I got the opportunity to see the film called “I can only imagine” in a the cinema this week. I can only imagine is a faith film, its entire reason for existing it build up the faith of the viewer. I hadn’t seen many faith films but I was open to see what it was about. It was sold to me as the movie about why the guy had written a famous song. I have watched a number of documentaries which deal with one song or one artistic life, (Glen Campbell: The Rhinestone Cowboy comes to mind), but for this movie I didn’t know the song the film was dealing with.
Watching the movie, the acting was solid, and the story was reasonable. The film felt coherent with moments of comedy and moments of darkness beings solidly balanced. I felt the film was enjoyable without living with me afterwords. It showed relations in families are not easy, and that living without success is a hard slog. As I watched I wondered who is this film for? People who knew the song, was the answer, but this is a limited audience not including me. But it should be me. I knew christian music of the Era. I am inside Christianity and know a wee bit about Christian music of the Era contained in the film, but the film didn’t really affect me.
The problem with a faith film is if I am not asking the question the film answers (why was a song written?), how does the film build up my faith. Any type of testimony speaks of God’s reconciliation, the message that Christianity carries, humans can be reconciled to God, is a good one. The problem was the film wasn’t content with this message. As a bio pic of very successful band detailing a song which sold millions of copies, the film ended with the story of reconciliation with God of the father, the father mending his relationship with his son and then reconciled, his son was successful (writing a song and selling millions of records). That story of sucess does not build up my faith, nor does it speak of how I think of God.
There was a moment in the movie where the father, played by Dennis Quaid, says
“Dreams don’t pay the bills. Nothing good comes from them. All it does is keeping you from knowing what is real”
What is real is being honest about our experience and film details real life well, but it says that worship music is space where we can be real. The film hints at the moment that Contemporary Christian Music stopped being about music which was similar to normal music but had christian lyrics, music as entertainment, (perhaps best exampled in the history of Tooth & Nail Records) to becoming music as worship. The moment where DC Talk, Newsboys and PFR were having records simultaneously released in “normal” shops and also in the “christian music” shops to the moment were the Newsboys were issuing worship records to christian shops only. There is a story to be told around that time, but this film only hints at this issue.
As I watched the movie I wanted it speak more and to explore the story more. Like a trailer I had seen for a small film that mixes up real life, intermingles it with religious life, it seems to say something about faith and real life that was missing. “Parallel Love“.
I was thinking of what it means to struggle outwith the Christian world as a christian artist, the movie that tells the story of Daniel Smith and the Danielson Famile from a while ago.
Danielson: a Family Movie from JL Aronson on Vimeo.
In many ways the faith based film sector does not speak outside of itself. This was this a story well told and solidly acted. But did its target market go outside of faith community, did it even go outside of American Christianity, that is debatable.
So I left the cinema thinking. The film was ok, and if you like the song, the film is something that is decent and tells a story you may be interested in.