OLD REVIEW FORMAT
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OLD REVIEW FORMAT
Michael O. Sajbel for thematic elements, some violence and language
Is there a reason why “inspirational” films are almost guaranteed favorable reviews from Christians? And if there is, does it have to be a good one?
Perhaps we think that Christians have a monopoly on words like “ultimate” or even “gift”. When we see them together, our first thought is one that springs from our religious persuasion, or it should be. The movie’s title may evoke images of Christmas or Easter television specials, because when we think of the Ultimate Gift, Christ should be it. Money should not. Work, Responsibility, Family, Love and Laughter should not. They should not, because they simply are not, even when combined. This is where Jim Stovall and I part company, and we only get farther apart from there.
The room darkens. The movie starts. The protagonist enters and says, “Let’s cut the B.S… Screw him; screw both of you.” Well, we’re not supposed to like Jason at this point. So far, so good. But Jason isn’t a real person, with a mind of his own; he’s a fictional character, who can only say what the Christian writer put in his mouth1. “My gosh!” and “Heck!” follow. Those are euphemisms. They mean “G--!” and “Hell!”… which also follow.
Aside from those, most of the offensive language comes from the little girl. Some of us cringe when we hear the words “shut up”, or when we hear “whatever” and “get real” in harsh tones. So, some of us are offended by Emily’s language. She yells at Jason, she belittles him, and she takes a bitter satisfaction in expressing “Whatever, loser” in hand signals. We’re supposed to be enamored by her charm and maturity.
The plot thickens. Emily’s mom is an attractive single woman just about Jason’s age, which creates obvious romantic possibilities, and more or less obvious background problems. The age difference between Emily and her mother is in the teens; briefly touched on, and never repented of. But we can’t really expect the movie to frown on high school fornication (especially when it provides a mild pro-life slant2); not when a girlfriend’s objection to Jason’s idea of moving in with her is that “half her wardrobe’s at his penthouse, anyway.” It must have been. That would be why she’s only wearing about half the cloth she ought to be. It was a good thing my younger brother left before the movie started; he wouldn’t have been allowed to (let alone wanted to) see any of the scenes involving Jason’s girlfriend, Jason’s mom, Jason’s aunt, or even a few involving Jason’s new girlfriend. References to a “mistress”, a “vast and varied” choice of male companionship, “the latest” in women, several kissing scenes and an actual seduction attempt are enough to make a nameless teenage father almost not worth mentioning. I mention it because it, like Jason’s past sexual exploits, is never resolved.
Violent and Intense Content:
The plot thickens yet again, in a rather out-of-place but fairly unexpected way. It turns out that Jason’s father, whose death had been unexplained for years, died under violent circumstances in the jungles of South America. Jason investigates, and he and his native guide almost die under violent circumstances in the very same South American jungle. It’s very intense, in fact; so intense that “family-friendly” is perhaps a little generous a designation, for this section alone.
The all-fronts attack on the biblical family model unfolds. Mothers are “supposed to” give their adult offspring money whenever said offspring lack money. “Guys are clueless3”… but they should get married anyway. The “perfect couple” is “destined to make each other miserable.” Children are superior to and smarter than their parents. After all this, there’s nothing left of the family as we know it. Then the weird combination of flowers and skull-and-crossbones and precocious references to voodoo come in and destroy the essence of young girlhood, too, without expecting us to mind it much.
Jason tells lies and commits numerous criminal misdemeanors. Never resolved, never repented of. It’s even praiseworthy under the circumstances.
Jason’s admission that “he really doesn’t know much about God or Jesus” is played in a positive light—not because he’s confessing a weakness, but because he’s spiritually ignorant. At the end of the film, he’s no closer to knowing, or even wanting to know. The second half of this confession is a definite promise of heaven to one who is dying. Positive assertions based on speculation are very dangerous things. The dying child gazes up at an idol of Christ, and wonders about heaven, and whether it will have butterflies. “God,” she says, “paints every color on a butterfly with his fingers.” Profound. Except, it’s not verifiable, by an appeal to scripture or by any other means. Not so profound. Reformed Theology 101: Sola Scriptura.
She goes on to say, “There’s something basically unfair about a person dying,” and says it with tears in her eyes, which means it’s supposed to be touching—and correct. Overview of the Gospel 101: We’re sinners; we deserve to die. If it was not impossible for God’s decrees ever to be unfair, it would be more proper to say, “There’s something basically unfair about a person not dying.”
The only truly profound statements in the whole movie come from cultural Scripture quotations or a short soundtrack number. “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Yes and amen to that. But shying away from overt Satan-service is not the same thing as serving the Lord. Jason eventually becomes interested in humanitarian efforts, and he does have some concept of heaven, God, and Jesus, specifically. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s worth much. I'm persuaded that Satan has a really, really good concept of heaven, God, and Jesus, specifically4, and that he has never been opposed to bare humanitarianism. Jason, however, has, among his more general concerns, ideas for building “Oh, yes. A church. A worship center.” How much is that worth? On its own, nothing. Reformed Theology 101: Sola Fide, Solus Christus and Sola Gratia5. Even faith in God-with-a-capital-G is worthless, if his attributes are not the same as those described for us in scripture. If it is not, broad must be the way that leads to salvation.
All that, and I simply have no explanation for Jason’s apparent conversation with his long-deceased grandfather.
As an “inspirational” film, The Ultimate Gift is mediocre, except where it’s not. The acting was good. A few minor points were relatively unexpected, though not necessarily in a good way. As a “Christian” film, The Ultimate Gift doesn’t even qualify. The language should be enough to tip us off that this was not a movie produced by people who cared too much about Christian values to start with. The immodesty was rampant, vile and not even restricted to the bad girls. The violence went too high for a standard “PG” audience. The worldview was as slanted as could be expected. It dabbled in humanism, pluralism, antinomianism, postmodernism, pseudo-Christianity and religious apathy… but only dabbled.
The Ultimate Gift failed to pass inspection. The inspiration is not worth the insult. The movie is not worth an hour and forty-six minutes of your life.
1 Realism in fiction is highly overrated. If we want to portray “real life”, without adding or subtracting, we ought to skip the fiction part. You don’t have to actually kill someone, in order to create a death scene in a movie, and you don’t actually have to drink alcohol in a party scene. In order to swear in fiction, however, you have to swear in real life.
2 Choosing not to kill somebody is not an heroic action, and the right choice is not enough to eclipse the sin that gave her the option.
3 If men are clueless, what exactly are the women who marry them? And, by the way, 1 Timothy 2:14.
4 James 2:19
5 “Faith Alone”, “Christ Alone” and “Grace Alone”—as opposed to mere assent to the reality of God, faith in God without Christ (or with Christ but without his full deity), and salvation by love-for-mankind, respectively.