What does a book or movie have to do in order to make your list of favorites?
Stories have the potential to encourage us, inspire us, and give us an eternal perspective. In fact, I personally know two people that chose their life-occupation after watching a movie. One friend decided to become a firefighter after watching Ladder 49, and another friend decided to become a doctor after watching Patch Adams.
For me, one of the factors that lands a story on my list of favorites is when characters somehow articulate the very things I’ve been searching for words to say.
Blue Like Jazz, the movie, is one such story.
The movie is based on Donald Miller’s best-selling book of the same title. In fact, the author even has a brief cameo appearance.
Donny, the main character who goes off to college to study writing, appropriately narrates his own story as it pertains to the four “elements of story”: Setting, Conflict, Climax, and Resolution.
The setting begins in Texas, where Donny grew up in the Southern Baptist “subculture” as he calls it. He was an assistant to the Youth Pastor, and even worked at a factory that made little portable cups of grape juice for communion.
Donny’s parents are separated. He lives with his conservative mother who wants him to attend college at Trinity Baptist; while his aloof, pothead dad pushes him to attend Reed College in Portland, OR. His dad’s words echo in his head, “You only believe that stuff because you’re afraid to hang out with people who don’t.”
The conflict arises when Donny’s mom gets involved in a scandalous situation that really knocks the wind out of him. Devastated, Donny jumps in the car and makes the long drive to Portland.
He left a place where the majority of people are Christian, to arrive at a place where almost nobody is Christian. In fact, his first day on campus, a classmates asks him, “Are you the secret bastard child of a televangelist?” “If you plan on ever making friends…get in the closet Baptist boy and stay there.” And that’s what he did.
He tried to hide his background and his faith, and did everything he could to fit in. He went to parties, drank lots of beer, ate “special” brownies, and even got arrested on one occasion.
The friends he ended spending most of his time with included a kind-hearted, no-nonsense lesbian; an atheist who dressed like the pope every day; and a girl with a heart for social justice.
“It’s only been a week, and I feel like someone else.”
Where the climax ends and the resolution begins is debatable (at least for a simple guy like me). When it comes to his relationship with God, Donny seems to take two steps forward and one step back, and then three back and two steps forward.
The pope persuades Donny to help him play a “big” (and inappropriate) prank at a nearby church building.
Shortly after, Donny is confronted by a friend who reveals that she goes to that church. In fact, she had become a follower of Jesus after reading the Bible in Lit class.
Realizing he didn’t even know the people he was attacking, he made plans to go to the church and meet the people in person. But instead of apologizing, Donny ends up causing a scene, overcome by rage after a phone call with his mom who confirmed his suspicions regarding the scandal that set him off in the first place.
“I’m done with those freaks,” he says.
Donny felt like ditching God altogether, but he couldn’t shake thinking about his friend’s newfound faith.
“Sometimes you have to watch someone love something before you can love it,” he narrated.
Donny found himself downtown Portland at Powell’s Book Store, in the back row of a debate on the existence of God. Suffice it to say, it got him thinking about the meaning of life.
This dissatisfaction with a world without meaning, coupled with his friend’s newfound faith, brought Donny to a point of soul-searching desperation.
Since I don’t want to spoil the ending for anybody, I’ll refrain from sharing the best part. I will say this, the resolution of Donny’s story is what immediately put this movie on my list of favorites! It is fantastically brilliant.
This movie is very funny, creative, and raw (and PG-13 for a reason), so I can understand why some people don’t like it. But as a College Ministry around students like Donny every day, I loved it because it captured what it’s really like for students to face the challenge of owning their faith. (And having grown up in Portland, I loved the
No matter where you’re at in your journey of faith, I think there’s a good chance that you, like me, will feel something significant after the last scene ends. Something that resonates so deeply, that this movie finds its way on your list of favorites, to be watched and shared with others again and again, as the message sinks in and changes the way you see yourself, the church, and ultimately God.
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