An Unplanned Review

With some anticipation, I went to see Unplanned, the real-life story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director. Going in, I entered a skeptic, as I generally do when a film is billed as a “Christian”, faith-based film, particularly from the Pure Flix label. As a staunchly pro-life Christian pastor, I enter such films with a thick biblical lens that tends to color my opinion.

        Unplanned has received both critical acclaim and vitriolic panning, often based more on subject matter (abortion) than quality. The MPAA assigned an “R” rating to this film despite it containing no nudity, sexual content, or profanity, raising questions of bias. Without giving away spoiler details, rating was based on more than just the subject matter, as the gruesome opening series and multiple brutally honest (and bloody) depictions do beg some caution. This brutal honesty still does not justify the R rating, as many films receive a lower rating with far more blood and objectionable content.

The story unfolds from this opening scene and first-person narration, to a flashback to Abby’s Junior year at Texas A&M as a Psychology major and her first contact with Planned Parenthood at an on-campus event. The story progresses in a well-timed progression of her rising in the ranks of that organization, eventually becoming the director of the Bryan, Texas location.

The drama unfolds with scenes of her own “bad decisions”, as the main character puts in in her narration, and even has a brief scene of church attendance with the familary text of Psalm 139 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

THE GOOD:

         Unplanned takes a serious, brutally honest look at the realities of abortion, particularly in the most infamous of provider – Planned Parenthood. The movie depicts the corruption and evil nature of this profit-driven “non-profit” machine. This film also depicts Coalition For Life (now known as 40 Days For Life) in a positive light, in stark contrast to “other” groups (see below).

A major plus, particularly in comparison to the typical releases from Pure Flix: production quality.  This is likely one of the best produced films to come out of that company, with solid believable cast performances, quality camera work, and generally believable effects for the abortion scenes.

THE BAD:

While Unplanned does provide an honest look at Planned Parenthood, it also depicts those outside the primarily Catholic 40 Days For Life organization as brutal bullies who try to shame abortion “clients”. While this may be true in some cases, this is not an accurate portrayal of the majority of those trying to save lives, though not affiliated with Catholic organizations.

Also, while heavily promoted to churches and Christians across denominational lines, this film is not a “Christian film”. It is not a gospel film.  It is not a film that attempts to approach the eternally important themes of redemption, regeneration, or even saving faith.  While the main character’s parents are strongly pro-life, even their faith is not specified in the film, nor is the background of Johnson being raised (according to her biography) Southern Baptist, but having fled from that denomination because of the church’s pro-life stan. She and her husband joined the Episcopal Church where she received support in her job at Planned Parenthood (again, not depicted in the film).
What the film also fails to show is that Abby Johnson has directly opposed legislation that would abolish abortion altogether, stating that it risks previous less-restrictive victories. She has also, since converting to Roman Catholicism, strongly denounced groups that proclaim the gospel at abortion mills. This is particularly troubling as it is the gospel itself that changes hearts, it is the gospel that can provide the restoration to God that all the soft-talk and prayers alone can never bring.

Abby’s own “conversion” (on the subject of abortion itself) is followed by tears and the question how she could ever be forgiven and her husband simply says that God loves her and that “He is God”. No mention of repentance or faith. nothing about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Indeed, while many articles (including one in Baptist Press) about Abby Johnson include the term “her Christian faith”, no mention in the film nor in any of those articles ever mention any form of spiritual conversion or even a description of what that means, and it certainly doesn’t fit the storyline of a believer who grew up “Southern Baptist” to become a Planned Parenthood clinic director. Neither the film, nor any other record of this story calls abortion “sin” or something that should be repented of. There is “sorrow” expressed, but no illustration of faith or repentance.

SHOULD YOU WATCH?

If one can go with the sole purpose of seeing a film that puts a serious face to the abortion industry, including the very real horrors and deception engaged in on a regular basis, then yes – go see the film.  But if you are looking for a film as gospel tool, or as a faith-building experience, this wouldn’t be the movie for you, as you will come away disappointed. I left the theater sensing the lack of the gospel mirrors the real story of Abby Johnson, and a desire to pray for her.

