were going to a “pop opera” I would have never left the couch, flipped on Net Flix, and called it a night. But because I can enjoy a musical here and there, I was clobbered by the pop opera Les Mis. Clobbered!

It was a long couple of hours. One brother exiting the movie with hollow eyes in a death walk slightly above zombie status rightly commented, “That could have been about 40 minutes shorter.” Amen and amen. But the filmmakers can’t be blamed for erasing a portion of our lives with a harrowing cacophony of amateur siren songs. Had I known the novel ranks among the longest in the world (1,500 pages in English and 1,900 in French) I would have taken a sleeping bag to the theater!

All along the way I’m uncomfortable and vexed. I couldn’t figure out why until the end. It seems to me the gospel was handled in a most unhelpful way. The “converted” Valjean spends the entire movie trying to find forgiveness through good deeds. We see him in the convent trembling, sweating, fading, with one question on his lips: “Am I forgiven?” His nemesis, who lives by an inflexible law and justice, is crushed beneath the weight of the law even when offered forgiveness. One wonders what the effect of the film might be if imputed righteousness might have been clearly communicated. Valjean could have done wonderful acts of mercy not for forgiveness but from forgiveness. He could have lived his life with assurance rather than dogging doubt. He might have actually told the film’s many other beggars where to find the Bread of Life. Rather than trying to be the Savior, he could have enjoyed the Savior. His nemesis might have had the crushing weight of the law lifted by the Lamb who satisfies both the Law’s demands and penalty.

Instead, we were treated to a cruel imitation of the gospel, a suggestion of grace without the marrow of it. In fact, the film probably confuses mercy (being punished less than our sins deserve) with grace (being treated better than our sins deserve). Praise God for mercy, but grace is so much more. If you’re taking a friend who is not yet a Christian to this movie, be prepared to show them the difference between moral conversion and new birth.

Then, to top all the misery off, there’s the final scene with the entire cast–except Javert–singing a revolutionary fight song as though collectively victorious. A universalist hint? I dunno. But by that time I was thoroughly entrenched among the miserables, the wretched, the poor ones, the victims.

My wife owes me 10 action movies in a row for this one!

There was one bright spot though–the cute, feisty little boy. You’ll like him, but you’ll still be miserable. I know I was.

Okay… let the disagreements begin!

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47 thoughts on “Miserable at “Les Miserables””

  1. Nina says:

    I think you’re reading way between the lines. Forgive my brusqueness, but I find sentiments like yours burdened to be overtly righteous. This hyper-spirituality then chokes out any space for grace and mercy to work. Shall we interject every statement with “Jesus” to make grace of an already divine nature more divine? (What an opera that would make..) Must we always feel compelled to enunciate the entire gospel from birth to death to resurrection to ascension? Please do not misunderstand me – I do not mean to exclude Christ from the presentation of the gospel because He IS its message – life everlasting. But we refuse to let Grace move as it is – gentle, kind, un-brutish. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), not banging non-believers on the head with “Jesus” sung 7 times in a row.

    I believe Les Miserables presents a wondrous and moving account of grace (and I have to wonder if you even had your eyes open during the first few scenes where Valjean’s transformation takes place). It is the kindness of the bishop that reveals the wound sin and shame had hardened. And on the contrary, I don’t believe Valjean spent the rest of the film vying for salvation, but acting upon it in the same way Christ commands us to love as He has loved us, to show grace as He has shown grace to us. Les Miserables is a beautiful film; there is humanity in its squalor and poverty, but there is divinity in the form of kindness and second chances. We would not fathom the depth of its message had it been presented in a sanitized way as you suggest. Doubt is human. We cannot deny that we struggle with it. But as the redeemed, we can rest in the truth of what God’s Word tells us – that I am sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:14)

    Please know that I do not intend to judge your heart, but speak generally in regards to the views presented on your posting.

