The most repetitive conversation I had at a recent conference was about the difference between redemptive and faith-based stories. They shared that a redemptive film has five motifs that permeate the story, which delivers a single message. In contrast, faith-based films do not have commonality of format, form, or motifs, and always have multiple messages within the story.
The simplicity of a single message within a redemptive film allows the filmmaker to explore the story from the key perspective of each motif—impacting the audience with a demonstration of how to implement the message within their personal lives.
Here are the five motifs of a redemptive film that are both demonstrated and emphasized:
- Moral character: The film demonstrates what moral and immoral actions look like. It also demonstrates both in its proper light, distinguishing between right and wrong. Many times these issues are demonstrated or revealed through the attributes of the main character facing a moral dilemma.
- Judgement breaking moral law, making mistakes, or being disobedient: The consequences of breaking the film’s moral code is demonstrated. The ramifications that impact others is also demonstrated.
- Blessings of faith in and obedience to moral standards: The blessings and good fortune of obedience is demonstrated. When outside circumstances hinder or attack the blessings, the filmmaker demonstrates the internalized good or blessings that remain.
- Unmerited sacrificial love that covers another’s moral dilemma: This act of selflessness always heightens the climax of the story, as it is the single most impactful act that anyone could give another—or that anyone could receive. Sometimes it’s done to redeem the main character and other times the main character does it to redeem another after having become a changed person. Regardless of who makes the sacrifice, the main character’s need for someone to save him is first made clear.
- What a moral world would look like: This short sequence demonstrates what the benefits of following in the main character’s footsteps looks like. While it might not be a perfect utopia, it becomes clear it is a more fulfilling life.
Act one typically introduces us to a character who is likeable in spite of his moral waverings. He soon faces a circumstance that forces him into act two where he explores both the moral and immoral sides of every issue hinted at in the first act, including outcomes and ramifications. By the third act someone makes a sacrifice to right the character from his bad choices, giving him a chance to demonstrate sacrificial love to others. At the end of the film we see what the main character’s new life looks like as a result of him embracing the gift of grace he received.
The audience goes home having vicariously experienced the very things demonstrated in the movie. They have the opportunity to embrace the positive decisions to see if they, too, can experience the same beneficial outcome of a sacrificial lifestyle.
Faith-based films don’t set up the audience to vicariously explore the good and bad options as well as the outcomes—most only show the good. Instead, the audience is informed about what is the right and wrong way of living and have to decide if what’s preached has merit. And if it does have merit in their personal life, they have the information, but without any demonstration of how to apply or implement changes in their life.
What distinguishes these two types of films is driven by the audience. Faith-based audiences demand the films are based on ideals and are generally family friendly and safe for all ages. Redemptive audiences desire the raw truth and the practical applications to implement into their own lives what is demonstrated on screen. Faith-based films are also pushed to be overt in preaching their numerous messages, while redemptive films must lightly salt their single message into the story where it fits organically.
Faith-based audiences are firm on this issue because they don‘t ever want the filmmaker to appear weak in his or her stand on spiritual issues—not wanting to “deny Christ” with anything less than the overt message. Redemptive film audiences want to, after watching the demonstration of the main character’s choices, make their own decision about whether or not the filmmaker’s message is right for them. They don’t want anything “forced down their throats.”
There is a place for both types of films in the market, but clarity can reduce the confusion on what the audience can expect. To over simplify the matter:
- Redemptive films organically demonstrate a single message to the general public.
- Faith-based films preach numerous messages to the like-minded or proverbial choir.
By the way, for the fans of faith-based films, the stories shared by Jesus were redemptive stories, but that’s a topic for another blog some day.
Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers