Sunday, January 25, 2009

Movie Review: Facing the Giants

Most dudes love a football movie. That is, most dudes who like a steak, a cold beer, and a burger for dessert. "Facing the Giants" is a football movie, but it purports to be much more. Most dudes who love steak, a cold one and a juicy burger with which to wash it down and satiate by the telly, will be impressed by this film's bold declarations concerning American evangelical notions of Christianity. Impression, of course, goes two ways: one might notice say, about eleven dead dear along State Highway 31 while traversing the Little Kanawha River in West Va., in the span of only a few miles. That's impressive. But only because of the mass quantity of rotting venison waiting for the county men to receive funds from the State and clean up the carcasses lying on the side of such an alarmingly short spit of road. The other aspect of impression is the normal kind you're thinking of: you like it for this and that reason. This movie, while having many positive things to say about father-son reconciliation, confidence, perseverance, faith and honor, has the very real feel of a Bible tract set to motion over the course of a football season. The Bible tract part contains the classic evangelicalism of "Christian films" of years gone by. Namely, these include conversion, crises of faith solved through prayer and miracle, early disintegration of antagonistic characters, and a happy ending.

"Facing the Giants" is about a losing football coach in the South, in Georgia. Now, no one likes a losing football team anywhere, but in the South it is apparently as deplorable as telling Grandma that she must indeed go to the nursing home, cuz we're tired and can't help you anymore.

Coach Grant Taylor not only hasn't had a winning season for his Shiloh Christian Academy Eagles, but his house has a strange odor, his wife can't get pregnant, and his car is a Chevy Celebrity, probably made by a drunken, hungover, Marlboro packin' assembly crew from Detroit put together when Bush Sr. was in office. He makes $24,000 a year. Even the players are the abject picture of teen apathy: they lose to a neighboring school that is waaaaay worse than they are. After three losses, the Dads want Coach Grant out. And the sprinkling on top of the bunk cake? Grant, not his wife, is the lame duck: he is sterile.

Now, with the prospect of total and utter failure as a husband and coach, Grant wanders into a field with open Bible at the Psalms, and prays for strength. His wife sees him reading his Bible at 3am, and decides to pray herself. This is good. God's people should pray. Times of suffering especially compel us to pray. Still, the feel is "tracty." Music plays in the background, characters silently pray--alone. Individualism manifests itself in American religion.

But, a man shows up to Coach's office one day. With Bible in hand, and not saying a word of greeting, the man quotes from Revelation 3. First he says, "Revelation chapter 3." not "Good morning Coach. Hey listen, I know times are tough right now, but...". The passage read is, "'I have an open door which no one is able to shut, and which when I shut, no one will be able to open."

"Coach," the man says, "God has an open door for you in this school. He'll close it when he wants, but while it's open, he's got you hear for a reason. So you'd best do your best while you can." Or something to that effect. Individualism manifests itself in American religion.

The movie contains many platitudes like this, from dads pep-talking unconfident sons with God rhetoric that sounds cliche, to a spiritual renewal of confessed sin at the school to a conversion of an estranged son (again, from his father), to Coach Taylor motivating his players with a sermon on glorifying God in all they do, including football. Not all of this is bad. But not all of it is good, either. Case in point is the episode of the man quoting from Revelation 3. Taken in context, these words in Scripture have nothing to do with the ordinary vicissitudes of individual, human struggle in day to day life. Rather, the passage is about the church persevering in the midst of 1st century persecution and being rewarded by Jesus for not denying that he is the Messiah. The movie does many things like that. But, this is typical of evangelicalism: a highly subjective, individualistic notion of religion that has it crux and focal point on the "moment" of conversion.

Another classic example is when Coach Taylor is alone in the locker room just before the State Championship game. His Eagles are going to play the magnificent Giants, an 85 man roster of strength, power and speed. How to win this game? Well, Mark Richt, from the University of Georgia shows up to encourage Coach Taylor. This is indeed a fine gesture. Richt has noticed Taylor's success: he has motivated these young boys out of their apathy to live, not just for football, but for a heartfelt love for God and for each other. Playing football to the glory of God has proven timeless for these boys to turn them into winners. But here is where again, the film strays from good solid principle, to plain cheesiness. Richt tells Taylor that he has indeed won the "Big Dance."

"But how?" Taylor asks. "The game hasn't even begun yet."

"You won the big dance when you accepted Christ as Savior, Coach." The phrase "accept Christ as Savior" is not found in the Bible, but is typical pontification of salvific platitudes found especially within evangelicalism. Taken this way, life is reduced to a one-time decision, while the "big dance" is whether or not you are going to hell, or whether or not you will have true meaning or happiness in life. The problem here is not that hell shouldn't be taken as a reality or that Jesus isn't the only source for meaning, but rather that the focus is on the one-time event, rather than upon the art of serving one's fellow man, which Christians are exhorted to do over and over, in order to glorify God and extend his kingdom: Paul writes, "Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men, (Romans 14:18). We don't accept Christ; he accepts us. We know he has accepted us if we serve him.

The worst part of the movie is when the Eagles need a 51 yard field goal to win the game with only 2 seconds on the clock. The aforementioned son of unconfidence is convinced as the team's kicker that he can only kick the ball 35 yards. Coach Taylor asks the boy, screaming over the anticipating, noisy crowd, "Do you believe God can help you kick that ball?!"

What? Do you say, "No,"? Enter the fallacy of the complex question--answer yes, and kick a 51-yarder (if you don't make it, then you didn't have enough faith), answer no, and you don't have any faith. "Yes," the boy says. Now go, kick it and win. Just then, the wind changes direction....

Hmmm.... Wasn't the American flag just pointing in the direction opposite the kicker? Now it's going with him!

The ball is....


Congratulations, Coach! You have just defeated the "Giants." (The kicker's name is David, as in David and Goliath).

Finally, the movie ends on an even higher note. Coach Taylor's wife is pregnant with their firstborn. Sigh.

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