    1. Laurie says:

      Nina hit the nail on the head. I left the movie loving the gospel and grace more than ever. I could relate to both Valjean and Javier- in Valjean as he “worked out his salvation with fear and trembling”-trying to devote himself to God in a real world and Javier- the legalist who thought he was doing the work of God by loving the law but not the lawgiver. You called it a “cruel imitation of the gospel”- grace without the marrow. I saw Valjean as having the very marrow of Jesus- HIS DNA as he lived his life sacrificing for others and not just proclaiming, as so many evangelicans do today.

  2. Bob Kellemen says:

    Pastor Thabiti, I think I agree with you and resonate with your writings about 99% of the time. But, not this time, and since you invite disagreement… First, I grant that this movie version does not as clearly depict grace versus law as well as the Broadway version, and neither do so as well as the book. But that central message still came across loud and clear and powerfully in the movie: it is the story of the age-old contrast between and even war between Satan’s lying works and condemnation narrative and Christ’s truth and grace and forgiveness narrative. The Bishop gives Jean val Jean a taste of Christ’s grace which transforms him. Does it make him perfect? No, not this side of heaven. But it does begin another story for him–the story of living out grace. Fantine’s song, “I Dreamed a Dream” portrays the hopelessness of hoping in anyone but Christ…as the entire movie portrays. And Javert is crushed by his own refusal to receive grace…when grace is given and offered again and again and instead we choose works and the law, that is a crushing hopelessnes. Javert would rather die than receive life from another. Well…just a few quick reflections. Maybe instead of those ten action movies, you could go with your wife one more time to re-view Les Mis. Thanks, brother. Bob

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Bob and Nina,

      Thanks for jumping in! I appreciate that and your charitable disagreement. The most miserable thing would be to get hot and bothered about Les Mis. I fully appreciate I’m in the minority here, and that it’s not a salvation issue :-).

      Bob, I saw the Law and Grace dynamic at work in the film and mention the crushing of the law when grace is rejected. That was very clear. I agree.

      And Nina, I saw the opening scenes with the priest, the substitution, and Valjean’s conversion. Pardon me for saying it, but I found the entire conversion too “Roman Catholic” from start to finish. Is he saved by grace alone through faith, or by grace, faith and works? I think the film presents the latter, and consequence is Valjean’s uncertainty. IMO.

      Please don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t looking for a “gospel presentation” canned and delivered. See here for my feelings about that: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/08/24/im-tired-of-hearing-the-gospel-warning-mild-rant/. No, I was looking for something that made Valjean’s life a clearer fruit of grace rather than something that seemed to “earn” grace. The whole thing felt to me like that awful scene in Private Ryan where Hanks’ dying character says to Ryan, “You better earn this”, referring to earning the deaths of so many soldiers who saved him. The elderly Ryan ends the movie pleading with his wife to tell him he is a good man. He’s nearly token with the debt. That’s how I see the priest’s “Serve God” and Valjean’s asking Cosiette at the end of his life if he is forgiven. It felt like more than doubt to me.

      I’m not looking for anything sanitized. Part of the movie’s power is it’s grit and grime. It couldn’t be the same tale without it. But, alas, I was miserable :-).

      T

      1. I enjoyed the movie, but I’m glad to see that someone else is willing to point out the shallowness of the purported theology which so many seem to see in the musical/movie. Yes, there is something of a conflict between law and grace, but the conflict is a superficial one, with neither aspect lining up well with good theology. If one were to use Javert and Valjean as models of law and grace, one would come away with very distorted views of the Christian doctrines of law and grace. I would propose that rather than being a theological tension between law and grace, it is a tension between ethical systems: deontology and virtue ethics.

        Is it something one might use to start up a conversation? Certainly. But too little of the evangelical cheerleading over the film has been properly critical of the model the movie props up.

        1. Pastor Thabiti

          Are you absolutely sure that you’re not just looking for a theological argument that will get you out of going to the opera?

          :-)

          1. Thabiti says:

            Why? Do you have one? I’ll definitely take it! :-)

  3. Doug Davis says:

    Thabiti,

    You are too funny. Many of my friends won’t see it for the same reasons you cited. I did go, and I enjoyed it. First and foremost because the movie did a great job in explaining the story to me. I had seen the play twice (when single… both times group dates where the women loved, loved, loved the play). Both times I had no clue what was going on save for the general outline (even though having read the playbill). The movie finally explained everything to me. Great job that! For that I appreciated the movie greatly.

