I don't expect film media to provide an adequate standalone vehicle for the Gospel. I was, however, disappointed with EotS's presentation of the martyrs, and particularly incensed at the treatment of Jim Elliot.
Did I think the Gospel was absent from the movie? I thought it was introduced tardily (as in, late in the movie), partially, and blurrily. I would not say it was absent entirely, but it was absent in its pure form.
Did I mind this presentation of the Gospel? The movie did not really promote "another gospel," either. There were only snippets of the truth communicated, and I think there are valid reasons for that.
1. Communicating the Gospel in its entirety was not the purpose of the movie. I admire adherence to truth, and I think that the Gospel should be evident and glorified in all we do, but film is not the written or preached Word and needn't be judged according to all the standards by which we judge the value of preaching and teaching in the context of the Church. The written and preached Word is God's primary ordained medium for the Gospel.
2. The film genre is simply not conducive to a full Gospel presentation, since it is a primarily audiovisual, fast-paced, entertainment venue. A script adaptation (even a faithful one), emotional soundtrack, evocative lighting, and poignant camera angles are not God's ordained formula for conveying the Gospel in its entirety. He chose the Word, spoken and written, to be the primary vehicle of truth.
3. Presenting what happened to the Waodani as a change effected by their salvation en masse would not have been a faithful representation of what truly happened, and would, in fact, have undermined the very definition of the Gospel had it been presented as such.
4. The focal character during the moments that the Gospel was being communicated was Mincayani, clearly an unbeliever at that point in the story. His and his friends' perceptions of the differences they were seeing were filtered through their presuppositions and prejudices. It is only natural (and therefore a fairly faithful representation) that the Gospel would be all Greek to them. The movie has us viewing the Gospel through their unbelieving eyes at that point.
What bothered me most about End of the Spear? Aside from the false hopes and unrealistic expectations that evangelicals apply to the movie--since those are not the movie's fault, per se--I was particularly incensed the portrayal of Jim Elliot as a self-absorbed clown. As lighthearted (and occasionally reckless) as he may have been or seemed, he was also deeply burdened, highly intelligent, and certainly sober when appropriate. I do not kid myself that Elisabeth Elliot's presentation of his legacy was entirely without some natural bias. But to bereave the movie of a rounder treatment of Jim was a disservice, I think--a disservice to the truth, to the families, and to the audience. That Jim's gravity and earnest depth and calculated plans and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit (as evidenced extensively in his journals alone) was omitted completely, as though he was the chain's weakest link, is profoundly aggravating, to say the least.
The movie's bias leans toward the portrayal of a very competent and passionate Nate Saint, and justly so. The most attention Roger Youderian receives in the movie is the Waodanis' presumption that he is just a very tall woman with a singing voice like a canary. Ed McCulley gets to dance with his wife and introduce himself on the beach. Pete Fleming (off-camera) can't find his Waodani language notes when they need them, although he does get some screen time as the last man standing in the river, quite obviously petrified and mute.
All of these men have been idealized, and are larger-than-life heroes. Fifty years is a long time for those left behind to process real memories or erect imagined improvements. Does knocking the idealized Jim Elliot down a peg or ten serve any real purpose? These men had different strengths and weaknesses, and I think that the families would admit that they had disagreements and differing viewpoints at times. To be human is to differ from one another, and to differ graciously and without harm to ministry endeavors is to be exhibits of God's sufficient GRACE. They were all part of the team. They were all committed men, growing in grace, and they all risked their lives--both deliberately and joyfully. How is it, then, that every single shot of Jim in this movie portrays him as a thoughtless buffoon? The last line of the movie even alludes strongly to Jim Elliot's own famous words ("He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose"), and yet the quote is modified and read by Allen, as Saint's character.
Credible film-making and allegiance to truth go hand-in-hand. I wasn't counting on this movie to preach the Gospel. I wasn't counting on this movie to comprise an all-believing cast with no personal agendas to promote. I wasn't even counting on this movie to be a flawless, unbiased account of what really happened. I wasn't. But I do feel sorry that this movie did not make more of an effort to tell the whole truth. I am glad that more of the "big scope" picture was brought to light. I am glad that more of the Waodanis' history was explained. I am glad that the less tangible elements (timing and providence) were highlighted. I just think that more could have been done to flesh out and honor the memory of these men, all five of them.
I wanted to meet them. I, who have grown up in their grandchildren's generation, wanted to be introduced to them. I wanted a posthumous chance to know them. I wanted to have been there with them. Perhaps those, too, are unreasonable demands for any film. I think they may have been.
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