A few things to think about before you see Shrek 2 and Saved!, which open in a few weeks.

This is not a review. This is just food for thought.

The two films actually have quite a bit in common…

They both have central characters who rebel against a culture that demands that they conform to a rigid set of standards.

They both affirm that we should not let others prescribe what we become.

They affirm the importance of honesty and integrity over “lingo” and superficiality.

And They both affirm that we should love each other in spite of our differences.

Oh… and they both have songs by Joseph Arthur. (Not a bad thing.)

In Shrek 2, the judgmental culture is the Kingdom of Far Far Away, which clearly stands for Hollywood.

In Saved!, the judgmental culture is American Eagles Christian High School, which represents American fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

Shrek 2 lampoons Hollywood beautifully, shooting at its flaws and hitting the mark with bulls-eye after bulls-eye, without completely trashing Hollywood. After all, it is a Hollywood movie, and it succeeds with dazzling Hollywood flair. In fact, Shrek 2 is a huge step forward for the franchise, joining the short list of series whose sequels outshine their originals. It’s funnier, faster, the characters are sharper, the storytelling feels more confident, and while there are far too many fart jokes and pop culture references, the finale is one of the most wonderfully frenzied and exciting we’ve seen in years.

Saved! lampoons the White Evangelical Fundamentalist Christianity beautifully, making us laugh at things that need to be laughed at, without insulting Jesus at all.

I am a Christian. I went to a Christian elementary school and a Christian high school. I am still a regular churchgoer. Jesus is the center of my life. But I’m glad to admit that Jesus hasn’t given me all the answers, healed my imperfections, or given me any right to be judgmental and self righteous. I’m as needy and as flawed as ever. The sorts of religious hooey, condescension, pious talk, superficiality, and prejudice portrayed in Saved! makes the audience howl in laughter, but most of it is actually quite accurate to what you will find in many Christian communities. I recognized a lot of the Christian high school culture portrayed here.

Unfortunately, while I certainly knew a few of the empty-headed, ego-driven Christians that operated like a sales-marketing force, I also knew the alternative. I knew many honest, humble, hard-working, non-judgmental, education-focused, mature Christians. Many of them were my teachers, and some of them were my peers. I wish the filmmakers had included a few of them in their script. What they have done in Saved! is stereotype Christians as judgmental, petty, white-washed idiots.

Still, the filmmakers seem smart enough to know that they shouldn’t throw the Baby Jesus out with the dirty bathwater, though; they maintain a healthy respect for faith and for Jesus himself.

Unfortunately, Saved! stumbles in the final act, where Shrek 2 soars. Saved! ends up declaring that God exists and fills the world with meaning (yes). It declares that we should love each other and not abuse each other self-righteously (yes, again). Further, it says that God made us all different so we should embrace all differences and choices (ummm, no). And it concludes that we should follow our feelings above all since God gave them to us (again, no).

Feelings. Most Hollywood movies affirim that feelings are what we should trust. The heroes of Saved! believe that if they have feelings and urges, those urges must be from God, and thus they must be okay, so everybody should shut up and stop judging.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged…” It’s the non-religious person’s favorite verse.

But there’s a problem with that.

If we make feelings completely trustworthy… if we make our appetites our compass… we will make poor, destructive choices. No, we shouldn’t judge each other harshly and treat each other with prejudice and hate and jealousy and pride. But we should recognize this–just as some children are born addicted to cocaine (because of their parents’ foolishness), so all of us are born with imperfect appetites. Human beings are born beautiful, full of potential, and yet flawed. Those imperfections manifest themselves in many ways. And we must test each of our urges to see if they are healthy, to see if they are wise, to see if fulfilling them will benefit more than just our appetite.

The film Super Size Me is a dangerous movie, because it suggests that our appetites can come from corrupt sources. We can become addicted. We can develop unhealthy urges. Satisfying unhealthy urges is romanticized by Hollywood, leading those viewers who believe the message into deeper and deeper unhappiness. Jesus taught that we shouldn’t judge others… yes. But he also taught that we should love others as much as ourselves. That we should not seek our own gain, but look at the world around us for signs of what God wants. We should seek to give up those desires that are not in alignment with what God’s spirit–that voice of conscience that contradicts our feelings, that still small voice that is so hard to hear, but so essential–so that we can get what we need… which is often so different from what we want.

I’ll write up a review of Shrek 2 for Christianity Today Movies on May 21.

My review of Saved! will be published at Looking Closer on May 28.

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