If this review hasn’t jaded you toward this film, and you simply want to see the change of heart of a woman from pro-choice to pro-life (mostly), and to gain a tiny peek into the real world of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry – see it. This film does deal a blow to the pro-choice position and could help change minds. Just don’t go looking for Jesus, because He is left out of the picture.Unknown.jpeg

I Can Only Imagine – a Review

I just returned from an advanced screening of the new movie the latest film from the Erwin Brothers, also known for the movies Woodlawn and October Baby (the latter of which I truly enjoyed). I went as much curious about the movie’s billing as basically the back-story that led to the writing of the group Mercy Me’s breakout hit and now top-selling Christian single of all-time by the same name, as I went to attempt to discern if it was a movie I could recommend in good conscience. This is the review that resulted.

I Can Only Imagine begins in a studio with an interview of some sort of Bart Millard

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(played by J. Michael Finley in his screen debut)who is asked about the song I Can Only Imagine. He responds that it took all of about 10 minutes to write the lyrics and about the same to write the music. The interviewer then says that no – the song took a lifetime to write…

Finley does a really good job, not demonstrating the typical over-acting of an actor with a Broadway background – but actually giving a believable and heartfelt performance. Of special note – he really did sing in the film!

The interview mentioned above opens a scene in rural Texas and launches our storyline. One filled with drama, pain, and broken dreams, but also a story of redemption and forgiveness.

Normally, I am not terribly impressed when a movie presses the emotion side – and this gets particularly frustrating with many films marketed to evangelicals and billed as “Christian” – as these often drum up truckloads of emotion with a terribly formulaic “ask Jesus into your heart” easy-believism that actually cheapens what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Thankfully, the emotion in this film does not lead to a call to such a “prayer”, but instead is totally appropriate as it helps to tell the story. The gospel is implied, though not glaringly thrown into the mix.  The film doesn’t have a “Courageous“-like bold challenge to a decision, yet at the same time is quite challenging – and does convict, resulting in some deep thoughts of our own relationships that need forgiveness and restoration.

There is a secondary storyline of a long-time (from childhood) love, yet even this is only a decoration on the bigger picture, that only serves to reinforce the underlying themes of the film

Of particular pleasure is learning the back-story of this song.  It is a pleasure, yet simultaneously is the main need for a box of tissue!

I was a bit concerned when I saw Priscilla Shirer’s name in the opening credits, as she always sends up red caution flags for me – I’m not sure if it is her popular efforts to be a “pastor” to the masses, or her dangerous mystic/borderline heretical beliefs she sells to sold-out audiences (contemplative prayer being one of the most obvious, but also the related belief that God is still audibly, verbally, giving new revelation today), or maybe it is her proclivity to twist Scripture way out of shape to make it fit her own dangerous theology. But whatever the reason, my “shields” were up, but I took them down somewhat when I realized that her role in the move was a rather minor role, and not one that contributes any real theological material. She is simply a music teacher in a high school, and appears all of a couple of minutes.

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One surprise for me, cast wise, was Dennis Quaid who plays Bart’s father.
Quaid actually nearly steals the show with what is probably one of his best acting performances of his lifetime.

 

If I did have to pick something out to complain about, it would be the tidal wave of materials for sale based on or tied to this film. It always concerns me when there is a ton of merchandise (and profit being sought by it) along with a movie that otherwise has positional to be a real life-changer for many. Some will complain that the gospel is not presented boldly enough, or clearly enough. If someone (or a church) thinks that using any film alone as an evangelism tool is sufficient, they are already approaching the call to make disciples the wrong way!  Look at this movie first as an encouraging film, good entertainment, and a message of the need for restoration and forgiveness – and as a solid film that many outside of evangelical christianity likely would be interested in. Go to enjoy knowing the back-story to this popular song. Take a friend because they need to heard the same message – and maybe it will open the door to you filling in the rest of the details of the Gospel.

“The redemption story is great-if the Gospel could change that dude, the Gospel can change anybody!”

~Bart Millard, Mercy Me

If you are looking for a story of redemption and forgiveness – and already love the song I Can Only Imagine, then this movie would be one to add to your schedule. I am seriously thinking about organizing a group from church to go see it.

Here is a link to the trailer for the film: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine opens March 16, 2018