    I didn’t expect the movie to deliver a gospel message since I was pretty sure it was a secular endeavor. But I agree with you 100% on the ending. I looked over at my wife and asked, “Is this supposed to be heaven?” If so, how depressing… all these people still in battle attire complete with weaponry. Cut the ending out and it would have been great. The performances were stellar.

    All this being said, I won’t be sitting through it again. But I will be recommending it to friends.

  4. Barchetta says:

    After reading and seeing everyone trip over themselves to laud this movie I have to say, Thabiti, you’re my hero.

    Well done. :)

  5. SHM says:

    HILARIOUS!!! Well worth the read if for nothing more than the laughs. I’m almost inspired to see the movie out of curiosity but, I honestly don’t vibe with operas, AT ALL! Like I said, I’m ALMOST inspired…NOT! Don’t feel bad though. I knew I wasn’t going to see this one long ago. But the critique was comedic genius! :-)

  6. Melody says:

    You made me laugh in the morning. Thank you!!!

    I am not tempted in the least to see it. I know I would be the same. The torture of the singing would cause me to miss or even hate the nuances that are probably there.
    My church is known for it’s great dramas and people come from outside to see them. I volunteer for extra nursery duty. I can feel the judgement when I decide I cannot sit through something everyone can see the gospel in.

    What they don’t understand is that I can rejoice in that from the distance of the nursery.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Oh, my sister! The nursery is a far less harrowing and safer place! If you guys need extra hands, give me a ring :-).
      T-

  7. Jeremy says:

    When the credits started rolling, I slowly turned to my wife and quietly said with a hint of exasperation, “I didn’t realize they would be singing every word.” She returned the wide-eyed look and shook her head, saying, “I didn’t either. I thought it was supposed to be a musical.”

    I laughed out loud when I read that you had the same thoughts.

  8. LG says:

    Well, as my grandfather said, there’s no accountin’ for some people’s taste! ;)

    (Just one note from me: Les Mis is an important, even spiritual-perspective-changing book/play/movie for MANY of your brothers and sisters. It seemed you were taking delight in dumping on something others love. Ouch.)

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi LG,

      Welcome to the chat! And for the record: Your grandfather was correct :-).

      You’re right. I was taking a humorous crack at a film/play/book I know many people love. But, let it be said that I was not taking a crack at the people who love it. In other words, we’ll always fell a pinch when people take shots at something dear to us, but we should never delight in taking humorous shots at people. I’m glad folks loved the book/film. Wouldn’t take that from them. But I wouldn’t expect them to love all the films I enjoy and have impacted me, or to refrain from taking either serious or humorous cracks at them.

      Just being a caveman ;-)
      T-

  9. Bryant says:

    T,I was chuckling all through your critical review of Les Mis: feeling somewhat guilty in urging you to see a movie that caused you to endure such misery and at the same time chuckling at your Scrooge like response to amazing literature and art. The fact that it caused you to write about the theological misunderstandings is the very reason it is a must see. How rare in contemporary drama, art and music is God and great moral issues of life ever considered with any meaningful theological basis. Great literature and drama will rarely be theologically pure, but it is rich when it deals with those issues in a meaningful way for it causes man to reflect and wonder and discuss the great questions of life. And to deal with it with such inspiring music is a rare combination. Les Mis addresses man’s longing for a better world amidst a a very fallen,decadent, unjust and evil world. We have the answer in the Gospel and know that longing is fulfilled in Christ and will be fully realized in the Kingdom of God when Christ returns. See the movie as a conversation point with those who bring it up by asking questions about what they thought and you’ll have some great discussions that can lead to the Gospel. Then you might think,” Thankyou Lord,that I endured the misery.” Now go and enjoy Zero Dark Thirty!

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Bryant!

