This is not a review of Jason Stratham’s recent release Redemption (which may or may not be pleasing to you). But it does have a cinematic and literary connection. I’m presently working my way through the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Top 100 list (2007) edition. Some other family members and I began with number 100 on that list (Ben-Hur), and have worked to number 15 (2001: A Space Odyssey). One of the many blessings of cinema is the capacity to tell stories that move my heart, mind, and soul. One of my favorite stories, that was repeatedly adapted to the big screen, is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. In the hardcover format the books weighs in at a hefty 1,300-plus pages. Although I like to read, I have to admit that book intimidates me. The movie, despite not being included in an AFI Top 100, allows me to enjoy one of the most epic redemption stories of all time. I appreciate that there are certainly some of you literary aficionados who are smugly thinking, “The book is better.” Nevertheless, for countless viewers, great stories of drama, suspense, romance, and redemption are experienced on the big screen.
Starting with Ben-Hur the importance of the theme of redemption in story is evident. When Civil War General Lew Wallace wrote the book Ben-Hur, he gave it the sub-title A Tale of the Christ. Yet in William Wyler’s 1959 film release the face of Christ is never seen. This iconic redemption story will be famously remembered for the chariot race. Nevertheless, I will never forget the scene where Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) is dying of thirst on a forced march through the desert that is the Judean wilderness and all the other prisoners are given water. As Judah cries out to God for deliverance, a hand extends a gourd filled with water to him. The Roman soldier lifts his whip and declares, “I said no water for this one!” But as the soldier lifts his glance from the gourd, he presumably is looking into the face of Christ, and he lowers his whip and allows God’s mercy to be shared with Ben-Hur. The direction and cinematography are remarkable. As I contemplate the scene, it is sure that the theme of redemption is playing out on many nuanced levels long before the chariot race.
The theme of redemption is seemingly played out on the big screen in a majority of the AFI Top 100. The redemptive theme is so universally attractive it might seem we’ve been hard-wired to resonate with redemptive stories. It seems that “our story” might be part of some great grand redemptive story. Two films included on the updated list of 2007 that were not part of the original list published a decade earlier are Shawshank Redemption and Saving Private Ryan (coming in at #72 and #71 respectively). These films are iconic and the stories provocative. Watching Private Ryan reflect upon whether the effort to rescue him and save his life was worth it is poignant. It has frequently moved me to contemplate whether Jesus’ sacrifice for me was worth the sacrifice. I yearn to hear my Lord and Savior say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” I want to live my life in such a way that I don’t waste the precious resources of time, talents, and treasure that God has entrusted to me as His steward. I want to ensure that my life was not wasted on selfish pursuits to the neglect of God.
It is the awareness of His redemption of me that motivates me. Prior to submitting my life to Jesus, I was in rebellion to the True and Living God, despite being raised in an observant Jewish home. I shared the blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it is only the blood of Jesus that can restore me in my relationship with God. It was His sacrifice that paid the price for my sin. And because he took the penalty that I deserve, I can experience a redeemed life with God. Thus, I’ve discovered that my life is part of the greatest redemption story ever! The Bible is essentially a meta-redemptive epic.
Hollywood has handled Bible stories on numerous occasions. Some have done a better job than others in maintaining the theological details. It is undeniable that countless people have been exposed to God’s redemptive story through the big screen. Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus if you’ll allow me, “I liked the book better.”