The message of Christianity has never changed, but that doesn’t mean Christian living has stagnated. Far from it. But you would never know that from the standard Christian movie. When I told an unchurched friend about Blue Like Jazz, the first words out of his mouth were, “This isn’t one of those Kirk Cameron films, is it?” Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christian movies became recursive. They were stuck on the same page. They stopped trying to figure things out and started telling everyone else what to think.
Blue Like Jazz walks away from this sort of storytelling. It’s about walking away from what you thought you knew: whether it be fundamentalist Christianity; hypocritical living; or bitterness toward the church. It’s about walking away, but even more than that, it’s about embracing the journey to figure things out.
It’s also about embracing those marginalized and burned by the church. Sure, there are archetypes. The lesbian. The boy who was raped by a priest The son of a mother who becomes pregnant by the married youth leader. The religion-rejecter; the non-religious but religion-respectful; the Christ-denier; and the Christ-embracer. But these are characters, not caricatures. Blue Like Jazz portrays the full person. It does not only acknowledge and legitimize the pain that exists, but that the source of the pain was people misrepresenting Christ. It gives a voice to the grief, an apology, and a hug.
As a longtime fan of the books, though, I would have liked to see more of the role of Christian community. Most of the Christian influence in Don’s life comes through Penny. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but Penny’s influence can just as easily be attributed to hormones and liking a girl rather than the transformational work of the Spirit and the role of a community coming alongside a guy searching for God knows what. I think in its effort to not create the stereotypical Christian ending, Blue Like Jazz de-emphasized the role of Christ and of the corporate church. Especially since it pushed the envelope in so many other ways, I would have liked to see the envelope pushed a little more here as well. "Sometimes you need to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself." I would have liked to see a little more of that love. (Although the reverend pulling Don out of the port-a-potty after the latter’s hedonistic binge was a particularly nice touch.)
But even then, the beauty of the movie is precisely that there are no concrete answers. Some reviews criticize that, like jazz, the movie doesn’t “resolve.” Does it have to? Blue Like Jazz isn’t about spoon-fed resolution. It’s about questions. It’s not about conclusions; it’s about conversations. It’s not pedagogue; it’s dialogue. It’s a start, and it falls upon the viewers to come to their own conclusions. It is a movie that requires a response.
Will I stop being a hypocrite? Will I stop misrepresenting Christ? If I do, will you give Him a chance? Can we work through this together? The answers “hang there…like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue, like jazz,” and I find that to be a beautiful thing.