      I’m wonderfully surprised to have pulled you into the labyrinth of blog discussion! :-) Welcome to the dark side, brother! :-)

      Of course, you nail it on two fronts:

      1. I am definitely a Scrooge ;-)

      2. The film does have merit as a conversation starter–even going most of the way for you in the conversation, raising all the issues you mention. I completely agree. Could even be called “brilliant,” as many have. The downside: you gotta sit through the film to get that conversation started! lol

      Praying you’re having a joyful time in the Lord. Miss our fellowship already!

      T-

  10. My first introduction to Les Mis was the 1998 film version with Liam Neeson (no singing Thabiti). I had trouble sleeping one night and I thought, by the look of it, my eyelids would be droopy in no time. But what happened instead, I was riveted and watched the entire movie.

    To be sure, we are looking at an imperfect reflection of the Gospel, but I think Les Mis is a great conversation starter to get to the Gospel, as well as the Law/Grace distinction.

    So in addition to checking out the 1998 version, you also might be interested in the conversation they had about Les Mis over at the White Horse Inn.
    http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2012/12/20/whi-bonus-law-gospel-les-miserables/

    As far as the musical (pop-opera) version, for me it was an uneven experience. I thought it was a bit long, but I also thought parts of it were sublime. By the end of the movie I had to work real hard to shut down the water works trying to escape from my tear ducts.

  11. Ray Nearhood says:

    Firstly, Pastor Anyabwile, I offer a couple lighthearted ribbings before addressing your review of Les Miserables.

    1. You write, “…because I can enjoy a musical here and there, I was clobbered by the pop opera Les Mis. Clobbered!” (“Through composition” is a characteristic of opera, not theLes Miserables is a musical, not an opera) The musical has been around since 1980, and the internet has been around since Al Gore invented it. You could have – should have – known what to expect going in. Like an untrained boxer, you ran chin up and eyes closed into a telegraphed haymaker. The clobbering is due to your lack of preparation.

    2. You write, “‘That could have been about 40 minutes shorter.’ Amen and amen.” No, it couldn’t have been. The whole thing is done in song. Song has meter and time. Just saying.

    OK. With that out of the way, onto some serious business…

    “…how many sermon illustrations and gospel themes ran through the movie.” Here, Pastor, is the mistake that wrongly colors your review and the interpretations of those telling you that the gospel themes are there.

    You know how there are Biblical interpretation problems that we run up against due to well meaning Christians reading something into the Bible something that isn’t there? Libertarian free will, for example. It’s an unfortunate thing, but a commitment to philosophical autonomy (perhaps) will wrongly color the Arminian’s whole reading of redemptive history. “Can’t you see prevenient grace throughout the Gospel narrative?”

    The thing is, there is no (none, not a smidgen of) redemption in Les Miserables. That’s the point of the book and, by extension, the musical. From beginning to end, every character is a Miserable Person. Even the “revolutionary fight song as though collectively victorious” is not victorious. “The blood of the martyrs (to the revolutionary cause) will water the meadows of France” is meant to hail in “a life about to start when tomorrow comes” that becomes, instead, a bloody failure of the populist uprising. When Hugo wrote the book the so-called June Rebellion was a fairly contemporary event. Most people making it to the end of the book in 1862 would have understood that the end of the revolutionaries was, well, miserable. Perhaps this speaks to the necessity of a grammatical-historical reading – or watching – of Les Mis. (Side note: the singing of “Do You Hear The People Sing” at the end of the musical was a later addition to the musical, used as an encore on stage because it featured so much of the cast, allowing for the players to take their bows. Personally, I think its inclusion at the end of any performance other than the stage performance leaves the audience with the wrong impression about the end of the story.)

    Also, authorial intent should be considered. Hugo was raised Roman Catholic and eventually despised Catholicism, becoming a humanist and rationalist deist of sorts by the time his writing was popular. So the Bishop offered a form of redemption. Nina says, “It is the kindness of the bishop that reveals the wound sin and shame had hardened…” and you, Pastor Anyabwile, rightly respond, “I found the entire conversion too ‘Roman Catholic’ from start to finish. Is he saved by grace alone through faith, or by grace, faith and works? I think the film presents the latter, and consequence is Valjean’s uncertainty.” Yep, except more than uncertainty, the story presents his misery – and offers no relief. But, that’s Hugo’s point.

