The laughability of Persecuted and the prophetic voice of the movie critic
In a stunningly brazen attempt to turn poop into a diamond, the press kit for the film Persecuted, which opened in limited release a week ago today, quoted no less an authority on film than Politico, touting the Christian action-thriller as “House of Cards for the religious set”.
Of course, the sleight of television rests on the assumption that you, the viewer, will not bother to fact check what can be presumed as critical praise. I happened upon the story from which this laudatory fragment was pulled–aren’t you glad I’m here?–and the benefit of context, conveniently forgotten by humans of all stripes when they want nothing more than to feel good about themselves, provides a truer perspective into what one Politico contributor thinks of Persecuted, Christians, conservatives and the like:
Daniel Lusko, the movie’s writer and director, told me he was an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and aimed to emulate his work. But Persecuted is more like a made-for-TV melodrama than The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is rife with ham-fisted symbolism—Luther’s name is just one example—and plot twists that range from inexplicable to implausible. Imagine House of Cards for the religious set: that’s Persecuted. [Sarah Posner, ‘The Movie the Faithful Want You to See’, Politico Magazine, 9 March 2014. Note the subtitle of the feature piece, as well.]
That’s not even getting damned with faint praise.
And never mind that the moniker John Luther was already employed by a highest-order BBC crime procedural, the cynical schlock peddlers behind marketing Persecuted are all too happy Posner invoked the guilty pleasure, David Fincher-Beau Willimon-fueled, Washington-as-swamp-pun-intended Netflix drama House of Cards. Cards, powered by the indomitable Kevin Spacey and an outstanding supporting cast, is compelling if not sleazy and Spacey nails, if not eclipses outright, the Senator Palpatine high water mark for being deliciously evil. (Yes, Ian McDiarmid’s performance in the underwhelming Star Wars prequels and Return of the Jedi is praiseworthy.)
Did the folks behind Persecuted even watch House of Cards? And is that an association that would seem appropriate to the target market for the film–politically conservative, fundamentalist Christians?
I paraphrase 20th century Chicago and Toronto minister and orator par excellence AW Tozer–and am happy to commend you to his prophetic, transcribed essay from which I borrow, though I do not sanction that website or any of its other contents–when I say that the idea of a Christian movie is doomed because it fails to be either evangelistic enough for the faithful, itself a contradiction in terms, or a decent movie in its own right. He also said this roughly 70 years ago.
Yes, the three words ‘bad’, ‘Christian’ and ‘films’ have been linked to a single concept since before the Great Depression. Who will drive the bus, anyway?
As I’ve mentioned here before, due to the nature of our work, we have two of the major cable news channels on televisions in our command center-styled office. While I try my best to keep my eyes on my computer monitors during downtime, a few weeks back, my peripheral vision caught the tail end of a spot, the money shot with title card for Persecuted. Even the cheesy quality of those profaned few seconds, muted and displayed on an ancient projection screen across the room, betrayed the fact that it was another in a long line of horrible Christian movies. Being familiar with the lingua franca of Evangelicalism, I knew exactly what it was, shook my head, and eagerly awaited critical response like sharks to chum-infested waters.
They didn’t let me down. In fact, quite the opposite.
At a time when the world offers us no shortage of examples of what actual religious persecution looks like, for a film to indulge in this particular brand of self-righteous fearmongering isn’t just clueless or reckless; it’s an act of contemptible irresponsibility. [Justin Chang, ‘Film Review: ‘Persecuted”, Variety, 17 July 2014. I strongly recommend this review. Chang is clearly sympathetic and even-handed; Metacritic translated his review to 0 out of 100.]
This terrible attempt at a political thriller for the religious right is aimed not at Christians in general but at a certain breed of them, the kind who feel as if the rest of the world were engaged in a giant conspiracy against their interpretation of good and truth. [Neil Genzingler, ‘They’re Out to Get Him, Whoever They Are‘, The New York Times, 17 July 2014.]
Even if you agree that Christianity is being undermined by politicians, this shrill B-movie strictly preaches to the choir. [Kyle Smith, ‘Even a higher power cannot save dopey thriller ‘Persecuted’‘, New York Post, 17 July 2014.]
If Christians cannot save ourselves from our paranoid excesses, then someone’s got to be Balaam’s ass. In this case, enter the locust-and-wild-honey, sackcloth-fashioned film critics, who are truly doing the Lord’s work in slapping down the hucksters foisting this trash on a naive and all-too-willing demographic.
Sincere Christian believers have been starved of entertainment for them for so long–as though this were a human rights deprivation of justice along the likes of the suffrage movement or water to third-world villages like Detroit–and thus feel liberated from the confines of pious, church-based activities, as well as the foreboding warnings of generations past, by joining in the rest of the world in shelling out too much money to sit in a dark, freezing room watching crap on a gigantic screen and enduring the annoying glow of people Snapchatting four rows ahead from opening scene through denouement. Hell, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Even though the voices of reason here likely won’t have a credible opportunity to witness the best Christians can and should offer, they are the only ones here with the with the requisite integrity to call spades spades. The religious set will in turn likely view this criticism as the scoffing of the heathen, further alienating themselves from the world which they were mandated (Son of Man-dated, perhaps?) to serve and redeem with the grace of God and the power of the resurrection. To receive mocking and derision is to ‘count it all loss’, a badge of honor instead of a chance at self-reflection and self-awareness so desperately needed in the church. (And elsewhere, but those are separate matters for another day.)
More troubling, the film critic has shown light into the dark corners into the American temple of the Holy Spirit, and we see quite clearly what a house of cards really looks like–steeples, darkened auditoriums, coffee shops, bookstores and rubberized walls.