October 7, 2013

Beyond the Farthest Star: A Review

BTFS_Church Leadership Info Kit v3

Beyond the Farthest Star may well be the best faith-based feature film I have ever experienced.  I say “experienced” because merely “viewing” this film as a detached observer is next to impossible.  The engaging drama simply offers so many points of connection with real-life people in real-life situations that only an entirely disinterested multitasking super-achiever using the film strictly as “background noise” could help but be affected in some meaningful way by this masterfully scripted, astutely casted, brilliantly performed, and profoundly impactful story.

What distinguishes Beyond the Farthest Star from the standard “faith-based” genre is its intentionally indirect rhetorical strategy.  Unlike most of its generic counterparts, Beyond the Farthest Star is not blatantly “faith-based.”  Simply put, it is not “preaching to the choir.”  In fact, it really isn’t “preaching” to anyone.  Christians who expect to hear the life-changing “Four Spiritual Laws” and the “Roman Road to Salvation” undoubtedly will come away disappointed.  But Beyond the Farthest Star is not a multimedia manual for catechetical instruction; it is a tool for evangelizing the lost.  It does not offer a one-stop shop to discipleship; It offers slices of real life that have multiple points of contact with the lost, all pointing in the direction of God, just as the film’s title indirectly suggests.

To be honest, some Christians may experience discomfort at the failures and foibles exposed in a pastor’s home, thinking this will give the ‘world’ more grist for the anti-Christian gossip mill.  While this may be true, presenting an image that Christians never struggle with the serious issues of life is nothing short of hypocrisy—and hypocrisy has a notoriously poor track record as a drawcard for evangelism.  In fact, candor regarding a faith forged in the fires of adversity is far more likely to build an effective bridge with the lost.  Since the film’s purpose is to facilitate evangelism, its unsanitized peek into a particular pastor’s world actually serves as an effective point of contact with lost and struggling souls and, at the same time, challenges Christians to personally apply the principles we (sometimes glibly!) proclaim.

Like any other art form, narratives are the product of their creator’s agenda.  No sober-minded author or playwright regards her or his work as a kind of Rorschach Ink-blot, the meaning of which is left entirely to the creative fancies of the viewer.  Beyond the Farthest Star tackles—from an undeniably Biblical perspective!—a large number of significant personal and social problems:  a mother struggling with guilt from pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancy, contemplation of abortion, self-protecting lies, bouts of depression, and attempted suicide; a pastor struggling to obtain performance-based value stemming from an abusive, manipulating father who crafted him in “(Marjoe) Gortner-esque” fashion to become a child prodigy evangelist; a pastor’s daughter struggling with issues of identity, rebelling against parental authority, rejecting (at least the outward behavioral code of institutional) Christianity, learning that her mother’s husband is not her biological father, nurturing a sour view of life and mistrust of all social relationships—and these are issues surrounding only the major characters in the story.

Expressed in terms of the literary academy, this film establishes viewers’ trust by assuring them that THEIR viewpoint has been heard by a non-judgmental first-person narrator who through careful selection and intentional sequencing of the events in the story, through capitalizing on the unavoidable ambiguities of language that “tease the mind into active thought,” through successful maneuvering of narrative gaps that must be filled in script-prompted ways, invites viewers to put their faith in God and commit to living life His way.

The greatest strength of this film lies in its rhetoric of indirection.  Rather than expressing God’s perspective on these critical life-issues in propositionally stated language (“Thou Shalt Not . . . .”),  Beyond the Farthest Star presents the story of a minister’s family and a rural Texas community facing a “sea of troubles” not unlike many of our own; it allows us to witness the characters’ choices and the consequences thereof, and it invites all of us to consider the wisdom and benefit of trusting God and His ways in every area of our lives.

Although each of the characters in the story offers points of contact with viewers who share comparable life experiences, it is Ann, the protagonist and narrator of the story, whose journey most embodies the film’s primary theme:  the search for love, acceptance, and significance ultimately ends only in a personal relationship with the One Whose presence extends from “Ruraltown,” Texas Beyond the Farthest Star.

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