    Concerning Javert you respond, “I saw the Law and Grace dynamic at work in the film and mention the crushing of the law when grace is rejected. That was very clear.” Again, yep – and the only “relief” from the misery of it that Hugo offers is death.

    Cosette and Marius are the only characters that seem to be not miserable by the end. But, only because they have an apparent happy ending. Cosette, however, loses her beloved benefactor. Marius has wrongly kept his wife from the only other person that cared for her, etc…

    Les Miserables is miserable. From beginning to end it is misery. And that is why it is genius, BTW. Not that the story or the misery or the lack of resolution is good – it isn’t. Instead, the genius is that Hugo rightly identifies moral contradictions, social failings, and human ills then caricatures them into a piece of amazing literature. The pity of it is that Hugo had no resolution – not in the novel, not in reality. Hugo presents to the reader (and the musical / movies / plays present to the watcher) a miserable, failed worldview. One that he could not on his own, and never did, escape.

    If there is any sermon illustration or gospel theme to be found in Les Miserable, it is contrast to the story and the characters of the story. Direct application just ain’t there.

    1. In most respects, I find this to be a spot-on analysis. The only corrective I would make to it is to return to the literary context and remember that this is an exemplary novel of French Romanticism. So I would refrain from going so far as saying that the entire novel is miserable. There are numerous Romantic strains throughout. Part of Hugo’s purposes in writing the novel, while in exile from the Second Empire, was to in some way memorialize — and romanticize — the failed rebellion of 1832. Nearly everyone in the rebellion dies, yes, but that is not necessarily an entirely Bad Thing™; in many instances, dying was the most romantic thing one could do. The Romantic perspective on death (particularly the sort that members of the ABC came to) is not the same as our post-WWI perspective. Cf. Wuthering Heights.

      But as I said in my post above, I do think you’re absolutely right that the novel/musical does not make good fodder for illustrating Christian ideas.

  12. Steve says:

    Thabiti,

    I had every intention of seeing this movie when it came out until I found out that the ‘language’ used within it was less than godly.

    Now, I understand that the main topic at hand here is whether the movie portrays an unhealthy view of the gospel, but I ask with all sincerity:
    How do you view God’s name being taken in vain in movies you watch?
    Does it ever bother you to the point that you would walk out?

    Please help me understand as a fellow pastor.
    Thank you.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear Steve,

      Thanks for your question and taking time to post it. Honestly, unless I missed it in all the singing, I didn’t hear any profanity in this movie. I missed it totally.

      T-

      1. Steve says:

        Thabiti,

        Maybe those who’ve commented on the ‘language’ (ie. Focus on the Family’s ‘pluggedinmovies’) did not discern proper uses of God’s name. hmmmm…

        Well, regardless, here’s their comments concerning ‘language':

        “One s-word. One or two uses each of “h‑‑‑,” “a‑‑” and “b‑‑tard.” Jesus’ name is misused a half-dozen times, most often by the innkeeper. God’s also comes up as exclamatory.”

        Thanks Thabiti for entertaining my comments. I have much respect for you and pray only for God’s blessing on your life and ministry.

        Sincerely,
        Steve

        1. Thabiti says:

          Thanks Steve. That’s helpful… in a way.

          I find the ‘plugged in’ and other Christian reviews that list nearly every instance of something like profanity sometimes can give via the list an inaccurate sense of proportion. You read the list, get an informal “counting”, and you don’t have a sense of whether it was all one scene, or whether it’s really gratuitous or a passing background comment, etc. A visitor to the site took me to task once for posting my interest in Conan. They left a long quote of one of these reviews which talked much about nudity. In all honesty, the review was more graphic than the movie, which had one very quickly flashing scene of a woman’s upper body. But the detail of the review treated it as if it were porn and I had more trouble with the review.

