For: humanism, immodesty, sensuality and fornication, spiritual confusion, pervasive disrespect, and illegal behavior
The Ultimate Gift is a nice sounding title for an inspirational film, but it just ends up proving that words like “ultimate” and “gift” don’t always mean what they ought to. The movie portrays “the ultimate gift” as being simultaneously work, responsibility, family, love, laughter, and $2 billion. Oh, yeah, Christ is mentioned… a little bit… as an afterthought… to add to the message that anything inspirational can help make you a better person. In The Ultimate Gift, good works are what save the day. And you.
The Ultimate Gift presents a main character who is redeemed and transformed, not by the grace of God, but by hard work, friends, family, laughter, giving, gratitude and “handspun, cornpone wisdom.” The occasional religious element is portrayed, not as a result of a spiritual awakening in main character Jason’s life, but as a result of a growing humanitarian concern. Where portraying Christianity as leading to good works would have been a positive, The Ultimate Gift portrays personal goodness as leading to religious inclination, making its religious overtone a negative.
Jason has a handful of religiously-themed conversations, goals and humanitarian add-ons, but it is never even implied that at any point in the movie he has an understanding of the gospel, saving faith in the person and work of Christ, or even any interest in the Bible.
Jason’s family and girlfriend, and Jason himself during the first half of the movie, are caricatures. Their greed, heartlessness, inconsiderateness, and absolute disdain for work, are exaggerated beyond what is even possible for reputation-conscious human beings, making Jason’s steps in the general direction of goodness look more significant, or more spiritual, than they are.
The Ultimate Gift only portrays two kinds of responses to wealth: one is to, when given a hundred million dollars, refuse to spend a penny of it on yourself; the other is to worship money and abandon all human virtues whatsoever. Every single one of Jason’s many friends is portrayed as bailing on him (to the point of refusing him shelter for the night) as soon as they lose the chance of benefiting from him financially. The pre-transformation Jason says that money is “a way to live life worry free.” A positively-portrayed character refers to Jason’s over-the-top greedy, dysfunctional family as “what money can do.”
Emily, Jason’s new comrade, is portrayed as a “true friend”, and as someone from whom Jason can learn a lot about friendship, despite the fact that her behavior toward her friends is consistently selfish, unkind and inappropriate, making her objectively a bad friend, not a good one. Her sole virtue is that she does not expect to gain financially from their “friendship”.
A positively-portrayed character describes her child, who was born out of wedlock, as “the best decision I ever made,” clearly referencing a choice not to abort. At best, her statement implies that abortion is considered as an option (however inferior a decision it might have been), rather than a non-option.1
Immodesty, Sensuality and Fornication
Female characters wear sensual, flesh-revealing clothing throughout the movie.
Jason’s implied sexual exploits, past and present, are not portrayed negatively, except insofar as he either has too many girlfriends in too short a time, or has a current girlfriend who is not a nice person. Partway through The Ultimate Gift, Jason asks his girlfriend to move in together with him. She replies that they should use his apartment, since half her wardrobe is already there anyway. His attraction to this woman is negatively portrayed, but in The Ultimate Gift fornication is never portrayed as inherently wrong, and never resolved.
Side characters are portrayed negatively for illicit sexual relationships only because of associated promiscuity or adultery, not because of the fornication itself.
After being disillusioned about his original girlfriend’s character, and having found a new girlfriend, Jason lets his old girlfriend kiss him on the mouth, and then lets her go into his bedroom and undress with the intention of enticing him to sex. Jason does not respond to her advances, but does not ask her to leave or change her behavior, either.
No character in the film is presented as a spiritually mature person. Positively portrayed characters are merely shown to be more comfortable using occasional generic, nominally Christian vocabulary, and more prone to preaching their unbiblical platitudes as guaranteed facts.
Jason gives a definite promise of heaven to someone, despite knowing nothing about the state of her soul, and having no clear reason to suppose that she has saving faith. His (spiritually dangerous) positive assertion is supposed to be kind and profound, and the viewer is expected to agree with him.
In a significant, emotional scene, Emily claims that “There’s something basically unfair about a person dying.” This statement comes with tears, and is supposed to be taken as both touching and correct. Biblically, however, sinners deserve to die, and while death is still an enemy, it is not “unfair”. Emily’s statement waters down the gospel, and also clearly implies that God is either unjust or incapable of preventing a person’s death.
Jason straightforwardly claims, “I don’t know much about God or, or Jesus…” This unashamed admission of his spiritual ignorance is used as a (positively-portrayed) foil to the unbiblical (but positively-portrayed) spiritual claims he makes immediately afterward, clearly implying that he does not need to know much about God or Jesus to thoroughly understand and speak with authority on major spiritual issues. He is not portrayed as interested in actually furthering his knowledge about God and Jesus.
Emily soberly teaches Jason that “God paints every color on a butterfly with his fingers.” This is supposed to be taken as absolute and profound truth, but ultimately Emily is just making up things about God and presenting them as fact. At best, this is on a level with any other unbiblical (and therefore offensive) inspirational statement, and at worst it is approaching false teaching. The movie ends with the image of a butterfly to reinforce Emily’s earlier unscriptural claims.
An icon of the Christ is featured prominently in the movie, and is referenced multiple times as Jesus himself.
Jason has a two-way conversation with his long-deceased grandfather, with responses to previous statements on both sides. There are no apparent screens or sound equipment involved. The conversation includes the dead man saying, “As long as you are still alive, I will be, too.”
Emily references heaven, but refuses to call it by name.
Throughout the movie, Emily mixes hateful speech and behavior with abrupt demands based on assumed, but certainly not displayed, love.
Emily constantly yells at Jason, belittles him, tells him to “shut up”, and takes a bitter satisfaction in expressing “whatever, loser” in hand signals. This is presented as endearing.
Emily is routinely defiant, disrespectful and disobedient to her mother, and is positively portrayed for it.
Emily responds to any emotion or display of affection with harsh, dismissive, insulting language. This is portrayed as an appropriate way to show emotional strength.
Emily says that “guys are clueless”.
Jason commits what the movie calls “various misdemeanor activities” during the course of the movie, including theft of private property and resale of stolen items. This is positively portrayed, in a rob-the-rich-to-feed-the-poor light, and an individual who thinks that Jason’s stealing from private individuals reflects negatively on his character is portrayed as overly strict and incorrect.
1 Note that this language of “decisions” is never used, in movies or real life, in any other situation involving the death of an innocent (for instance, “Not murdering my neighbor was the best decision I ever made.” “Saving my toddler from drowning in the pool was the best decision I ever made.”).