The Most Important Movie Of The Year?
Back in the early 1980s, the influential Christian writer/philosopher Francis Schaeffer released his book A Christian Manifesto which sent seismic shock waves across the evangelical world.
Schaeffer saw earlier than almost any other thinker how the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision would completely overhaul social and sexual ethics in our culture. Schaeffer summoned the Church to rise up and mount a counter-offensive against the secular humanist thinking overspreading everywhere. And for him, the point of attack needed to be against abortion-on-demand, for the rationale that permitted this practice would quickly lead to the viral increase in euthanasia, eugenics, pagan sexual practices and a host of other unimaginable evils.
The impact of A Christian Manifesto was profound. It helped provide the theological framework for evangelicals reengaging culture at the political level. Up till then, the Catholic Church was largely the lone voice in the wilderness speaking out against what later became called the “culture of death” promoted by humanist thinking. But from Schaeffer on, the Church adopted an all-hands on deck mentality.
I couldn’t help but think of Francis Schaeffer as I watched the film Unplanned yesterday, which tells the story of Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who abandoned her work and became passionately prolife after witnessing the suction abortion of a 13-week fetus. My thought was that this film – should it receive the fullest support possible by the wider evangelical and Catholic churches – had the potential to become as profound a cultural moment for this generation as A Christian Manifesto was for its own.
The movie is that well done.
Artistically, the movie shows a significant maturing in cinematic story-telling for Pure Flix (which released the film), whose earlier works – such as the God’s Not Dead trilogy – were often criticized for cheesy plot-lines, paper-thin villains and heavy doses of preaching (Show don’t tell is a mantra drilled into screenwriters.) The movie is carrying a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-50s, which for a faith-friendly film is practically Marvel-esque. So that should tell you something.
The acting, led by the gifted Ashley Bratcher, is stellar, and the script exceptional. Unplanned makes it clear that the villains and heroes are not so clear-cut after all when it comes to the abortion issue. On the Christian side we find pockets of angry, venomous protesters interwoven with believers whose prayer-fueled, grace-based love-your-enemies approach stands in stark contrast (and ultimately, has the greatest impact.)
On the Planned Parenthood side we find compassionate and well-intentioned staff workers alongside a corporate Cruella De Vil supervisor (whose depiction might be thought of as a film-maker’s caricature, until you call to mind the numerous undercover videos taken of actual Planned Parenthood executives saying things far worse than this character does.)
The pacing is perfect. The first ten minutes are breathlessly powerful, showing the pivotal moment which led to Abby Johnson’s transformation, and it holds nothing back. The film was given an R-rating, which was clearly a ploy of powerful people wanting this film to fail. Two other scenes are distressing enough that no child should see this movie. But there’s far more blood in countless other PG-13 movies I can think of.
But for every Christian, teenage and upwards, this film should be required viewing. It’s that seminal for reinforcing the biblical view of life.
And a follower of Christ must decide. Is abortion the ending of a life? (The earliest Christians thought so. “You shall not procure abortion,” reads the Didache, an extra-biblical teaching from the first century.)
For every Christian, teen upwards, this film should be required viewing. It’s that seminal for reinforcing the biblical view of life.
If it’s the ending of a life, then why wouldn’t abortion be thought of as the holocaust of our time (60 million lives snuffed out/sucked out/pulled out/sliced out since 1973)?
And if it’s the holocaust of our time, then what possible reason can we give to ourselves for shrugging it off as an issue to not be bothered with?
There are three forces that conspire against humans resisting the evils at work around them. And these affect Christians as well. Which is why it’s so essential to see this film.
1. We have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality.
It was only when Abby Johnson saw the fetus backing away from the vacuum pushed into the uterus, saw it struggling for its life, saw it sucked out, and saw its bloody remains fill up a large transparent tube, that she finally could see what she was part of.
And you and I need to see it to, which is what this film allows you to do. Yes, it’s disturbing, and it should be. It’s one of the functions of good art. (But the film is not bombastic. It’s filled with moments of charm and grace. It gives you places to breathe, and enjoy the story.)
2. We don’t realize the slippery way evil takes up residency in our own hearts.
There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where a utility worker wheels out a barrel containing the remains of aborted fetuses. Two of the protesters looking on ask if they can pray for the remains. The worker says, “I only drive the truck. I’m not evil.”
It’s possibly the most important line in the entire film. One that each of us should let weigh on our hearts. The writer Hannah Arendt, reflecting on the way ordinary Germans accommodated themselves to Nazi atrocities, called it the banality of evil. It’s the process by which ordinary people convince themselves that what they’re seeing really isn’t all that bad, and besides: What can I do about it anyway?
3. We have too short an attention span for confronting long-term problems.
Abby’s change-of-heart was years in the making, and the protesters who help her in the end admit to wondering if their efforts would ever make a difference. I appreciated the honesty of the film there. And the Scriptural reminder that we shouldn’t grow weary in well-going (Gal.6:10).
So will this film represent a movement in our spiritual culture that jars us loose from lethargy and complacency, in the same way that A Christian Manifesto did? Or will it just represent a moment, a blip on an entertainment radar?
My fear is that this movie – lacking the support of the wider faith community – will die a quick cinematic death, and never be given the chance to have its fullest impact. It’s what Hollywood wants. It’s what Planned Parenthood wants. It’s what another corporate behemoth – Twitter – wants. For part of a day over the weekend, the powers that run Twitter actually shut-down the page for Unplanned, until a public uproar forced them to back down.
May it be that we keep this up over the next few weeks. May it be that Unplanned becomes an Easter phenomenon that rewards the makers of this film (and encourages the creation of similar bold movies). May it be that this film changes the hearts and minds of millions of other Abby Johnsons out there.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. He’s just released his latest book, “Living Under The Cross: A 40-Day Devotional Journey”. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.