          I’m certain those instances of profanity were there in Les Mis, but it’s not in any way the impression you’re left with. The innkeepers are clearly vile characters, and, if I had to guess, they’re the main culprits re: profanity or vain use of the Lord’s name. But–despite my caveman protestations–the overall effect of the movie is artistic in the best sense of the word. I mean, I didn’t even hear those things. And my wife, who walks us out of movies quickly because of her sensitivity to profanity, hasn’t even mentioned it. I think you’re really swept up in the story itself and the artistry–even if you didn’t like the film.

          Just my take. Much love and respect,
          T-

          1. Wayne Wilson says:

            Well, that was probably me regarding Conan, which the IMDb, a completely secular movie database website, says has

            “Conan and another man engage in a fist fight. There are several topless women surrounding them, their breasts and nipples are clearly seen.

            Conan and his comrades rescue a large group of slaves. .Most of the women are topless and their breasts and nipples are seen very clearly.

            Conan makes love to a woman in a cave. Her breasts and nipples are shown for about 30 seconds during the sex scene. After she leaves, part of Conan’s butt is seen.”

            So, brother, since you’ve been in the ministry, how many other men’s wives and daughters have you seen naked on the big screen for your amusement? A ballpark figure will do.

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Wayne,

              Thanks for joining the conversation. And thanks for your concern for the purity of your brothers and sisters. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t appreciate that concern even though I’m about to stand by my point with regard to those descriptions.

              If anyone has seen Conan and gave it a fair review, they’d know that such scenes were hardly the point and that you form a much stronger picture reading the words you just posted than you do from the scenes in the movie itself. We should be aware that sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures, and that’s my point about these descriptions. What we’re imagining is worse than what’s there–and that’s not to commend what’s there.

              I find your concluding question uncharitable and unfair. It seems you’ve staked out a position you’re unwilling to explain and defend, and have turned to an ad hominem instead. Based upon the fact that you showed up in the comments thread a couple times on this issue, I know you care more and have more to offer than that. If you want to push back on my basic point (these descriptions are sometimes more explicit than the actual movie), then I welcome it. Let iron sharpen iron, brother. But let’s be charitable in it all.

              Grace and peace,
              T-

  13. Paul Martin says:

    Brother,
    Have I mentioned lately how much I love you!?

  14. There could be a musical in this

    Can you hear the Pastor sing?
    Singing the song of angry men?
    It is the music of a man who won’t sit through chick flicks again!
    He hated “All that Jazz”,
    “Mama Mia” was much worse,
    When will someone write “Die Hard” in song and verse?

    1. graham and nicola says:

      (It works better when you sing it…)

  15. Wayne Wilson says:

    Brother Thaibiti,

    I don’t think my question above was unfair, brother Thaibiti. You, as a Christian leader, are positing the view that nudity and sex in film is a matter of “proportion.” I believe the biblical standard for exploiting women’s bodies in this way would be zero tolerance. For you, it’s proportion. You claim that the sex and nudity in Conan was “hardly the point”? You mean Conan 2011 has a point? It’s supposed to be art or something? Even if it was a film of substance instead of a B-movie bomb, that would not justify these elements in any proportion. Can you think of any minister or brother with standing of the past who would defend using women this way for entertainment sake?

    How can a minister of the Gospel lead his people in purity when he entertains himself with movies that use and abuse women in this way? If watching people fornicate and seeing women stripped doesn’t bother or concern you, how can you draw any kind of line for your flock? The point of my question was: how much nudity and sex is acceptable for you for your entertainment? It’s a real question. Nothing uncharitable about it.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Wayne,

      Thanks again for your engagement. Let me try to clarify what I am and am not saying.

      First, I am not in any way condoning the exploitation of women. To suggest I am is patently misrepresenting me. To frame the conversation as if one can only either (a) abstain from anything with any nudity or (b) essentially engages in pornography and exploitation with no available option in the vast middle ground really distorts any honest conversation. I find that uncharitable and unfair.

      Second, I am saying that the descriptions on certain sites misrepresent what actually happens in the film. That’s really my only point in this part of the discussion.

