The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is the story of a Hollywood celebrity/bad-boy/play-boy who gets sentenced to community service at a church in his home town. He ends up playing the lead in their church production of the life of Christ—he plays Jesus. Much after the fashion of that little gem of a book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, we get to see Jesus through fresh eyes. That is where this movie really shines.
While the second half of the movie really did shine, I should confess that I had some misgivings about it at first. Why is it that Christians always have to seem SO ridiculous and goofy? I really struggled with the movie’s portrayal of the church members as a whole. Are we all really socially awkward? Why can’t Christians be socially competent AND love Jesus? And then, I went to a church thing the other day and I have to confess, I had those same feelings as I looked around the room. I want to say that the movie played into the world’s stereotypes (which was irritating as WE, Christians, made the movie – I mean, we see that enough in the secular movies…and now our own Christian-produced movies are adding fuel to the fire), but is it so bad and is it so very untrue after all?
To be fair, not all of the Christians were awkward. The pastor, Allan, and his daughter, Kelly who was the producer of the play, they weren’t awkward.
So, as I bristled at the stereotypes and Christianese, I also found myself in a debate. First off, as I mentioned, is it really all that untrue? Second, maybe we should be able to laugh at ourselves (never one of my strong-suits). Isn’t this why Christians love Jon Acuff and his Stuff Christians Like blog so much? Thirdly, is it possible that the silliness of the church members was really about how they were seen through Gavin’s uber-cool, worldly, Hollywood-savvy perspective? And finally, didn’t God say he would use the simple things of this earth to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27)? Certainly, that is what happened in the movie.
In that respect, the movie redeemed its portrayal of Christians (at least it did for me). Yes, they were embarrassing to me on so many levels, (I mean, come on! His “testimony” was cliché-ridden and lacked any depth or sincerity, and they all seemed to buy it, hook, line and sinker. Is anyone that naive?!), but they also loved and embraced him, awkwardly as it may have been. It was a stark contrast to the way he’d been treated in Hollywood by all the “cool” people. They were sincere and they welcomed him into their lives fully and unconditionally. They taught him how to serve others and led by example. They forgave his wrongs. They encouraged him to be a better person. And frankly, they got less uncool as the story went on, which, again, may have been a reflection of how he saw them as he got to know them better. In either case, you have to love how the Gospel brought together the cool and the awkward into a place of love and harmony and mutual benefit—as it should be.
Frankly, I still don’t know what I think about playing up unflattering Christian stereo-types. The same story could have been told with an entirely different, more sincere timbre, but it wasn’t. It’s a light-hearted, somewhat cheeky movie that seems to want to have fun with the clash of cultures rather than play it seriously and deeply. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe that choice allowed them to place more of a spotlight on the relationship between Gavin and Jesus. That was handled with a bit less tongue-in-cheek and a bit more earnestness, rightly so.
As Gavin tries to inhabit the “star of the show,” he brings his Hollywood training, child-star sensibilities to the character… and he completely misses the point of Jesus, over and over again. Constantly Kelly has to tell him that Jesus wasn’t an attention seeker. “This is exactly the opposite of who Jesus was. He wasn’t about spectacle. He was humble.” It was actually kind of genius, watching a Hollywood guy try to play Jesus the way the world would have done it, drawing attention to himself, making a big spectacle, proving how important he was to the world. For those of us who have grown up in the church, we have heard the stories of Jesus so many times we sometimes miss how different Jesus really is from the world. We don’t often stop to think about how those familiar scenes of Jesus’ life could have played out differently if His heart had been different.
We see Gavin get it wrong, time and time again, it makes us see Jesus in a fresh light, makes us appreciate just how humble and special He truly was. Then, we get to the final performance and it’s really beautifully done. As Gavin talks to the rich, young ruler, he ad-libs. He pleads with him almost as if he hears God pleading with himself, “Don’t go. Don’t walk away. You’ll miss out on so much. So much more than you already have.” It’s a confession, really. He is grieving for what He’s missed out on for so much of his life.
Later, at the scene of the woman caught in adultery, Gavin speaks with her so tenderly. It’s personal. He asks the question “Has no one condemned you?” as much to her as to himself. And in the sand, he’d written the word “Grace.” He got it and it was personal. So personal, that, on the cross, as he was “dying” as Jesus, he says quietly to the Lord, “Alright, I give in. I surrender. My way didn’t work. I missed out on all this. I missed out on you. I’m sorry. Sorry for all of it. So here goes…” And then he cries out, to the Lord and to the audience, both as Jesus and as himself, “Father, Father! Into your hands I commit my spirit!” So Gavin died and rose, as Christ, with Christ. Beautifully done.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did you feel about the portrayal of Christians in the movie? Did that change throughout the movie?
- Who has God used to show you His unconditional love?
- Have you ever thought about how humble Jesus truly was? Have you ever thought about how differently Jesus would be portrayed if he was “Hollywood-ized”?
- Did you see Jesus’ life differently through Gavin’s eyes?
- What did you think about the scene where Gavin gave his life to Christ?
- 4 People Most Likely to See Christian Movies
- 7 Reason Why We Might Want to Give Christian Films a Break
- 10 Guidelines to Help you Navigate how Hollywood Portrays the Bible
- Why Opening Weekend Matters to Films (And therefore why you might want to see Christian films on opening weekend)
- What makes a Film “Good Art”? (Good to think about during award season!)