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To End All Christian Films
Can a Christian film use the "f" word? Well, that's one question. But it begs another: what, exactly, is a Christian film? By my lights, it has become all too fashionable for sophisticated Christians to sneer at Christian artistic efforts. And yet, just between us evangelical chickens: how have things gotten to where reasonable folks will sneer at the mere mention of the phrase "Christian art," as if the juxtaposition of the words were somehow inherently cackle-inducing?
The movie that prompts these questions is To End All Wars, a powerful film that tells the absolutely harrowing tale of a group of Allied POWs conscripted by the Japanese to build the Burma-Siam railway during World War II. Based on a true story told by Ernest Gordon in his book, In the Valley of the Kwai, this movie is bloody, violent, and profound, portraying a raw, full-throated Christianity of the sort that hasn't been much in evidence since, say, Dostoesvsky. It is emphatically not the cinematic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting.
As the story goes, Gordon, played with an inner luminosity by Ciarán McMenamin, is a 24-year-old captain of the 93rd Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a decidedly Scottish outfit. Their commander is Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Mclean, played by the extraordinary James Cosmo. In anything Cosmo does he practically bursts out of the screen into a theater near you. He is the sort of sixtysomething tough- guy who might eat Jack Palance and Sean Connery for breakfast with kippers.
When Mclean and the 93rd are captured, they quickly realize that their Japanese captors will accord the Geneva Convention the same respect they accord Marquis of Queensbury Rules. When Major Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle) receives a brutal beating, Mclean explodes in protest and is promptly brutalized himself. Afterward, the bleeding Mclean croaks his plan to his "good boys": they will make their escape as soon as he has healed. But some weeks later, after another impolitic outburst, ...