      Take the Conan scenes. Those scenes amount to less than 1 minute of a 90 minute film. The comments give detail out of proportion to what’s actually on film. And not just in terms of the time on screen. It wouldn’t matter if it were less than a minute if it’s gratuitous–it would be unedifying, brevity aside. But how would you depict a pagan raiding party capturing another band of pagans? You could clad them all, sure. But would it be beyond the realm of realism to have someone’s clothes ripped off in battle and to show that in all of 1-2 seconds? I don’t think so, and doing so doesn’t make the film pornographic any more than topless women in National Geographic does.

      I respect that we can disagree about this. But I reject the implication that I’m somehow being derelict in my duty as a pastor or a poor example to my people. I discuss movies with many of my people frequently. Attend with a lot of them. I don’t think you’ll find one person among the saints here who think I’m encouraging enjoyment of female exploitation or seeking inappropriate pleasure in such films. Quite the opposite.

      If we have differing levels of tolerance for nudity in a film (realizing we’re talking about 60 seconds worth) then I suggest we leave that to the individual’s conscience and charity. I respect your absolute abstaining. But I don’t think I’ve wronged you or anyone else for seeing a film like Conan.

      I welcome your taking the last word. Grace and peace to you,
      Thabiti

      1. Wayne Wilson says:

        Thank you for your honesty, though it is grievous to all Christian principles of holiness.

        First the facts: Your representation of Conan 2011 is instructive. First it was “one very quickly flashing scene of a woman’s upper body”, and now it’s “less than 1 minute of a 90 minute film.” Let’s be generous and count off 45 seconds…1…2…3…4…5…6… You get the idea. That’s not “one very quick flashing scene.” Now you are remembering it better. Could it be you’ve seen so many of these R-rated Hollywood pictures and cable movies that you have become desensitized to it? Your initial memory was contradicted by every content review on the web, but now it’s getting clearer. Less than one minute? What would brother Job say…”I’ve made a covenant with my eyes…except for the naughty bits of a good action picture, of course.”

        Your argument for “realism” is silly. No Hollywood film is realistic. Certainly not a cheezy Sword and Sorcery movie. And somehow Hollywood managed for 30 years to make worthy films on all kinds of subjects without nudity and profanity. You may want to check out much more real depictions of nudity in films like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or The Hiding Place. Those film-makers managed to convey the idea and the shame without coaxing actors into shaming themselves. It’s called talent and creativity.

        My last word is that you are choosing your pleasures over Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian teaching on this subject. It is a blind spot in you, and because you are a pastor, a very sad one. No fornication, adultery, lust and pornography issues in your flock? David fell into adultery with just a little PG-13 looking at a gal bathing — a point well brought out in Bobbie Scott’s book Secret Sex Wars.

        In the Scripture public nudity outside of the marriage bond, after the fall, is shameful…always, without exception. And if you think these women coerced into stripping for your pleasure are not being exploited…well, fine. We will chalk it up to ignorance. I worked in Hollywood for 14 years, and you are feeding a great evil with your casual patronage of morally decadent films like these. By the way, these brief nude scenes and sex scenes end up forever preserved on pornographic web-sites.

        I noticed you did not mention one great Christian of the past who supports your supporting “naked women for entertainment is a matter of conscience” view. You can’t do it because there are none. There has never been a “vast middle ground” on this issue in the church…never. It would do you well to read Wilberforce’s “Real Christianity…” He has two fairly extensive sections on The Stage, and the Christian’s moral duty to the performers. Yes, the Law of Love extends even to actresses trying to make their way in Hollywood.

        Final question: if the Lord Jesus were sitting beside you while you were watching Conan, and those scenes came up — what do you think his thoughts would be? Honestly.

        Thank you. I’ve said my piece. I encourage your readers to practice discernment here.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Thank you, Wayne. I promised you the last word and so I’ll leave it with your comments here.

          The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
          T-

  16. @ T-

    I feel you…just do not like musicals, never have and probably never will. Like you said, no offence to those who do…any other medium is fine and I might enjoy it. I did go to sleep but let me add a caveat…I WAS DOG TIRED FROM MINISTRY WORK! Heh!

