“I Still Believe” Highlights the Problem With Mainstream Christian Films
Christianity on-screen needs to be more than miracle stories.
Since the release of God’s Not Dead (2014, Harold Cronk), mainstream movie studios (such as Lionsgate and Fox) have tried to capitalize on the success of Christian films. These mainstream movies almost always try to present a narrowed-down, one-sided view of the religion, without any nuance or audience-defying questions on faith and the power of belief.
In my opinion, the best movies that study the myth (and problems) of Christianity are the ones that don’t believe that “God heals all.” These films ask moral (and spiritual) questions to its protagonists and audience members on the power of divinity. Examples of these include Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Decameron (1971), Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and, more recently, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) and Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi (2019).
Unfortunately, the Erwin Brothers’ I Still Believe joins the ranks of bad Christian films produced by PureFlix and AffirmFilms. This film reduces Christianity and Biblical myths to its most facile study, giving audience members a sense of false hope that “God heals all.” It tells the inspiring story of how Christian singer Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa) overcame adversity through God, as his newlywed Melissa (Britt Robertson) is diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer. As he asks anyone to pray for a miracle, it happens, and Melissa is miraculously cancer-free until it returns in its terminal phase.
KJ Apa and Britt Robertson both have terrific on-screen chemistry in I Still Believe, and both deliver powerful performances, but none of them can make the shoddily-written script sound any good. It starts as an embarrassingly clichéd rom-com that follows every single beat of the typical rom-com you’ve seen a thousand times before.
Even if the on-screen situations are idiotic and inherently embarrassing, Apa and Robertson’s humanism makes the sequences watchable enough for you to believe in their blossom and falling-out. It establishes their relationship rather well, even if it takes too much time to get to the dramatic and allegedly awe-inspiring parts. The concert sequences are beautifully shot, ripping off Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born (2018), but have little to no impact on the story at-hand and deliver no shred of emotional power.
I Still Believe contains but a handful of gut-wrenching sequences, all involving Britt Robertson’s performance. You feel deeply for her when she has to cut her hair due to her chemotherapy treatments, but its most powerful moment is when she “sees” the hand of God, slowly drifting away from the human world. That sequence is the single time when the film rises from its facile view of Christianity and offers a poignant scene of actual divine intervention.
It not only deepens our understanding of Christianity and the existence of a higher power but makes the audience question how they will also drift away. What did she see/experience? How was her pain healed? What happened? All of these are valid questions to ask ourselves because we do not/will never know what we see before death. It’s the only time the film gives us reflections to think about, rather than telling us, over and over again, that God is always on our side and “heals all when we ask him to.”
This is the main problem with mainstream Christian films — it paints God as a figure that only produces blessings and miracles, and will heal thousands of individuals if they believe in a higher power and pray when they heed Him.
However, the Bible never tells us (and the numerous catechism classes I took as a kid) that we should pray solely for miracles and that God only creates miracles. It’s the viewpoint I Still Believe adopts that, even during tragic moments, God is here for you and will heal your moments of sorrow. When you kowtow to a simple, one-sided view of Christianity, you get movies like God’s Not Dead and I Still Believe. Movies that portray God chooses everything and does everything for you.
In contrast, there are Christian movies like Corpus Christi that delve deep into the roots of Christianity and divinity as a whole. These movies defy the mainstream Christian movies by questioning our faith and how we fit into the world of spiritual beings but they are altogether more meaningful. If only major movie studios could produce movies of this caliber and stop making films that pander to a narrow demographic — because that’s not what Christianity is or how it should be presented to the world.