    Love your blog, Brother T. And its always great to meet a fellow Baptist brother in the work. Visit my new blog, a blog for a new book to be expressed on terms of the popular audience rather than an academic venue if you have time! You can find it at http://www.21stcenturyconfusion.com and comments are welcome. Keep up the work! You present interesting and timely topics!

    Blessings,

    Zach

  17. Joe says:

    From EW: “It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure, to turn a big musical into a viable movie. For every great Cabaret, My Fair Lady, and The King and I, there’s a dud Rent, Evita, and Mamma Mia! But this steam-driven military weapon of an enterprise is a sobering reminder of just how tinny a musical Les Misérables was in the first place — the listless music and lyrics by Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, the derivative characters fashioned from Oliver! scraps. And even if you do come to Mr. Hooper’s neighborhood loving the show, having seen seven stage productions and named your cat Gavroche after the urchin who hitches his fate to those of grown-up revolutionaries, well, you’re in for a gobsmacking: This ”prestige” production is at heart a minor road-show carnival, leaving behind little but tinsel as it rumbles through the streets of Awardstown. “

  18. Brian Lee says:

    I had a similar theological reaction to the presentation of the Gospel in Les Mis. I posted on it over at the White Horse Inn blog (if that’s kosher in this list, the link follows):

    http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2013/01/18/les-mis-and-the-limits-of-redemptive-film/#comment-28647

    In short, I think Hugo’s version of the Gospel is influenced by his Roman Catholic context. That his Gospel is really about infusion of grace and personal transformation is revealed when he maps these same categories over on the political revolution in Paris. In other words, the Gospel is about transformation, not imputation. Transformation of self, transformation of culture.

    Appreciate any informed criticism of this line of thinking.

    1. Thabiti says:

      He brother,

      Thanks for your piece at WHI and linking it here. It’s a great piece. I think you critiqued the film in a much more helpful way. I hope others will read it, too.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

  19. Brian Lee says:

    But, unlike Thabiti, I loved the music (though not so much a fan of the cinematography).

    1. Thabiti says:

      Well, that just ruined your credibility! :-) It’s funny. I enjoyed the cinematography and couldn’t bear 95% of the music. But at least we agree on the gospel–and that’s enough! :-)

      T-

  20. Brian Lee says:

    Thanks, Thabiti. Appreciate that.

    I know you’re joking, but to clarify, I thought the film was beautiful visually, I just didn’t like the over-reliance on close-ups. The framing was I thought monotonous, and didn’t give the eye as much to do while the ears were working overtime… this tended to emphasize the music, which as you noted, is already a pretty huge emphasis of the film. A little more visual dynamism might have made the endless singing easier to swallow… the proverbial “spoonful of sugar,” from another musical. After all, in a stage opera, you can drink in a huge range of visual experiences and use the music almost as background, even if you’re not following the Italian of the libretto, for instance.

  21. Christy says:

    Winge winge Thabiti. (that is british mocking for complain complain!) … I’ll still hold that it does show grace. Though yeah I’ll give you credit that he needs grasp assurance. Maybe better follow up and discipleship was needed ;) Yeah the last song is the only wack part in my opinion. Not sure about that but it’s a great song. Well done your wifee for getting you off the couch. :)

  22. Rob N says:

    Thank you Thabiti!

    I saw you last week at Southern and wanted to thank you for saving me three hours of my life! However, you looked to be busy as you were walking with the two doctors, Piper and Platt ;-)

    Enjoy your travels! And thank you!

  23. Dennae says:

    Thanks a lot Thabiti, now I will never be able to convince Vermon to watch this with me…I thought since I have watched who knows how many hours of 24 and The Unit that I would be able to get at least an hour out of him, but no way after this post. :)

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      My fault Dennae! :-) Well, if you’ve watched that much with him, he should go and leave after the first hour! But an hour is all you can punish my man with and still call it marriage :-).

      God’s blessings to you both,
      T-

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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